Good day followers,
The last day of our expedition was by far the most strenuous. That’s right; it wasn’t the -55˚, or the endless snowmobiling, or the sunless tundra that tired us out. It was leaving day. Let me outline this for you:
First, Ellyn woke up at 7 am to call border patrol because at 8 am she had an appointment to, yep, adopt a dog. (Her name is Nukka and she is glorious, tune in for more on that later.) Afterward, packing commenced. Each person had was to have packed the previous day, but let’s be real, who ever has time to pack. So we all packed the morning of in under an hour.
Now our duties were out of the house- so long hut 171, forever. We arrived at the Theater to meet Ross, who scoffed on his way out the door about how he was ready far before anyone else (this is not to say that he doesn’t get ready impressively fast, because he really does). Now that all of the boxes are full of 2 meters of ice, we had about 1700 lbs of cargo, not including our own luggage, plus about 300 lbs of gear. We had to get all of this, four passengers and a dog about 4 miles to the airport. Luckily the guys at UIC got four back up trucks to help us out.
We were able to fit only one ICE-MITT box with a generator per truck, so with each truck we had to take at least 2 trips. Each ICE-MITT was unplugged and loaded onto a truck and each box then got a generator to power it for the ride over. Once we got to the airport, we drove into the hanger, unloaded the ICE-MITTs, plugged them in to wall power, and reset their programmed temperatures. We had arranged earlier with the head mechanic at the Barrow Ravn Airlines to plug in at the hanger.
Next was the real challenge.
We had told the charter previously the exact dimensions of the boxes, assuming they were laid flat. We had not anticipated needing to put them on their side in the design, nor had we designed them for this. However, our plane was pretty tiny, and from the outside it seemed like getting all ten boxes into the plane would give just enough space for the pilots to fly it.
Luckily, I have better skills then my ability to guess volume, for this was not the case. However, it was no picnic to get the boxes in- we had to explore every avenue, trying to avoid tipping a box on its side. Finally, a mechanic came and took out as many seat as possible, leaving just enough space for the actual passengers (4) and the dog. The crew then fit in 9 boxes laying flat, though the remaining one was tilted on its side. We had to decide as a team that if the decision came down to flying or not flying we had to just bite the bullet on that one and see how everything turned out later. Such is the nature of field work – really that should just be our motto by now, “Just bite the bullet and try it already!” Not to mention this was another -55˚ wind chill day.
This was hour one. Have any of you guys seen 24? Where every episode the clock is ticking down the hour on the screen? Well, you can imagine that this was just how we felt the second we unplugged those boxes. See, after some testing earlier in our field research season we found that the boxes can maintain the temperature gradient within 1 or 2 degrees for about three hours after being unplugged. The plane ride from Barrow to Fairbanks is an hour and a half, and even though we had arrangements with the hangers on either end of the journey, loading and unloading the ICE-MITT boxes is a slow process, and means more time unplugged.
Because the boxes have to work so hard to keep the two ends the right temperature, it’s best if they are in a cool environment. Additionally, if the boxes have no power, they won’t warm up so fast in a cooler place. For this reason we sat in an airplane that was just about -10˚ the whole way. When I got dressed that morning I foolishly thought that I would be inside a lot, I was flying for goodness sake! But, boy, I have never been so under dressed. Natalie had to lend me a puffy jacket to put on my legs in the plane while we all spooned hummus and nuts into our mouths.
Finally we touched down in Fairbanks. THERE ARE TREES HERE! Did you know that? Because I had forgotten what they looked like, and Nukka had never seen one in her little doggie life. Try being away from them for 6 weeks, it really starts to get to you. However, if you thought it was warmer in Fairbanks because it’s farther south, it’s not. We unloaded the ICE-MITTS in pretty record time, got them all plugged in and reprogrammed, and, as predicted, their temperatures had barely shifted in flight. Dear staff at Ravn, you were amazingly helpful!
Our logistics person in Barrow, Josh, was there at the airport to pick us and our luggage up. We then had to drive to Uhaul to pick up the 17 foot truck that we have rented for the ~5,000 mi trip home (if you want to know how we talked Uhaul into this, I will refer you to Ross who can talk anyone into anything – don’t get too close).
We then had to return to the airport, load all 1700 lbs of boxes onto the truck, drive over to Josh’s office, unload them into a garage (the New Theater), plug them in, and reprogram them all. By this point it was 6:30 pm and we were all so hungry and cranky we went to the closest, and somehow the best, restaurant we could find: Lemongrass, a Thai-food place.
Lastly, being the best host ever, Ross’ friend and UAF Ph.D. candidate, Mark Oggier brought us to his cabin that is heated by a wood stove and has no running water. Quaint and pretty tight, the cabin was honestly my dream home.