Preparedness Corner
December 2002
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

Oh…My…Gosh…is it cold.  I heard that I-25 was closed due to ice from the New Mexico border all the way up to Colorado Springs just before Turkey day.  That doesn’t mean you couldn’t get on the highway at our exit and travel illegally.  You just couldn’t get back on to come home because they lock the exits.  So there you are, after spinning and sliding stuck in the barrow ditch, car all covered in snow, trying to pry your white knuckles from the steering wheel.  Maybe you enjoyed the E ticket ride, maybe you didn’t.  I always try a little Mario on a freshly covered snowy road at low speeds before I venture out on the highway for the first time at “high speed cruise” just to try out my sea legs.  After my annual EVOC class on the skidpan at work I feel invincible.  But let me tell you, once the back end of the car comes around past 15 degrees, it’s going all the way and there is no amount of corrective steering that will stop it.  At that point it is better to hold on, get off the brake and wait for the spinning to stop.  Any gas or brake applying will only add to your fun.

Back to the story… It is still light out, dark would be worse, the car is permanently stuck until help arrives and that could be awhile since no one else is on the road to witness your antics.  What do you do? Sounds like a Camel cigarette joke; stuck in the desert where do I spend the night? Under the camel, next to the trees or next to the pyramids? Why, I’d turn the corner and stay at the hotel (which is on the back of the pack).  In your case, you would get out your trusty winter kit that was tucked away with love after you read last month’s column.  Now you get ready to spend the night in your car.

Even if you aren’t stuck but traveling and decide that enough is enough and you are unable to continue, outdoor survival needn’t be a life threatening situation.  A little preparation will help keep you safe and sound.  The kit prepared should be with the geographical location you are traveling through.  Going through the desert in summer presents a whole different kit list.

In addition to the kit, you should evaluate the effectiveness of the clothing you are wearing.  Most people dress for their destination, or in my case, from their departure climate.  Shorts and tee shirts must be changed as the outside temp falls or grinning and laughter will ensue on arrival at you friends house. Right Pablo?

Never start your trip without a full tank of fuel, a good battery, proper tires, and an engine in good working order.  Getting stuck due to bad equipment is just dumb.  And trying to dig yourself out in winter conditions could be fatal.  Let the rescuers find you, let them dig.

While sheltering in your vehicle, use your resources sparingly.  You don’t know how long you will be out there.  You will need to keep the inside warm.  Your body heat will NOT be sufficient to heat the interior.  You will become cold quickly, especially your feet.  Put on your extra clothing BEFORE you get cold, cover your head and ears.  If more than one body is in the car, cuddling for warmth is a must.  98 degrees plus 98 degrees is 198 degrees.  That’s hot.  If you use the engine’s heater to warm the car, make sure the exhaust pipe is clear.  Warm bodies that die from carbon monoxide are still dead.  Sit with your feet up on the cushioned seat.  It is warmer than a steel floor covered with thin carpet and remember heat rises.  In the worst situation, you could rip up the other seat and use the foam for insulation.  Use the space blanket around your coat for keeping the heat in.  Newspaper is also an excellent heat and wind keeper outer.  Just ask the homeless.  You can also try to seal off the rear of the car from the front with the space blanket and duct tape.  Smaller space to heat, less body heat is lost.

You can run the engine for short periods of time, say 10 minutes each hour to use the heater.  Listen to the radio during these periods for information.  Ventilate the car by opening the window about inch for fresh air.  CO is a deadly killer.  This poisonous gas from your exhaust is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.  It will sneak up on you without warning.  You will go to sleep, maybe with a headache and never wake up. Again, dead is dead.

If you must leave the vehicle, tie the cord to the door and to yourself.  In a blizzard, you may only be able to see 12 inches.  Once away from the car, you may never find your way back.  (Insert laughter here.)  It does happen.

Eat and drink water.  You will be burning more calories while trying to keep warm.  Hey, a new way to lose those extra holiday pounds and inches.  Don’t drink alcohol (a diuretic; makes you lose water from your cells, affects your judgment) and don’t smoke even if you are a 10 packer (it causes reduces blood flow to the skin and extremities which helps frostbite to occur).  Don’t eat snow, it takes more energy to bring it to a digestible temp than the good it does.  Use the warmth of the car to melt and warm it.  Start early, it takes time.

Use your cell phone or CB radio if you have them.  Try them occasionally as weather conditions affect their quality.  If you reach someone right away, set a time to re-contact them if they will be long in arriving.  Better to save the batteries to direct them to you since you are buried in snow than to lose your voice yelling into a dead mic.  Tie a colored cloth to the car, tree near you, or whatever to assist the rescuers in finding you.

When you are found, drinking warm liquids is much better than heating the hands and feet to re-warm yourself.  Warming the extremities first can be life threatening by diverting the blood to those areas and shunting it to the vital organs that are near the center of your body.

Prepare early and enjoy the winter.  You may only need to laugh away the experience of getting stuck with your loved ones.  And you will have all ten fingers and toes to re-count the process.

See you all soon,

Ps:  For those of you under 30, ask your elders about the “E” tickets.  And if you find one, they are worth a lot of money.

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background