Cast into Darkness – Will you be Ready? (part 2)

(above photo from Wobblycat Photography)

During the power outage that affected Toronto, we personally coped with the challenge rather easily. The only thing that would have made things easier for us would be a gas generator running outside and running an electrical cord in to the electric heater we have (but in this case couldn’t use without power) to keep the basement from getting so cold.

Other than worrying about our pipes bursting, we were fine and could have lasted a lot longer, even if we had to shut off our water. We knew what to do, how to handle things and we had the supplies and equipment on hand that we needed to survive. Obviously not everyone has a gas stove but we had camping stoves we could have used. They aren’t that expensive. Not everyone has a wood burning fireplace, but we would have gotten on fine with all our blankets, sleeping bags and survival gear. Actually…we had pretty much everything we needed to survive and in this case it wasn’t all that miserable for us. This sort of event will happen again. The reality is…it could happen again in a couple weeks…even next week. After all, winter has only just begun. How well you can cope, depends directly on your preparations.

Governments (including Canada) and disaster management groups (like FEMA, Red Cross, etc) across the world all recommend having at least a 72hr supply of resources and means of surviving. My years of experience camping and my time in the Forces have prepared me well enough mentally for such scenarios. However, you don’t need my experiences to be prepared though. Just logic, some equipment and supplies, and the ability to keep a cool head and not panic.

Emergencies can hit anywhere in the world, any time of year so I can’t really advise you of what to do in every situation. If you really want to get a better idea of how to be prepared for various disasters, go pick up a couple of books on the subject. There are literally hundreds of them at any decent bookstore because literally hundreds of disasters happen around the world nearly every year. So here are some recommendations I can offer should THIS type of situation happen again. Hell I could probably make a 30min YouTube video just on what we have in our camping packs alone.

  • 72hr Kit
    Make sure you always have enough on hand to survive at least 72hrs should a massive power failure happen again. This also applies for any type of natural disaster like any severe storm (torrential rain, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc). This would include at least three days of non-perishable food and a supply of water (or the means to purify water). It could also include appropriate clothes for the weather, blankets or sleeping bags, thermal survival blankets, perhaps also a signalling mirror, whistle, button compass, a multi-tool, another good sharp knife, work gloves, a water treatment kit, etc. This list can go on and on and be over whelming so I’m just sticking to some basics.
    Your ‘kit’ is something you need to create based on what could possibly happen in your area and is customized to your needs (not mine or anyone else’s). In Toronto, we could get extreme heat or cold, torrential rains, massive blizzards, high winds and freezing rain. The only thing we are unlikely to experience is a massive earthquake or direct hits from hurricanes or F3 (or greater) tornadoes. Although, areas near Toronto have in the past been hit by tornadoes reaching F2 levels.

    • Light – make sure your kit has a couple flashlights. The camping headlamps we have are great and served us well. They cast a tremendous amount of light and leave your hands empty for use. At least have some type of flashlight and make sure you check the batteries often and ensure the light works. If you’re going to leave it unused for a long time, remove the batteries and store them with the light in a zip-lock bag. Otherwise, the acid in the batteries may leak making the light useless. Consider also a windup light. We have three various hand held flashlights, three headlamps (ironically I just got another one this Christmas…the day after the power came back on) and a windup light. Our windup radio also has a couple of built in LED lights. Regardless of what type of lights you get, seriously consider getting LED ones. The light they cast is way brighter than regular bulbs and batteries last much longer.
    • Windup radio – This was a hugely important tool for us. Without electricity, it was the only source we had for constant news updates. We installed some batteries and it lasted eight days before finally dying (after running all day and nearly all night for eight days, which is pretty impressive). If we didn’t have more batteries on hand (which we have lots of), we could just start cranking it up to get it working again. If you don’t like the idea of a windup one (I can’t imagine why), at least make sure you have a regular battery powered one. Once again though, don’t leave the batteries installed if you’re going to store it for long periods unused. I’d suggest storing two sets of batteries with your radio while in storage (once again an appropriate sized zip-lock bag will be perfect).
    • A deck of cards – helps keep you from losing your marbles in times of boredom. Trust me.
    • Food – ensure you have about a week worth of non-perishable food on hand. Canned food, energy bars, camping food, MRE’s, etc.
    • Water – You’re going to need 2-4L of water per person per day depending on how physically active you will be. Someone chopping wood all day is going to need more water and food than someone who is just lazing around. This could mean a LOT of water depending on your situation and how many people you have with you.
  • As soon as you find out that a major storm is pending, fill up your bath tub, pots, buckets, etc with water should you need to shut off your water supply (make sure you know where you main valve is located and that you can always reach it). If your municipal pumping station loses power, they switch to backup diesel generators. If it’s a prolonged outage they will be dependant on their diesel being restocked. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, they will eventually run out and so will your water supply. You can use water that you’ve stored in your tubs, buckets, etc. for washing and that water can be stored aside and for flushing your toilets (a ‘grey water system’). Don’t flush your toilets unless you really need too. If it’s Yellow…let it mellow. If it’s Brown…flush it down.
  • Medical Supplies – Keep a good first-aid kit on hand. You never know when you may cut or burn yourself, get a headache or just need some general pain killers. If you’re taking any regular medication, always keep an extra supply on hand and rotate the stock. You should always have at least a week’s supply of your meds. If you require constant medical attention, be sure to establish a ‘life line’ with others who will check on you. Consider taking a first-aid and CPR course.
  • A source of heat – This is only a concern in the winter really but it is a major priority. I can tell you first hand that hypothermia sucks and so does frost bite. If you don’t have a fireplace you should consider a camping heater that can be used in tents. They’re safe to use indoors so long as you don’t fall asleep with your face right up beside it. When selecting one of these types of heaters, make sure you talk to the sales person and tell them what you intend to use it for.
    • DO NOT use a gas or charcoal BBQ indoors! We’ve had a few deaths from that this week and dozens of people each night being treated for Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
    • When you go to bed (be it in a sleeping bag or wrapped up in lots of blankets) put the clothes you want to wear the next day in your bedding with you down by your feet. Your body heat will ensure that you have warm clothes to change into the next day.
      NOTE: Don’t worry about seeming like a silly nilly to the sales person. If you go to a camping supply store and ask a sales person for help to make a survival kit, they will ALL say “That’s a good idea”. Like buying a car (or anything else you’re not already familiar with), it’s not a bad idea to bring an experienced camper with you so that you don’t get sold stuff that you don’t need, or get fleeced into buying the most expensive of something when it’s not needed.
      *Whatever you buy, be sure to read the manuals carefully and be familiar with how to use everything. All this stuff can get very expensive. A choice needs to be made between buying cheap considering you may never use it, vs. paying more for something that is certain to work should you ever need it. Keep in mind that you don’t have buy everything all at once. Pick away at it over time when you can afford to add to it.
  • Strength in numbers – The idea of a Lone Survivor is very Hollywood and very rare in the real world. Even the most experienced campers, survivalists, explorers, elite solders, etc can still go ‘Bat $h!t Crazy’ (not a clinical term obviously) without having someone to talk too. Having more people in your group also means you will all be able to rely on each others knowledge and skills. Assign duties or responsibilities to people to keep them occupied. That also ensures that one person doesn’t have to worry about everything (which can be a stress over-load). Don’t be alone in disasters.
  • Keep busy – You’re going to get bored and before long that will have its affect, even if you’re with a group. Play some cards, board games, chop wood, clean, organize your movie collection…whatever, just keep your mind busy. Ever heard the saying ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it’? Nuff said. This is different for everyone so if you start noticing that someone in your group is getting antsy, give them a task to do.
  • Keep an eye on the time (especially the elapsed time since the outage started) – the food in your fridge and freezer will only last so long. Don’t open either unless you absolutely need too! Food in your fridge is good for about 4hrs after a power outage and if your freezer is packed full, it should last about 48hrs (in our case it was longer because the house got so cold). If its winter time, decide what you want to keep from your fridge, put it in a cooler and leave it outside (consider adding a large weight on it if you have racoons or other wild scavengers in the area). Throw out the rest. If anything starts smelling funky…toss it. You could do the same with the contents of your freezer too as long as the temps outside never gets near the freezing mark. Daytime highs should be at least colder than -4C to pull this off safely. Keep in mind that the stuff from your fridge though will freeze solid at those temps. The containers for fluids like milk, cream, pop, etc will explode as they freeze solid if the containers are nearly full. I know it’s a hassle but you may have to keep moving the cooler with your fridge contents inside and back out again to regulate the temperature (the average refrigerator is set to about 2C-5C). Add an analog thermometer inside the cooler so you can accurately monitor it.
    *Thousands and thousands of people lost all their food this past week because they didn’t think to put it outside or bring it to someone’s house that still had power (or could provide a safe place to store it outside). Had this happened in the summer, it would be nearly impossible to preserve food that needed refrigeration or a freezer but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about your pipes freezing.
  • Keep an eye on your pipes – Here’s another place where a thermometer will come in handy. I didn’t already have one on hand so I went and bought one. Find the coldest spot in your home and place the thermometer there. Keep an eye on the temps so that you can decide when to shut off and drain your pipes. If you have to do this, be sure you store as much water as possible if you haven’t already done so (see above about ‘grey water systems’). Once your pipes cool to about 4C, it’s time to make sure all your taps are running. This helps prevent them from freezing (flowing water doesn’t freeze easily). Once the temps drop to freezing, it’s time to act. Sure flowing water doesn’t freeze easily but copper pipes will start getting slushy and will eventually clog up and then burst. This is NOT a situation anyone wants to deal with. So do your best to avoid it. Just don’t act prematurely though because once this is done, life in your home will get even more miserable.
  • Know when to call it quits – Yes I know…the last thing anyone wants to do is abandon their home but there will come a point when you just can’t stay any longer or your life could be on the line. Setup a plan with your family, friends or neighbours BEFORE a disaster. Stay in touch with them and know where your safe havens will be if you have to flee your home. Establish a plan for when you have no communication (no phone line and your cell phone is dead) so that you can pack up and head to their place. If you are elderly or physically unable to leave, make sure your friends or family will come get you if they can’t reach you. Just leave a note though in case you’ve been picked up by a friend and your family comes looking for you. Once you decide that it’s better to ‘lose the battle to win the war’, shut off your water, drain all the pipes, lock up and leave. We came very close to having to shut off and drain our pipes here because keeping them from freezing was a battle we were about to lose. However, we still had plenty of means of surviving without having to leave (it was just a matter of saving the pipes and avoiding the water damage). If you aren’t prepared with food, water, warmth, other gear and supplies…staying in your home for too long could be a fatal mistake.

This isn’t meant to be a complete list and shouldn’t be taken as one. It’s just a collection of ideas that would have made things easier for people during a situation similar to what we just experienced. Do some research, pick up a few books on survival and buy some of the essential equipment and supplies. You don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of money on this stuff. Start with the basic essentials and add to it as you can afford to do so.

For some people, like us, it was just an inconvenience. For others, there was a lot of suffering and some people died. To be very blunt, and I know this will sound harsh, if you suffered during all this, you weren’t prepared. It will happen again eventually. Will you be prepared next time? Or are you going to suffer again?

 

 

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Cast into Darkness – Day by Day (part 1)

(above photo from Wobblycat Photography)

Anywhere in the world can be hit by severe weather events, be it hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, etc. As the population grows, more and more people can be affected each time a major storm hits and aging infrastructures can be more easily damaged. We hear about such events on the news quite often but most people don’t really put much thought into it happening to them. Most people are not prepared.

In 2003, North America was hit by a massive power failure which affected most of Southern Ontario, Quebec and most of north eastern United States. Millions and millions of people were affected and if memory serves, it came down to a blown relay in Michigan that caused a cascading failure across multiple power grids (you may have to look that up though). Although in that case, most customers had power back in 2-3 days and nobody really panicked because it happened in the summer time. The most serious concern for most people was to cook all the food in their freezers and have street BBQ’s with their neighbours. The same thing happened back in the 60’s I believe.

Recently Toronto suffered another power failure but this time it was caused by a freezing rain storm. At the height of it all, Toronto had over 300,000 homes without power. According to Toronto Hydro, about 2.5 people per home was affected which would mean about 750,000 people lost power to their homes. When compared to the massive black-out 10 years ago, that doesn’t seem too bad. However, this time, it happened in the middle of winter.

Like hundreds of thousands of other people, our lives would be thrown into darkness. Some people were prepared…some were not. Many only suffered for a few hours. Many would be powerless for days. For some people, it became a matter of survival as they fled their freezing homes. Some would die in their attempts to stay alive. This was our experience…

Storm Brews

On Sat. Dec. 21, news broadcasts warned the public of the pending storm and warned that it may result in some power outages here and there but we weren’t left with a sense of major concern. Ok, we thought, no big deal, we can handle a day without power should it happen to us. That evening, the rain started falling and froze quickly wherever it landed. Temperatures were below freezing and as the rain fell harder, it was getting colder outside. We had all gone to bed around 11pm just as some areas around the city started loosing power (at this point we hadn’t). It would have been shortly after we went to bed when we lost power but we weren’t aware of it until about 3am.

We were alerted to the situation in two ways that occurred at nearly the same time. First it was my son who was woken up by a low battery alarm from the Carbon Monoxide detector in his room. It must have been running off its backup battery for many hours (well…about 4 hours perhaps since we still had power when we went to bed). Right around this time Fiona and I were woken up to the sound of loud cracking as tree branches started splitting and falling into our backyard. The trees simply couldn’t handle the added weight of all the rain freezing on their limbs and branches. We got up and watched in awe as more and more branches fell into our backyard as well as into the backyards of our neighbours. At times, the splitting branches sounded similar to gun shots. We stood there and cringed as we watched a branch fall on a car parked by the apartment building behind our house. As we peered down the street, we realized that our whole street was without power, although the apartment building behind us still had lights on. All we could do was go back to bed and hope our roof, car and motorcycle parked out front, wasn’t hit by falling branches as well.

It would be the beautiful and plentiful trees of Toronto that would turn out to be the ‘Achilles Heel’ of our power grid. We learned days later, that even when we were going to bed (totally ignorant of what was going on), the grid was systematically being torn apart by the falling trees and Toronto Hydro went into a state of emergency.

At this point, we had no electricity but the power line to our home seemed to be intact. We also had no phone. The falling trees in the backyard had ripped that down along with our cable line.

First Morning (Sun)

Ice Storm2

Downed trees in the yard

When we awoke on Sun morning, we were presented with a very different view out our windows. On one hand it was very beautiful with the trees glistening in a thick layer of ice. Yet on the other hand, the destruction in our backyards and on the street left us speechless. All you could really say was “Wow”.

We turned on our battery powered radio (which is a hand-crank model should the batteries run out) and we listened as the media provided as sense of scale. At this point, over 200,000 hydro customers were off-line (this number would only increase as more trees succumbed to the weight of the ice on them). Representatives from Toronto Hydro and the Mayor filled us in on what to expect. They advised us that it may take a couple days for everyone to have their power restored (this number would also increase). Two hospitals were running off backup generators and so was the water pumping station. I told my son to go fill the bath tubs. Should the pumping station go fully offline, we would have a tremendous amount of water reserves stored in two bath tubs, a hot water tank (which was going cold) and all the water stored in the radiator pipes. Using the water from the pipes would be a last resort and that water would have to be either boiled or filtered first. We have water filtration kits here for when we go camping, so no worries there.

Ok…we can handle a couple days. We have a wood fireplace to keep us warm and enough wood for a couple days but that could run out fast if we weren’t careful. Our stove was the gas type and could still be ignited with a match. Even if our stove didn’t worked (had it been an electric one), we have a couple of camping stoves that we could use. So we had the means to cook, make coffee and boil our emergency water supply. We had a lot of non-perishable food and what was in the fridge went into a camping cooler and was left outside on the deck so that it wouldn’t spoil. Some food had already spoiled so it was promptly thrown out. Our freezers were packed full and could last for a couple days so long as we didn’t open it and we knew that. Being regular campers, we had a lot of survival gear on hand. At this point, we really didn’t have any concerns but we knew it was going to start getting cold in the house. The first things we reached for from our camping gear were the headlamps. At least we wouldn’t have to stumble around in the dark.

Like most people I suspect, we hunkered down, wrapped ourselves in blankets, lit some candles and played cards late into the night. Thankfully we had a fire going and that helped a lot in keeping us warm. I thought about the thousands of people across the city who didn’t have a fireplace and I knew they would be in for a chilly evening. We went to bed but my son slept on the couch (wrapped in lots of blankets) in the living room because it would be warmer than his room downstairs. The basement was getting rather cold.

Second Morning (Mon)

We had put out the fire late in the evening so it was starting to get a bit chilly in our living room. The rest of the house was very chilly but we all stayed warm while we slept.

We turned on the radio again and learned that the number of affected households was up to 300,000. The radio advised us that some areas may not get power until Christmas Eve. The City opened up some community centres where people could go get warm, get something to eat and if needed, spend the night. By midday, we had the fire going again to keep us comfortable and warm. The rest of the house was getting colder and colder (especially the basement). At least power had been restored to the water pumping stations and to one of the two hospitals affected.

As the day progressed, the media continued to deliver bad news and it wasn’t long before I realized that we might be one of the last areas to have powered restored. We’re on a small street and it looked like all the streets around us weren’t affected. Ok…we’re not going to be a priority and we only have enough wood for another night. The temperature downstairs was getting very cold and we started having concerns about pipes bursting.

Fiona and I hopped in the car and went looking for some sort of gas heater that was safe to use indoors. As we drove around, we could see the vast damage from the fallen trees. Some neighbourhoods had power, some did not. Some areas had no cell service. We went store to store and everyone said the same thing “We sold all our heaters and ice salt yesterday”. Many stores were running with limited lights but were at least open thanks to their own backup generators. Eventually we found something. It was a large area heater and the box said “Outdoor and Indoor Use”. I really didn’t want to spend the money on something that may not be safe to use but the cost of repairs to the house would have been far greater should the pipes burst. This thing was massive and could heat an area of 3000 square feet. I didn’t feel good about using it though but we bought it anyway and I would just read the instructions carefully. Besides, it’s not like we couldn’t bring it back if we decide to not use it.

Many of the gas stations we passed were closed due to the lack of electricity. However the ones that were open had a line-up of cars nearly one hour long. I’m glad we filled our tank on Saturday before the storm hit.

Our next priority was wood. We went to our local supplier and they too had no power. It was at this point that I realized that the outage in our area was more extensive than just our one street (despite the streets on either side of us being un-affected). The shop owner was just arriving and trying to assess his own situation. All he was able to sell was his supply of wood and Christmas trees. After a short discussion, he agreed to deliver a load of wood later in the afternoon and may even buy our newly purchased heater should we decide to not use it.

The temperature was dropping fast and the City issued a cold weather alert and warned of strong winds. Great…whatever trees that were only just barely handling the loads would surely snap now making for further damage. I was concerned about the massive tree in our front yard. Many branches over hung the house and driveway. We had already gotten permission from one of our neighbours to park in his driveway so our car wouldn’t get crushed. There wasn’t much we could do about the motorcycle though (the Ural is pretty wide with that sidecar).

Once home, we unloaded the heater and it wasn’t long before I read the material. Yeah…I don’t think so! We would have to open all the windows in the basement to use this thing to keep our pipes from freezing and bursting but that wouldn’t provide the ventilation required based on the instruction manual. The gases emitted from the heater would collect, fill the basement and eventually work its way up to us. This thing was designed for garages or outdoor work areas…not basements…and using it like this could be a fatal mistake. We decided to just sell it to our wood guy since he said he wanted it for his employees who were working out in the wood yard.

As the day wore on, it was getting much colder outside and of course, inside too. We were burning our wood fast just to keep the living room warm but the rest of the house was getting very cold. I knew the pipes wouldn’t burst until the internal temps in the basement got to freezing but we had no way of knowing what the temperature actually was down there. The upstairs thermostat said it was about 11C yet you could feel it was much colder downstairs. Time to call the heating company for an opinion. We discussed the furnace that they installed last year and he informed me about how it would re-fire once the power came back on. It was all automatic so no need for a service guy to come out to re-light it (which is what I suspected but it was nice to have that confirmed). The bigger concern was the pipes. I figured that keeping the taps running a bit would stop them from freezing but it if the basement got too cold, we would have to shut off the water (once again it was nice to hear that thoughts on all that was correct). First it would be the copper domestic lines that needed to be turned off and drained. That would end our water supply but once the power came back on and the pipes were re-heated, it would be an easy task to turn those pipes back on. I wasn’t too concerned because we had already established a reserve of water that we could use for cooking, personal hygiene and for flushing the toilets.

Second would be draining the heating pipes and that was going to be a huge hassle, take a long time, and would use up a huge amount of our water reserves (drained pipes and empty water heater). If that had to be done, there were a number of procedures and precautions that we would have to follow for not only draining the system but also when it came time to refill it and re-light the furnace. I was less concerned about needing to do this though. The steel pipes can handle sub-freezing temps longer and better than copper ones. I lit a bunch of tea candles in the laundry room to slow the rate of cooling. It’s the coldest room in the house and the radiator in there was getting damn cold. Tea candles are a staple in any good winter survival kit for your car because they can easily keep the interior of a car warm should you get stranded somewhere. The volume of air in the laundry room is more than the interior of an average car (a bit more than a minivan really). I lit six candles and kept them burning until the heat came back on, making sure they were in a pot and no chance of starting a fire if left unattended. Not the safest thing but it can be done safely with some precautions. This trick worked nicely and slowed the rate at which the room was getting colder.

By early afternoon, my son’s mother had power again. Although my son was quite content staying with us (despite not having power or heat), at least I knew I could take him home to his mom’s place if things got really bad for us here. Sure we had the ability to survive the sub-freezing temps, but it would have become miserable for him, especially if we had to shut off the water.

Well after sunset, our wood delivery finally arrived and was unceremoniously dumped in the driveway and the heater was loaded into the truck. At least he would be able to get some use from it. Now it was time to move and stack all the wood along the side of the house. It was also time to stoke the fireplace more now that we didn’t have to conserve wood to last through the night.

Time to hunker down for another night by the fire and play more card games to keep us busy. All the while the radio provided information about the power crisis and what others were dealing with. It was becoming obvious that people would soon become desperate for food, water and heat. The elderly or those with medical conditions were especially vulnerable. The City keep trying to keep us updated but the information wasn’t really useful. It would have been nice to hear what areas are currently being worked on so that people in those areas would at least know that they only had to suffer a few more hours. I wasn’t expecting much resolve for us though even though I realized today that our area is pretty large and would in fact be a priority to the power company. Only once during all this was that type of information provided…at 1am. Not many people are listening at 1am guys! (At no point again was info like that provided).

Third Morning (Tues)

The morning of Christmas Eve and still 172,000 are still without power…including us. I stayed awake nearly all night to keep the fire burning while listening to the radio. Fiona took over around 4 or 5am so that I could get some sleep. We’re both pretty tired at this point and the rest of the house is getting worryingly cold. The radio reported the death of two people for Carbon Monoxide poisoning (they brought a BBQ in from outside and used it as a heat source). With hearing that…I was very glad about not using that heater and being able to get rid of it. The radio is also now reporting that some people may not have power until Christmas Day but some may not have power restored until the weekend.

Some serious thought will have to be given to shutting off the water and draining the domestic pipes since we have no idea where we are on the list and Toronto Hydro isn’t sharing that info to the media and nobody can reach Toronto Hydro by phone. They only get automated messages. This was the worst weather related power outage for Toronto Hydro in its 100 year history.

My son was to spend Christmas Eve at home so I took him home around noon. Many roads are still blocked off. Power lines still lay strewn across the streets. Many stores are closed. In contrast though, the areas that were unaffected, people are walking and driving around like on any normal day. We needed more candles because they were running out fast and there was one thing I really needed to find…a thermometer. I needed to keep a close eye on the temps in the laundry room because that was our coldest room. Having a thermometer in there would help us decide when to start shutting off the water. After going to five different stores, I was finally able to find all the stuff I was looking for. I got home around 1pm and the first thing I did was get a temperature reading in the laundry room…it was only 4C in there. Damn. It will surely drop to freezing by nightfall.

My son was supposed to return Christmas Day to spend it with us but I was giving some serious thought to how practical that would be. If we have to shut off the water, things are going to be pretty miserable around here. Before I dropped him off at home, I discussed this with him and told him I would touch base in the morning to let him know how Fiona and I are making out. I was keeping my phone off to conserve the battery and had charged it as much as I could while out driving around so I had the means to communicate to others.

As the afternoon wore on, we heard more and more reports of people suffering Carbon Monoxide poisoning and sadly there was another death as a result it. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if this outage affected everyone in the city. By now, the whole city would be getting pretty desperate and no doubt a lot more lives would be lost. Not to mention the social breakdown as people become desperate for food, general supplies and sources of heat.

I continued to carefully monitor the temperatures in the house while Fiona focused on the condition of the fireplace. The last thing we need is for a chimney fire and we’ve had a fire burning non-stop for days now. Talk about irony…worrying so much about the cold only to have the house burn down. (Later that night, I learned that this is exactly what happened to someone I know. Her house burned down yesterday night. Yeah…Merry Christmas indeed.)

Uggg…does nobody on this street know how to get their car unstuck? I’m not sure but I think this just made the 5th person I’ve pushed free or just jumped behind the wheel so that I could drive them out myself. The look on this one lady’s face was priceless. After 15min of trying to get free from her icy spot, I offered to give it a try. I slid into the driver seat and within 6sec her car was free. “How the hell did you do that?” she asked in wonder.

By the afternoon, it was getting time for us to discuss what our next steps were going to be and what the time lines may need to be. The number of affected homes was down to 97,000. The radio though was saying that more homes would come online today or Christmas Day. I knew we wouldn’t be able to keep the basement above freezing for that long. If we don’t shut off and drain the pipes soon, we’re going to lose them. There was no way to stop the temps in the house from falling below the freezing point and burst pipes would be inevitable. We had water reserves in the bath tubs and we could fill some buckets and pans before turning off the water and we would have to establish a ‘grey water’ system. *This is when you store waste water from cooking, washing, personal hygiene, etc (instead of letting it go down the drain) so that it can be used for flushing toilets.

We would also have to break out the camping gear for the sleeping bags, thermal survival bags, etc and the tent which could be erected in front of the fireplace which would further improve our ability to stay warm while the rest of the house froze over. The City was still under a cold weather alert and the temps would fall to about -15C. It was only a high of -8C today. The basement was down to 3C. We simply couldn’t stop this from happening now. At least we had a plan if we don’t get our power back within a few hours. Merry Christmas everyone, but for us, it’s about to be cancelled.

I can’t even count the number of times one of us has had to go outside to fetch more wood but we took turns at it just like we took turns at stoking the fire. It was around 3pm and Fiona headed out to get more wood. While she was outside, I heard the sound I was waiting for…the computer printer starting its warm-up cycle! YESSS!!!! Our power was back on! I ran outside without even grabbing a coat and shared the good news. Later that night, I touched base with my son and shared the news with him also (once I knew it wasn’t just the power company testing the lines). He was very happy to be able to come over on Christmas Day.

We knew it may not last though due to more warnings about high wind and now snow was added to the forecast. I was still concerned about the large tree in front of the house.

Our crisis however, was over and for us, it would stay over. As we basked in the marvels of electricity, light bulbs and heat, there were still 55,000 people without such novelties and comforts. We still had no phone line or internet but we can live without that and we probably won’t get crews out to repair that until the New Year.

The contents of one our freezers were just starting to thaw so we needed to cook the lasagne and have that for dinner or it was destined for the garbage bin. The turkey needed to thaw anyway and was moved to the fridge. The rest of the stuff in the freezers was still good and didn’t need to be tossed out.

Wednesday Morning (Christmas Day)

We woke to see a beautiful sight of fluffy snow covering everything outside. Although the branches of the tree out front were even heavier due to the snow, it seemed pretty solid. The winds didn’t cause any breaks and the wind had now dropped off. I was becoming less concerned.

Sunnybrook Hospital finally had power restored. They had been running off backup generators for days now.

Thursday Morning

37,000 are still without power. Some retirement homes and apartment buildings have had to be evacuated. More reports of people being rushed to hospitals due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. The message has been out for days to NOT bring BBQ’s or generators into the home as a heat source but people are getting very desperate and ignoring the warnings.

Friday Morning

Six days after it started…nearly 30,000 are still without power. Those homes require individual repairs. I know that I could lose power again if that tree comes down and that is what’s happening in some areas. Some trees are still snapping and falling on the repair crews as they try and restore power to homes. Fortunately for those who got hit, they didn’t suffer serious injuries.

Saturday Morning

It’s the 7th day and still 18,000 homes are without power. Some streets are still closed due to fallen trees but more are being closed due to ice falling from buildings. One person suffered a serious head injury from falling ice and another from a tree branch that fell on her. Trees continue to snap and people who had their power restored are losing it again. I suppose that could still happen to us here and I can easily imagine how frustrating that would be for someone. There are still about 80 intersections without power to the traffic lights but those aren’t really a priority. Getting power to people’s homes is.

We should have our phone line repaired today once a tech shows up to fix it. We scheduled a cable tech to come out on Sunday to repair our internet connection (the phone and internet cables to our home still lay strewn along the ground in the back yard). Our whole street has a cable outage, so even if the tech shows up tomorrow, the problem may not be restored.

Afternoon

The day wore on rather uneventfully for us. Well…until the phone technician showed up. His name was Daoud from Somalia. A thin, soft spoken man who looked a tad bewildered. You could just tell how tired he was. He had been working very hard all day. Once he surveyed the job, he asked if I could help him out. “Of course” I replied. His language barrier and quiet voice made it a bit hard for us to communicate to each other but we figured each other out eventually. He needed to drive around into the parking lot of the building behind us so that he could access the trunk lines and toss me the new ‘Drop’ (this is the line that comes from the trunk lines and gets attached to the house. So off he went while I waited in the backyard. After a couple of attempts, he was able to toss me the Drop line and I pulled it through the backyard (climbing over the old fallen lines), along the side of the house and all the way to the front. I had to guess at how much line would be needed but it turned out in the end that I guessed well.

As the technician setup and climbed his ladder, he made a mistake. He was on an extendable ladder but didn’t lock it securely and it slipped resulting in both his feet being trapped in the rungs. He was well and truly stuck and unable to get free. “Hold on” I said “Don’t go anywhere and I’ll come around”. Yeah I know …it was a silly thing to say since he was obviously not going anywhere without someone to rescue him but it made him laugh. I ran around the block and jumped a fence to get to him as quickly as I could. Fortunately he wasn’t a heavy guy, even with all his tools and equipment attached, so I was able to lift him and the part of the ladder that he was trapped in. Ok…back to work.

I stayed with him and that was a good thing…he had someone to assist him and keep him company. It was a good thing I stayed because he got into trouble once again when he changed ladders and locations to climb the telephone pole. The panel box he needed to access was on the wrong side of the pole so he had to climb out on it and get to the other side. He didn’t have a good foot hold and was hanging by one arm around the pole. His arm was getting tired and started to shake. It would only be a matter of time before he slipped and fell. “My friend…you need to tie in” I shouted up to him. He got himself turned around but couldn’t release the belt from his harness, so up the ladder I climbed. As a rock climber, I am familiar with various safety harnesses and I knew what needed to be done. I was able to reach around the pole and around him to release the clasp of his life-line belt. I wrapped it around the pole and clipped it to him on the other side. Now he was safely tied in and wouldn’t fall from his perch 15 feet from the ground. As he tooled away, it was getting dark and there was still much to do. When he was finished on the pole…he had to reconnect the house. I helped pack up his gear and I met him back at the house. Now that it was completely dark out, I grabbed my headlamp and provided him with direct light on his hands while he was up the ladder on the side of the house. This was tedious work and his hands were no doubt getting cold. He didn’t complain though. Once all was said and done, he asked me where he could pick up a headlamp of his own. Had he not had any light, he would have taken much longer to get the job done. This poor guy was so tired at this point and he still had another service call to do. Hopefully it was something easy like a jack installation inside a warm house somewhere. I gave him a handful of chocolates and his face lit up.

Sunday

It’s the 8th day after the storm and there are still 6,000 homes without power. Most people who are still without power and without means to stay warm have had to abandon their homes. $1million a day for Toronto Hydro to restore power to all the affected homes and they figure the final bill could be around $10 million. Although the City claims that the tax payers won’t have to pony up for the bill, I have a hard time believing that. It’s far more likely that Toronto Hydro will slowly jack up their prices to cover the costs and it’s unlikely that once they’ve recovered their losses, they will lower the rates back down.

Prior to the morning press conference from the City, the cable repair technician showed up to restore our internet connection. Another friendly fellow but he had a similar look of bewilderment as he surveyed the task of repairing our fallen lines. Midi (from Iran) also expressed to me that this was the most difficult repair job he’s had since the storm started. Once again I helped out to make the job easier and faster and once again, my assistance was much appreciated. 1hr and 10min later and our internet service was restored. Thankfully this repair went off without any drama.

The crisis is coming to an end and hopefully by morning, all the affected homes will have their power restored. However, cleaning up the roads of fallen trees and branches will take weeks. I’m sure there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of homes that will have serious flooding issues from burst pipes.

 

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Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally

OAR1When Lawrence Hacking invited me to participate in his newly created Overland Adventure Rally, I couldn’t possibly turn it down. I just needed to ensure I was available that weekend and what bike could I use. Well once the question about scheduling was cleared up, my friend Fiona offered up her Russian Ural (complete with the sidecar) for me to participate in the event. Now the question was, would my son be able to join me as my navigator, which turned out to not be the case since he was heading off to camp that same weekend. Once again Fiona stepped up to the plate and said she would join me. In hindsight this worked out well because had the navigation been up to my son, we would have gotten well and truly lost.

My adventure partner was full of mixed emotions with high doses of both excitement and trepidation over joining me. This was the first time she had ever been off-roading (in any vehicle) and it was also the first time she’d ever participated in a rally style event. Well, truth be told, I’ve never been in a rally either and although I have done some off-roading in the past, I’m hardly ‘experienced’ at it. There was also some concern on both our parts about doing this in a sidecar. Sure the Ural is built like a tank, or more accurately, like a three-wheeled tractor (and needs to be driven as such), but we had to wonder, just how rough was this route really going to be? Could the bike handle it? Could we?? We were about to find out…one way or another.

After arriving on Friday and speaking with Lawrence and Eric (who both designed and tested the route), some of my concerns were put at ease. However there was one section that I was told would be pretty dodgy for our bike to get through. I figured we’d just make a judgement call when we got to that point. There were two other Urals entered in the event so I foolishly figured whatever they could do…we could do too. Well…the problem with that was that they were far more experienced at taking their Ural’s off-road than I was. Actually…I’d never really taken the bike off-road. There was also a heightened sense of self-preservation on my part perhaps thanks to the blood-thinners I’m currently taking. Getting hurt is one thing but getting injured would be quite another and getting proper medical attention would be impossible. Fiona is an experienced nurse but if I got injured badly, she would only be able to buy me some time, but not enough, and I really didn’t like the idea of putting myself in a position where if I crashed badly, it would end up being my final moments.

So this brings us to the morning of the event. I stupidly made the mistake of leaving the cover off my tent thinking it would be too warm to comfortably sleep in but it turned out to be a rather chilly night resulting in a horrible nights sleep. In the morning I felt horrible, I looked horrible and the bags under my eyes were the size of suitcases and I couldn’t even blame it on a late night of partying. Multiple cups of coffee later and I was starting to feel ‘human’ again. After breakfast and the morning meeting, all the riders geared-up and mounted their metal steeds, which was a mixed bag of old and new from various manufactures. BMW, KTM, Ural, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, and a few others all took to the starting line to begin their adventure. The biggest challenge turned out to not be the off-road sections as so much as reading the pace notes and doing the navigation. It didn’t help that some of the roads were miss-labelled which left many riders, including us, scratching their heads wondering ‘Where the hell are we??’ This was made even more challenging because since the route was last tested, some local construction was started and a bridge that was usable two weeks ago, had become an impassable obstacle. Even those who relied on GPS units had to get creative and adapt to the changes. This is part of the challenge of rallying though and adapting to the changes and finding solutions is deeply satisfying.

We didn’t have a GPS , not even a road map, so we did occasionally have to rely on those who did to find a solution. Strangely though, later in the day, some bikes were following us because despite having extra navigational aids like maps and GPS units, they were having difficulty following the pace notes that were provided to us all at the start of the race. For being her first time doing a rally, Fiona did an amazing job of not only keeping us on course but also at improvising new alternatives when we had to deviate from the laid out route. Case in point was when we came upon the more challenging off-road section. We stopped so I could make a judgement call about taking the risk and in the end decided ‘Nah…ain’t gonna happen’. We knew it would be rough down there and I figured if we got stuck, we would have no room to turn around and backtrack. So we decided against it and improvised a way to side-step that section of the route. This turned out to be the prudent choice (we found out later that one of the other Urals got well and truly stuck in there and they required the assistance of a few more bikers to get them free).

OAR_ridersAfter several more kilometres, the suspension and my testicles were being slammed hard by the rough roads (if you’ve ever ridden a Ural, you will know how much a beating your groin gets even on regular paved roads…and this was getting painful). We eventually found ourselves right back at the same spot and noticed a rider coming out of that area (the one we decided to avoid) and when we asked him why he turned around, he replied with “It was too hard and I don’t have the right tires for it. I don’t want to crash”. After hearing that, we felt a lot better about the choice we had made. While figuring out the next leg of the journey, more riders came along, each of which were all making the same choice ‘try it…or abort’. One poor guy though had a more pressing problem which left him wondering where the nearest gas station was. Yeah…that’s a problem for sure. Fortunately for him though, we had plenty of spare gas packed on the bike. Note to self…Ducati’s are even thirstier for fuel than the Ural is. I always compared the Ural’s thirst for fuel to be like a drunken Russian’s thirst for Vodka…and for this metallic Russian, gasoline was its Vodka and damn it loves to drink! With the Ducati fuelled up though, we all headed on our respective ways.

More paved roads, more dirt roads and more roads that left us thinking ‘what the hell were they thinking when they added this section?!’ Going up steep hills in the Ural isn’t exactly easy because the front wheel tends to lift off the ground leaving you with the inability to steer (it really doesn’t matter how much you stand on the pegs and put weight over the front wheel). Add to that going up steep roads that are chock full of deep ruts and pot holes that made me wonder if it had been shelled by artillery, we found ourselves bouncing all over the place and once again, my manly bits were again taking a serious beating. Time to dig deep, grab a handful of intestinal fortitude and put caution aside…throttle wide open, engine growling like a constipated Siberian Tiger, tire spinning, and manhandling this bike into doing things it really didn’t want to do. This pushed our limits and the limits of the bike but with much persistence and commitment, we made it to the top.

OAR_SteepJust when we thought it couldn’t get worse though…it did. We were faced with another 20% uphill grade but this time it was in soft sand. Facepalm! Time to reach deep again and go hell for leather, but this time, we couldn’t find the momentum required to get our 800pds of wobbly, poor handling Russian motorcycle up the hill. We got stuck…just 1/3 from the top. I heard one of the bikers below us say “Oh that’s not good”. Fiona jumps out and gets ready to push from behind but as soon as I said that wouldn’t work, she instantly ran to the front and sat on the front of the side car. She knew I needed more weight forward on the bike and thanks to her quick thinking, me throwing the bike into 2WD, wicking open the throttle and burning some clutch metal, we started moving. Actually, when the bike finally found traction, Fiona’s legs flew up in the air and she nearly flew clean off the bike. “Get off!” I shouted…and off she flew (although not entirely by choice) as I started getting the needed grip and speed to reach the top of the hill. Try that Charley Boorman!

Once again though I could hear the experienced off-road bikers behind us, but this time they were laughing and saying ‘Well done! I thought for sure we would have to push you.” Actually, I think I will mention that trick to off-road legend and instructor Simon Pavey when I see him later that night.

Shortly later the roads became more subdued and manageable but my hands and butt were in agony. I was starting to feel like I had been molested by an angry gorilla (or rather the aforementioned Siberian Tiger). I was getting tired, cranky, feeling very physically beat up, and once again we were stopped on the side of the road trying to figure out where we were. Are we lost or again cursed by the mistakes in the route notes? Turns out the cursed route notes were again mislabelled and we were both getting frustrated. Fiona took over riding for a while so I could rest in the side car and be the ‘navi-guesser’ for a while.

She was doing great despite needing to stop and contemplate whether or not she could actually tackle some of the gravelly slopes she was presented with. With a bit of encouragement and some determined resolve (aka “stubbornness” and if you know Fi you know exactly what I mean), she mustered on. Although it was only about 10min later that we came to a section of road that she couldn’t handle…and I knew it. It was another nasty, loose gravel, steep uphill grade, with a tight corner near the top. Just the kind of thing that the Ural strongly objects to doing and it was going to need more skill and physical strength than Fiona could throw at it. I was grateful for the rest but it was time to get back to work. Once again our stubborn, wobbly Russian steed needed to be kicked in the proverbial ‘exhaust pipe’ to get up the hill.

Eventually we found ourselves on paved roads again and although I should have once again let Fiona take over, I guess my own stubbornness kicked in. Did I mention I was getting cranky? I wanted to get this over with now and I knew that my comfort level of riding at high speed on dodgy roads was higher than Fiona’s…so I stuck it out.

Finally we crossed the finish line and we were treated with a wonderful steak dinner followed by guest speakers Rene Cormier and Simon Pavey, both of whom regaled us with tales of their own adventures making what we just did today seem like child’s play. Everyone was exhausted and throughout the evening more and more great stories came out of people’s experiences from the day. People crashing (without injury), getting stuck in deep mud and even a fellow I knew suffering some nasty fuel drama. He ran out of gas and forgot the key to his fuel cap back at the campsite. I should mention that he too was on a thirsty Russian Ural. Haha…poor guy. Opps…I shouldn’t laugh…sorry. He had spare fuel, which is great, but it’s useless when you can’t get it into the bike. Simon Pavey came to the rescue on a BMW 1200GS and they hacked together an IV fuel line to pump fuel up into the Ural’s tank. Ahhh…more Vodka! Clever thinking! They had to do it a few times though and along the way, Simon ended up running out of fuel himself because he pumped too much into the other bike. Now that’s funny…although I’m sure they didn’t think so at the time.

The evening carried on to live music, prizes and give-aways and many of us drinking late into night. Fiona and I spent most of the night chatting away with Simon Pavey over a few beers…not just about his off-roading career but just about life in general. We found in each other a friendship that I hope will last quite a while.

This was the first Overland Adventure Rally by Lawrence but certainly not the last. At the end of Saturday night’s presentations, he announced the second rally for next year and I will certainly be there for it. Sometimes you just need to let yourself go and in keeping with the event moto…Live the Dream.

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Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally – Pre-Event

This could quite possibly be the best adventure event of the year in Ontario. Lawrence Hacking, a guy who’s been racing off-road motorcycles since he was 16 and was the first Canadian to complete the famous Dakar Rally back in 2001, has created the Overland Adventure Rally. The event is July 12-14, 2013 and is being held in Campbellville, Ontario.

So what right? Off-road rally’s are held all over the world right? Sure…but not like this one. This one has a class for just about everyone…including cars! This is all about just having fun regardless of what you show up with. Got a vintage bike or car? There’s a class for that. Got a bike from India, Taiwan or China? They have a class for that too. There is also a paved route for the cars or bikes that are really not suited to slippy, bumpy roads which is about 200km long. The more challenging off-road route is 230km and is mostly gravel and dirt roads with a few more challenging sections. Obviously the more challenging bits can’t be too rough or the sidecar class wouldn’t be able to get through. I’m banking on that actually because I will be riding a 2009 Russian Ural with a sidecar loaded with a passenger. For my passenger, aka Monkey (as sidecar passengers are known), aka Navi-guesser…ahem, navigator, this will be her first rally like this. Well…truth be told…it will be my first off-road race too but I have done rally style events before. At least I have some previous experience off-roading in both cars/trucks and motorcycles. Now at the time of writing this, Lawrence tells me that there is only one other bike entered in the sidecar class. I guess that means I’m looking at a 2nd place trophy! LOL

Simon Pavey - Overland Adventure Rally

Simon Pavey

What also makes this event interesting is that thanks to BMW Canada, the rather well known Simon Pavey (7-time Dakar finisher and UK-based BMW GS Training instructor) will be one of the guest speakers. You may also remember him from “The Race to Dakar” documentary which covered the challenges surrounding the Dakar Rally as actor & world motorcycle adventurer Charley Boorman attempted to tackle the race for the first time.

Rene Cormier - Overland Adventure Rally

Rene Cormier

Another guest speaker is less well known globally but his accomplishes are vast as another who crossed the world (in nearly every direction) on a motorcycle. Perhaps he will tell about the times he was shot at while sleeping under his motorcycle in the USA (he woke to the sound of gun shots and gas pouring on him thanks to a bullet piercing his fuel tank) and the time he took gun fire from shady guards at a check point in Africa. Ya…really!

If you’re interested in a copy of the flyer, just click this link.

If you want the full details of the event, click here.

Actually…just register by clicking here.

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Vital ID Could Save Your Life

Every once in a while, someone asks me to review or promote their product and every once in a while, something comes across my desk that is worth more than it costs and in this case it’s the Vital ID Motorcycle kit and Medical ID bracelet.

Medical ID bracelets aren’t new, in fact they have been around for decades but they’ve usually been some bland piece of metal worn as a bracelet or necklace. They’ve never been aesthetically pleasing and often got snagged or caught on things, which meant they weren’t practical to wear and often people wouldn’t bother, thus defeating the point of even having one.

Recently I was contacted by someone affiliated from VitalID.ca asking me to help spread the word about their products and after looking at their wide range of products online, I wanted to learn more and see how practical this stuff really was. They sent me some of their Medical ID bracelets and a couple of their Motorcycle Rider ID kits and I must say they are amazing.

As a motorcyclist, I know full well that if I get involved in a crash, the odds of me being injured are much higher than if I was involved in a crash while in a vehicle. Let’s face it…no safety cage, airbags or crumple zones. Paramedic’s first priority is to assess and stabilize your injuries. Looking for your wallet is also a priority (which is why I always keep it in my jacket pocket and not in a tank bag) but this wastes precious time and doesn’t usually contain any information about you medically.

When a rider crashes, getting the helmet off is a two person job and once done, the helmet goes along with the patient in the ambulance so that it can be looked at by the trauma team in the ER (it often provides clues as to where head injuries may be and how bad). With the Rider ID kit attached to your helmet, they can easily pull the info card out of the reflective sleeve and not only find out basic information about you, but also learn if you have any medical conditions, other than the obvious injuries from your crash, that may assist them in how they treat you clinically. For example, if you are taking blood thinners, the risk of you dying from excessive blood loss is quite high, however if that information is on your Rider ID card, they would know to give you a Vitamin K shot (the ‘antidote’ for Warfarin), which would quickly coagulate your blood and improve your odds. It would also be good for them to know if you have any allergies to drugs.

The Rider ID kit comes with a reflective sleeve that sticks to your helmet with a tri-fold card that you put all your information on and folds up and is stored in the sleeve. Both the reflective sleeve and tri-fold insert are waterproof – just be sure to use a waterproof marker when filling it out. It also comes with a wallet card which can contain the same information along with other important details, like who to contact in the event of an emergency.

If you aren’t a motorcyclist, the Medical ID bracelet accomplishes the same goal and can be used by anybody. It’s a Velcro arm band with a sleeve that again contains a tri-fold information card with all your important medical information. It clearly states right on it what it is for and paramedics and trauma staff are trained to look for such items. Again the arm band and information card is water proof and you can also easily attach a wrist watch to it making it practical for everyday use.

I’ve shown both products to various people in the medical and first responder community and they all agree that these products could save your life and they wish that people who need them, wear them. Some further went on to say that even if you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, using products like this could save time should you need medical attention and make it easier to contact your family should you end up in hospital and unable to speak or communicate in someway.

Many trauma victims can spend days in critical care as “John/Jane Doe” because their wallet/purse could not be located at the scene. Think about the stress your family would experience, not knowing where you are for several days. Calling around to hospitals would be useless because they would be asking for you by name and since they don’t know your name, they would say “No…he/she’s not here”. Then what? They would have to call the police and file a ‘Missing Person’ report followed by days of waiting as they call to hospitals asking for unidentified patients fitting your description.

VitalID.ca provides an impressive selection of products and I would suggest you check them out. Their products are indeed worth far more than they cost.

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