It was just another regular day at the "office".
As The Mail on Sunday's Los Angeles correspondent, I was given 10 minutes' notice to pack and told to get myself to Deadhorse, Alaska, a godforsaken town 350 miles north of the Arctic Circle — a frontier community which borders BP's massive Prudhoe Bay oilfield.
When BP announced it was shutting down Prudhoe Bay on 7 August, the stockmarkets went nuts, sending oil prices to record highs — and I was off into the wilderness.
Twenty-four hours later, I ended up in Deadhorse, population 47, with just my hand luggage. My main baggage, I later learned, had landed in Barrow, 500 miles to the west.
Wearing just the flimsy summer skirt and sandals I'd set off from balmy LA in, even though the temperatures in Deadhorse were touching on zero, I embarked on the job.
There was nothing in my hand luggage except the essentials — notebook, computer, blackberry, mobile, camera, assorted cables, batteries, tape recorder, pens — oh, and a swimsuit.
It was this last item, which I hastily pulled on for a picture swimming in the Arctic Ocean (Deadhorse is the only place in the world where you can swim in the Arctic), which caused much merriment in the office.
"Only you could think of taking a swimsuit to the Arctic" was one of the kinder messages I received, when, after staying up all night to file my copy, I checked in with the desk.
While I am nothing like an intrepid war reporter, 20 years in the business has taught me a few things.
And that is, Arctic or not, a swimsuit is an essential piece of my "emergency kit".
In my job, you never know where you will end up and, while clothes can be begged, borrowed or stolen, there are certain items a girl just can't be without.
My emergency kit consists of a Ziploc bag that I carry with me at all times. In it is the aforementioned swimsuit.
I have used the suit to climb mountains and even go to the depths of the Titanic. Without being too graphic, there is nothing more miserable, on an adventure job, than spending five days in the same crusty underwear. Trust me, I know. A swimsuit, however, offers the perfect solution.
Be it a mountain in Argentina — reclaiming bodies from Stardust, a downed Avro Lancastrian bomber which crashed in 1947 — or a trip two-anda- half miles down into the North Atlantic to see the Titanic, a swimsuit is the perfect undergarment.
Bras chafe, normal cotton underwear takes hours to dry. A swimsuit, however, can be rinsed out, given a hefty twist followed by two minutes in front of an open campfire or heater and — voilà! — perfectly dry, comfortable underwear.
The material stays dry (a godsend last year during Hurricane Katrina) and, in slightly less dramatic circumstances, the suit has been used under a skirt for a rather snazzy outfit to meet a contact for cocktails in the Caribbean.
The other vital item: Lightweight Puma trainers.
They weigh nothing, but saved my arse during Katrina when I turned up wearing Chanel slip-ons, to be faced with wading through foul-smelling, glassinfused water for five days. Again, the hilarity in the office reached epic proportions with the picture editor floored with laughter at the sight of yours truly in head-to-toe Donna Karen with trainers on. But my feet stayed safe.
So here it is — a hackette's guide to adventure travel. All I know is that, invariably, my ‘emergency kit' has been the difference between utter misery and being able to function as a sane human being. And the swimsuit is the main component.
So, gentlemen of Fleet Street, a little less mickey taking next time you hear about a girl taking a swimsuit to the Arctic, if you please. I still fantasise about using my swimsuit in the jacuzzi of a five-star hotel. It hasn't happened as of yet, so, for now, I'll use it as underwear.
See you in goat class — I'll be the one by the window plucking my eyebrows.
The hack crisis kit
Other essentials in my Ziploc:
- Vicodin (four tablets): a strong painkiller
- Cipro (two weeks’ supply): an all-encompassing antibiotic
- Dental concrete: plugging a lost filling on a trip to the Bismarck in the Atlantic —
good. Mending the chipped crown of my snapper in Ecuador — priceless
- Two packets of dehydration salts (invaluable in Zimbabwe after a day chasing a wounded
zebra though the bush)
- Water purification tablets — used on dodgy-looking water in village in Ecuador
- Deet, the mosquito repellent
- Moleskin for blisters
- Travel-sized hand-sanitizer — the best thing ever. Use on feet, face and hands. Am
convinced this saved me from getting sick during Katrina when I had open wounds on
my legs from mosquito bites
- Aspirin for everything else, including hangovers
Non-essential “luxury items”:
- Two sample packets of L’Occitane shampoo and conditioner (have you ever tried using
those sachets at the Holiday Inn?)
- Travel-sized portion of Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion
- Tweezers (great for pulling out splinters and for mending cameras/luggage)… OK, also
the light in plane cabins is the BEST for plucking eyebrows
- Eye mask and ear plugs
- PowerBar: mostly consumed in middle America where even the vegetables are
❚ Pink Bic Ladyshave safety razor
The kit used to include:
- A sterilised syringe and needle (for drawing fluid out of blisters) and scissors. Both
banned since 9/11
- Also a pot of clear nail polish (runs in tights and clothes) — stopped since the latest