On the way to work the other day I started taking a closer look at the terrain I was driving through in an attempt to figure out how long it would take me to bike home should the need arise. And these days there are certainly a lot of reasons why I could be left to biking home from work if roads were clogged with cars or an overpass or two were out of commission.
The area I live in is prone to earthquakes. Actually I would say we’re overdue for a big one. This became top of mind last week when I was awoken at 2am by a 4.2 temblor that shook my house as it whipped by with a sonic boom that woke the family, scared the dogs, and left me restless all night.
Before I get into the main subject of this post I would feel remiss if I did not quickly remind everyone that when a decent size earthquake hits there are a few things you need to do before just falling back to sleep. First of all you check on your loved ones to make sure nobody got conked on the head by a falling object or stepped in broken glass from a fallen picture frame. Even a seemingly small quake can bring down household items that haven’t been properly secured in place. Next you check the gas lines coming into the house just to make sure nothing is leaking. I have my main shutoff valves painted bright orange so that even in a panic situation they are easy to identify. This would be especially helpful if I was not at home and had to instruct someone else, like a teenager, on how to find and shut off the gas. Then a quick look around the property for any leaking water or cracked windows should suffice. Lastly, if you’re anything like me, you go back to bed but lay awake all night wondering if that was the main quake or just the prelude to The Big One.
So this is how I came to think a lot more about the long trek home I would be facing should an earthquake of some size hit my area. You see here’s what happens in a metropolitan area when an earthquake hits during the day; everyone and their brother gets in their car and tries to drive home all at the same time. Instant gridlock. I have friends that were in the Bay Area for the 1989 earthquake and they tell stories of a ten hour drive home that would ordinarily be 45 minutes. And this over roads not structurally affected by the disaster, just from the gridlock that is created.
So, I keep a mountain bike at my office and always have my BOB in my trunk and am prepared to bike home if need be. Fortunately the streets I would need to traverse are fairly flat with lots of sidewalks and side roads to cut through to avoid cars and traffic jams. I figure at a leisurely pace I could make the ride home in 3 or 4 hours without pushing it and even in the heat of the day.
However, the closer I looked the more I noticed that about half of the distance is filled with lower middle class neighborhoods. Not the ghetto per se but not exactly Greenwich, Connecticut either. Lots of crappy apartment buildings and four-plexes. Hmmm, this could be a problem were all of the inhabitants to hang around outside (as people tend to do after an earthquake) and I had to pick my way through the crowds. A lone figure on a nice bike with a backpack of supplies could be an attractive target to some less than upstanding citizens.
This is a how I came to re-evaluate the clothing I keep in my BOB. For the warmer months of the year I generally go some high end hiking gear and light pullovers. All slightly worn but with plenty of life left in them. On the surface all of the items would seem like good choices but in the neighborhoods I was now examining I would stick out like a sore thumb. I seriously think I would attract less attention walking through this hood wearing a tuxedo and singing “I Gotta Be Me”.
Much better to blend in and try to avoid any trouble. So, in addition to the high tech gear I added in a little “urban camouflage” of the socioeconomic kind. An old T-shirt with a local football team logo on it and a plain pair of shorts would make me pretty much invisible if it weren’t for the bike and backpack but not much I can do about that. Gotta have wheels.
So remember, sometimes the best camouflage is not forest leaf green or digital cammo. More often than not it’s just what everybody else is wearing that makes you blend in and gets you through.