Springtime in Alaska can be -40F (-40oC)
Have you ever heard that song “Springtime in Alaska is 40 below?” It’s the story about a guy who searched for gold in Barrow and mushed thru a blizzard of snow to Fairbanks, enters the Red Dog Saloon, hears a woman singing, dances with her and gets into trouble with her fiance.
While in this song many things are wrong like gold in Barrow, blizzards in Interior Alaska, there are some true things about Alaska besides that there is a Red Dog Saloon in Fairbanks, and more males than females. Let’s dig down to the guts of it.
Spring is a snow season
Typically, January is the coldest months. 40 below or colder is so cold that you don’t even want to set a foot in front of the door. You sit inside, and have the feeling the room gets smaller and smaller. You are eager to go out, but when thinking about it you stay inside. When it is a winter with a long cold snap, you will get Cabin Fever.
Alaska cabin fever story
I am about to tell you an Alaska story. It explains the best the term Cabin Fever. When I was told this story the first time in 2001, I did not believe it and laughed about it. One has to have been in a winter with about four weeks of 40 below and colder, to understand it is possible and it may have actually happened once upon a time ….
Prospectors’ first winter
During the Gold Rush times, two friends had made their way up North to Alaska. They had spent the summer searching for gold and had been quite lucky and stroke gold in mid September. Winter came early, some time at the end of September and stopped their work. While they first still continued the soil froze fast and stopped their ability to get to what they came for – the gold. Thus, they were convicted to wait until spring while their minds were burning for the gold.
They shared a dry cabin far outside of Fairbanks. Typically, they mushed into town at least once a week to haul food, and spend some of their nuggets in the saloons and red light district. One year, it became extremely cold short before Christmas for which they stopped their weekly routine.
Getting the fever
A strong Canadian high pressure system had extended into the Interior with clear days and nights. The stars were shining in the sky and the aurora showed its eternal displays from one end of the horizon to the other. What a great view! The cabin was cozy and warm, coffee on the stove, the smell of burning alder wood filled the air while outside the temperatures kept dropping and dropping reaching 40 below on Christmas Day. The windows had ice flowers and they grew from the frame to the middle leaving less and less space to see the pink light of the low winter sun for about 2.5 hours a day.
Killing the days
They killed their time playing cards and only opened the door when they needed new wood for the stove. They had food supply for at least six to eight weeks. Mushing into town would mean strong cold wind in the face from the race. Due to the wind chill, the way below 40 air would feel even more cold. They were sure they would get frost burns if they would mush to Fairbanks.
The high was strong and persistent, unforgivable and like nailed to the place. After four weeks of not having seen anyone but themselves and their sled dogs, they played cards who had to haul in the wood, let out the dogs, and feed them with the smoked salmon that was stored outside in a shack on stalks (to avoid that carnivore animals would get the food). They watched the handles of the clock moving predicting when it would jump to the next spot.
The heat is on
They became bored with each other, started hating the cold, the smell, themselves, and their food. Bacon and beans anyone? Pilot bread and trapper coffee everyday? Then they started hating each other, started fighting.
After another two weeks of below 40 temperatures, they decided to separate. They built a wall in the middle of the cabin to divide it into two parts. The table was built into the wall so each of the men had his fair share. Then they started fighting about who would get the stove.
Getting a solution
The stove would burn down the cabin when built into the wall. Heating both sides of the cabin with the stove would mean that they could not live separate without seeing the other. Getting another stove from town was not an option as temperatures were even lower than the weeks before. Then they argued that they had both paid down the same amount of money for the stove and had equal legal rights on the stove. Thus, they sawed the stove into two pieces.
Definition of Cabin Fever
Doing something that makes no sense at all, in the depth of winter.
If you like this post let your friends know spring time in Alaska is still 3 months away.
How do you avoid to get into winter boredom? What are your tricks? Let me know by sending an email.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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