Friday, February 4, 2011

Desperate Measures

It's cold.

That's the first and most important thing. It's also the second through the fourth thing. I can't think further than that any more.

Cold. Frozen – not liquid, frozen – nitrogen cold. Dear God What Am I Doing Here cold. Really, really cold.

It hit eight degrees below zero night before last, according to the nifty wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer Landlady got me for Christmas. Night before that it was only five below. In between, it didn't warm up much.

This is the fifth day of the cold snap. The first was characterized not so much by cold as by overcast. The second by snow. In fact it never really got all that cold on the first two days, but the snow kept coming. The solar panels never cleared off. The day before that had been overcast. I thought I had things figured out, but then I never was all that smart.

So the morning of the third day, the power went out. By “morning,” I mean about four o'clock. The evening before that, the cold snap had well and truly arrived. I woke up at 3:30, mostly because I thought I was freezing to death.

Turned out not to be true. Death would have been too kind.

In the brilliant intricacies of my thought processes prior to the impending cold snap, I'd thought I had things all figured out. I was wrong about that on two very important fronts. On the third day, the first of my two mistakes surfaced: I hadn't serviced the generator.

The last time I ran the generator, I deliberately let it run out of gasoline. The electrical system has worked so well I just didn't think I'd need it. The most important part of storing a generator long-term is draining all the fuel and letting it run dry, so that bad gas doesn't attack the carburetor diaphragm. This also makes the engine difficult to start, next time you need it.

Didn't matter – I didn't have any gas to put in it anyway. So I lost power until the sun rose, melted the snow on the solar panels, and tickled a little juice into the depleted batteries. When you start that process at four in the morning, it makes for a rather long wait in the cold and the dark. But my troubles had only begun.

That evening it became clear to me that the night to come was going to make the cold night before look like an afternoon in the tropics by comparison. So I left my propane heater running – normally against the rules, since I don't waste propane on the unconscious – and dragged down my army-surplus mummy bag. I put the bag under all my blankets and zipped myself inside securely.

As far as getting a good night's sleep is concerned, that truly did the trick. I slept from eight in the evening till almost 6:30 in the morning. Ghost woke me a couple of times, desperate to get under the covers with me. I kept offering, but with the sleeping bag there just wasn't room under the blankets. Mind you, this was with the heater blazing away. Cold.


When I finally came conscious, it was about twenty degrees inside the Interim Lair. This was – as I just can't emphasize enough – with the heater running all night. The snow on my boots never melted. All my water froze.

Three three-gallon water bottles, all safely indoors. Frozen. Solid.

The Interim Lair is a 35YO RV trailer. With this latest cold snap, I think I may have exceeded the habitability limits of an ancient recreational vehicle. And the worst part was, according to the weather forecast the worst was yet to come.

Bundled up like frickin' Nanook of the frickin' North, I sat and considered my options. They were narrowing by the minute. Like it or not, the time had clearly come to abandon ship.

For some weeks I've been rehearsing all the reasons why moving, even temporarily, to The Secret Lair was a bad idea. None of those reasons seemed to hold much weight now. The one thing the Lair has is heat. A wood fire always works, as long as you've got wood. I've got wood.

The Lair has no – er - “sanitation.” Easy to fix, all I need is the “Plan B” chair and a bucket.

The Lair has no plumbing. So what? Plumbing requires liquid water, and I don't have any of that anyway. It's not as though the plumbing works here.

The Lair has heat. Granted that at the moment it's at ambient temperature, and a fellow could freeze solid waiting for the wood stove to heat up and start radiating all that beautiful heat to its surroundings. Once it does so, the Lair does have a great deal of heat. I did cut firewood.

But all my stuff is here! You know, no matter how hard you try to plan this, you're gonna forget something vital in the move. Okay, then we'll make multiple trips. Either way, it's gotta happen. I'm not spending another frigid night in this trailer. We passed ridiculous sometime yesterday. It's supposed to get even colder tonight.

So that's just what I did. Click, the boys and I bugged out to The Secret Lair to ride out the cold snap. And that's why posting has been rather sparse this week. Because it's too cold to make my fingers move precisely enough to type.

It's still cold, but at least last night it stayed barely above zero. Maybe we're over the hump. We'll see.


The Grey Lady said...

Take care Joel we will be thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

The best laid plans, and all that crap. We have 2 big Koehler generators backing up the solar system. Problem is, the copper pipe propane line running to them is above ground. When it starts hitting -25 at night with daytime highs of -10 to 0, the propane wont' flow and the gens won't run. So then it's on to the little coleman gas gen. Roll it out to run and roll it back in to store -- out, in, out, in. I expect it to quit any day now.

Glad you're warm now. Take care and stay safe. K

Anonymous said...


you will find polar bears in your fridge trying to stay warmer.

or ice cubes growing fur...

have fun...


Big Wooly said...

Any way to temporarily move the trailer down to the lair? That way... (don't hate me) ... You get to have your stuff and heat it too!

suek said...

How ever did the indians survive??

They were _tough_ people!

MamaLiberty said...

Wow! Be careful! That's just too darn cold.

I got locked out of my house one afternoon when it was zero and windy. I was never so cold in my life and had to walk a mile to a neighbor's to get a ride to my friend's place for my spare keys.

I'll NEVER let myself get into that situation again, believe me.

Take care of yourself!!!

Joel said...

K, that business about propane is one that its proponents never seem to mention for some reason. The evaporation temperature of propane is about -40, but the pressure does start to get variable as the ambient temperature approaches zero. I have the same problem with my heater and cookstove. A propane-powered engine will refuse to work at the pressures available somewhere slightly below zero. I have some neighbors who learned the same thing about their generator this week.

Joel said...


Around here the indians didn't always survive. Which is why the principal evidence of the original inhabitants consists of ruins. The Zuni claim to be their descendants, and may be correct, but they don't live here anymore. The Navajo and Apache came after, and even they don't want this place.

Technology is good.

suek said...

Technology _is_ good!

No argument from me!