Posts Tagged ‘freeze’

Arctic Conditions

3rd January 2011 by Helen

Who’d believe it could be so cold.  We really have been testing the tent and ourselves in arctic conditions here in North America.  With the temperatures being too cold for the thermometer we have only been able to guess at how cold it has been.  Certainly it has been down to at least -25 degrees centigrade (the point where the LCD on the thermometer goes off).

[31st December]  Although we want to head south as quickly as we can to get to where it is a little warmer, we are also hoping to see some of the sights on our list.  So it was that after we left the forest campsite we continued our journey east to pick up some of the key Lewis and Clark sites of interest.

We have also figured that with most of the forestry campsites and roads closed we might as well make use of the rest areas.  We know we can put our tent up at most of them.  Even though there are signs saying no camping our tent is on the roof and not pitched on the ground so we consider we count as an RV and haven’t been challenged on that view.

New Year’s Eve – we found ourselves at a rest area near a town called Anaconda in Montana.  Our plans to defrost and cook some of our food were thwarted by being unable to even get the key into our high security padlock on the back door.  That precluded a short drive into Anaconda, past Opportunity and Wisdom (hmmmm, might be something in that), where we found McDonald’s already closed but the discount supermarket Alberstons open, enabling us to feast on sourdough bread, ham and cheese, and one of Paul’s favourites, a large box of doughnuts.

Knowing the tent was already full of ice from the forest neither of us had the heart to tackle putting it up again and settled into our arctic sleeping bags for a cab sleep.  We’ve got quite practiced at this over the last few months since leaving the UK.  Paul likes to be completely snug in his sleeping bag, fully zipped to the neck.  I tuck my feet in the bottom of my bag, zip it up as far as the seat to stop the draft coming up from the floor, and then use the rest as a duvet.  That gives me much more room to fidget around, flap the cover open if it gets a bit warm (not much chance of that on these nights), and use the hood to completely cover my head and so keep out the noise and light pollution.

[1st January] Engine wouldn’t start again this morning.  This time the fly spray trick didn’t work.  So especial thanks to Emerson and Tammy who stopped and helped us out with a jump start. 

checking out the bank in the ghost town of Pony in Montana - not going to get much fundraising done here

checking out the bank in the ghost town of Pony in Montana - not going to get much fundraising done here

Montana 'cowboy country'

Montana 'cowboy country'

Sadly we found the Lewis & Clark Caverns were closed but we stopped at the ghost town of Pony, which is nestled in the foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains, and posed for photos outside the old bank there.  Although billed as a ghost town, it is still very much occupied with just a few of the old buildings left standing empty.  Further on we passed through both Virginia City and Nevada City ghost towns which appeared much better preserved, whilst still occupied.  There were many more of the old buildings still standing, and although we passed through in the dark it was possible to get a sense of what life might have been like here.

Montana scenery

Montana scenery

A stop at a garage proved the lock on the fuel filler was also frozen shut.  After much application of de-icers it eventually released its grip so we could fill up with fuel and the garage kindly gave us a large cup of almost boiling hot water to defrost the padlock on the back door.  Needless to say, by now we can’t lock pretty much any of the car up!!

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Montana scenery, but by tonight we have made it into Idaho for the second time.  It’s not got any warmer and another cab sleep begins with the temperature already dropping below minus 15 degrees centigrade.

[2nd January] – We awake to minus 17 degrees centigrade and an engine that won’t start.  However, today we really must get some charge into our phone and laptops so we can communicate whenever we reach internet access and so, rather bizarrely we spend much of the day sitting in the rest area’s lobby plugged in and charging.  That is, after we had played noughts and crosses in the ice on the inside of the windows.

playing noughts and crosses in the frost in the mornings

playing noughts and crosses in the frost in the mornings

It was here we met Pete & Laura, before we travelled a little further south and camped just outside Salt Lake City, where the next morning [3rd January] we found the temperatures much improved, sufficient for us to put up the tent (in Walmart’s car park), brush out the ice and get the tent and bedding aired for the first time since leaving the forest.  Our problem now is what to do with all that frozen food, which is fast defrosting now we are no longer in freezer conditions!!

Happy New Year

1st January 2011 by Helen

As our eyes opened on 2011 they were met with the sight of the cloudless powder blue skies of Montana.  Big Sky Country.

A veneer of new powder snow softened the landscape, and the pale morning sun threw shadows across the Rockies, giving them depth and texture, whilst in the mid ground, winter grasses poked through the white coated prairie to produce an undulating lemon blush to the ground.  The soft pastels created a picture-postcard scene.

But inside our cab, it was hard to escape the harsh reality of the dawn of day one of the New Year.  A thick hoare frost hung glinting on every internal surface, the product of our night of tense breathing and a temperature of minus 18 centigrade.   Going to bed in the cab had been the equivalent of switching off the lights and climbing into your freezer to sleep. 

As our ears wakened to the new day, the silence was broken by frequent tinny cracks and pings of metal contracting, twisting and distorting with the relentless force of nature.  Everything on board had frozen solid – our water for sure, but also our toothpaste, shampoo, cooking oil, the eggs – and us.

The pretty twinkling of minute ice crystals belied the painful assault on our bodies.   Toes turned to ice, fingers stiff and immobile, all exposed flesh made vivid red by the frigid air.  Not that Helen was exposing any flesh, having mastered the art of disguising herself as a human chrysalis. 

2010 had come to a rather ignominious end.  Our plan to camp for a few days in the forests to catch up on ‘must do’ jobs, and to prepare Landy for the drive south has been thwarted by bitterly cold weather and malfunctions – that, and wet lumber.  We had been unable to get a fire to start with any reliability, and the timber available nearby was wet through.  I had been unable to light our stove conventionally, and had resorted to igniting a pool of liquid fuel under the burner to pre-heat it before the pressurised fuel would vapourise and ignite.  The inside of our day tent was thick with ice from cooking and the ice beneath our feet sucked all heat from our feet in minutes.

And the point of staying still – catching up on our jobs – had evaporated when all the LCD displays on our electrical devices ceased to function.  Laptops, phone, GPS, even the thermometer – all gave up the ghost at about minus 16 degrees.  Only by holding a warm hand against the display were we able to see the temperature we were enduring.  It had become no fun at all to sit still, and no jobs were getting done.

But it had also become hard to use the tent.  The canvas was as stiff as cardboard, and the metal parts acted like superglue to any exposed skin.  Putting the tent up or down is a six or seven minute task, and requires gloveless interaction with the various components.  At these temperatures, twenty seconds was as much as I could bear before intense pain seared my fingers.  Simply impractical.  And on closing the tent down, thick shards of ice cracked free of the canvas and tinkled and crackled onto the duvet.

This was by far the coldest, most uncomfortable experience so far.  Time to move south.

And so we found ourselves in Montana on New Year’s Eve, heading east on Interstate 90, and stopping overnight at a remote rest area for another cab sleep.  Too tired to continue, too cold to put up the tent, too resigned to care much either.  And too far from anywhere to share in any festivities. 

It would have been easy to let the harsh weather, the miserable conditions, and our somewhat desperate financial position to cloud our thinking, and OK, for a while we were whingeing and worrisome.  But in such an inspiring landscape, and on such a beautiful new morning, on the first day of a promising new year, it didn’t take much to bring deeper meaning to our experience. 

We were soon reflecting on how the early pioneers had travelled this way over a hundred and thirty years ago, without fleece or down, and with only wooden wheeled horse drawn wagons – and no rest stops at which to water and warm themselves.  It is easier now to imagine the hardship they endured, how lives were lost to the cold, and to hunger, and how forging a way through the barren landscape was a task in itself.  Its easy too, to imagine the resolve they surely possessed to forge new opportunities for their families and their future generations, and from that to be humbled. To be inspired.

Whilst our own challenges can be significant, and at times seem insurmountable, we should remember that by contrast we have it easy.  I remember a saying that my father would use when I would complain about how hard things were, or how big my problems seemed… “Son”, he’d say,“If everyone in the world put their problems in a pile, you’d be glad to take your own back”

Later, as the sun’s rays reached her, Helen would turn into a butterfly again.  With a helping hand from a passing Chevrolet pickup, Landy would fire up and idle roughly.  And with a little luck, I would regain my pioneer spirit.

And so, uplifted by the stunning landscape of the western Rockies, amidst the late winter morning sun, we broke camp and headed south, with the confidence that there is always a way, if you dare believe it, and have the resolve to find it – to make every new year a happy one.