Monday, October 20, 2014
While we love attending our kids’ and grandkids’ games, few of us look forward to those drizzling afternoons under grey clouds with temperatures bordering on the Arctic. But we muster it together because we want to support our players, and there’s a bit of guilt knowing we can cover and warm up even as they are slogging through the mud and cold. If they have to play in these conditions, the least we can do is sit in them. At the same time, I’m getting older and apparently more porous because the wind just whooshes through me, dropping my core temperature. Then again, I’m the one who decided to have a 22-year difference between my oldest child and my youngest, so sitting in the elements for a couple decades now is the consequence of that choice. Throw in five grandkids’ sports and my all-weather exposure is expanded. Here in Wisconsin we understand sitting in the worst weather to see sports. We are home to the Ice Bowl after all. The Packers have played in an open arena with metal bleacher seating on concrete tiers for nearly a century, so we’ve learned how to stay warm. I accomplish that by watching the Packers on the TV in my family room. However, I can’t avoid all inclement weather through the grace of televised games, so I need to have my foul weather outfit at the ready.
The best solution is naturally to encourage kids to play indoor sports like fencing and basketball. But this being a soccer web site, I know that ship has sailed. I have grandkids who chose football and lacrosse, so they seem intent on maintaining the exterior sporting experience. I have one granddaughter who does dance, God bless her, but another who is a horsewoman. This Saturday, Robbie has a game at 2 p.m. in weather which promises something between a biblical deluge and a Donner party blizzard. The bleachers back onto the river with serious wind gusts and no cover anywhere. It must be October in Wisconsin. So because this is where we live, soccer is what Robbie plays, and Saturday will be his game, deluge or not, I’ll be there depending on my gear to withstand the dreadful conditions.
I really love my rain suit. It’s royal blue, covers me head to toe, and repels the elements with reliability. Unfortunately getting into the suit requires some monumental gyrations. The pants don’t glide effortlessly over shoes and especially not over boots, so I have to remove these before pulling on the neoprene slacks. The suit doesn’t breathe very well, which seems like a benefit at first – holding in my body heat – but actually it reduces me to a sodden mess all too quickly. Nevertheless I love that I don’t need to be holding an umbrella dripping down my back or onto the person sitting in front of me or creating a bivouac tent out of garbage bags. My hands are free to clap, pump in the air, or hold a cup of cocoa. The rain suit I own is from Coleman, but I’ve seen others equally as capable from Eddie Bauer, Erehwon, REI and Columbia. I have the zipper style, but there’s snap ups, and snap ups over a zipper, as well as pull overs with drawstrings. I think there are silkier materials that don’t hold in the heat so feistily, but I have a history with my rain suit, so there you have it. I’m loyal.
Then there’s my ear muffs. Hats tend to ride up and off my cranium. Maybe I’m a Conehead or maybe hats just ride up and pop off everyone’s head, but I can’t seem to keep them over my ears, which is the part of my noggin that gets the coldest. So I bought these ear muffs several years ago that have a stretchy knit band with two globes of fluffy material that fit right over my ears snugly. I can then pull my rain suit hood over them and have a nice thermal dome. I’ve tried the ear muffs that have a stiff plastic adjustable band but they require elaborate adjustments and still tend to pop off. And the tiny stretchable covers that are worn as “ear socks” make me feel too much like an odd Vulcan far removed from my mother planet. So I protect my ear muff fearful I won’t be able to replace it should it stretch out or break or get lost.
I fluctuate on gloves. I keep dozens of pairs of those “one size fits all” knit gloves in the car and for many occasions they’re all I need. But I also have a pair of wonderful thick insulated ski gloves that actually keep my fingers from losing all feeling. I get so distracted as I feel my fingers teetering on the brink of frost bite. I used to ski competitively, and I could skid out on an ice patch doing 60 mph ripping the skin off my nose, cheeks, and forehead, and still not be as uncomfortable as when my fingers get too cold. I do keep hand and foot warmers available but I find they have a limited “range” and tend to run out of heat long before a match is over, leaving my fingers victim to the cold. So a great pair of gloves is essential for maintaining comfort. And they have to be water repellant (as opposed to water resistant which is a polite way of saying “ha, ha fooled you - your fingers will be soaked soon!”).
I believe firmly that the right pair of socks makes all the difference. Just like I can’t stand the tingles in my fingers from frozen nerves, I likewise hate the pins and needles of chilblains in my toes. I trust in wool. It breathes, it’s warm, and it doesn’t hold moisture. I spent a small fortune on a pair of wool socks from New Zealand that have brought me great comfort over the years. New Zealand sheep apparently have special oils in their wool that make anything knit from it smooth and sleek. I don’t know if they are really better, but I was in New Zealand in the fall and needed some warm socks, so my options were confined to New Zealand wool. The brag that they are the best in the world helps me justify the expense. And they have stayed soft, oiled, and warm all these years, so they were probably a good buy.
When I don my warrior outfit to fight the elements, I feel a bit like Paddington Bear. Paddington is the other famous bear out of England, the first being Winnie the Pooh. If I used Pooh as my role model, I’d be painted up as a rain cloud and floating over a honeycomb. Paddington is far more sensible when it comes to the inclement weather. He has a large floppy yellow sou’wester perched on his head, a duffle-coat inspired rain slicker, and, of course, that all-important London accessory, Wellington boots. Commissioned in leather by the Duke of Wellington in the early 1800s, the boot has evolved into a rubber or PVC puddle avoidance must-have. You can get them in basic khaki green, which is the workhorse variety, or spice them up in brilliant patterned designs. No matter your taste, waterproof boots need to be on your feet for any sloppy day, even if there isn’t rain falling. With my warm wool socks over my feet shoved into waterproof boots, I feel plenty toasty.
Insulating your extremities and your bum from resting directly on a surface seems fundamentally important. Why let the stored up cold and disgustingly sloppy earth add to your misery? I carry two foam cushions with me to all games. One I use to elevate my feet off the ground, out of the direct cold and damp. I keep it in a plastic bag that I can remove and wash when I get home. Furthermore, I bring some insulation for my seat as well. I have a folding bleacher seat that heats, but I also have to remember to keep it charged. So there are games where it didn’t have enough juice to stay warm. Therefore, I bring a foam pad for my seat. Keeping my body away from what can only be described as a metal or concrete block of ice means I can keep my temperature better regulated. I found that the foam needs to be at least 1 1/2 inches deep, but I prefer 2 inches because over the course of a two to three-hour game, the foam compresses and puts me far too close to the chill.
Of course not all games happen in the cold. I’ve been to my fair share in Florida, Las Vegas and Southern California to understand that I can be just as uncomfortable in the swelter as I am in the frost. So I like to keep a small cooler filled with ice water in which I soak hand towels that I can wrap around my neck or press on my wrists or temples. Despite wanting to keep my hands free during games, I do have an umbrella for those hot sun-scorched days. That umbrella’s fabric reduces 90% of all UV rays, which is important. Shade won’t keep you from burning in direct sunlight unless it is provided by UV material. I also keep plenty of sunscreen, including UV lip balm. I have a broad-brimmed UV sunhat and good polarized sunglasses. You won’t want to wear a rain suit in a summer storm because it would be far too hot, but a light water repellant jacket with a hood should be sufficient. I actually don’t mind getting water-logged by a warm summer rain storm, but that might be due to how many really cold rainy games I’ve sat through.
No matter what the climate, I like to be prepared for the weather. It’s pretty easy to keep my hands free and to limit the amount of extraneous equipment. I keep a cold rain box in my car next to a hot rain box. I obviously need more clothing items when it’s cold, but I can usually put those on at the car, and then bring my seat and foot cushion along to the game. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean I need to suffer. If you come to Robbie’s game on Saturday, I’ll be the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man seating at the top of the bleachers on the center line. I tell you where I’ll be sitting because I won’t be the only marshmallow man there. It’s Wisconsin in October.