Having spent four winters out in Northern Alberta, I am no stranger to extreme cold. Every year there seemed to be a week or so of –40, which, if you’ve never experienced cold of that magnitude, is something else.
Cold is when you breath in and the hairs in your nose freeze. Really cold is when you breath out and they don’t thaw. You could exhale and watch the white mist float away into the sky without disappating, as if you’d given birth to a cloud.
It was during one such week that my colleague at the paper asked me to cover a weekend basketball tournament for him as he and his wife were going away. No problem. I’d head out, snap a few pictures and everything would be fine and dandy.
Or so I thought.
It turns out that I had forgotten to plug in my van and my engine had frozen solid, which meant if I were going anywhere I had to walk.
Now the nearest tournament site was less than a kilometre away so I figured I’d just hoof it. I decided not to go back to the apartment to change out of my light winter jacket (good to about –20) and just suck it up. As soon as I got out onto the town’s main drag I quickly regretted not changing. The wind cut through my coat as if I were wearing a T-shirt, chilling me to the bone.
Needless to say, my rapidly freezing body slowed down my normal brisk walking pace which forced me to endure even a longer stretch in the elements than I normally would.
When I arrived at the high school there were very few cars in the lot and when I pulled on the front door I found it to be locked. Hmmm… Perhaps I’d gotten the school wrong. So I had a decision to make — walk another kilometre in the cold to try and complete my assignment, or go home and get warm.
The only good thing about my walk to the other school was that the houses along the street cut the wicked wind to the point where I was merely very cold rather than frozen.
Arriving at the front of this school I received a visual reminder of just how cold it actually was as the building’s metal doors had contracted so much that the paint was cracking off in huge flakes.
Lucky for me this time the school was open and I was bathed in a glorious wave of warmth. Unfortunately, the school was as quiet as a tomb. There was no tournament here.
Now, there were two other schools in town, but at this point I no longer cared. I just needed to get home, which meant facing a whipping wind that I knew would be blowing in my face most of the way back.
It was brutal.
Any exposed flesh froze almost to the point of burning. I steeled myself for each gust of wind and gloried in the momentary respite between blasts. The water vapour in my breath turned my moustache into icy daggers that would stab at my lips. My steps were slowing, I was so cold that my shivering was constant. I knew I was hypothermic and that the sooner I got out of cold the better.
When I got home I turned up the heat, changed out of my cold clothes and wrapped myself in blankets on the chesterfield and slowly felt my body temperature return to normal all the while cursing my colleague for getting the tournament’s date wrong and sending me out into the frigid wastes.
— Gordon Cameron is the Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.