Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thirty below

Behind a thermometer that reads -30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit is a mighty river, frozen solid like a white hot lava field shining in the bright sun.
The temperatures gauges in Sterling haven’t made it any closer to zero than perhaps -15 for the last few days. With the light at its near shortest for the entire season on the first day of the New Year, this is the Alaska winter so many in the Lower conjure images of.
My vehicle runs in the driveway, humming regularly now ready to go. Five minutes ago it looked like it was frozen to the land like everything else around it.
Holding the painfully cold key to the end of its rotation in the ignition, the car coughed like a machine gun, spinning the motor over and over. Finally after holding it in place for 10 seconds, the car, very quietly shivered to life, like a great beast pulled out of deep slumber into the cold air.
I awoke this morning to a world locked in cold.
The pipes under the lodge were solid, frozen all the way deep underground.
There’s truly nothing enjoyable about these temperatures
Furnaces run constantly, skin peels and cracks without application of moisturizers; the snow makes skis drag across it like sand paper, contacts fold across the cornea and water freezes instantly to everything.
I wrote a story today about a local musher that raced 200 miles in -50 degree temperatures paired with 50 mph winds on the Denali Highway outside Paxson last weekend.
This weather is as close to Fairbanks as things get; I see no reason to get closer right now.
It makes your will tough. Skiing through that bitter cold one learns what keeps them warm and what doesn’t. How quickly a healthy piece of flesh goes from numb, to dead.
The thought of 0 degrees sounds great, high teens or low twenties balmy. Anything else might be uncomfortably hot.

The river, frozen over on New Years Eve day. The ice finally locked solid out front two nights before

Moisture from both sweat and breath freeze almost instantly on night skis at 20 below.

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