From -20° C with love

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Diaries

ºPolar night is over and it was an experience for us. Since the sun rises again over the horizon and days get longer every day, in remarkable pace at this latitude (about 18-20’ per day!), we feel much better. But we have left the Norwegian coast and now move on the mainland E6 national road from Bødo to Trondheim, often driving next to the border with Sweden. So what? It means it’s bloody cold!

In the last three and a half months we experienced freezing temperatures as low as -12º C at Tana and down to -14º C somewhere south of Trømso, but mostly we had -2º to -5º C, sometimes even over zero, like at Andenes. At Lofoten archipelago we may have felt cold some days due to strong winds, where real feel was at-120, but real temperatures never felt below -3º. 

Two days ago on the road from Bødo to Mo I Rana, we saw -18º C while sun was still up. We preferred to camp next to a petrol station where we could get a jump start in case the engine battery didn’t cooperate. The same night we were starting the engine every hour to keep it warm and the batteries charged. Within an hour the driver’s cabin was frozen and windows were built with ice. 

In the living capsule, temperature was initially +9-10 degrees and till falling asleep we managed to raise it to 15º C thanks to the Webasto heater and some cooking. But we had more problems to face.

First, grey water tubes from kitchen and WC froze again, so we couldn’t wash dishes and hands. This is something we can’t avoid when temperature gets below -5º C, because a section of the tubes is external. We have isolated them with parmaflex material but still water gets frozen inside.

Let me make a remark here: for the same reason, we leave the grey water tank open underneath since we are in Scandinavia. It means we provoke some pollution (shop and oils) wherever we camp, but this is the only way to keep water from freezing. That’s another reason why we wild camp in remote places. 

The other day – and it was not the first time – driver’s door blocked because of frost built on the parmaflex insulation. Ice was built on windows and on the camper’s door, so the only way we can get out of the vehicle is via the co-driver’s door, which is not properly insulated and always opens. Imagine the scene: to be inside your campervan unable to exit. Or get outside and not being able to enter! 

In the last few days, ice was built on all camper windows – despite they are top quality and double surfaced – so we can’t open them. This is an irrelevant issue. Also, all the corners of the capsule get frozen inside and this is frightening because our heads are so close while sleeping. Now we insert pillows and clothes to mediate this but still. 

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4 am and saw that our two standard® batteries had a 11,8-12,0 Voltage, which is a limit we have set to keep them healthy. It’s normal because all night they are not getting charged while they fridge and the heater work – especially the latter.

So, I woke up and thought about turning on the engine to “juice” the batteries. Outside temperature was as low as -18,3º C and cabin temperature -9,2º C, while the temperature in the capsule was at +9º C. I turn the key, keep it a while to warm the injection becks and try to start the engine but the starter hardly turns around. The battery seems so weak!

I try for a second time and I leave it, concerned that the moment I feared most, arrived. I sit at the driver’s seat, press the clutch to disconnect the gearbox, turn the key, the started hardly works and yes the engine starts! Ok mates, we saved the night!

Let me remark that the left side battery for the engine is not AGM type but a fresh 110Ah lead acid battery, provided by Iveco – Condellis of Greece only two years ago.

You can understand why running out of engine power is so critical for us. First we need to find another vehicle to jump start or we need to wait for some light to try start the engine on our own. In the meantime the service batteries might be drained, which means we will freeze inside because the Webasto doesn’t start when voltage is below 10,5V and gets in safety mode.

That’s why we asked from Powerful company of Greece to send us a NOCO booster to jump start our engine. We will soon receive it with some other made in USA gadgets in Oslo.

Last night I woke up again while external temperature was -14º C and the engine started immediately, even if the battery seemed weak. In the meantime we had another problem to face. Water pump was frozen and we don’t have running water. Imagine that ice was built inside the right hand water tank, which is inside the capsule. We should insulate the tanks with glass wool material immediately. For the moment we can’t wash our dishes and hands.

Yesterday, for the first time the 10 litre bottle we use for drinking water was frozen as well. We had left it in the opening between the driving cabin and the capsule. We had to use the Webasto to bring the water back in temperature. This morning we woke up and the interior temperature was again at 9º C. Vula seems to have light frostbite symptoms on both her toes. No kidding!

Despite the technical issues with low temperatures, we are still alive, healthy, happy and enjoy our hurdles. Let me write that this trip in the arctic zone is novel for us. We hadn’t such an experience in our previous trip around the world in our Land Rover. And we couldn’t take a trip like this with a normal car and a tent on top with a child. We could have but not for so long!_Akis Temperidis

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