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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”