5°F? Surely not. Our last night at Williams where we camped in order to drive up to the Grand Canyon I slept until about 3:00 a.m. when the cold started to ooze through the walls of the trailer. My freezing nose, all that was exposed, kept me awake. When I could stand it no longer, I leapt out of bed to turn up our blast furnace, put the kettle on for tea and retrieve a thermometer from the outside step. It said 5°.
I blinked and looked again certain I’d read it wrong and watched the mercury quickly rise through 10° and 15° in the relative warmth of the trailer. The cold outside didn’t seem to matter at the time as the few cubic yards of the trailer soon cozied up with the fire breathing dragon that is our forced air furnace.
As it happened the cold outside did matter. We soon discovered that the trailer was frozen into place.
We’d pictured in our naïve European minds the whole of Arizona as a sunshine capital, warm and bright in the winter and blazing in the summer. Parts of it are like that. If I’d read Wikipedia beforehand I would have discovered that “the northern third of Arizona is a plateau at significantly higher altitudes than the lower desert” and “extreme cold temperatures are not unknown.” Well I know that now.
Let’s be clear about this. We are tourists traveling in a trailer, not campers who enjoy roughing it. We don’t, and never will, own hiking boots. Any trail requiring more equipment than a pair of trainers is off limits to us. Many people around the world tolerate and cope with frigid temperatures every winter and in considerably less comfort than we are able to afford. Some hardy souls sleep in tents in this weather. For fun. We hate the very idea of it.
The day before, I’d seen an earnest young man, his narrow back heaped with camping gear, stride off from the trailhead at Grandview Point – a viewpoint for sissies and inappropriately shod tourists at the Grand Canyon – and disappear from view at three o’clock in the afternoon. It would soon be dark . . . and cold . . . very, very cold. We stood on the rim and admired the canyon from the chilly height of 7,000 feet. As the backpacker descended from us he would get warmer, even snug on the canyon floor, but I’d visions of the poor fellow sinking into the bowels of hell, at least my version of it.
The plumbing on trailers is vulnerable to freezing weather so we always take precautions when freezing temperatures are predicted, disconnecting hoses, draining tanks and bringing inside the trailer gallon bottles of water for bathing and washing dishes. It was laborious to heat our washing water on the stove but that day it was a way to procrastinate going outside.
When we could put it off no longer and forced ourselves out to begin the hitching process by winding up the corner jacks, our steadying supports, we found they were concreted into the ground. Successive thaws and freezes had done the work. Forcing the mechanisms would break them and little kicks rewarded us with stubbed toes and jarred ankles. Jimmy gave the base of one of the jacks an angry jab with the jack winder and impaled it into his palm, drawing blood and bad words.
Within moments of stepping outside of the trailer we had become numb in the frigid air. We were frantic to leave Williams before having to suffer another arctic night. How could we possibly get out of this predicament?