We’ve are now fully into the worst time of year to be on a houseboat – the countdown to the freeze up of the lake. We managed to avoid a bit of it with our trip to the Okanagan. While we tootled around in our convertible with the top down and sipped delicious wine, in between some fantastic trail runs on new wilderness trails we discovered, our neighbors had the first cross country ski of the year on the 10 cm of snow that fell. Apparently it was a blinding snowstorm – one friend said she was canoeing to her houseboat but could not see it. She knew it was there though so she was pretty sure she would hit it at some point! Along with the snow, one has to deal with boats that are full of snow, and need shoveling out, and frozen lines, and all manner of unexpected things.
So now we are home and the weather cannot be ignored any longer. We eased into it all as the first days we were back it were above zero and the lake was very calm. Its also been gloomy and grey – perfect Alfred Hitchcock creepy anticipation of worse things to come sort of weather. Its not all bad however – the clouds reflect back some light from town and its possible to see, at least a bit, in the dark. For the last two days however the wind has arrived. We had gusts of 60 km one night and its been 20 to 30 km/hour for the most part. Traveling by boat is not unsafe, but its very wet. The waves splash over the bow and soak us from top to bottom. Of course we are well dressed for it: down jacket, long waterproof rain coat, rain pants, rubber boots, life jacket, warm gloves, neck warmer and heavy winter toque. And that’s just for minus 2! (With the wind chill it feels like minus 8) When the water splashes, as it does in the wind, it freezes instantly. I arrived at the dock yesterday, at 630 am, for my day shift in the ER with cold hands, frozen drops of water all over my face and my clothing, hat head and big black mascara marks running down my face, and a feeling that I’d gained several pounds – just harder to move with all that gear on! Its supposed to be minus 15 later this week so that may feel much worse!
On arriving home, we immediately headed to Weaver and Devore, the local outfitter, just across the road from the dock, to stock up on real winter gear. We’ve put our order in for the Canada Goose down parkas that everyone wears – good to minus 30 and below. Mine is full length and lovely and warm. It feels like I’m wearing a very heavy sleeping bag. I can’t wait to get it – I may even wear it to bed! They have coyote fur trimmed hoods and the fur can be folded down to create a very long hood – almost like a tunnel around your face, so there is no way wind can touch you. I don’t know what it really looks like yet as the power was out the day we went to try them on. (A regular occurrence in Yellowknife). Winter shopping by flashlight is another new experience I’ve had lately. I’ve never before spent $2000 on two coats we couldn’t even really see.
We also had to buy new hats – our stylish Nelson toque collections are completely underpowered for up here. We tried on the fur lined aviator style hats that most people wear. They can be tied under the chin to fully cover the ears, and are long in the back. I couldn’t actually find one to fit my big head, but I enclose a few photos of some of the models we tried. They also come in real muskrat fur which I imagine would be very warm. Who knows, I may have to get one of those. (We went back the next day to try on hats, when the lights were on.)
There is light blowing snow that hasn’t amounted to anything yet, but the ice is building up on the dock of the house where the water is splashing up. This is interesting only right now, but it can become a problem. Apparently one year it was so thick and heavy along one side of the house that it weighted down the houseboat on one side and the occupants lived on a slant the entire winter. Husband is most concerned about this – how can you cook if your stove is tilted?)
It seems that in about 2 weeks there will be significant ice build up on the lake – after about half an inch its too heavy to break through with the boat. Until it freezes more solidly and can support body weight, there are numerous strategies folks have for commuting. We have something we call an ice walker, which came with the house. Imagine something sort of like a dog sled, but with pontoons, so it floats. You walk behind it and push it along. If the ice breaks or you come to an open patch, you stand on the pontoons and paddle across to more ice. It can then be pushed up onto the ice and you carry on. Our neighbors cross by canoeing on the ice – pushing the canoe with ski poles. It takes two people to do this, but I guess its pretty fast! The lake can freeze up quickly, but it will often break up afterwards due to wind, and then its a jumbled mess of ice and can be impassable. For that reason there may be days when one can’t get back and forth. One needs to be prepared to be stuck at the house for a few days, or stay in town. That’s fine if one doesn’t have to go to work, but it won’t be fine for our dogs. They are used to their 3 times daily trips to the island and so far are refusing to use the litter box we’ve made them on the deck.
The anticipated time frame is another 10 days or so of open water, or at least open-ish. Then 1 to 2 weeks of difficult season in between ice. By about mid November we should be comfortably walking on the ice. Then apparently its great – there will only be foot traffic on the lake until we can drive at the end of November. The ice road opens up in early December and then there will be some traffic going back and forth. I am looking forward to being able to invite people over, for visits and dinners and stuff. That will be a novelty!
I’ve had great good fortune to be invited to go with my friend Tara to our favorite Emergency Medicine conference in Las Vegas in early November, during what should be the worst of the commuting time. I’ve always said Las Vegas is on my top three list of places I don’t want to go to, but for some strange reason I decided I CAN go there, after all. I know this takes me off the list of people who are real men houseboaters, but I can live with that!
I’m in the middle of my 6 days and nights of ER shifts, which means commuting in the dark two thirds of the time. For the rest of this week I’m going to stay at my friends overnight. I could easily commute back and forth in the dark if it wasn’t for the wind. It adds another layer of difficulty I can do without.
Next year I think I’ll go to the Caribbean instead!