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Posted: December 4, 2022

Baby it’s cold outside but not as cold as you think

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Yes, it’s cold out there. But is it really that cold? Not on your life. I’m no expert, but even in my relatively sheltered life I’ve experienced cold much more severe than the relatively balmy cold snap we’re experiencing now.

Try living in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

I was living in the Yukon capital almost 40 years ago and feeling lonely as Christmas approached. So, it wasn’t long before I decided to jump into my trusty Ford SUV and visit my family in the Kootenays, a daunting 1,500-mile drive in the best of times. Gassing up in Watson Lake the thermometer in the gas station window said minus 41 F and I quickly dropped my plan to make it to Fort Nelson the first day and opted for a warm motel room instead.

Good thing as the mercury had dropped to around minus 50 F the next morning and I was worried my truck wouldn’t start even though I had taken the battery out of the vehicle and slept with it next to the base-board heater in the toasty motel room that frigid night. So, the next morning, I tried to fire up the frozen truck and struggled to move the transmission lever into neutral because the gear oil was so stiff. It finally started after coughing several times while the fan belt squealed. Then to my horror, I found I couldn’t move the gear lever into drive because the transmission oil remained so thick that my fingernails were shivering.

What to do?

Well, when in doubt, a good thing to do is have breakfast and think about it. And that’s exactly what I did letting my vehicle warm up a bit. Almost an hour later, I ventured outside to see if my still idling truck was going to get out of the parking lot that grim morning. Honest to God, it took both hands on the transmission lever to move it into drive all the time thinking the damn lever was going to break. But into drive it went and very gingerly I gave the frozen engine some gas.

Well, the truck moved, but just barely and made it clear it was going to be a long drive to Fort Nelson that day if it moved at all. So, I decided to go with the flow. Instead of heading back on the road, I drove my vehicle in circles in the parking lot to see if the temperature gauge would move even a bit. Slowly it did, but I was almost dizzy before that frozen gauge even budged.

But eventually it did and filled with trepidation about breaking down on the road I started my odyssey down the highway to Fort Nelson on that cold and cruel highway. And as it turned out, I was in for a trip far longer than I expected because it was so damn cold the SUV couldn’t go faster than 50 km/h or it would start coughing again and freeze up. Inside the vehicle, I was freezing up too because cold air was coming out of the so-called “heater” and not even an arctic coat, down vest and long-johns could do anything about that.

When I got to the Liard River suspension bridge, I was in for another shock. Peering through the ice fog coming off the frozen river, I thought I saw something erect and moving on the ice. I did see something. And it was alive. Not a moose. Not a caribou, but two tightly bundled men, and given the horrific cold, it took me a while before I realized they were ice fishing.

Ice fishing in extreme cold like that! They grow them tough in the Yukon.

I did make it a day later than what was planned, but damn glad to be alive and with a vehicle still running. Another night in a warm motel room and I was off in the Great White North for Kamloops where it felt positively tropical after what I’d been through. And I learned an important lesson on that treacherous trip.

When the temperature drops to 40 below Fahrenheit or Celsius (same thing) don’t drive if you can avoid it. Vehicles don’t do well at those temperatures and neither do people. Why roll the dice?

– Gerry Warner is an old retired journalist, who doesn’t like the cold anymore.

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