When I lived in Virginia, I never really experienced intense cold weather. Growing up in the South means hot, humid summers and mild winters. If we were lucky, we’d get a few snowstorms a year that would last a few days before it all melted again. I’d guess that the average winter temperature is around 20-30 degrees. When I say winter, I mean the actual winter season—December 21-March 21. But it’s probably only 20-30 degrees for December and January. By late February it starts warming up again. The coldest I ever experienced there was around 0. And that lasted a day.
I’ll state the obvious here: Alaska is NOT like that. People joke that there are two seasons here—one of which lasts 9 months. And I’d have to say that’s not too far off. Growing up in Virginia, I never thought winter was too bad. I hated being super cold, but it was always manageable. And snow was the most exciting thing—even when I was out of school, it was still exciting to see that school was closed. I empathized. 🙂
It starts getting cold here around mid-August. Don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t get below freezing or anything. But in what is the hottest month down south, it starts getting colder here—60s, 50s, 40s. Our first year here, we went to Denali on September 1st and it snowed! But it didn’t get really cold until October. Once October hit, we never saw above freezing temperatures until the breakup in late April. This year was a little different. We had a record-breaking snowstorm in early September. We got a foot and a half of snow! Temperatures averaged around the 30s so it was a heavy, wet snow—something we’re not used to up here because usually when it snows, it’s well below 25 degrees and it’s really dry and powdery. Most of that snow melted eventually, and the rest of September averaged around 30-40 degrees.
The first year we were here, we saw -20 for the first time on Thanksgiving night. I remember going out in just a fleece jacket and being giddy about experiencing that kind of temperature for the first time. And it wasn’t that bad. Dry cold is WAY more manageable than when there’s a lot of humidity in the air. Thankfully, Fairbanks is a pretty dry place. (Funny, since we get so much snow). We’ve been lucky this year—the temperature has dropped below -20 sooner than last year, but we only had -20s for about a week. Here lately, it’s been in the teens and twenties, which is SUPER nice, comparatively. We’ve been going outside in just sweatshirts and gloves. It’s a nice change from the week of cold we had.
I remember this year when it dropped to -25, feeling slightly giddy to go outside to use the outhouse for the first time. Much to my surprise, -25 is very very cold when you have to sit vulnerable with bare leg exposed, even if just for a few seconds. My giddiness quickly turned to hatred. Gone were the feelings of excitement and toughness. Sometimes I think people live in dry cabins for the bragging rights. Don’t get me wrong; it’s cool to say I live in a dry cabin. It makes you seem hardcore. But, no matter who brags about living in a dry cabin, or how much fun it is, or how cool people say they are, NOBODY in their right mind likes to go outside to use the bathroom in sub zero temperatures. There’s no heat in there! And the only reason we have light is because of a light bulb connected to an extension cord! It is NOT a fun experience by any means! It is pretty funny though. There’s not really an adequate way of describing the bathroom experience until you’ve dropped your pants in -20 degrees. And this isn’t even as cold as it gets here! Winter lasts for 9 months! December, January, February are the COLDEST! Last winter, it was 40 below for a straight week! It got down to -50 one day!
For a place that’s not the greatest to be in the cold, our outhouse is probably decorated better than our whole house, no thanks to me. The people before us left some weird art and paintings in there, and we’ve continued the tradition by collecting weird knickknacks from the places we travel to put in our outhouse. It’s a pretty unique place. 🙂 And it’s hilarious when we’re travelling to hear me or Logan say ‘Hey, don’t forget, we need to buy something weird for the outhouse.’ I hope no stranger has ever heard us say that… 🙂