Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just a Day

It's about that time of year again and I'm irrationally excited about winter. Weird, I know, but I'm sure I'll be tired of it soon enough. The picture attached to this post is the view from the front door of my camp. That polar bear I saw was wandering about near the tires and tank thing you see in the right of the shot. To the left you can see where we park the trucks. Just to give you an idea how close it was.

So this is how my day (or more accurately my night) begins. A drive quick over to the rig, a ride that gets darker every day. I have been working a six pm to six am shift this hitch.  I am often asked "What exactly do you do?" So I may as well give you a run down. I really do get to play in the mud all day though, that is the true simple explaination.

 Basically it goes like this.

5pm: Scope for polar bears in an extremely paranoid fashion whilst walking to the car.

6pm: Tag along with the engineer while wandering around the rig until I'm teased for acting like a puppy dog. 

7pm: Contemplate the units for funnel viscosity while calibrating things. Is there a conversion from seconds/quart to centipoise? 

9pm: Get mud out of the pits for a mud check, praying I don't drop the scoop inside or something else embarrasing.

11:30pm: Try and decipher more rig language. Day 23 and no one suspects I am still mystified by the rig floor. 

1am: Company man questions me on my musical and movie preferences while I fill out paperwork. Dinscussion ensues about how I am a many layered onion. Distract everyone from that subject by mocking the night engineers gigantic safety goggles.

2am: Meet with goofy truckdriver who relates everything to bodily functions. "So emptying that tank is like the rig peeing?" Yes. That exactly what happened. The rig had a full bladder.

3am: More playing in the mud. 

4pm: Depressing discussion, topics include days left on the hitch, how it sucks that we can't have a beer after work, and so forth.

5am: Change desktop background to a fat gopher eating hotdogs because its the funniest picture ever. Eagerly await day engineers arrival because its basically bedtime.

In all seriousness, here is a more comprehensive version of my day. As soon as the night engineer and I arrive, we to a changeout. Fancy term for discussing what happened during the day, anything that needs to be done, what is going on now, and so on. 

We generally go wander about the rig and check in with the derrickman (he runs the mix hoppers and adds anu products we need to the mud) and the pit watcher (he monitors the mud pit volumes to make sure we aren't losing or gaining fluids). We also check out the shakers, the equipment that separates drilled solids from the mud.

Then a few hours in, we run a mud check. This involves things like checking the mud density, pH, and so on. As I have run more and more mud checks, I have gotten to the point where it takes about an hour to run a full one. Plus some extra time waiting for the last few timed tests to finish up. After the mud check we start working on our daily report. Usually this involves fighting with software and printers and slow internet. But that's just technology for you. 

This puts us halfway through the day and we go to a daily tour changeout meeting where the rig crew (including the pit watcher, derrickman, driller, roustabouts, etc. Not including the company man, tool pusher, MWD, and geoligist etc.) switches out. We grab lunch after the meeting and head back to the office to finish up the report. After that is all done, we take reports over to the MWD, toolpusher, and company man's office. We have to enter in data for paperwork in the company man's office so we do that while visiting with the company man. 

Next order of business is our second mud check. Finally, we finish up assorted paperwork before changing out with the day engineer. 

Besides all the set every day tasks, we have a few other things we do at different times through out the day or depending on what is going on. We count product inventory and calibrate equipment as necessary. Also we check in and arrange paperwork with trucks delivering product or mud, and trucks arriving to take away old waste mud or cutting from drilling. 

Our tasks also depend on what stage of drilling we are at. Sometimes we will desplace old mud with a new different type of mud or sea water. We also are pretty involved when it comes to permanently cementing liners and casing in the hole.

I flew back this morning to Fairbanks from the slope. I feel a bit disoriented to be switching back to a normal daylight schedule. Travis is away on a business trip (that makes me feel very old) so I have a few days to have solo adventures. I'll have to come up with something new to try out! I think a manicure is in order. Or something extremely girly. Two weeks on the slope has me swearing like crazy, sitting like a man, and laughing at poop jokes.

Tiny The T-rex: Life As A Woman In The Oilfield

Being a female on a rig is not really that different from going to engineering school. Admittedly, the ratio is even more skewed but its not that far from what I am used to. If anything, I'm treated better than any other new guy. Really, roughnecks are just a bunch of teddy bears. Not crazy intimidating thus far. Yesterday during a break I had several guys showing me loads of baby pictures getting all sorts of extra excited. It was a "Look how adorable my kid is, his kid isn't as cute! I'll show you an even better picture..." type of moment.
Occasionally I'll be frustrated after someone swears and I hear, "Excuse my language, I don't mean any offense," for the fourteenth time that day. That comment is always clearly directed at me. Frankly, I expected a lot worse and I likely just used that word not five minutes ago in conversation with fellow mud engineer. Since I have been getting to know some of the guys better, I have had one or two come tell me a story about how someone else was shocked at something they said or did in front of me. It makes me happy when they go on with "I said you were cool though." Travis has mentioned before how he was at first shocked to find out how much less delicate I am than I appear. My brother still instinctively cringes away from me when I get it his face (that might involve some tippy toes or a jump or two) so I like to think I can hold my own.
While I am not really surprised or unused to the amount of testosterone in the general vacinity, I am continually irked by the fact that hardly any women appear to be in the field. It makes me wanna go recruit girls to balance out all the menfolk. Plus I get irrationally annoyed when I try and google about women in the oilfield and the most common thing I see is the term "oilfield wife." Travis sure won't be going around saying he is an oilfield husband. In fairness, he might actually jokingly use that term. But I sure won't be calling myself a "mining wife" or anything. That is one of the few kinds if things that gets me all huffy and disgruntled. I saw a recent statistic that half of oilfield jobs went to women this year. But I would love to see a breakdown of what exactly they do. And I am immensely curious what the figure is for women on rigs. Females regularly on my rig since I have been here....yours truly. I would guess roughly 30 people or so on the rig at any given time. I am awful at estimates but I do know I'm vastly outnumbered. 
I have a list of perks though!
1. Everyone is afraid to play any sort of trick on me. (So far.) I haven't had anything stuck on my hardhat or been tricked into thinking that there are scientific tests that involve cheetos (I have heard some great stories.)
2. Everyone knows its me when I call on the radio even if I don't say my name.
3. I have my own bathroom on the rig. The flipside is my coveralls are inconvenient to struggle in and out of gracefully every time I need to go. I imagine it will only worsen in wintertime. Bathroom trips will need to be planned far in advance.
Not so awesome things include always having to adjust my hair to fit under my hard hat. Though the company man and I had a discussion about how he knew what kind of braids I had in my hair. He proudly told me, "I can french braid hair too. My wife taught me." Then this morning I got irritated halfway through my methyl blue test. I saw blue and assumed I had spilled on my hands. False alarm, just my nail polish. And as far as spare gear goes, I better never forget anything. All the spare gloves or coveralls will definitely not fit me.
Always amusing is when my training mud engineer says something rude or mean or tells me to do anything that requires the slightest bit of physical exertion (I'm talking the equivalent of opening a stuck pickle jar) in the presence of someone we don't see often. This is often followed by a shocked look from whoever is standing by or three people rushing to help. Then I have to explain that he only said that because I told him I would happily kick him in the back of the knees and leave him for the polar bears or that my struggling to open the retort (basically a container that gets baked shut with mud) is a running joke. That being said, I've still had to give in and say, "My hardhat almost fell into the mud pit because my arms are too short to reach and grab a sample." After much mocking, ("It's because you are tiny. I'm going to call you Tiny. Have have you seen that cartoon with the T-Rex? 'I have a big head and tiny little arms!' ") I have no problem getting someone else to happily fetch me a sample. But sadly, nothing will ever change the fact that I will always have a big head and little arms.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Racecars.

Sadly, I have not seen bigfoot or zombies, so that title is the tiniest bit deceiving. I do have bigfoot and zombie stories though!

But first a quick mundane update. While I am hearing about all this wet weather happening in Colorado, it is quickly turning to fall here. We have some pretty nice leaf colors and its getting darker at night. We even saw a little hint of northern lights driving home from the airport after Michigan. During the two weeks I'm up north, the days will get two hours shorter. The darkness will be great for sleeping better. Right now my north slope sleeping tactic is an eyemask with earplugs in. Sensory deprivation while hoping I don't sleep through my alarm or a fire drill or whatever. But other than that I don't have any exciting polar bear stories or anything so far this hitch. On the other hand, I had some good times in Fairbanks on my two off weeks.

I have recently stumbled upon my new favorite place in Fairbanks. It is a combination restaurant, bar, and movie theater. And it is as awesome as it sounds. We went to go see World War Z. As a zombie and scary movie fan, I thought it was quite good. I read the book after seeing the movie and was impressed by that as well. However, they are really nothing alike which surprised me a bit. But somehow they both were entertaining and enjoyable. Zombie movie watching has led to my conclusion that the ideal number of children for maximum zombie apocalypse survival is two. One for each parent and then, if you happen across an orphan, you can still feasibly take one or two in easily without too much extra hassle. Travis told me that plan was fine as long as we limited to a reasonable amount of orphans because too many would just be harmful for everyone. But I confirmed that Travis passes the "Has a good heart AND realistic logistical planning skills even in the midst of zombie apocalypse," marriageablity test.

Perhaps the most unique adventure on the list recently was the trip to Barnes and Noble for the presentation on cryptozoology. Mainly bigfoot with a splash of other creatures, extraterrestrials and UFOs, and paranormal happenings. I was intrigued to see so many people show up. I was also surprised to realize the depth of my bigtlfoot knowledge when I knew a lot of the information presented. I did get to see some cool bigfoot track plaster casts in person though. While the jury is still out as far as how much I believe any of this, I am extremely entertained by the aforementioned subjects. Travis is definitely less entertained but puts up with me and my interests to win brownie points. He also uses my interests in monsters and any other sort of oddity to his advantage to try and convince me to move to new places. Washington is prime bigfoot country, Australia has the Tasmanian tiger (an extinct wolfish creature that very well could exist still) and the yowie (bigfoot's Aussie cousin), Ecuador has head shrinking tribes and ghosts, and so on and so forth. Travis also made sure to tell tales about the Michigan dog man early on in our relationship. We even had a few interesting haunted monster adventures while he lived in Victor, Colorado for a summer internship. The house he lived in was rumored to contain a secret underground tunnel to the mine. With a ghoulish old miner. Or something like that. His roommates joined in on a late night search of the basement after a few beers but we never found any haunted tunnels. The heater made horrendous rattling noises and there might have been some type of animal haunting the dining room bench though. But if anyplace would have real ghosts, it would be that old ghost town. I have not managed to find much in Alaska thus far but a trip to some haunted hot springs may soon be in order.

The only regular adventure we went on was to the racetrack. Furthest north dirt track in the world! And my first time watching car races in person. We saw everything from stock cars to sprint cars and budget cars. I was pretty entertained. Not to mention the nerdy high I got contemplating sprint car physics. Travis better watch out, driving large, fast pieces of heavy machinery in my spare time sounds like a good hobby for this adrenaline junkie.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Travis and I were finally able to make a trip down to Michigan.  I only had a few days there but it was enough to meet a lot of family, see a lot of Petoskey, and make a lot wedding plans. Travis took me into the alpaca pen at his parents house and managed to catch me a couple alpacas to pet.  They were not pleased but I was thoroughly amused watching my fiance chase around alpacas just for me. Clearly he is a very devoted guy. He also tried to catch his llama, Ted E., for me to meet.  I've been told the two were somewhat of a pair of ladies men back in the day.  Apparently Ted E. was a regular chick magnet Travis used to his advantage. Sam, Ted E's guard llama was not having any of it that day though.  He was spitting mad (pun intended), but missed hitting Travis.  It was pretty impressive.

We got to go on a four wheeling adventure and I decided I love Michigan woods.  The trees made a sort of tunnel to ride through and when it is foggy, it is just the right amount of creepy that makes you want to read a mystery novel.  We stopped at a little lake along the way, and I made Travis stick around until I caught a few frogs to play with.  I really think it must be my excessive girliness that made Travis fall for me. We also stopped for blackberry picking on the way back.  We ran into Travis' mom and sister there.  They picked enough for making a couple of pies.  Travis and I mainly just picked ones that we ate immediately.

The two goofiest members of the Howard family that I met on this trip were Helga and Shay.  Helga is a bulldog and Shay is a dalmation.  They are very entertaining.  Helga makes every kind of snort and snuffle you can think of. Constantly.  And Shay makes this lip curling smile face.  If you didn't know her, you would think she was about to bite.  But really she just wants to lick your ears.  I think Roxi's kookyness would fit right in. Travis' grandparents (the one's I got to meet when they came for Travis' graduation) even had oreos they stocked up on after I mentioned them at point.  They should probably be careful about doing things like that or I'll start hinting before the next trip I make. (I'm a big fan of pretty much anything with peanut butter. Or cheese. But generally not the two together, even I have limits.) I got to meet some of the aunts and uncles one on one when we went out for drinks and dinners. We also had a cookout "on the hill."  That appears to be the code name for the area a large chunk of the Howard family lives on.  Oddly enough, none of them live on the multiple Howard roads in the area.  I also met the set of grandparents I hadn't yet met.  We stopped by for a very delicious breakfast before heading to go see our wedding venue and test out cake.

We are getting married at the Perry Hotel.  In just over six months time, crazy how fast it goes!  This was my first time seeing the place but Travis did a good job picking it out.  The hotel has a historic and eclectic feel to it, perfect for us.  And I even briefly saw mentions of haunting's in the books in the gift store. I didn't get a chance to read up on it properly but that is on the to-do list.  It was a rather productive day, we knocked out food choice and even sampled a bit of Perry food for dinner.  We settled on our cake baker and had the chance to try out several flavors of cake as well.  Though the final decision on flavors for cake are still in the air.

Though I slept for most of the trip from the airport to the Howard's, I was awake for a crucial moment.  We passed a sign for Kilwin's Chocolate with free tours.  Before I could even finish drawing in a breath to speak, Travis sighed and said. "Ooooh, I forgot about that....yeah....we'll go on that tour." Chandler and Karly, Travis's younger brother and sister came along for that.  Only after Travis teased Karly mercilessly about not being invited.  It was very delicious chocolate.  A new favorite.  (Take notes Travis).  Travis also gave his brother some advice.  "Never take a women to a chocolate store unless your job pays well."

Travis also had a defining moment where he truly realized I could handle being a Howard. on the hill. Anyway, the story really starts out a few days before I arrived in Michigan.  Travis went home a few days early while I was still on the slope.  Since he is still part of the fire department there, he happened to go on an  interesting fire department call of "Car versus bear." Since I had my own exciting bear encounter, his rather small black bear killed by car lost a lot of its effect. But then after I came to Michigan, we stopped at the store where Travis used to work.  The store is owned by one of his best friend's mothers.  Also they are neighbors. We were just about to leave when we discovered that car accident bear was actually still being stored in the freezer of the store, back in the beer section.  We were warned the bear was slightly creepy as it was headless and skinned at this point, apparently causing it to resemble a small headless, skinnless human.  Travis rather casually asked, "Well do you still want to go see the dead bear in the freezer?"  To which I replied, "Well...yeah...I really do..." Travis gave me a long look, nodded, and said, "Yup, you will definitely fit into this family."