By Rod Andrew
As I write, I’m a snowbound snowbird, sitting at my dining room table, looking over a frozen river at a snow-covered hillside.
The view could be a Christmas card scene and, until New Year, we enjoy it.
But it is cold and we prefer warmth.
Normally, in about a week, my wife and I would start packing our trailer for our annual trek down to Southern California, but last year, COVID kept us home. This year, we’ve reluctantly decided, once again, to stay put, as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has forced us to put safety ahead of our desire to travel.
What do snowbirds do when they can’t flee south?
Since I don’t skate and my knees don’t like skiing anymore, my appreciation of winter is mostly aesthetic. Snow really is beautiful, but it can limit one, especially when it is accompanied by extreme cold.
Here‘s an account of a few days in the frozen north, specifically the interior of British Columbia.
We’ve had an extended cold spell, with temperatures sinking to minus 20F in our area. Minus anything is cold. We’ve also had snow, so instead of biking and hiking in the desert, we get our exercise shoveling.
We have a cabin about 2,500 feet higher than our house, which we will spend time in when it’s a little warmer. Of course, it’s even colder up there. The cabin is not heated, with the exception of a room underneath, which protects our pump and water system. In case of a power outage freezing the pump house, we have a monitor that sends us the pump house temperature by Wi-Fi. If the electricity goes out, we will also know, as the monitor will go offline.
Something’s not right…
One day soon after Christmas, the monitor began to indicate that something was not right. When it showed a temperature of 40F, I realized that the heater we had used for years was no longer adequate. We headed up the mountain. Water starts to expand as it begins to freeze and pumps don’t like that.
When we reached our cabin, we realized that we would not be able to make it up the driveway, as the snow was too deep, so we parked on the plowed access road and walked up to our gate. This is secured by a chain and combination lock. The lock was frozen. Back to the truck to get a couple of butane firelighters, which we carried for this eventuality.
Neither lighter would work. Probably too cold.
The gate is a typical aluminum farm gate, so we tried sliding between the horizontal rails. No luck. We’re both a little too chubby. Even if we stripped and oiled our bodies we wouldn’t slip through. Plan B was climbing over, but our snow boots and the slippery gate made that very risky.
Plan C. I took off my gloves and cupped the lock in my hands. Then I blew a series of blasts of my fetid morning breath over the lock. In just a couple of minutes, it was unfrozen. My bad breath was a superpower!
Now, anyone who has lived in frozen climes knows that this procedure was not without risks. If my damp lips had contacted the padlock, the two would have been welded together. I had seen “A Christmas Story”, so I was very careful.
The cabin looked inviting, but we were there to work
We trudged down the hill and made our way into the pump house, where 37F felt positively balmy. The problem was the heater, which was quickly replaced. We waited until the temperature was 50F, then headed back to the truck, leaving the padlock attached, but not closed. I can learn.
As we walked back to the truck, I began to take a few winter photos.
My iPhone went blank. My wife took hers out and after a couple of minutes, hers also closed down. We suspect that the air was too cold for them to function. Attention NASA: They’d be useless on Mars.
That night, the monitor went offline. By morning, it was still off. I checked online for power outages, as snow-laden trees frequently fall on power lines, but there were no outages in our area. I had one other avenue to explore: I would contact the cabin Wi-Fi provider, an enormously large company, and see if the Wi-Fi could be checked.
It is NOT this cold in Guatemala
After being transferred several times by a realistic-sounding Robo voice, then listening to music, none of which appealed to me, I finally reached a human being. We went through the process to establish that she could give me information and advice, then I began to explain the issue.
I told her that last night we had temperatures of minus 30 Celsius at the cabin, which was not my current location. She didn’t make any comments, so I thought she was gone.
“Are you there?”
“Yes. Minus 30?“
“Yes. That’s right.”
Then I realized what might be happening. “Where are you working from?”
“I am working in Guatemala.”
Okay, we might have had a communication problem, but once I explained that I had to drive a fair way on icy roads to get to the cabin, and what would happen if my pump froze, she was really helpful. It took about 15 minutes for her to find her way to the input to my cabin, but she eventually was able to assure me that the service was up and still operating.
“Now I can reboot your router, but you need to be there to watch.”
Run, Rod, run!
I have to tell you that I was impressed. This young techie, working in Guatemala, was going to reboot my router in B.C. Wow! I gave her the cabin number and my cell phone number and arranged to be phoned in 90 minutes, at the cabin.
I made it with 10 minutes to spare. As you may remember, I had not locked the gate padlock, so getting in was easy. I checked the router and the modem in the cabin and both were working. I couldn’t check the TV, because it was in the pump house, as extreme cold can be hard on LEDs. Then down to the pump house.
The temperature in there, on my wall thermometer was 68F. Great. The heater was doing its job, but I still hadn’t received an update from my monitor, which was now in front of me. I’m no techie, but I know one technique: Unplug, wait, plug back in.
A miracle. I was back online! Problem solved.
Then, I waited. After an hour, I gave up on my promised return phone call and headed back home. I did, finally, receive a call, which went to voicemail. I was driving. No message was left.
I would prefer to be somewhere warmer, but I’m finding life here full of surprises, so I’m not bored. Every day I check the pump house temperature on my iPhone several times.
I watch the icicles grow outside my kitchen window.
I’m also cultivating my morning breath superpower.
I wonder what my name would be if I joined the pantheon of Marvel superheroes.
Very much enjoyed this article! I suddenly recall why we never bought a second home (excepting the RV, of course).
Drain the system, put a shutoff valve in the pipe to the well point, add RV antifreeze to the pump, turn down the heater to near “0” and head south to Texas, NO covid in the hill country!
Looks like a nice cabin.
Slim Potatohead finally escaped Canada this winter. I hope he spends some time at Cajun Palms.
Who takes care of the cabin when you go south for the winter?
Good question. I don’t have a good answer. I only bought the monitor a year ago. Before that, I just went south and hoped all would be okay. Ignorance and bliss. Now that I have the monitor, I check it obsessively and worry a lot more. I’m not sure what I’ll do in future. Hire someone to worry for me. That could work.
Entertaining story! My question is though, what did you do with these type of problems when you went South for the Winter?
This was fun to read from my nice warm living room. Good writing!
Rod I had the same issue when our two wifi cameras “D Link” would not connect.
So I had someone drive to our yard and throw the main switch to cut power for a few minutes.
Wala I snapped a picture of him before he left the yard.
I solved this issue by using a timer that cuts power to the router every night for 10 minutes.
Another thing I do is wrap a heat tape around our water pump and then put some insulation on it.
Great story, thanks!
Excellent read for our community here in Yuma, AZ. Often ask myself, “why do people live there (up North) in the winter?” I shiver even when I talk and read about the cold. I do not function in that weather. Period. I hear, “Why don’t you stay home during the winter, we can hang together”. “I wish you weren’t leaving”.” Why do you go to Arizona?” While I still have the ability to travel South each year, I will. Cold and snow do not excite me.
Thanks for a good story.
Well done. A very entertaining read from snowy North Hatley in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Brrrrrr….
A wonderful read, looking forward to more. Thank you for sharing.
I would enjoy reading more from this writer!