Although we are really just two thirds of the way through the calendar ‘fall’ it certainly feels like winter outside with highs struggling to reach 25° F (-4° C) even on sunny days while bottoming out in the low single digits and a paltry 3.5” (8.9 cm) of ‘snow pack’. Paradoxically, I’ve been becoming more and more active regarding projects and have completed a number which had been ‘hanging around’ for the better part of a year or more. Many of said ‘projects’ involve preparing for the oncoming winter; I’ve written of these in previous postings. In Alaska, there is a regular cycle to living semi-rural and it is strongly tied to the seasons. Most long time Alaskans do not give these much thought; such cycles have been a part of their annual existence since they can remember. But, as a relative ‘newbie’ just now preparing for his fifth winter, I always find myself reflecting on these cycles and what they entail.
Just today I swapped my bedding and, before I completed the swap I took time to disconnect the air line from the pump to the connector on the air bladder of my Sleep Number bed, apply a thin layer of Vaseline to said connector, reconnect and then proceed with changing the bedding. I learned a while back that as my Sleep Number bed has aged it tends to slowly leak air from this connection and when the bedroom air temp varies by more than fifteen degrees this leakage is exacerbated. It is very noticeable in the winter when the air temps in the master bedroom can vary from 50° F to 65° F (10° C to 18° C). The Vaseline helps form a good seal which holds the pressure in the bed’s air bladder.
In ‘tune’ with doing the aforementioned once finished I first put on an electric sheet I purchased a few years back followed by the regular sheets, blankets and quilts. If the air temp in the master bedroom is allowed to drop into the middle fifties or lower for any period of time the bed chills right down to that temp as well. This makes climbing into it for the first time come evening a most ‘invigorating’ experience! Being able to activate the electric sheet maybe ten minutes before I actually plan to lie down warms the bedding quite nicely and makes it ‘oh so comfortable’ to climb in. I rarely sleep with the sheet turned on as I find it too warm even at a very low setting but if we see another cold spell like we saw last January when we bottomed out at -40° F (-40° C) a couple of mornings and never rose above -16° F (-26.6° C) for three consecutive days I will no doubt sleep with it on as I did during those cold days and nights. During this extreme cold spell the air temp in the master bedroom dropped to 46° F (7.8° C) by the early morning and that was darned cold!
A while back I removed the last of my light blocking barriers from the south and west windows in the master bedroom. I used to have such barriers up in most of the second floor windows but last spring I applied a clear layer of IR blocking film to most of the east, south and west facing windows in the house which dramatically reduced the heat generated by the almost continual summer sun. In addition, I’ve been trying to wean myself away from needing a very dark room in which to sleep and thus far I’ve had some success. This summer I discovered thanks to the aforementioned film the second floor is much cooler in the summer. Prior to applying it I used much of my light blocking materials to reflect back the incoming light and hence the heat. I’m slowly learning what works and what doesn’t north of 62 degrees north latitude…
Come this fall I’m dealing with a brand new paradigm involving my ongoing exercise routine which currently consists of taking at minimum 11,000 daily steps – for me the rough equivalent of walking 4.3 miles (6.9 km) – every day. I began this routine with just 4,000 daily steps back in March so I had no real experience with doing so in the extreme cold but more importantly in the darkness. From the time I arise, generally between 05:30 and 06:30, I try to do a minimum of 1,200 steps every hour. The purpose is to force me to abandon my network and get up and move! As such, I am generally stepping every hour – and my Garmin vivosmart 3 PFM makes sure I do so – until 14:00 if not later. But this means the first four to five cycles are done when it is still very dark outside. I have donned my headlamp and taken the kidz out for a few morning walks but I’m always concerned about surprising a moose. Even with the headlamp I cannot see very well and could easily surprise some of the local wildlife; I count on the kidz to scent out such animals long before I can see them but they are not infallible. Therefore, since October I’ve been doing a majority of my morning stepping indoors. While this does work it is much more boring and it puts more stress on my legs and associated joints as I do quite a bit of stopping/starting and making 180 degree turns as I navigate my ‘track’ around the second floor. Not doing my stepping is simply not an option; I have to do so daily to help manage my hypertension and late onset Type 2 diabetes and it is instrumental in my current 43 pound (19.5 kg) weight loss. Because of this I’ve sucked it up and done virtually all my steps indoors but as I mentioned this gets to be very boring.
The darkness is a tough barrier but so is the lack of real stable footing in the great outdoors. We currently have just 3.5” (8.9 cm) of ‘snow pack’ and the bottom 1.5” (3.8 cm) of that depth is hard frozen ice. This makes footing questionable at best even using walking staffs. If we’d get an additional 6” plus (15.2 cm plus) snow atop this icy snow layer the traction issue would be negated; in this case the more snow atop that darned ice the better! However, until this happens I’m forced to deal with potentially slippery conditions and I cannot forget what the fall I took on March 27, 2015 did to my life and to my bank account! But having lived this long in semi-rural south central Alaska I know I just have to adapt to what Mother Nature gives me and ‘keep on keepin’ on’.
In keeping with ‘new paradigms’ regarding winter preparations I now have a travel trailer (Forest River R-pod) so for the first time I went through the ‘winterization’ process a few weeks back. There really wasn’t much to it; first I went through the interior and removed anything which wouldn’t do well in below zero temps like water jugs, low carb salad dressing and similar. Then I splashed small amounts of non-toxic antifreeze into the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and toilet. Finally, I spent an hour figuring out how to drape a 16’ by 20’ tarp over the unit. I did so on a calm day but even so it was a struggle and a learning experience. I finally ‘un-nested’ an eight foot nesting aluminum pole, inserted the pointed end into a corner grommet on the tarp and carefully worked it over the top of the R-pod. I then began to tie down each of the four corners using some nylon rope, the grommets and any available weights like stones or large pieces of tree trunks. Once completed the tarp protects the roof and a portion of the sides. While not particularly pleasing to one’s eye it should help prevent any freezing rain or similar from penetrating into the unit.
So goes the ‘song of the seasons’ and with these efforts along with a host of others I’m now ready for winter. This is a good thing as we bottomed out a few days back at -1.3° F (-18.5° C), the first below zero reading of this season, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Now we just need to pick up a few feet of snow and we’ll be looking good. I’m sanguine with settling in for another cold, dark and (hopefully) snowy and cold winter. But I also know that come late March into mid-April I’ll once again be hearing the seasonal shift’s song and organizing my preparations for the upcoming spring. Maybe it is age but I must admit, I do take comfort and pleasure in these Nature driven routines…