Bear Outbreak RTH Compound Bow

This is not only my first compound bow but perhaps also my last. It’s that good. If it should ever break or somehow be damaged, I will likely buy another one if it’s available.

The main reason for purchasing this specific bow is because of it’s wide range of adjustment. The draw weight range is 15-70pds, with an arrow speed of 308fps, and the draw length can adjusted 16″-30″. This was ideal for me since initially I thought I could de-tune it for my son to shoot it as well. The fact that all the adjustments can be done without a bow press meant that I could do it all myself while at the range. It only took about 5min to change the bow from my settings to the settings for my son.

It wasn’t long though before we both wanted to shoot at the same time, so I bought him an entry level bow of his own and that meant I could really tune this bow exactly the way I liked it, without having to keep changing everything for ‘mini-me’.

bear_outbreakThe bow comes with everything you really need or want on a compound bow and really is “Ready to Hunt” as advertised. Assuming that you buy it from a store, they do all the initial setup for you (draw weight, length, peep ring, etc) so all you then need to do is spend some time adjusting & tuning the sights. Obviously if you buy this bow online, you will have to do everything yourself. The package includes not only the bow, but also a 4-arrow quiver (which is attached to the side with a quick release), a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest, a large three pin sight, wrist strap, stabilizer, nock loop (D-Ring) and a peep sight.

The removable quiver is ideal for hunters by holding four arrows with broad heads but I found the rubber grips held the arrows pretty tightly and removing the arrows exerted a lot of flex to the arrow shaft. This is not good for my carbon arrows so it wasn’t long before I removed the quiver and instead used a hip quiver. Since I only do target shooting, a hip quiver made more sense since they are easier to use, there is no flexing of the arrows and they can obviously carry more than just four.

The sight was good and certainly more than adequate for both hunting or target shooting and the pins could be adjusted for quite a range of distances. Personally I found it a tad large and eventually upgraded it to a smaller, illuminated one (gotta love Christmas gifts). The sight that came with the bow is now mounted on my sons compound (instant upgrade for him too).

Arrow rests are often highly debated as to what style is good and what isn’t. Some insist that drop-aways are the best, whereas others insist that capture style is the way to go. The Bear Outbreak came with a capture style Whisker Biscuit rest and I love it (I even bought one for my sons bow also). Once your arrow is loaded, it’s not going to fall out…period. This is ideal for newer compound archers and also perfect for hunters (just load the arrow and forget about it until you’re ready to shoot). The bristles do wear out over time though and eventually the whisker ring needs to be replaced. After about 2000 arrows passing through it, mine is only just starting to wear out. So unless you’re shooting 300-500 arrows every single day, this shouldn’t really be a concern for anyone.

The only problem I’ve had with this bow seems to have been a one-off because the shop I bought it from (who sell and service a hell of a lot of hunting bows) had never seen this issue before on any bow. The problem was that the string suppressor bar snapped at the mounting point after a few months of heavy shooting. This was presumably caused by the vibration of bow causing metal fatigue but the metal in the bar seems to have been weak to begin with (manufacturing defect). Heavy usage just brought the issue front and centre very early but because the bow was under warranty, it was replaced without question and I was back to shooting.

Whether you’re a target shooter (adult or child), or a hunter looking to take down a Moose, this bow can pretty much do it all. It is probably the most versatile compound bow on the market and once you’ve tuned it properly, it is insanely accurate. I’ve Robin Hooded several arrows at distances of up to 30m.
Two thumbs up!

Purchased from BassPro in Vaughan

55 lbs. of adjustment (15pds-70pds)
80% let-off
Draw length range of 16″-30″
Easily adjusted without the use of modules or a bow press
Dual Cam System
Axle-to-Axle: 29-1/4″
IBO speed: 308 fps
Brace Height: 7-1/4″
Weight: 3.5 lbs.
Colour: RealTree APG Camo

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Winter Driving and Survival

(feature photo from Lesley Wimbush)

Stranded in your car:

Winter driving isn’t fun and some drivers have a visceral fear of it. Some people feel safe in their skills as a driver, or in their denial, and think that getting stranded in the snow would never happen to them. It’s a scarey thought so perhaps ignorance is bliss. It doesn’t matter however, how good of a driver you are…you can still easily find yourself stranded in your vehicle for a long period of time.

In January and February of 2014, North America got absolutely hammered by extreme weather events. Heavy snow, freezing rain, extremely cold temperatures…you name it…we saw it. The ice storm that hit my area, just a month before, resulted in me losing power for three days. Even Atlanta, GA got freezing rain and it pretty much crippled the entire State…many States actually. Just to add insult to injury…the South got hammered hard again just a couple of weeks later. They simply aren’t used to driving on wintery roads and in no way whatsoever were they prepared. The result was grid-locked traffic from hell and tens of thousands of cars being abandoned all across the Southern US. Many people found themselves stranded in their vehicles for about 24hrs (a couple cases I heard of involved being stranded for 30hrs). Spending a couple days in your car doesn’t sound too horrible…in the summer. In the winter however, when the temps drop down to -20c (-4F), or much colder, it can be lethal if you’re not prepared for it.

We like to believe that we’re great drivers and never going to crash into a snowbank. Come on…we’ve all said it..”It’s not me…it’s everybody else”. Well lets think about that. Time and time again, drivers have found themselves stranded in their vehicles because of massive pile-ups around them (ahead and behind) thus leaving them stuck on the highway. Other times, the road conditions get so bad that authorities close down the roads while you’re still on it leaving you stuck. Both scenarios happen quite a lot and it’s not something that most drivers think about.

Certainly, drivers in Canada and the northern US are more aware of the possibility of getting stuck on winter roads but many find that they are still not prepared for it. At most, they may have a couple blankets in their car along with a shovel and some salt or sand but they still don’t plan for being stranded in their car for a couple of days. Learn What Hollywood Can Teach Us About Vw Transporter and other interesting information on vehicle driving online.

24hr Winter Car Survival Challenge:

Sometimes the best way to really know what it’s like to be stranded in your car and know what it takes to survive, is to just go ahead and do it. My friend and Automotive Journalist Lesley Wimbush joined me and we challenged ourselves to surviving 24hrs ‘stranded’ in a vehicle. In hindsight…I wouldn’t recommend people do this just for kicks and giggles…especially if they aren’t damn sure that they are prepared for anything that could happen. My background and training has provided me with survival training in various situations and climates but every situation is slightly different.

Lesley and I found a safe spot just off a back country road in Ontario, surrounded by snow in sub-freezing temperatures. We got bored. We got cold. We suffered Hypothermia. We got a touch of frost bite. We recorded it. I edited it down to just over an hour and you can see the progression from being ok, to getting hypothermia (and a serious case of the sillys), and recovering in the morning. The temps dropped to -18c (0F). During the video, we had some great discussions about winter driving and survival. We also discussed some of the mistakes commonly made by people who have gotten stranded in the past. We also demonstrate some basic survival gear and provide some tips to help you stay warm and keep your sanity. Please forgive the quality…as we started having trouble thinking, we forgot to turn on all our lights for the video.

A BIG Thank You to Volvo Canada for providing the XC60 for this experiment!

Prepping your Car:


Lesley trying to sleep and stay warm

Prepping your car isn’t all that hard and with some basic gear, you can likely get yourself unstuck. If you’re stranded for some other reason, like road closures, some simple equipment can help keep you warm until you’re rescued or the road is re-opened. The items below are just the bare essentials and could help you handle a few hours easily.

  • first aid kit
  • flares, shovel, salt/sand, jumper cables
  • SOL emergency Bivvy bags for each person in your car
  • sleeping bags for each person in your car (preferably ones rated to -10c) or at least heavy, warm blankets for each person
  • thermal underwear
  • toilet paper – trust me on this one
  • warm winter boots (just leave them in the car. You shouldn’t wear winter boots while driving anyway because it’s dangerous)
  • a GPS unit is handy to have (especially when trying to provide your location to others)

NOTE: I’m not a fan of keeping water in the car during the Winter (other Seasons yes but not Winter). Once it freezes, it’s pretty much useless unless you have a way of melting it. I prefer to put water in the car every time I go for a drive and then remove it when I park. I always have water in my shoulder bag anyway so I always have some water on hand no matter where I go.

Prepping your Gear:

The following items are from my shoulder bag that I carry around with me everywhere (my ‘murse’). As my every day carry bag (EDC), I switch up the contents regularly depending on the season or what I expect to be doing on any given day. Some items I use almost daily, whereas other items are in there ‘just in case’.

  • cell phone and car charger
  • At least 1L of water
  • about 2000 calories worth of energy/meal bars
  • 2 disposable lighters
  • 4 tea candles
  • a decent folding knife
  • emergency survival whistle with a button compass and some NATO matches inside
  • multi-tool (Swiss, Gerber or Leatherman)
  • several hot packs
  • baby wipes
  • a couple flashlights (consider headlamps for hands free use) plus extra batteries –consider a small wind-up light/radio unit as well which you can just leave in your car
  • extra clothes (wool socks, mits or gloves, warm hat, balaclava, a sweater)
  • large heavy duty double zip freezer bags (to pee in and use as hot water bottles)
  • handful of glow sticks
  • chap stick
  • small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • 10-20m (30-65ft) of para-cord braided up so it doesn’t take up much space
  • a sturdy bag to carry it all around in (shoulder bag, backpack or duffel bag)

NOTE: My bag contains other items also but everyone’s bag needs to be packed based on your own needs. Not mine or anyone else. The items listed here are what I would suggest but you may want/need to add or remove certain items.

Survival Tips:

This could easily be a rather long section so I’m just going to focus on some important things and a few simple tips. I’m certainly not going to write a full blown survival handbook. If you’re really interested in one, there are lots to choose from at your local bookstore. Natural and man-made disasters happen quite a lot so there are plenty of books out there on survival.

  • Always travel with a survival kit in your car. Something containing most, if not all, of the items I listed above and be sure to personalize it for your own needs. If you have very young children, remember to pack some diapers. You get the idea.
  • Never let your gas tank go below half way. A simple 30min commute could easily turn into 3hrs and running out of gas is simply not acceptable. If you find yourself stranded for any reason, you will need to warm your car every so often. A general rule of thumb is to run the engine for 10-15min every hour or so to keep warm. Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow and open the window slightly. This will help prevent Carbon Monoxide building up inside the car which can be a lethal mistake.
  • Communicate. Call your family or friends and let them know where you are, what your status is and what supplies you have. If conditions are bad, Emergency services will be busy so don’t waste their time unless you really need too. Now is also a good idea to put some distress signals outside your car. Turn on your hazard lights, put a couple glow sticks in a clear water bottle and put it on your roof which may attract some attention (works like a lantern), put out a road flare, hang something brightly coloured from your window, etc. Be creative and be seen.
  • Don’t piss away your body heat. This sounds strange but hear me out. Your body wastes a tremendous amount of energy to keep a full bladder warm. You’re going to piss that away eventually anyway so it’s better to do it early and not waste energy to keep urine warm. With that in mind though, don’t waste it…it is after all…warm. Urinate into a bottle or large double zip freezer bag and you’ve just made yourself a hot water bottle of sorts. Put it inside your jacket against your body. If you don’t have to pee outside, do it in the car. Every time you open the door, you’re letting out the heat. For the ladies, urinating into a large freezer bag works well. You can also get a ‘SheWee’ so that you can pee in a bottle. Look it up online and you will see what I’m talking about.
  • As soon as you get stranded, layer up. Put on all your extra clothes and slip into your survival bivvy and sleeping bags. Trying to warm up is hard so it’s more important to retain heat…not try and warm up once you’re cold. In winter, heat is another essential of survival and if your body core temp drops by just a few degrees, you will become hypothermic.
  • If you’re in a blizzard…stay with your car! Far too many people have died trying to walk to safety. It’s very easy to get disoriented and lose track not only of where you’re going but also where you came from. You may think it’s only a short walk but I can assure you…it’s always farther away than you think. Walking in a snow storm always takes longer and your footprints will cover fast making it impossible to find your car again. Your car is your shelter and shelter is an essential for survival. If you’re in a heavy blizzard and you have to get out of your car for any reason, use your para-cord to tie yourself to your vehicle. Even just stepping a few metres (10ft) away from your car, and you might not find it again.
  • Don’t chow down. You’re food supply is for when you REALLY start getting hungry, not just for snacking on because you’re bored or a bit peckish. You’re better off going hungry when you’re trying to fight extreme cold. If you fill your belly, your body needs to use a lot of energy to start digesting your food. That energy is better used for keeping you warm. Food is actually the last essential of survival and you can go about three weeks without any depending on the fat stores in your body. If you’re cold…don’t eat. You’re just wasting energy.
  • Save your water. In a survival scenario it’s better to NOT drink any water for the first 24hrs. This puts your body into conservation mode. If you drink too soon, your body will demand more which may use up your supply rather quickly. Once you’ve gone 24hrs without water, you can sip at it but don’t chug it. Water is the second essential of survival and you can go about three days without any. However, once you reach the second day, you start losing your ability to think straight so knowing how to conserve your water supply is essential. So no drinking for the first 24hrs and after that, sip at it slowly and you can last several days with a very small supply if needed.
  • Light some tea candles. Open flames aren’t a good idea in a car but tea candles can be ok if you’re careful. They will slow the rate at which the car cools but won’t restore heat. They are also really good psychologically and help keep your spirits up. Do NOT use a camp stove or any other type of flame based heater in your car to keep warm, melt snow/ice, or warm food. The risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning is very high, not to mention the risk of setting your car on fire.

Hopefully you’ve found this information useful and if so, please share this with your friends and family (there are some handy buttons below to help you pass this around online). If you know anyone who drives in winter conditions, they should be sure that they are prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Common sense can go a long way in a survival situation and some specific gear can be the difference between life and death. Don’t panic, stay with your vehicle, stay warm and conserve your supplies.

Click here to read Lesley’s article in

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Dog Sledding in Haliburton Forest

(above photo from Fifi Campbell)

Winter isn’t exactly everyone’s favourate time of year. It’s bitterly cold, wet, snowy and a long winter can be absolutely miserable. There is nothing like stepping outside your front door and instantly your nose hairs freeze solid, your face hurts and tears stream from your eyes. It sucks…I know. I know because I’m Canadian.

It’s like the world is going to the dogs…and when you join them, winter is suddenly more enjoyable. Join me I as do some dog sledding in Central Ontario. Wait a sec…I’m allergic to dogs! Screw it…I went anyway.

For more information, check the Haliburton Forest website.

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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.


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.


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.


Categories: Other Experiences | Comments Off on Cast into Darkness – Day by Day (part 1)