Monday, August 26, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears. But Really Just Bears.

Instead of catching a few hours of sleep for yet another ridiculously long day of travel, I am sitting in my room on an adrenaline high, occasionally peering out of my window watching for polar bears. This epitomizes a typical Miriam incident. Something rare that everyone blows off with, "Meh, I've done this for ten years, never seen anything like that," but then happens to me almost immediately.
The first hint tonight would be interesting was at the shift change meeting I go to at eleven thirty. During which, someone brought up safety around bears. Someone mentioned a bear had been seen around camp a few days ago which put me slightly back on edge as it was a reminder that it really isn't city life out here. So, walking out of the meeting, I casually asked and was told, "Oh you never see polar bears out here, only on the ice." I should have known right then. Anytime anyone makes a blanket statement around me or I have that split second thought that I won't really see that polar bear because its so rare, life sets out to disprove that notion. But I drove home about two and a half hours later  with one of my Miriam gut feelings that something was up. I just couldn't shake it. You'd think by now I would just accept it and believe it. It is the same feeling that makes me slow down on dark roads so I see that deer in time. Or has me looking in the right spot and see the mountain lion run by the sorority house. And it is the same feeling I had that made me pull off the road for a two minute break right before I would have driven through a tornado. In any case, my spidey sense was tingling enough that I was on high alert driving home. It's getting pretty dark here for a couple hours at night, and other than passing by rigs, pump stations, etc, there is not much in the way of road side lighting. I was convinced today would be the day something was waiting for me in the road. I normally switch off my radio after I pull off the pad the rig is on. Today I left it on the whole ride, just in case. And sure enough, as I pulled in the parking lot, my headlights passed over a rather alarmingly large bear maybe fifty feet from the front of the camp. Maximum distance, I am not great at estimating them, but waaaaay to close to camp. Hashtag....North Slope Problems. I was on the radio instantaneously calling the main rig site because it was the quickest and only number I know. I was shocked enough that all I managed was a "Who do I need to let know there is a bear at camp?" Security was immediately notified and then I was asked, "What color is it? Brown, black, white?" And all I could say was "Ummmm, well, it looks white to me...." I just could not wrap my head around it. I also got a few random calls back on the radio. "Yeah....we don't have brown bears around here," was the ominous reply to that statement. And my favorite to break the "You have got to be fucking kidding me" tension that was my evening (this post totally deserves a swear word), I got a snarky "You sure its not a panda, Hank?" Yeah....pretty darn isn't a koala bear either, that's for damn certain. Anyway, I just waited in my car and watched it wander around the random equipment and storage until I lost sight of it. But I could tell security had a couple trucks watching it and they radioed and said to go ahead and go into camp. So here I sit, too excited to sleep, contemplating the marvelous fact that I am using the internet, curled up in my warm room, safe and sound, eating too many late night oreos, while one of the most terrifying predators on the planet is lurking just out of site in the darkness outside my window.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Didn't Choose the Rig Life, the Rig Life Chose Me.

I just really wanted to use that phrase. I want it on a t-shirt. The other day I realized my life has gone in some really unexpected directions. The moment happened as I was parked (in the largest pickup I've ever driven) in the middle of the road waiting for ducks to finish crossing (because they have the right of way up here on the slope) with the arctic ocean off to my right while on my way out to the oil rig I'm currently working at. I'm not complaining, but a few years back, I never would have guessed this would be my life. Also, a realization I had a day or two good fancy calculator is at least ten years old. When did that happen?

Anyway, I am now on a definitive training path for this mud engineer thing. I'll be rotating two weeks on and two off, working from 1pm to 1 am, shadowing other engineers until January. I have already seen a ton a different (and I'm told usually busy and stressful) situations. Normal drilling is just about the only thing I have yet to witness. But I get to experience all the weird and abnormal things when its more of a learning experience not one that I am totally responsible and in charge of. Which is all great for me. The first thing I had to do when I got here was go get my BP badge for access to the oilfield. I don't know what it is about ID photos but I managed to look like a violent mildly deranged serial killer with anger management issues. And the sad part is, I really did try and smile. The camera must just have missed it or something.

I get to drive the aforementioned truck from the camp to the rig every day. The first night the truck was pointed out to me and I was told the keys were in the ignition, always back into spots, and the turn off to the rig was back off the main road to my left. Seriously? It is still weird to be treated like a responsible adult. Luckily, I drove alone the first time so no one witnessed me missing the turn off, or saw my awful parking job that took much longer than it should have, or had to listen to my swearing throughout the ordeal. Now I'm a pro at backwards parking giant trucks and I can put them where I want them on the first try with only occasional swearing just for fun. Also, I've acquired the nickname Hank from wearing borrowed coveralls. Personally, I prefer Sledge just a bit more but Hank is a manly enough name to be acceptable. The engineers I have been shadowing are all pretty cool about me trailing behind them like a lost puppy. And I think I'm starting to acclimate enough to be transitioning to useful trainee mode. Plus, I had a great laugh when I mentioned the guys I went to mud school with to one of the engineers training me. Specifically, one of the Alaska guys. He replied with, "Wow, I used to babysit that kid. We'd play with trains until I'd tell him to go bed. I can't believe he's that old now." Too funny.

Even though its August, we have seen some freezing weather and little bits of snow flurry. Supposedly some giant Russian storm was going to hit earlier in the week. It never did. My theory on this is that it drank too much vodka in Russia and was too hungover to stop here. Though the Russian storm false alarm led to one of my favorite snippets of text conversation with my friend, Josh. It went something like this.

Me: I've just been informed that Russia is sending us an early snowstorm in a couple days while I'm up here on the slope.
Josh: Who is this??
Me: Miriam!
Josh: I had to reset my phone and lost my numbers. I thought you were some Russian guy talking in code about moving a cocaine shipment.

I do wish they had slightly healthier snacks. We have access to "spike rooms" anytime we want. I eat way to many oreos with peanut butter. But I occasionally have hummus or bananas, the two healthy snack options. Now I have a theory about how these food rooms were named. When we want to make a mud heavier, we mix up a small portion of fluid with a higher than the desired weight. Then we toss it in with the light mud to bring up the weight to the correct number. These are called spike fluids. Hence, spike rooms are named as they are because they weight up people.

Speaking of random terms and names, I am learning a whole new language in the oilfield. I understood maybe a third of what was said to me when I first got here. With total immersion in the oil rig society this week, I think I'm at about two thirds. For example, roll the tanks means start mixing the tanks. And picking up is the general term used when talking about putting pipe together to send down hole and laying down pipe means the opposite. In addition, I have been trying to find my way around this giant maze of a rig. I can manage to find my way in and out of the mud lab. From there I can navigate to the office area and the bathrooms; the rig floor where the actual pipe and bit go into the hole; the pit room where all the mud is stored in pits; and the shaker room where the solids control equipment is.

My flight to Fairbanks leaves midmorning on Monday. I will have the afternoon to go home, switch to my other suitcase and probably eat, shower and switch to girly wedding mode before I catch a red eye to Michigan and meet up with Travis and the Howards. Side note, if Travis ever starts a band, that should be the band name. I get to meet a bunch of future family and see Travis's hometown for the first time. Exciting! I also get to check out my wedding venue and taste test wedding cake. I can't lie, the cake testing is the part of wedding planning that I am most looking forward to. Wedding cake choice might just be harder than dress choice.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Aaaaand back to Alaska

I managed to get back to Alaska after two months in Houston.  I don't know how I did it but I managed to fit everything in two checked bags and two carry-on bags.  And my luggage definitely weighed more than I do but I got everything home.  We had a graduation ceremony before I left Texas.  So I had to get all dressed up and meet boss people.  It turned out to be pretty cool. I got to meet one of the VP's (the head of the Baroid product service line). He happened to have gone to Mines for his undergrad degree.  That made my day.  As did the fact Alaska took top four in the class! That'll show the Texans whose state is better.
Yurt life is back to normal other than our neighbors are moving soon which is utterly depressing. I'm not sure how we will explain to new neighbors that Roxi is basically a shared dog now.  Speaking of Roxi, while I've been gone she has perfected her ladder climbing technique.  And also take flying leaps off the porch which is pretty entertaining. She had not learned how to avoid porcupines, however.  Three times in two days Roxi had run ins with quills according to Travis. Luckily, I have not had to remove any. Yet.  I'm waiting for the day she bring a moose or a bear to the doorstep.
Yesterday we went and picked blueberries for about an hour.  They are the most delicious blueberries I've ever had.  So today for dinner we are trying a reindeer steak with blueberry marinade.  Some things you just can't get in Texas.  We also found some crow berries.  They are not as tasty but I'm planning on trying to make some jelly with them since they are still good.  That's about the extent of excitement for right now.  Travis and I are planning on some rafting or camping adventures soon.  Plus a Michigan trip will hopefully be happening soon.
Update, I probably get to head out to a rig next week! Likely for a week before getting on a normal two week on two off rotation.