Even in Canada, when it's 40 below zero, everyone talks about the weather. And for good reason. At 40 below strange things happen. First, it's the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit merge, so Americans don't have to try and figure out the conversion formula. And second, things break down.
My wife and I were in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia, a five-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, when the temperature took that dive. We had begun our winter vacation at Hills Health Ranch, about an hour south of the nearest local airport at Williams Lake.
And this is where our cold weather story begins. In the swirling flurries and deep negative temperature, the van that picked us up at the airport refused to heat up, no matter how hard the driver pushed the heater. It was minus 26 degrees outdoors, and inside the van l could feel that chill creeping through my clothes the whole journey.
When we stepped out of the vehicle the air stung our faces, and our jeans felt like they had frozen to our legs. It wasn't far to walk to our room, but the cold was quick and painful.
It would only get worse.
The Hills Health Ranch, with its lodges and chalets, sits on about 600 acres of rolling mountains sliced by wooded valleys, lakes and meadows. In the winter, the small log cabin-designed resort runs a full slate of outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding, but with an indoor pool, hot tubs and workout rooms, there's a lot to keep guests busy without going outside.
What had attracted my wife was its spa treatments that use the fruit of the rose flower (called rosehip), which grows wild in the Cariboo.
Hills Heath was founded and is still managed by Pat and Juanita Corbett. When I met Pat for breakfast on the first morning, he mentioned he had to do some road grooming and asked if I wanted to be his co-pilot in the Sno-Cat. I immediately said yes because these tread-driven vehicles fascinate me. I'd heard them work through the night when I'd been to ski resorts, grooming the inclines despite the frigid temperatures and extreme slopes.
Pat's Cat was a Bombadier, and the cab, thankfully heated, looked like the cockpit of a plane. After letting it warm up for about 45 minutes, we climbed aboard. Outside the oversized windows, the temperature had dipped to 30 below, but we were comfortable. The vehicle lurched forward and we were on our way, but we hadn't gone very far when it stalled.
Here in the Cariboo, the Cat had met something worse than a steep slope — a frigid temperature. The fuel line became sluggish, and when Pat the tried to get it started again, the batteries quickly ran down. We had to abandon the vehicle and make the short hike back to the lodge
By 1 p.m., the sun had come out and was casting a hazy, erratic glow over the snow. When the temperature rose to a balmy minus 20 degrees, my wife and I decided to take the planned afternoon snowshoe walk.
The only ones to brave the elements were Karen, the group leader; my wife and I; and another woman named Darlene, who hailed from Manitoba. Our first stop was the only hiatus, a beautifully serene scene of a horse behind a wooden fence with a red barn in the background. I took out my camera to take a picture, but nothing happened. Apparently at 20 below cameras don't work, either.
Karen, who leads the 90-minute fitness walks at the resort, was a determined pathfinder, and once she got us onto the groomed trails that thread throughout the mountains and valleys, she set the pace and we all had to keep up. The climbs were the most troublesome because the hard work, even in the frigid cold, caused us to sweat, which only made us colder. My wife decided against the highest hill, which was OK with me.
During our extended walk I encountered the same problems I have faced while skiing in severe cold. I was wearing a touk that when pulled up would cover the lower part of my face, but that would force my warm breath upward, which would then fog my glasses.
I needed to keep the touk below my mouth so that my exhales would be forward, but that would leave more of my face exposed. About an hour into the hike, when we are full in a groove and my body was working hard, no matter where I placed the touk, my sunglasses fogged badly. I knew when we were finally on the trail back to the resort because there ahead of us was the dead Cat, waiting for warmer weather.
The next day was the killer. When we awoke, the temperature had dipped to a record minus 41 degrees. We were scheduled for dog-sledding, but that didn't happen. The musher couldn't get his dogs to the property because his truck wouldn't start in the cold. First, no Cat; then, no dogs.
Undeterred, my wife and I waited until the thermometer rose to minus 20 degrees. Then we strapped on our snowshoes and went back out on the trail.
WHEN YOU GO
Although the drive from Vancouver to the Cariboo is picturesque, I don't recommend it in the winter. We flew USAir from Phoenix to Vancouver (www.usair.com) and then Central Mountain Air to Williams Lake (www.cmair.bc.ca).
We stayed at Hills Health Ranch, but don't let the words "health resort" deter you. This is a fun, congenial oasis: www.hillshealthranch.com.
For Information about the Cariboo Region, contact Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association at www.landwithoutlimits.com.
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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