Zero Node
Chapter 6: "Real Cold Time Camp"

by Jeff Rand

ATS Explained

The are many interesting stories to tell about Harold Oatley who died in 1988, but attended parts of four Winter Camps when he was advisor of the Downriver Chapter of the Mi-Gi-Si O-Paw-Gan Lodge. It is only right that I share some in this chapter. Of course if he had been asked if he had seen the Arrow, his original answer would differ from the one I have given. Adornments to our uniforms have changed in the years since the Order of the Wimachtendienk was founded in 1915.

The title "Scotch Box" refers to one of Mr. Oatley's gadgets, and he was well known for his fondness of gadgets. The Scotch Box was designed to extinguish one's charcoal so it could be used again. Presumably you would save money, but I suspect the price of the Scotch Box made it unlikely. Of course, the use of "Scotch" was meant to suggest that folks from Scotland were tight with their money. I don't think Mr. Oatley had ancestors from Scotland, as he was Methodist rather than Presbyterian.

The Pontiac Bonneville with a 450 cubic inch engine was a car that Mr. Oatley had once owned. He was often referred to as "lead foot" especially to a Scout passenger who noted that he exceeded 100 mph on the way home from D-A. Excessive speeding followed by abrupt slowing were common.

Bringing extra equipment for others and a propensity to use full names including middle names were certainly common for Mr. Oatley.

The Automated Breakfast that is mentioned in the chapter has been a dream of Winter Campers from early days. Doug Wilson and others, including myself, remember the Captain Kangaroo television show (in black and white) where a model train would pull-up and dump Rice Krispies into a bowl.

Jeff Rand
August 5, 2018

Need a refresher? Here's the After the Apocalypse chapter

Steve and Jeff survived another bitter night, but as the first signs of morning became apparent, they were less than enthused for the journey ahead.

Steve heard Jeff stirring and spoke, "Jeff, I think my toes are numb."

Jeff responded, "Could you feel them yesterday?" They had been wearing military cold weather boots, which they found miraculously stashed in the shack. Adding to the miracle, there were just two pairs of boots which just happened to fit. Neither Jeff nor Steve could explain the presence of the boots, and both denied having anything to do with securing them.

"I was wearing my 'bunny' boots while we were hiking yesterday, but took them off when we went to bed," said Steve. "I don't think my feet were really protected from the cold last night."

"Not much we can do now. I suggest that you try to stand and move your feet with some quick kicks. If your blood is still liquid and hasn't frozen in your feet, there may be enough to warm them," Jeff replied with a matter of fact tone.

Steve became incredulous over Jeff's apparent lack of concern, but struggled to rise on his cold and stiff feet. He carefully lifted his left foot but still lost his balance. Jeff handed him a stick, as Steve rose for a second attempt. Using the stick for balance, he was able to lift his left foot and began to kick.

"Do it as vigorously as you can," commanded Jeff.

Although Jeff appeared unconcerned, Steve realized that he knew something about winter camping and cold weather survival. After a struggle to warm both feet, Steve was able to sense some feeling, though quite unpleasant. It took some time to put his boots back on, but he was determined to wear them to bed in the future. He realized that Jeff retained his boots when he went to bed, but did change his socks. Jeff also used a stick to beat the socks he had been wearing on the previous day, while Steve was attempting to warm his feet. Steve presumed this was intended to extract ice crystals that had formed from moisture in the socks. He reasoned that he would do the same, as neither traveler had a dresser filled with extras.

Breaking camp did not involve the effort of the previous day. Yet manual dexterity became an impossible luxury when one was outside during the long Siberian winter. Functionally, Steve had more ability than an aged one-armed person. Jeff just coped with such impossible conditions.

After a quick breakfast of porridge, the pair set upon moving away from any hope of returning to Yakutsk, along a road that promised death before they reached the sea. Intense cold continued, but the wind had shifted to a more northerly direction along the path of hard-packed snow now curving to the southeast. Although exercise helped warm them, they decided to establish a different pattern to move the sled over relatively easy terrain. Jeff took 162 steps pulling the sled by himself, while Steve travelled the distance without the burden. After Jeff finished his count, they switched places. Steve added another twist to the exercise by shouting "one" upon finishing his count. "That makes an eighth of a mile," he said, reasoning that each time he exchanged pulling duties would amount to a distance of 660 feet.

"By my count we have pulled it 10 chains," shouted Jeff. "Or should we use tads as our measure."

Remarkably, the light banter lifted their spirits, causing them to pay less attention to the cold. Although it would require many disciplined hours and days, perhaps weeks, should they survive, it would help them set a pace for their ultimate goal.

Movement of persons and sled continued along the Road of Bones as Steve and Jeff kept count. By what they had reasoned to be midday, they had travelled six miles. Although they were hungry and would enjoy a warm lunch, it was beyond reason to stop for a meal. They rested briefly to imbibe some water, which they kept under their outer clothing so to use precious body heat to keep it from freezing.

As the afternoon progressed, the pace slowed while they exhausted their energy stores. Upon Steve's declaration of "one hundred," he dropped the rope attached to the sled. "That's twelve and half miles today. I have nothing more left, but we made great progress!" he declared.

Jeff agreed, and they proceeded with the difficult task of setting camp. Once they were able to melt snow and consume another "mysterious meal," they retired to face another miserable night in the cold.


Having established a more disciplined routine, Steve and Jeff continued their trek eastward. Their progress was slow, but steady. The hours of daylight were still few, and the perpetual cold with ice-fog dreariness did little to lift their spirits. They could do nothing but keep moving and track the distance with their count of steps.

Winds tended to shift, but stiff headwinds from the northeast often slowed their progress. However, when the wind blew across the roadway, it would leave the snow hard-packed, producing less friction on the runners of the sled. In those areas with fresh snow or with drifts, the travelers would alternate between sled pushing or pulling and trail building that they created from their back-and-forth with snowshoes. Moderate hills caused the pace to slow to such a crawl that it took more than hour to gain just 50 meters elevation.

Setting the tepee, cooking dinner, melting snow for water, excreting human waste, and going through the challenge of planting themselves in their sleeping cocoons continued as the evening rituals. After each miserable night in the cold, they would break through their cocoons to start a series of less pleasant tasks before departing. They had to add a new task to their morning routine because ice accumulated on their clothing and blankets as a result of condensation freezing from the moisture in the air they exhaled through breathing. Since the process of sublimation would be minimal, they learned that continued ice accumulation would make these things heavier and further slow their travel. Jeff's morning sock-beating exercise expanded to include clothing and blankets.

They had been on the road several days when their supply of food and fuel became diminished. Their hopes of hunting and killing game could not be realized since they observed neither sight nor sound of another living creature along the road. In addition, there were no signs of a human structure capable of offering shelter and supplies. The few they encountered were completely destroyed to such extent that combustion consumed everything except a pile of remaining bricks. Even the outbuildings, once present, suffered the same fate.

On the tenth day with few remaining supplies to sustain them, Steve and Jeff came upon a wide river. Where there was once a crossing, there was no sign of bridge. The river itself consisted of a confusing array of channels. Now they reached a point of no return.

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