Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adventures in cat-sitting: Arctic Edition

Oh crap, I said to myself as I slammed my body into the door over and over again. I think the lock is frozen.

Living in the Arctic Circle presents all sorts of different challenges and rituals that a Southerner like me would never even imagine.  For example, just last Friday, I may or may not have driven off with the company vehicle while it was still plugged into the wall. I forgot to take out the extension cord, okay? Back at home in tropical Ottawa, I never plugged my car in.  Here, your car will never start again if you leave it unplugged, or turn the engine off when you're only getting out of the car to do something simple like grocery shop.

a beautiful sun rise over the frozen Arctic Ocean

And here was my new problem. I had offered to cat-sit for a friend while she was out of town for a week. I had heard (but not really paid attention to) her stories before about how her front door lock would occasionally freeze. And now here I was: turning the key with all my might, with the lock not budging one millimetre.

Part of the problem was that it was so damn cold outside that day in Cambridge Bay:  -42°C without the windchill, and -56°C with.  I was wearing big gloves that were very warm but bulky; to do any sort of meaningful manoeuvring, I had to take my gloves off and work the key with my bare hands.  My first time ever experiencing a freeze-burn, by the way, was when I grabbed the frozen door handle with my bare hands. Classic rookie mistake.  It's so cold outside that exposing your bare skin to the cold for more than a few minutes is unwise; you'll notice the excruciating pain that sets in.

Sometimes I think about how blissfully naive I was, when I was living in balmy tropical ol' Ottawa where people would freak out if the temperature dipped past -20°C.

My first instinct was, selfishly, to just ignore the problem and go home. Let the cats find some way to survive for the rest of the week. My will to keep trying to open the door was rapidly fading, as the weird freezing-burning feeling set in. But no, I couldn't do that.  I pretend to be a villain, but I could never neglect a cat. So I did what any smart, resourceful person would do: I went home and told my husband to solve the problem.

My husband, also being a smart resourceful person, suggested we call my colleague. We called her up to see if we could borrow the company truck,  Yes, the same truck that I had driven off with just a few days earlier while it was still firmly plugged into the wall. Despite this, my colleague was all cool about using the car, except that it hadn't been plugged in all weekend, and needed to be warmed up.  I forgot about that. You need to plan things at least half an hour in advance here, to make sure the car is ready to drive.  (Also, when I say "car" here, I mean "truck". There are no cars in Cambridge Bay, just trucks and snowmobiles.  But I digress.) Even once the "car" was running, and even once we remembered to unplug it from the wall, we still had to figure out how to deal with a frozen front door lock.

Luckily, my colleagues had an idea.  "Blow-dryer," she said.

"What? Blow-dryer?"

"Blow dryer."

She wasn't joking. Plug a hair-dryer into one of the outdoor outlets and point the hair drier at the lock, blow-dry until it thaws.  Genius. My colleague also had lock de-icer (a product I had never heard of before, because I come from tropical Ottawa), but the problem was that with this cold, it might actually freeze.
blow-drying the front door

And so there we were, standing on the front porch, blow-drying the front door lock, looking out at the last rays of the setting sun.  The thawed lock finally turned. I went inside and fed the cats, who were excited to finally see a person, any person. We scraped the ice off the doorframe before closing the door again, so that it wouldn't become jammed.  It's just an average Sunday night in Cambridge Bay.

oh the weather outside is frightful