Recharging & Resilience at -40°

dead truck battery
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Let me tell you a little bit about driving a diesel truck in the Arctic…

The truck is moody. It’s like a toddler who drags his feet in cold dark winter mornings, throws fits, and refuses to get going. Even with an engine block heater, a battery blanket, an oil change, new fuel filters, anti-gel fuel additive, and another battery blanket, it keeps dying on us.

Frozen Truck Battery
look, a dead battery!

We go out in the mornings to start the truck and… nothing. Maybe a whine, and that’s it. We have to unhook both 50lb batteries, lift them from the engine, haul them inside, warm them up for several hours, and then recharge. After charging, they go back downstairs, outside, they’re heaved up into the truck, and hooked back in. Warm and fully charged, the truck will start.

I’m learning a lot about trucks. Well, specifically one truck (a 2003 diesel Ford F350) and how to keep it running when it’s so cold outside that boiling water thrown from our sixth floor window freezes immediately into a cascading cloud of fine snow.

I still don’t know much about vehicle repair, but I’ve had to handle this process of battery thaw, recharge, and reinstall twice on my own. Those damn Mondays when Jesse flew to work and I had to fix the truck by myself were total doozies. The first time especially. I thought I might not be able to lift the heavy batteries up to place them back where they go, nestled between engine parts at a height just around chest level for me. But I knew that I had to do it, so I did it. Along with my two solo ventures, we’ve had to recharge probably seven or eight times at this point.F350 Frozen Engine

Who knew diesels were so finicky at -40°!

Okay, so I’m sure somebody knew, but not us. We were totally unprepared for this kind of vehicle maintenance in the cold. I had to call AAA on day 2 in Yellowknife because we didn’t plug in the block heater and November is cold enough to freeze car batteries.

It seems like every weekend we go through something again, either a shorting extension cord, fuel so cold it’s turned to gel, frozen batteries, a fraying extension cord… all of which usually sum up to: the truck won’t start again.

And one time while ‘helping’ Jesse, I dropped the socket into the engine. Whoops.

If there’s one thing that defines our time in Yellowknife, it’s that we’ve constantly been fixing the truck. Out of all the things we’ve had to do to adjust to life in this cold, the truck problems have been a constant battle, proving again and again that we aren’t from here. This winter is something else. It’s a struggle. We’re trying to adapt to the harsh and unfamiliar conditions, but it keeps getting the better of us.

Despite all the trouble, the freezing hands and frustrated mornings, I think we’re okay now. We got new extension cords, two battery blankets, all the tools we could possibly need, and a new battery to replace the one that froze solid two weeks ago. Plus, the lost socket was found.

I wouldn’t say we’re thriving, but we’re getting better at this.

And isn’t that the point of it all? Trying, even when it’s hard. Not giving up. Adapting to life’s challenges. Not letting the bad things drag you down. I think so. I think effort matters.

Even when the batteries are dead, I know things will be fine. I’ve got a warm parka and good boots, and I’m going to keep trying. That’s all you can do.

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