The Great White North

“Looking down at my frozen water supply I knew winter had come. For good this time.”

The arrival of winter is unpleasant for anyone who chooses to endure it. Here in the Midwest it’s just part of life. Part of our existence here. Most combat the frigid temperatures by living in homes thick with insulation and houses warmed to a toasty seventy degrees.  Hot running water is available at the turn of a handle and food is kept warm and safe from the bite of frost. Cars idle lazily outside, providing a cozy warmth for their owners when they enter. Businesses, stores, and homes jut out of this white tundra like pockets of warmth. The shelters provide an escape from the cold, reducing the frosty air to mere discomfort or slight irritation. Most folks only know cold as he passes by. Offering no more than a glance and a tip of the hat. The thirty seconds between the house and hopping in the car. They have forgotten what it’s like to actually live in and with the cold. To face him 24/7.

I was once like that. I had forgotten but now, now I know. I know what winter is truly capable of. Without the protection of a home and modern comforts he and I battle daily, fighting for supremacy. The first morning I woke up to a frost covered pillow, frozen fruit and water, and an unwillingness to leave my warm sleeping bag I knew that winter, the real winter, had come.

Dagný (the van) and I had prepared for this. When I built her, I filled the walls thick with insulation. An indoor propane heater tied to a 20lb tank would provide heat. Thick blankets were ready to cover the windows not already covered with insulation. A -20-degree sleeping bag and thick fleece-lined blanket would hold in my body heat while I slept. I kept my food and water in a cooler to shield them from freezing. All this worked well for a time but it didn’t last long.

It was mid-January. In the night the temperature had dipped into the negatives. I woke up slowly, the cold biting at my exposed face. It kept me there for a while, pinned inside my sleeping bag. I knew I had to get up and head for the gym. The thought prompted me to leave the safety of my bed just long enough to turn on the heater, crack a window, and crawl back in. I waited several minutes, then ten, and then twenty. It still hadn’t warmed the cabin in the slightest. Knowing I would just have to endure it I rose from my blankets and found my gym clothes. They were so cold that it hurt my hands to hold them. My breathing caused clouds of vapor to escape at each breathe. Standing as close as possible to the heater I undressed and changed. The cold stung my bare chest. Colder still was putting on the frozen garments. I did so quickly and then huddled next to the heater waiting for my body heat to extend to my workout gear.

Then, grabbing my shaker bottled and pre-workout I set them on the counter. Searching my food stuffs, I looked for a banana to eat for breakfast. I found the bundle of them alright. Frozen solid. Disappointed that I would not have anything to ease my hunger I took solace in the fact that it was chest day (my favorite) at least. Opening my cooler in search of my water jug I was disappointed to find it frozen. Removing it I discovered that it was not only frozen but frozen solid, all the way through. I had no water either. Checking my watch, it was nearly 5:30. I had to get moving if I wanted enough time to workout and shower before class. I turned off the heater and donned my winter coat. Grabbing the duffle bag, I moved to the front and removed the blanket that separated the driver area from the living quarters in the back. I was not impressed at what I saw. Every window was covered in a layer of frosty ice on the inside. Even with a window cracked ajar the moisture from the burning propane had frozen to the windows. There was no time to remove it or scrape it off. So, I wasn’t driving anywhere. Overcoming the inconvenience, I gathered myself for the inevitable walk across the entire campus to the gym on the others side. The journey was a cold one. It’s a type of cold that you can’t possibly understand unless you have felt it. It’s cold yes, but it also has a painful numbing to it. When I finally reached….

That’s how it started. The first truly cold morning. Now everyday I wake up and repeat the same process. It’s a bit easier now though. I’ve grown accustomed to the cold in a way. Its still difficult to rouse myself from sleep in the mornings. Leaving the warmth and stepping into the cold is always the hardest part but I know what to expect now. It’s a constant battle of between the cold and I. The exceedingly lower temperatures and whether I can adapt to them fast enough. I’ve found myself spending as much time away from the van as possible whereas before it was where I always escaped to. Going to the gym, then school and work, and in the evenings, I’ve found myself become a regular at a local coffee shop where I like to work on my fiction novel. Anything I can do to stay inside. Eventually though, business close for the day and I have no where else to go but back to the van.

Last night hit -27. It was the first night that crawling into my sleeping bag wasn’t enough. The chill still found its way in. The frigid air is tricky like that. It can find its way into every crack. I tried adding more blankets to my makeshift cocoon. It took awhile for my body heat to warm them, but eventually I was comfortable enough to fall asleep. I find myself wishing for spring more then I ever have before. I have adapted and overcome everything that happened so far. If men can climb Mount Everest and survive in tents and sleeping bags, I know I will find a way. Next week, though, the forecast calls for temperatures as low as the -50’s to -60’s with wind chill. I don’t think that is a battle with winter I can win. Part of me wants to stay in the van and fight it just to prove that I can survive anything. But I am also smart enough not to engage in a fight that I might not win. I will have to figure out something, somewhere else to ride it out but I know it’ll work out.

Until next time readers. Stay warm and say positive.

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