Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Me, winter Olympian? Yes it's true...

Just want to record here quickly that, due to heavy snowfall in the afternoon, all bus services were cancelled during the evening office rush hours. Thousands of people leaving work found themselves without any means of public transport, as what few taxis there were left on the road were not taking passengers. Unless you happen to live near a Luas or a Dart station (applicable to a rather insignificant minority of Dubliners, to be honest), you were well and truly stuck.

That included me, of course. I was at the office around half seven this morning, and left just before five in the evening, when I was told by colleagues that all the bus services were cancelled. I was actually pretty gungho about being able to get a taxi, until I saw the length of the queue at the taxi rank outside our building. I waited there for about 25 minutes, turning from cautious optimism to impotent rage at the empty but not stopping taxis, to finally, stoic resignation about my fate. There was no point in trying to get help from loved ones either -- not only was I far away from their workplaces, but a friend who lives in a town near me told me that it took her an hour and five minutes to just "drive" down a stretch of a key road near my estate. Moreover, my trusted cab company whose operator knows me by voice told me that it was absolutely impossible to send any cabs near the direction of the city centre as all the roads were blocked (as in being extremely severely congested, not as in being banned for use, though it might well have been the latter for the almost stationery nature of the vehicles on these roads).

So even though by 5:30pm I was within the top 15 of the queue (the result of people wiser than I who left the hopeless queue much earlier than I did rather than because taxis were actually picking up passengers), I decided to cut my losses and started walking in the general direction of my home, a mere 7.7 kilometres away (this I only found out by just checking on Google Earth. Am amazed by the fact that it even gives you walking directions, warns you about missing pedestrian paths, and gives a rather pretty accurate estimate of the amount of time it will take to make the journey on foot, as you shall see later. Genius!). Not that I knew any of this of course when I set off, as I could only base my route on the shortest taxi journey it usually takes me to commute to work. I reckon it was just about doable, and my legs were frozen and thus urging me to move rather than stand (they were clad only in black tights and ankle boots, however the latter turned out to be a saving grace as they were extremely comfy, had good grip and quite water-proof -- had I chosen my knee-high boots with 2.5 inch heels, which I did seriously consider wearing this morning, I wouldn't have survived to tell the story) .

Anyway, chatting to friends and family on the mobile gathering ongoing traffic intelligence (all news were dismal), I went down the direction of O'Connell street, and when I saw Eddie Rockets my legs just carried me towards it and for once I had the good sense to simply follow my gut. I ordered cheese fries and tea, which came really fast and were every bit as tasty as I remember them (I haven't had cheese fries for ages). Thus sated and feeling warm and toasty, I ventured out again to begin my epic journey. It was just about five minutes to six. I was one of many, many, many office joes and janes and even shoppers trying to make our way home.

My plan actually was just to keep walking until I could pick up a taxi. But very quickly I realise that walking was a far more efficient means of transport than the cars, which could do little but sit in barely moving traffic on poorly gritted roads for hours on end. To my surprise and delight, I was actually enjoying this walk through snow and slush -- not only did it feel good physically, but I heartily congratulated myself on my wise decision because I knew I would have been fuming if I were sat in a taxi despairing at the meter amidst the unmoving traffic.

So in spite of the dire conditions that I was in, I was feeling pretty empowered and, it has to be said, rather smug about the fact that (a) I was travelling much, much faster than those poor saps stuck behind the wheel; (b) I was relying on my own two feet and to my pleasant surprise, they performed rather well; (c) I was not contributing to climate change by sitting in a car for hours on end.

I walked, and walked, and walked, learning to negotiate the slippery ice surrounding the pedestrian crossings with ease (I nearly slipped about five times, but managed to regain my balance pretty snappily, adding to my sense of well-being about my hitherto-unknown high level of fitness) and feeling warmer as I went as my body got used to this novel form of exercise. I walked through entire towns and didn't feel one bit fatiqued or frightened -- not only were there lots of fellow travellers, but I was blessed by providence because my quickest route home turned out to involve going through the main village of Dublin suburbs and so I was reassured by the fact that, should I become tired and in need of sustenance or toilet facilities at any point in my journey, I could simply nip into one of the many restaurants, pubs and takeaways lining the route.

So I trudged on, amazed that I wasn't feeling tired at all yet covering incredible distances -- distances which I have never imagined before that I could actually cover on foot. I walked for an hour in the snow, and by the time I came upon the last hotel and restaurant complex en route to my home, my legs decided once again to carry me to the restaurant and again I dutifully followed. At first I thought I would just borrow the toilet facilities before setting off again to negotiate the final third of the route, but once I entered the premises and heard the maitre d' taking food orders on the phone, I decided to stay and eat. This was a Tex-Mex/American grill type place, which again was rather fortunate as it was exactly the type of cuisine that a traveller slightly worse for wear from the cold would welcome. By the time I sat down, it was just about five past seven.

I ordered chicken creole and another steaming pot of tea in the half-empty restaurant (the clientele consisted of a couple of couples, a family, two groups of friends and another woman by herself). The chicken creole took a long time to arrive, but I was comforted by cup after cup of hot tea and just marvelled at the snow outside the windows as well as the snowy scenes on display on Sky News on the big TV screen above the fireplace. I talked to my mum again on the phone to reassure her that I wasn't dead yet -- she could not believe I walked all the way from the city to the 'burbs, and was about to give out about where I bought my apartment etc. etc., but was conveniently shushed when I told her that my phone battery was about to run out (which was true).

(But I do thank my mum from the bottom of my heart because I was only able to make the journey in fairness because I was nicely wrapped up in a very warm down jacket with fur-trimmed hat that she gave me a few years ago, and I was even more fortunate because I happened to wear this same coat when I spent Christmas at home and she forced me to take a pair of black mittens with me even though I initially refused. Little did I know that less than a fortnight later I would be extremely grateful to put my hands into my pockets and found these warm woollen mittens nicely tucked inside just when I needed them the most).

Anyway, my food finally arrived, and although I didn't think I was that hungry given that I just had the cheese fries not that long ago, my body welcomed the additional high-energy fuel. I didn't finish the plate nor the second pot of tea, but I was re-energised to tackle the last and most difficult leg of my journey -- a 2 kilometre stretch of the motorway where there are indeed, as Google told me just now, no pedestrian footpaths.

(Before I paid the bill, I asked the waitress whether it was okay for me to pour the remainder of the tea into my thermos. I felt like a complete wino for asking, but I was really afraid of what might happen to me during my attempt to negotiate the grass verge of the motorway, and decided that I would rather be safe than be respectable. In fact, I was feeling that God had been looking after me because my decision to bring my thermos with me to work this morning was completely spur-of-the-moment, due solely to the fact that I didn't have time to get tea before I had to leave the flat.)

As I was leaving the restaurant, the manager asked me where I had parked my car -- he was going to give me a token for free parking as entitled by patrons of the restaurant -- and was surprised when I told him that I walked all the way to his establishment from city centre. He asked me if I live in the vicinity and then insisted that I should come back again, saying God bless as I left -- a warm farewell (albeit standard proprietor speak) that was appreciated as I was about to head out into the cold again.

To my surprise however, this time my legs nearly buckled under me. Turns out they had grown rather accustomed to sitting down during the dinner and complained about being put to work again. I walked very slowly this time, almost at the speed of an old lady. In fact, I actually passed by an old lady trying to catch a taxi by waiting at a bus-stop. I was going to do the same, but decided to just walk on and take my chances.

Just as I passed the last pedestrian crossing before the motorway began, a miracle happened. An empty cab was just turning around the corner. I put up my hand, not really expecting it to stop for me. To my absolute surprise, the driver flashed the light to show he'd seen me and pulled up -- I couldn't believe my luck! I got in and thanked him profusely for stopping.

Thus through this divine intervention I was actually spared from having to walk through the motorway itself to get home. The driver and I traded weather stories and listened to the radio about how all the Dublin buses were still not running and how severe delays were expected on all road networks in and around Dublin. This is how I realised how lucky I was for getting the cab only for the final and most difficult stretch of the route. And thanks to a short detour the driver took, the traffic was moving along at a nice pace (cars were travelling slowly anyway due to the icy road conditions but we weren't stuck in traffic per se).

In the end, I was home in ten minutes, and paid only 10 euros for the driver's trouble (the fare was actually just 9 euros), as opposed to the hundreds of euros I would have to pay if I had actually managed to get a cab from city centre to begin with. Even more miraculous was the fact that I managed to catch a cab at all -- the driver said I was to be his last customer this evening as he himself was also heading home.

Gosh, I feel so, so blessed! It is almost like an invisible hand has been carefully guiding me home during today's freak weather event. Thank you God.

And just for the record, I got home at 8:47pm. In total I had walked about an hour and a quarter (broken by the hour-long restaurant meal after the hour mark). If I hadn't taken a taxi for the final leg of the journey, I think I would have walked for about an hour and three quarters, which is pretty damn close to the 1-hour-and-38-minutes estimate of foot journey time Google Earth come up with. Either Google is ingeniously accurate about measuring the walking speed of an unfit girl trudging through snow-compacted roads, or that, unbeknownst to myself, I am actually freakishly fit and could easily manage the normal walking speed of a normal person while walking through icy treacherous road conditions.

And you know what, I think it might really be the latter :o)

Goodnight! (And hoping for no bus services at all tomorrow so could legitimately stay at home all day... after all, I am not quite sure if a miracle could happen twice in a roll to allow me to repeat my superhuman walking feat again tomorrow)

Further reading: Arctic weather conditions in Dublin and a "national weather emergency" being called for (Irish Times, uploaded just after midnight, Thursday, January 7, 2010)

Weather Update:
The freezing weather is set to continue for another 10 days, we are told. Even just looking outside my windows at home I could see the thick freezing fog that makes travelling by car extra dangerous due to impaired visibility, not to mention the icing of the roads. Dublin Bus only operated a limited service this morning which didn't include my route, so did stay at home (they cancelled their service again at 8pm, which was far saner than doing it just before the rush hour as they did yesterday). I may still have to head in tomorrow though. Hmmmmm....

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At Thu Jan 07, 02:16:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger laichungleung said...

I wonder what happened to global warming when we needed it. NYC has been freezing and luckily there is no snow storms. I experienced one black out that I needed to trek home several years ago. It's almost 12 midnight when I got home. It was in the summer. It was a terrible experience I don't want to experience ever again.

I thought you were close to work for some reason. Well see you in the Winter Games. Representing Ireland ... Snowdrops ...

At Thu Jan 07, 10:46:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Well the unusual freezing weather (not to mention the flooding that happened during the summer) IS indeed an effect of global warming. I think I mentioned before that our general milder climate is due to the ocean current the North Atlantic Drift, which is in danger of being "switched off" if more fresh water melted into the ocean from the disintegrating polar caps. So we will probably see more extreme weather being the rule rather than the exception. Which will mean that, unless Ireland shapes up and become far more prepared (most of the news programmes today were hammering the government for their lack of an emergency plan), we'll probably all have to train for the Winter Games just to carry on our daily lives.

I was just grateful that I didn't have to trudge until midnight to get home last night. I could only imagine how terrible that black-out experience had been for you even though it only happened during the summer. Hopefully our own weather emergency won't come to that over the next ten days.


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