Oreamnos Americanus

March 14, 2017

Oreamnos Gets Towed | Out West Somewhere

I had a little trouble on day two. That snowy morning, the truck wouldn’t start. No reason to panic, but all plans went out the window as I shifted into diagnostic mode.

If (like me) you don’t know much about cold weather but have visited a deep-freezing climate, you probably noticed electrical plugs hanging like snaky tongues from the closed mouths of cars and trucks. Those are for plugging in an engine block heater on extremely cold days. They always seemed mysterious to me, but they’re not. The heater is installed in the vehicle and you connect it one hour for every increment of ten degrees starting at about ten degrees. If the outside temperature is zero, you plug in for an hour, if it’s minus ten you let it warm for two hours, minus twenty for three hours, and so on. I’d plugged in the truck for at least three hours that morning.

Truck Plugged In | Out West Somewhere

When I texted Charlie to confirm that the outlet for the plug was working properly, he and his dog Ila (who deserves a post of her own) almost magically appeared in the driveway, bearing multiple options for jump starting the truck. The short version is it took a long, cold while to get it going — and by the time we did, a whole community (Teri, me, Charlie, Linda, John) had decided I should drive straight to Sears to get a new battery.

Ila concurred.

Ila in the Snow | Out West Somewhere

Now, what I discovered on the way to Sears is that the truck also needed new tires. The tires were solid all-weather Michelins with excellent tread, but they were thirteen years old. After nearly sliding off the road (twice) and arriving bug-eyed and knuckle-clutched in the Sears parking lot, I learned that tire rubber deteriorates over time. It hardens and can lead to skidding on snow and ice.

More texts . . .

Linda: The roads are slick with the new snow.

Me: No shit.

A Sunny Afternoon in Fairbanks | Out West Somewhere

I offer high praise to whatever part of the brain stores decades-old drivers’ education lessons: stay off the brake and steer in the direction of the skid. My body seemed to know what to do. Also, I had been driving slowly and making an effort to keep a lot of space around me, these things being the functional equivalent of hanging a sign on the back of the truck saying “I’m from California and I don’t know what I’m doing.” John said, though, that it was a slippery day for locals, too. On a one-to-ten scale of slippery, he said it was an eight for everyone.

I’m so grateful I didn’t slide off the road, or into another driver, or into oncoming traffic. I also fell down twice that day, and I feel lucky I didn’t hurt myself then, either. I learned a lot from all this, but my whole body is sore and my nervous system is still recovering.

And wouldn’t you hope a brand new battery and four new tires would be the end of it? It wasn’t, quite. The next day I turned the key in the ignition and . . . click. Nothing happened. The short version of this part of the story is: many more phone calls, a couple visits from Charlie that included banging on the starter with a stick, a tow truck (thank you AAA for working everywhere), another trip to see the kind guys at Sears, and a new alternator and starter.

Putting Orrie on the Tow Truck | Out West Somewhere

In a few hours I’ll go out and try to start the truck again. Please hold a good thought.

When I asked, Teri told me the truck’s name is Oreamnos. I looked it up and found that’s short for Oreamnos americanus, the mountain goat. (So many scientists in Fairbanks!) I asked Teri if it’s okay for me to call the truck “Orrie” for short and she said sure, it’s friendlier.

You do have to be goat-like around here—determined, resourceful, equipped for extreme weather. But kindness also goes a long way. It seems like everyone I know and everyone I meet is willing to lend a hand.

As Charlie said, “That’s what we do around here at this time of year. We fix stuff and help each other out.”

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  • Julia March 15, 2017 at 4:12 am

    Oh, my goodness! That’s horrible. Car problems plus snow is dreadful. Slipping around in a huge truck you are not used to is dreadful. The tension doesn’t leave your body for days! Wahh!

    • Shae March 15, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Compared to most of the trucks I see here (and at home now, too) this one is just a welterweight. What’s up with trucks getting bigger and bigger as the planet is getting hotter and hotter? I mean, if you really need one, that’s fine, but if not . . . stop already.

      And yes, scary — and yes, tense for days. I’m just now settling down!

  • Virginia Kosydar March 15, 2017 at 10:14 am

    “bug-eyed and knuckle-clutched” Great visual

    • Shae March 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      I think my hair was probably standing up a little, too. 😉

  • Kathy March 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    What a hair-raising experience you had driving into town. I think you’re heroic.
    I love the fact that everyone is so helpful, lord help you if they weren’t .
    Are you getting enough solitude? The landscape looks so inviting.
    Does Spring arrive August 22 there?
    Lots of warm thoughts coming your way.

    • Shae March 23, 2017 at 5:28 pm

      I had been asking myself the same question about solitude until just a few days ago. Something turned at about the halfway point and I have indeed found a much quieter place. Today I stayed in bed until 1 p.m. reading. I can’t think when was the last time I let myself do something like that just for pleasure — without being sick.

      The forecast says the temps will rise above freezing in about a week. Spring can’t be far behind!