I have hit a new low. Not morally, I'm pretty much the same person I've been for the last 24-and-a-half years. My new low couldn't be described as physical either, although I'm pretty sure it's not all in my head. The low I'm speaking of relates to temperature. In short, it's cold!
I went to my mailbox on Monday, and as I was fumbling for the keys my hands, which were already cold, began to turn blue. Then they began to go numb. Wednesday morning I was greeted at my apartment door with vapor curling up the bluff from the river and inlet below. I guess the water was warmer than the surrounding air. And my car protested with a loud screech before it grudgingly chugged to life .
I've experienced varying degrees of temperature before, but nothing that affected whether or not my car would start. I'd have to say the hottest place I've been to would be the Hoover Dam where it was 115 degrees in the summer of 1999, but being from Southern California, I'm used to triple-digit temperatures. The coldest I've ever felt was last winter during a cold snap in Northern California that decimated the strawberry and citrus crop further south. But nothing prepared me for 15 below zero.
I thought the hardest challenge for me during my first Alaska winter would be getting used to the ice and snow on the roads. After I became comfortable with that, I thought dealing with dark at 7:30 a.m. when I wake up, dark around 9 a.m. when I get to work and dark at 5:30 p.m. when I leave would be the toughest thing I'd have to deal with. Now that I've experienced sub-zero temperatures for the first time in my life, I'd have to say the hardest thing is seeing the sun shine but not warm.
How do Alaskans do it? How do they keep warm without going absolutely crazy? I consider myself to be pretty tolerant when it comes to most extreme temperatures, but when the morning breeze gnaws at my nose like a beaver gnaws on wood, the thought of curling up in a fetal position under my favorite blanket isn't unappealing.
I was probably spoiled during the summer, either that or I was naive (more than likely both), but somehow I wasn't prepared for how cold it would actually get. All throughout the six months I've been up here people have told me that lakes freeze so hard you can drive across them, it'll be 30 below before winter's done, but don't worry, it's a dry cold.
So far, I've stayed indoors. Too nervous to venture outside into the snow, too wimpy to take the cold. When I'm in my car, when it's finally warmed up, I've got the heater on full blast. And here in the newsroom even if everyone else is warm, I usually have my coat on.
Driving in winter conditions (real winter conditions), seeing temperature gauges on the peninsula read minus 4 degrees, even watching snowflakes flutter to the ground is a novel experience for me. I must say, though, watching a flotilla of ice sail under the Warren Ames Bridge in lieu of salmon-hungry anglers is pretty cool pun intended. And some of the scrub is so frosty, I just want to take a bite out of them to see if they're sugar-coated.
One things for sure, if the Alaska winter doesn't scare me off, I can make it through anything. I just have one request: If you see a woman bundled up in 40 degree weather, hat, scarf, jacket, gloves and all, don't laugh at her. In California, 40 degrees is just as cold as minus 40 is here.
Jessica Cejnar is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. When she's not freezing, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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