Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Monday, May 27, 2013
Our second ridiculous dog encounter of the week involves a husky named Willow. She is one of the neighborhood hooligans. She is skittish around people, she won’t ever let you touch her, but she comes around to play with Roxi. We were out having a fire in the fire pit, complete with s’mores when Willow showed up. She and Roxi chased each other around and Travis tried enticing her with bits of graham cracker and games of fetch, all in an effort to befriend her and be allowed to pet her. Willow, sensing weakness, started a sad little bit of pawing at the mud to make puddles to drink out of. Travis went inside to get water for Willow and that’s when she went in for the kill. All I heard was a slight rustle. Then Willow was tearing off down the driveway with our nearly new bag of marshmallows in her mouth. We were played that day.
Mt. McKinley is called Denali. This one actually makes a lot of sense. Why rename the highest peak in the US after a president from one of the “I” states (I can’t remember if it is Indiana or Illinois or Iowa) when it already has a name its been called by native people for ages? (Travis says it’s Ohio. I was a little off but it does start with a vowel and includes an “I.”)
Fred Meyers is King Soopers.
The lower 48 means the part of the country not separated by ocean and Canada.
PFD doesn’t mean process flow diagram. It means permanent fund dividend. It’s money you get for living in Alaska. But only after a couple years.
Break up is when all the ice and snow breaks up and goes away. There is a contest to see when a tripod falls into the river in Fairbanks. Its second place in the record books as far as I can tell. A few more days and it will beat the longest record.
When it is only 25 degrees out and someone mentions what a nice day it is, they aren’t kidding, they are being serious.
Qiviut is yarn made from a musk ox. It is amazing but also 80 dollars for a tiny little skein. Or like 200 for a hat. I’m way too cheap for that.
An arctic entry is like a mudroom with the added purpose of not letting excessively cold air in your house.
Snowmobiles are snowmachines.
Bunny boots are the warmest boots in existence.
Mukluks are the native version of boot moccasins.
The inversion everyone talks about is a real weather phenomena. Its so still that the air settles. This means you don’t want to go down into town when it’s cold because it’s full of car exhaust and nasty unhealthy air.
If you see a baby moose it should not look cute, you should be terrified. Mama moose is like mama bear.
You can go exploring in places that would have off limits or danger signs in the rest of the states. But it’s probably fun and you are probably in some danger but it makes for a good story.
The mosquitoes mean business and they are twice the size of normal bugs. When they hit your windshield they leave blood splatter patterns.
The people are very unique. Very unique.
We took a couple of cheap sleds (just thick sheets of rectangular plastic really) and Roxi down to the sledding hill at the bottom of our big hill. It was a pretty solid ten minute walk to hike all the way to the top for thirty seconds flying down the hill, but it was a lot of fun. We experimented with sledding holding onto Roxi but it wasn’t her favorite. Usually one of us would go first Roxi would run in between and someone would follow behind. I wasn’t the most coordinated at staying on the sled or always facing the correct way while moving. Travis has some pretty funny video of me sliding/falling down the hill. I was also entertained by the times Travis caught up to Roxi and had to toss her into snowbanks to avoid running her over.
We went to the ice sculpture competition that we had been to the previous year on our home finding visit. Sadly, it was much better last year. There weren’t nearly as many sculptures. Last year there were a lot more and a ton of ice slides. Plus the wind kicked up so it was brutally cold. We didn’t stay outside for longer than ten minutes at a time.
Taking the shotgun out was an activity we waited for positive temperature weather to attempt. But we didn’t wait for the snow to melt. We tried to find a secluded clearing off the road but ditched that plan after wading in waist high snow. Instead we found a frozen over lake a little ways down the road to the north slope. The Dalton I believe. That’s where I found my “At your own risk” road sign. I’m not the best shot and it always takes a little extra effort for me because my shotgun is made for someone right handed but I have to shoot left handed as my right eye is pretty unhelpful. But I can shoot better than I can throw targets. I’m awful at that to the point of embarrassment. Luckily the snow covering the ice meant we could collect a lot of unbroken badly thrown targets. I am used to Colorado lakes that I would never walk on in winter. So I was kind of terrified to do that for the first time.
We didn’t get to try snow machining, snow shoeing, or dog sledding so those are all on the to do list for next winter. Now that it’s warming up, we will be headed out for camping and fishing before the mosquitoes become unbearable.
It was warm enough to light a fire in the firepit last night. And a coal promptly burned a hole through my pants. This is why Travis worries about mixing Miriam and fire. Other than that minor hiccup (and when I fell out of my chair) we had a really good night. Sven came running over as soon as he realized we were outside. We fed him a couple messy roasted marshmallows and Roxi helped clean him up afterwards. Our little neighborhood impromptu get togethers are a great time. We also had to laugh at the fact the neighbors are also considering Australia as an eventual move after Washington. We really do appear to be stalking them and following them around the globe.
We also tossed around a few more ideas for where we might end up after Washington. Ecuador is a possibility if Kinross gets their mine going there. Travis sold me on the idea with a few key points. We would be in the Andes mountains near the start of the Amazon river. There would be civilization close by but not too close, and the weather would be about 50 to 60 degrees all the time. I could totally find some Alpacas in that part of the globe. Plus there used to be head shrinking tribes in that area, so likely haunted areas around. I’d have to do some research on if I could find bigfoot or the chupacabra around there though. Peru would also be a similar option. However, it’s more dry with more volcanoes. But on the flipside, the vineyards would be better and the alpacas easier to find. All that is pure brainstorming at the moment though.
The next day we played a lot of risk by the candlelight. This was still when we had only four hours of daylight. We had made a run for firewood first thing in the morning (massive quantities of firewood) and once we had supplies, the cabin stayed pretty warm. Travis was in charge of escorting Roxi and I out to the outhouse in the dark and standing guard. Mainly because I was terrified I’d be attacked by a moose or a bear. And I was almost right. On one bathroom trip we did see two moose twenty feet or so from our cabin. That was Roxi’s first moose encounter and I think it blew her little mind. I don’t think she quite knew what to make of such beastly large creatures. And this is probably taking things too far, but I discovered they make outhouse seat material out of something magical. Even at forty below with the wind blowing, the seat was never cold. The next night it got pretty cold again, somewhere around the forty below point. And I heard creepy animal/imaginary noises all night long.
At that point we loaded up the wood stove to keep Roxi warm and ditched her for the hot springs. Hot springs in cold weather are an experience. Your hair freezes instantly and gets frosted over and sometimes your eyelids get stuck shut. But the water is worth the short, cold, icy walk outside. And there were a lot of tourists running around the resort in matching blue snowsuits.
Our third and final day was where things got intense. We discovered a secret captains logbook of sorts. Everyone who had stayed in the cabin previously had written down their experiences and camping tales. Much to my delight, my monstrous animal noise paranoia was proven to be actual animals. Apparently, the squirrel infestation is pretty extensive. Our fire supply dwindled at an intimidating pace while the temperature dropped for the night. And kept dropping. By the middle of the night we were both so cold that Travis had allowed Roxi into the sleeping bags to cuddle for warmth. She was very content to quietly huddle between me and Travis and proceeded to behave all night long. If you know Roxi you know how rare this good behavior is and you understand how cold we all were for her to be so desperate for warmth. Normally, she’d first insist on being at the foot of the bed for a half hour of licking feet because she LOVES feet. Then she would lock her knees and dig her claws into you until she got her space. If you tried to move her, she’d groan loudly and struggle until you gave up. The next morning our car started with extremely upset noises and nasty cold start exhaust so we let Alaska claim victory. We checked the weather reports once we got home. Negative forty-five. Totally camping and swim suit weather.
The logistics are nuts. I didn’t even know I was going to Wyoming until I was almost there and Colorado tried keep me with a blizzard. Currently, my wedding dress and in progress-flowers are in Colorado, they need to get to Michigan eventually. As do the wedding boots my dads importing from Nicaragua.
We’ll be moving to Washington in December while I’m still commuting to Alaska but probably a home finding visit will be tossed in first.
My first visit to Michigan needs to follow the Houston trip pretty rapidly so I can see where I’m getting married and meet my new family. Next March, we have our Michigan wedding. And we also have a honeymoon that will involve fleeing civilization get as far away as possible. Puerto Rico is the current plan for that trip. We’ll even get to fit in some nerdy time at bioluminescent beaches.
Oh and other Travis and Megan (basically me and my Travis’ counterparts but think of other Travis as a male version of me and Megan as the female version of my Travis as a simplification. Which happens to get really confusing with all the Travi involved. Travi being the plural form of Travis.) get married around the time we do and they’ll warrant another Houston trip.
By the end of all that, and who knows what else, we’ll be looking at Travis’ rotation in Washington ending and (hopefully) a semi permanent move. Which could be anywhere from Australia to Alaska. Or who knows, somewhere random like Siberia is probably a better guess.
And all that planning doesn’t take into account the crazy weather and ridiculousness that seems to follow me everywhere and change it all up at a moment’s notice. I’ve already lost track of my miles but I’ve done over 10000 on Alaska airlines alone this year.
- Beer. This beats out number 2 purely because I get some for cheap on the flight home. (It’s not allowed on the slope.)
- Travis. Because he cleans the house before I get home, has my favorite foods and activities waiting, and also has beer with me.
- Roxi. She’s more behaved than ever before and gets thoroughly overexcited to see me.
- Springtime! Or at least weather above 30 degrees. The snow storms here are sideways. I was already being shown giant snowdrifts that take you by surprise because they pile up from old snow and wind. And I can’t even imagine how the visibility drops in winter.
- More effective blackout shades. I forgot a sleeping mask and the shades just don’t cut it.
- Sven. He is the our adorable two year old yurt buddy who likes to visit because we have hard hats and a dog. And sometimes I feed him chocolate chips and we watch movies. Word on the street is that hooligan is on our porch trying to win Travis over with Tonka trucks right now. One-upping the hot wheel Camaro I brought to Travis the last time I came home. Apparently they are best friends now. I’ll have to win them both over again!
The other exciting news, I have a roommate. I saw her in the dark without my glasses on right as I was headed to bed and again this morning, again half asleep and mostly blind. So I’m thinking I might meet her this evening, but we shall see.
This week I’ve just been learning a few basic tests that I might run on a mud check. It’s been a laboratory setting really. In addition I’ve been starting to read up on the chemistry, fluids dynamics, and learning about all the different Baroid products (what they are, what they’re used for, etc.). I’ve also had an opportunity to look at the program used to generate daily reports by entering in data from mud checks. Learning the software is on my to do list!
The other main knowledge I’m gaining is a basic background on how oil is drilled. I’ll draw up a basic sketch and explain that because it’s the easiest way, in my opinion, to explain how the process works as I understand it. Full disclosure, take this all with the knowledge that I’m still very much training and I don’t really have a full grasp quite yet.
Safety training and orientation took up a few weeks before heading up to the slope. Basically, it was a lot of classroom time and a couple days swinging sledgehammers at pipe joints to “rig up” and “rig down” on a simulation drill site. Hence my nickname, Sledge. I did some computer training and learned to drive a forklift. As I’m not a very confident driver in the first place, driving a rear wheel steering vehicle was nervewracking. Also included was a north slope specific safety class. The most important lessons, it’s cold and the polar bears will in fact, actively hunt you. Comforting to know.
Flights up to the slope are on an airline specifically created for camp workers on the north slope. Everyone seems to know the drill for the flights so I just followed along. I wasn’t positive on my count but I saw 3 or 4 other women headed up with me. And for anyone wondering, it was a normal sized airplane. No first class but 25 or so rows with the normal 6 seats per row. I flew into Dead Horse because I am starting at the main Halliburton camp in town. This means every day I get a 3 minute ride over to the mud plant for a 6 to 6 daytime shift. But back to camp life first!
The camp is only 5 minutes from the airport as the whole town is basically just oil and gas companies as far as I can tell. The camp building itself is the stories and slightly maze like and disorienting. I can successfully navigate between my room, the bathroom, and the dining room. The woman at the front desk gave me the whole tour; there is a gym, washing room, computer room, and several break type rooms. The food is pretty good overall. There are a lot of choices for every meal and snacks anytime. I do find myself eating too much junk food and soda, that habit will have to be curbed before it sticks. I’m in a double room but no roommate. I was told only 5 women rotate in this camp. That’s such a small ratio, it really blows my mind how male dominated this field is. To the point I struggle to find work boots in my size. But my little rant about that for another day.
Wildlife isn’t abundant at the moment. The geese are returning and I’ve seen one red fox. I’m still wary of bears but that’s not an everyday thing. At least not at this camp. I think I’ve spent enough time in Alaska at this point to adjust to the cold. I find myself thinking how nice it is and then realizing it’s not quite 30 degrees and I only have a sweatshirt for warmth. On that note,word on the street is that there’s a storm rolling in tonight. Last summer I have the 24 hours sunlight thing a go, but it still throws me off to have no feel for what time of day it is. (Or night for that matter.) At the moment, I’m sitting in the dark, (as dark as it gets!) to relax. I have a feeling that will be a habit of mine.
I think I hit all the highlights of camp life so far. I’m figuring out what I do for a living but that rundown will be saved for now. Spoiler alert, I do really get to play in the mud all day, being a grown up is awesome.
I arrived just in time for the winter solstice and the non-end of the world on the 21st of December. That day we had less than 4 hours of daylight, a kind of disorienting situation. Our house is set up with the majority of windows facing south and a skylight, so we do get a brightly lit up house when the sun is out. Also weird to see was the location of the sun and the stars. The constellations are in totally different places obviously, and the sun sticks close to the horizon, so it feels like sunsets and sunrises go on forever. I saw my first good showing of the northern lights on Valentine’s Day. That’s an experience that was on my bucket list, and it really is something impressive to see. I was amazed to see how much ambient light then produce and how the movement was so different than cloud movement.
And because Alaska just wasn’t exciting and unique enough, we decided to live in a yurt. I had no idea what one was until we found ours. Basically, it’s a round house with a cone shaped roof. The outside walls and the entire roof are made of a canvas material but the inside walls are made of wood. Insulation is a must, obviously, but you still get a camping vibe. (Note to my mother: I really don’t live in a tent in the wilderness without modern amenities, I promise) When it rains or snows, you can hear the sounds of it hitting the roof. From the loft, the precipitation sounds are extremely cool. Inside, the yurt is essentially split in half. The back half of the yurt is into two rooms, an office and bedroom. There’s also a bathroom with a washer and dryer by the bedroom. The front half is a big area we use for the kitchen and dining room. We have a kitchen island. I have always dreamed of a kitchen island and this one is especially awesome because we can move it anywhere if we wanted. Currently the island is also home to our fermenting homebrews. I’ll write a whole post on the brewing hobby later. Our yurt also has a loft portion that makes a good size living area.
The next door neighbors have a nearly identical yurt. On the inside, theirs is a mirror image layout. Sometimes we can hear each other, not in the have a conversation way, but in the very low level of background noise way. The neighbors yurt is apparently more attractive to the wildlife than ours is. I’ve gotten a few early morning texts to the effect of, “FYI, you might not want to go outside yet, there’s a moose outside our door.” And my personal favorite, the “A moose fell on our yurt and shook us awake this morning,” story. The rest of the neighborhood is pretty spread out, but our landlady lives on the other side of our yurt neighbors. The last phone call we got from her was in invite to dinner. We also have the aforementioned neighborhood moose and a gang of neighborhood dogs. We are in the process of trying to convince Roxi that the thug life is not for her and that she shouldn’t run away from home or break into garbage stashes just because everyone else is doing it.
I’ve always considered writing a blog once I had something to write about. So I’ve been thinking that probably means I should start documenting my travels and adventures to keep my family updated on my long distance life. In the past year’s time I’ve flown on roughly 25 airplanes, moved mid-winter to a yurt in Alaska, camped out at 40 below [Celsius AND Fahrenheit ;-)], watched the northern lights, and gotten engaged at the start of the Iditarod, and taken a mud engineering job at Halliburton. Just to name a few of the more notable highlights. Once I get up to the north slope camp where I will be working I’ll write a lot about that. Until then, I’ll just share some of the stories about my life in Alaska so far. I’m assuming mostly only my family will bother to read this (hello family!) but a minor introduction never hurt anyone. I’m Miriam, I am 24 (I forgot that recently and for an entire week I was telling everyone I was 25), and I live in Fairbanks, Alaska with my fiance, Travis, and my beagle/jack russel/ border collie mutt, Roxi. I love them both, so I’ll probably complain a lot about them. Around my house we like to brew beer and wine, occasionally do yoga, and spin yarn. I have a chemical and biochemical engineering degree and I work for Halliburton. My fiance has a degree in Metallurgical engineering (much less glamorous than chemical engineering but we can’t all be that awesome) and works for Ft. Knox gold mine. I think that about covers the important points.