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Warren Miller

Cold weather lessons

When the temperature dropped to 24 below zero here in Montana the other day, I learned several very important lessons.

1. Number-two diesel fuel turns to a Jell-O like consistency at 13 degrees below zero.

2. Number-one diesel fuel doesn’t turn to Jell-O until 30 degrees below zero, but you can only buy it at truck stops.

3. Jell-O doesn’t work in diesel engines.

4. It is impossible to jump start a diesel-powered car when it is 24 degrees below zero, so the car has to be towed to a garage and thawed out for five or six hours before the Jell-O-like fuel returns to a consistency that will make the engine run.

5. Borrowed cars never drive like the one you own and based on my recent month of living in snow-covered Montana, I would not own a car with a diesel engine.

6. Milk flash freezes, when instantly exposed to 24 below zero air.

Lesson six is what really got my attention while lurching between disasters on this very cold February morning.

I have been on the New Atkins Diet for the last two months and have shed almost 20 pounds. As a result, I have dug deep into the back of the closet and retrieved some old Levis. I now fit back into the pants with a 36-inch waist; however, I still think the pants with the 38-inch waist are more comfortable for driving. I found out the hard way that two inches around the waist is a big deal in certain circumstances. With the 36-inch Levis I don’t need to wear a belt. On the contrary, it is a question of sucking in the senior citizen bulge and not being too uncomfortable while doing it. The 38-inch waist pants really need a belt or they fall down around my knees within 15 paces.

It wasn’t until I stopped at the supermarket en route to town to buy a couple of gallons of milk that I realized I had on my 38-inch pants and no belt to hold them up. While shopping, I had to walk around with one hand in my pocket to keep the pants from falling off.

I survived the supermarket; however, as I walked back to the car with a gallon of milk in each hand, a Bozeman high school cowboy in his dad’s 1/2-ton pick-up truck was doing an icy, high-speed, slip and slide skid and heading right at me. I barely managed to escape getting hit square by the Roo Bar (named after an Australian 20-square-foot bumper technically called a Kangaroo Bar on the front of the pickup).

Unfortunately, in jumping out of the way, I slipped on the black ice left over from a recent, temporary thaw. Luckily, I have learned how to fall from doing it thousands of times while learning to surf and ski. The theory of falling correctly is to stick your hands out in front and as they hit the ground tuck and roll to safety. Instinctively, I stuck my hands out in front of me to tuck and roll, but I forgot that I had a gallon of milk in each hand.

Instead of doing a graceful somersault into the snow bank between the cars, I landed with one hand on top of one gallon of milk and the other elbow on the other gallon of milk. More lessons learned:

7. A 210-pound senior citizen landing on top of two plastic gallon containers of milk will explode both of them instantly.

8. When milk is instantly exposed to 24-below-zero air, a lot of it freezes before it reaches the ground. It also freezes all over whatever size Levis you are wearing, regardless of whether they are loose or tight.

I had frozen milk all over me, my parka, and my oversized Levis. Even worse, my oversized pants were now down around my knees and my snow-white jockey shorts were exposed to the deep blue Montana winter sky.

I glanced nervously around and counted only 19 people that had seen the beginning, middle, and end of the frozen milk caper. It’s very awkward to stand up with frozen milk all over your clothes and try to pull your Levis back up where they belong while trying to assume some semblance of dignity.

I slinked over to my car and called the people I was supposed to meet to tell them that I had some "car trouble." This gave me time to scrape off some of the frozen milk, go to a store and buy some new Levis and then go to a motel and rent a room for an $85 shower and a change of clothes.

Final lesson: A 24-degree-below-zero day is not just uncomfortable, it’s expensive.