Tuesday, February 12

Cold... very cold...

"The road back home"
Aniak, Alaska
January 2008

At 40 below, life slows down. At least, my life slows down, because truly, in town, until temperatures reach 50 below life goes on more or less as usual. Schools are open, and so are the store, the clinic, and the post office. Beyond 50 below, people stay home, kids don't go to school, and cars don't want to start.

I've been staying indoors for a few days, except for some short trips to the shed to fetch wood for the stove. Temperatures have been dancing between 30 and 40 below for the past couple of weeks. My usual means of transportation, the ATV, doesn't start at 30 below. And walking I can reach the neighbor's house before I start worrying if my son has frozen to death in the backpack. So life these days doesn't really offer much else to think about other than the freezing cold out there. I'm still not used to it and my tolerance is low in comparison to some of the people that live here.

Of course, it's essential to dress up accosdingly. In winter here, you don't really wear winter clothes, but serious mountain gear. The kind you wear if you were to climb Mount Everest, almost. Of course, no cotton clothes, which are the worst for cold weather (small detail I have leaned by freezing my butt off a couple times). Of course, always wear layers, onion style, so you can take them off accordingly depending on where you are going, how high they have set their thermostat, and how long you're planning on staying. Snow pants on top of regular warm pants, since skirts here are really never in fashion. Boots that advertise as keeping your feet warm at 70 below, which is not true, but at least you know that you can stay warm at 30 below. And a good expensive parka, because you can't be cheap with your winter clothes in Alaska or you risk a frozen death.

To top it all off, get yourself a good fur hat, a facemask, a good scarf up to your eyes, and a couple pairs of gloves. Basically all that remains to be seen of your body are your eyes, as long as you're walking and there is no wind.Otherwise, add a good pair of googles, that hopefully don't fog up too easily.

I can assure you that the worst part is not trying to move with anything that resembles class and style, but getting all of this gear on you before you leave the house. By the time you are ready to go, you are usually drenched in sweat. It's essential to develop a technique that will allow you to accomplish this process in the minimum amount of time, to avoid profuse sweating. And no, you can't wait until you get outside to put on the mask, scarf, hat and gloves. At 40 below, by the time you get your gloves on, your hands have already frozen and there is no way they will warm up while you're out there.

There is a very interesting phenomenon that happens when you reach subzero temperatures. It's easy to get used to, but at first is very peculiar. With each inhale the inside of your nostrils freeze up, and with each exhale, they thaw. The sensation is hard to describe, because I have never experienced anything even remotely similar. Imagine a thin layer of ice filling the inside of your nose and cracking if you move your nose around like a little bunny rabbit. In this temperature, you do have no other option than to breathe through your nose, so the air that comes in can warm up slightly. And every little bit of warmth is vital these days.

Today we have woken up to a whoopin' 38 below, and by mid afternoon we were at 1 below. A difference of almost 40 degrees Farenheit in 8 hours! That's pretty wild. It seems like temperatures may stay "high" like this for a few days. If so, we will be able to go for a walk, skiing, or snow machining without freezing up along the way.

Everything is relative, of course, and the way we judge things depends on the color of the glasses you are wearing that day and that latitude in which you happen to live. Who could have ever imagined that zero degrees F would some day be a fan-tas-tic temperature.


muchadela torre said...

I love your blog

Amapola said...

No entiendo inglés...........pero te dejo Saludos desde España