Friday, November 18, 2011

Bitterly Cold

I find it hilarious that the weather description for Fairbanks and other Interior locations these days is "bitterly cold". One day last week Fairbanks topped the chart as being the coldest place in the world. Colder than Antarctica! We were all so proud.  

The cold made for an interesting trip to Tanana this week. It was -40 when we landed. I wore complete snow gear on the flight out and on the return. These small Piper planes are heated but just enough to prevent frostbite. My feet turned to blocks of ice and I wear serious winter boots. Sorel Caribou's to be exact.

Gail sporting the ever-popular "bundled" look
so popular in Piper aircrafts.
Flying into Tanana. Look closely and you can see the runway.

Landed in time for sunrise. About 10:00.

Once in Tanana we had to wait for the plane to unload before loading up in the van for a ride to the school.

Sunrise from the passenger drop-off and pick-up zone.
In slightly warmer temps people get picked up with snowmachines.

I was traveling this trip with my colleague, Gail. We arrived at the B&B to the words "water heater is broken". No shower for us the next morning. The water heater was fixed the next day and I was sure to take a shower that night. Good thing I did because it was broken again the following morning! Lesson #1367: If hot water is available get a shower while you can!

The school is about 3 blocks from the B&B. No big deal. Sure, eye lashes and nose hairs freeze. And should you drop the keys to the school in the snow, well let's just say that fine motor control is impossible when your fingers are swaddled in a thick mitten/glove system.

Our boss got wind of our walking to school in -40 weather and was appalled. She demanded that the school provide a ride for us and basically forbade us to walk in those temperatures. I appreciated her concern. However, what she doesn't understand, and is so difficult to explain to people until you've experienced it, is that it isn't a big deal. Yes, it's cold. But you put on warmer socks, wear the expedition winter boots, layer the long underwear, wear a neck gaiter and your thick down parka, and you're set!

What does feel like a big deal is putting on all that gear. It's at least 10 minutes of pulling on snow pants, lacing boots, donning hats, mittening up and crossing your fingers you don't have to go to the bathroom until you reach your destination. But once outside it doesn't seem much different to me than temps in the teens. Cold is cold. Okay, at 15 degrees you don't have an instant ice cream headache or the hacking cough from the cold air freezing the moisture in your lungs. However, other than a few annoyances, it's fine. And as demented as this makes me, there is something about these -40 temps that makes me feel alive and excited and happy.

In terms of transportation though, the school district has nothing to offer. There are no school buses and no one's car will start in this weather anyway. When Gail and I told the superintendent about the edict from our boss, we all had a good laugh. What, we're going to ride to school on a snowmachine? No thank you! I'd rather walk than have windchill on top of -40 temps! Most of the kids walk to school. Why shouldn't we?

Leaving school for the day. Sunset on the Yukon.
The frozen Yukon, that is.
This trip ended in an interesting way. While still at the school the afternoon of my departure, the superintendent asked me if I would mind being the "escort" for one student traveling to Fairbanks. Sure, I said. I knew better than to ask why. Some things you just don't want to know. I was later told that the tribe had decided to send this girl, about 10 years old, to Fairbanks to live with her aunt.

On the airfield I was handed an envelope to give to the aunt in Fairbanks, and we left. It was -34 degrees. Other than being cold it was a perfect flight. Not even any turbulence. In Fairbanks I turned over the paperwork to the girl's aunt.

Not a great picture, but this was our approach to Fairbanks.
I arrived home to a door that was frozen shut and promptly forgot my keys in the front lock all night. Score one for me.