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Mystic — As he delivered mail Wednesday morning on a route from Mystic Seaport to Masons Island Road, veteran mail carrier Phil Plouffe climbed over drifts and hugged snowbanks as cars just squeezed past him.
Faced with unshoveled walks and other obstacles, he estimated that his deliveries would take him about an hour longer than normal.
But it didn’t bother the 58-year-old Plouffe, who has been a mail carrier here for 30 years — half of that on his current, mostly walking, route.
That’s because he enjoys winter hiking, camping, running and skiing, and eight years ago he made it to within a few thousand feet of the summit of Mount Everest before having to turn back because of exhaustion.
Compared to that, delivering mail in the snow is a breeze.
“This is what I live for. Just give me three good months of winter weather, and I’m happy,” he had said Tuesday, as the postal service canceled deliveries because of the blizzard.
So instead Plouffe headed out to cross-country ski. Last week he could be found skating on Long Pond in Ledyard.
“I’ve always been attracted to winter sports,” he said.
Plouffe said his route used to be all walking, but five years ago he was given a postal truck. Now, he parks at certain locations and walks a loop, then gets back in and drives to the next loop. His only reprieve from the six hours of cold is when he steps inside a business to drop off some mail.
He shrugged off his five miles a day of walking as no big deal.
"No one wants to do my route because of that," he said.
He said heavy snow means he can’t cut through yards, while unshoveled sidewalks and large snowbanks force him to walk in the road — something he says is really dangerous.
There is also the hidden ice under snow, which occasionally causes him to fall.
“But I fall on dry days,” he joked.
On Wednesday morning, with temperatures reading 17 degrees and the wind chill at 9, Plouffe had layers of clothing on under his postal uniform plus heavy boots, gloves and a balaclava and hat to keep his head warm.
“The only thing that’s cold is my hands,” he said. “Thank God it’s not windy.”
As he trudged through a thigh-high drift at the Sea Swirl, Plouffe said for the most part, “People have done a real good job (of clearing the snow) because they had the day off.”
On other parts on his route, plows had piled snow 4 feet deep on sidewalks that had yet to be shoveled by their owners. This forced him to walk out on busy Route 1 as a plow on a pickup truck whizzed past just a few feet away.
“It’s the same people who don’t clear their walks,” he said.
If people have not shoveled a path to a mailbox, Plouffe may wait to deliver the mail.
“I have some snow mail right here,” he said reaching into his satchel.
In front of one business, a narrow path had been carved through the 3-foot-deep snow.
“Thanks for shoveling,” he told the owner as she stood across the street taking a photograph of the snow in front of her shop.