In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Well, if there was any doubt about winter reaching the upper midwest those doubts have been completely wiped away during the last few days. With daytime temps not even reaching zero degrees (F) most people have been laying low and venturing out only when necessary. I did the same towards the end of the week and it worked out well because I had a lot of little projects that I've been putting off that I finally started getting caught up on. But after a couple days of mostly being shut up inside the house both Rudy and I were starting to go a little stir crazy, so yesterday we prepared ourselves for an outing into the sub-zero degree weather.

Rudy didn't have much to do in order to get ready other then whine at me the whole time I was putting on my layers to try and hurry me up a bit. I on the other hand had a whole pile of clothes that I somehow needed to squeeze into. From the bottom to the top and from the inside to the out they were-

  • A very thin pair of knee length socks to wick any moisture away from my feet
  • A medium weight pair of synthetic wool socks to provide some warmth
  • A pair of lightly insulated gore-tex Merril hiking boots
  • A pair of tight fitting long underwear pants for extra warmth and moisture wicking
  • A pair of cargo pants
  • A pair of lightly insulated snow pants to block the wind and to keep my pants dry from the snow
  • A very tight fitting under armor shirt to provide some moisture wicking
  • A looser and lightweight synthetic long sleeve shirt
  • A synthetic T-shirt
  • A medium weight long sleeve shirt
  • A pair of tight fitting and light weight liner gloves
  • A pair of down insulated waterproof mittens
  • A light weight breathable jacket liner
  • A waterproof and breathable jacket shell
  • A scarf
  • A pair of sunglasses
  • A wind block hat
Layering is the key to being comfortable in cold weather. Lots of light layers allows you to be warmer and more mobile then only one or two really heavy layers. It helps to wick any moisture away from your body and extra layers also trap more air; both of which mean more warmth and insulation with lower bulk. Synthetic or wool fibers are also much better then cotton. The big knock for cotton is that it absorbs way more water then wool and when it's wet it provides no insulation. It also takes forever for cotton to dry off. Wool and synthetics on the other hand aren't very water thirsty and when they do get wet they still provide insulation to keep you warm; plus they dry off much faster then cotton.

I always used to wonder why my feet would turn into ice cubes and nothing I could do short of putting on a fresh pair of socks would warm them up. The reason was that my feet would sweat a little bit, just enough to make my cotton socks damp. This would rob them of nearly all of their insulating power and leave me with ice cold feet until I'd put on a fresh pair of dry socks. Now that I've made the switch to synthetic wool socks this problem has all but disappeared. Sure, my feet still get cold in the winter but nothing like they used to; and now I can warm them back up without having to change into a fresh pair of socks.

While it may not be quite so important on short hikes around here in rural Iowa it can be the difference between life and death when you're out in the wilderness; not to mention if you're doing any boating in cold water. There's good reason for the saying “Cotton Kills”.

Anyway, enough of the safety lesson. Now that I was all bundled up is was time to head outside to face the weather. I was curious to see how Rudy would get along because I'd given him a fresh haircut just a week before. I really hoped that he wouldn't wuss out because after working that hard to put on so many clothes I wanted to at least get some use out of it.

The thermometer in my van was reading about 2 degrees below zero on our way out to Ingham Lake. Thankfully the sun was shining brightly and the wind wasn't too bad. Any wind in weather like this can be brutal though so we headed to the woods surrounding the lake and attaching to a few small sloughs where I new we'd be mostly protected from the wind.

The first 1/4 mile of the hike to get to the woods left us exposed to the wind and I stayed plenty warm with the exception of my cheeks, which were really starting to burn. I knew that if I could keep my activity up that soon I'd warm up all over though. The cold didn't seem to be bothering Rudy at all with the exception of his feet. Until he got his blood pumping pretty good he'd take a few steps and start hopping on three legs, looking at his back feet trying to figure out what was making them hurt. It didn't take long though and he was running around like a fool on all four legs enjoying the walk.

There's something special about being out in nature during weather like this, it's different then any other time. Everything seems so bright and pure. The air is amazingly clear, the sun is bright beyond belief, and the sky is a deep dark blue from horizon to horizon. The snow is blindingly white and nothing is moving about; with the exception of me and my dog. It's deathly quiet and incredibly peaceful to just stand in a sunny spot and listen, listening to nothing except for your breathing and heart beat.

The animals, the trees, and grass, the snow, and even the wind all seem to stand motionless for fear that they'll shatter in the frigid temperature. It all looks so delicate and fragile and it seems like all it would take would be one gust of wind for the entire woods to shatter into a million pieces; one large crack from a rifle would surely shatter the blue sky. Even the snow in cold temperatures like this protests to any disturbance. Something that is so fluffy, powdery, fluid, and quiet in relatively warmer temperatures turns stiff and hard in sub-zero temperatures while creaking and groaning under foot and every step.

Rudy and I continued our hike through the woods with the satisfaction that comes from braving conditions that keep most people tucked away inside their homes until warmer weather. It seems that the harder you try to beat mother nature at her own game the tougher the winter seems; but simply playing the hand that you're dealt can be surprisingly rewarding and enjoyable. On days like that it's easy to forget the ugliness of winter. The dirty, sloppy roads and the howling winds that pick up the light snow and obscure everything from site. Every time I head out on days like this I tell myself that I should do it more often and I tell myself that maybe I really do like winter after all. That's a lot easier said then done when you're all warm and comfy inside the house though.

Maybe I'll take some of my own advice and instead of staying inside all day working like I'd planned I'll take the time to bundle up and take Rudy out for another hike today. I mean, you've got to take advantage of weather like this before it's all gone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering I stayed plenty warm during the hike. In fact I dressed a little too warm and on the way back to the car I had my outer jacket unzipped and had my gloves off most of the time.

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You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.