Pandemic Diary, February 8th, 2021: Life at -47°C (with the Wind Chill)

A person walks through Assiniboine Park with sun dogs (properly called parhelia) in the background on Friday, February 5th, 2021 (Photo by Chris Procaylo, Winnipeg Sun).

My alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., and it’s still dark outside as I fumble my way out of bed, and check the Environment Canada weather website:

It is -33°C (-28°F for you Americans), which feels like -47°C (a bone-chilling -53°F) when you factor in the wind chill from the stiff breeze. Quickly, I jump into the hot shower, and wash my hair, which is now long enough to tie back in the tiniest of ponytails (I have not had a haircut in one whole year). My goal is to have my hair sufficiently dried by the time I venture outdoors to my destination: my local Walmart store, where I have arranged to pick up my groceries between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. When it feels like -47°C out, you do NOT want to have wet hair.

It is a cold, clear, crisp morning, with the waning crescent moon a thin, sharp scythe in the black sky. My car radio stutters and sputters in the extreme cold. On my way to Walmart, I decide to hit up a McDonalds drive-through yet again (the fourth time in two weeks!) for an sausage and egg McMuffin, and to pick up a box of muffins for later. I am wearing an N95 mask, and two scarves: one beneath my down-filled parka, and one over top, covering my face mask. Trying to make myself understood via the McDonalds intercom system, through an N95 mask and a warm scarf, is a challenge!

“A box of eight muffins, please.”

“An egg McMuffin?”

“No, EIGHT muffins. Five. Six. Seven. EIGHT. MUFFINS.”

I hand the cashier a twenty from my winter-gloved hand, and I tell her to keep the change (I am absolutely NOT dealing with potentially germy change). Then, I pick up my order and find an empty parking spot. I open my bag and groan: once again, they have gotten my order wrong, giving me a sausage and egg McGriddle instead of a McMuffin (I know, I know, First World problems!).

At the Walmart, I park my car in one of the grocery pickup spaces behind the store, and call the number on my cellphone. Shortly, a young woman wheels a cart laden with my groceries to my waiting car. It is bitterly cold, so I leave my car running, and I definitely would not want to be her this morning, as she loads up the back seat of my car with her groceries. I yell a muffled thank-you to her as she closes my car doors, and I drive away, as the sky begins to brighten in the east.

I check my gas tank, and it hovers at just under one-eighth of a tank. (I am still on my second tank of gas since mid-March of last year, which tells you how infrequently I use my car!) I decide that I will visit a nearby full-service Co-Op gas station on my way home, and let somebody else pump my gas for me, just this once. All the attendants are well-bundled against the cold in full snowsuits, warm hats, and scarves, their breath hovering in the air around them, under the fluorescent lights, as they wait for cars to service.

I hand my gas attendant forty dollars through my car window, tell him to keep the change, and drive home. The Shopping Cart Gods have smiled upon me; there is an empty shopping cart standing next to my apartment garbage dumpster, and it only takes one trip to ferry my groceries the last few dozen metres to my doorstep. I also give silent thanks that I have a first-floor apartment door which opens directly to the outside—no need to traverse any pf the stairs or other common areas in my building!

Glasses foggy, I doff my parka, hat, scarves, and pants, wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water, and carefully remove my N95 mask, gingerly setting it aside on a corner of my kitchen table. I take a small bottle of Purell out of my pocket and set it next to my wallet, keys, and iPhone. Finally, I collapse on the sofa, exhausted by a simple grocery trip made difficult by the bitter cold and a novel coronavirus.

I do not plan on leaving the house again today, and I am reconsidering a planned second grocery-shopping trip to Walmart tomorrow, for the remainder of my pandemic supplies. Perhaps I can live on sandwiches and canned soup for a few days, at least until it gets warmer? I check the Environment Canada weather forecast for the rest of the week, and see that we are going to be at a (relatively) balmy -23°C (-9°F) by Thursday! Hooray!! I think I can hold out for three or four days…I have lots of Kraft Dinner in my cupboards, and I just stocked up on margarine and milk.

It is now 9:00 a.m., and it is time to brew a small vat of black coffee (something I also stocked up on!), and face the rest of my day.