Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hold Onto Your Hardhat

This past work hitch has been awful. Even during the trip, all the little things that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was the first time I flew out from Washington. Side note...I realized that it now takes me three plane rides, a ferry ride, and a three hour car ride to commute to work. But back to the cursed hitch. Travis was driving his rental and I had the Trailblazer, the plan was for him to drop the rental off, then take the Trailblazer from me so he could head home. Naturally, the fog was so bad that I got lost for a while first. Then as I tried to go through security (The TSA lady was in a foul mood and was incredibly rude to me for no reason.) I heard over the loudspeakers, "Travis Howard, please return to (couldn't understand this word) to pick up lost items." So I called Travis, trying to figure out what he left behind and where it was. This delayed him for another hour as he drove back to the airport to collect his house keys from the rental car company. On my first flight, someone had apparently left gum in my seat. Of course I didn't discover this until I had gum all over my pillow and sweatshirt. So in my extremely short forty minute layover I had to go buy a new pillow and sweatshirt. By that point I was extremely disgruntled and frazzled.

Since I was thinking I would be working nights, I stayed awake through my overnight flights to try and adjust. However, upon arriving, I discovered I was working noon to midnight. So I braced myself for just stopping by camp and getting coffee before work instead of sleeping all day. Normally to get to camp, I have to drive past a checkpoint and scan my work badge. For background, we classify weather up here in three phases. Phase one being normal travel, phase two for travel only in convoys of multiple vehicles, and phase three for "Have fun being stuck at your current location." It must have turned to phase two during the few minutes I stopped at our mud plant and didn't have radio on me. So I was stopped at the checkpoint and not so nicely informed by security that I was missing a convoy and had to wait there. It took a good half hour before I found a convoy that took me as far as the camp across street from mine. I could see my camp but I couldn't get there. After more than an hour of phone calls, a convoy from the mud plant came get me. We tried to make it to my camp, but the roads were blocked by snow drifts. So we convoyed out to the Halliburton main camp. I hadn't slept more than two hours in more than a day and I was starting to hate my life. Or at least question my career choices. I borrowed a bed at the Halliburton camp for a few hours until the phase was over and then I swung by my normal camp before heading work.

Up until this point, work has been non-stop busy and chaotic. We finally have a break today but I odoubt it will last. My third day here may have taken the cake for worst day. I came out at noon (having had only one normal night of sleep thus far) and worked until midnight. At that time it looked like we would be cementing the casing for that section of hole within two three hours. So I stayed to watch that. Twelve hours later we were finally cementing. After that twenty four hour tour (oil slang for shift, it is pronounced, "tower" and I know it doesn't make sense), my fellow engineers took pity on me and let me sleep for sixteen hours.

In addition to all these things, I have been locked out of my room, broken a glass flask, and had evacuate the rig after a fire alarm went off. The wind has also been brutal. It will rip things out of your hands. And don't try and go outside without a firm grip on your hard hat or it will fly off. I dread the walk into the rig up three large flights of stairs. You can see exactly how far up you are through the grating and rails and the wind pushes you towards the edge of the rig before you turn the corner around to the rig. I'm afraid I will actually accomplish human flight soon. The black death has also invaded the slope. More accurately it should be described at the Spanish flu or something. But really, everyone is getting sick and I try not to go near anyone or touch anything that hasn't been disinfected the recent past.

We had another phase two earlier this week and I convoyed back to camp with the rig crew. It is a completely disorienting and eerie sensation to drive in total darkness but somehow still whiteout conditions. You can see just the taillights of the car in front of you and one or two side of the road markers. The road is curvy and you are trying to stay on it while snow is blowing across the road constantly. The movement makes to want to drive with it instead of perpendicular to it like you need to. It is almost like driving in midair because all you see is white, no differentiation between the road and the air.

The other terrifying event of the hitch...putting pesticide in the mud pits to ensure no hydrogen sulfide forms. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is the rotten egg smelly gas that forms when organic material is decomposing. It's lethal in relatively low concentrations and it's fast. So you want to make sure no bacteria can grow and create H2S. So I had to suit up in rubber apron and gloves, and put on a bulky face mask, all in addition to normal PPE like hard hat and coveralls, and go dump twice my body weight of this stuff in the mud pits. And even in the arctic I got overheated carting all the jugs around in three layers. And I had had enough of this ridiculous hitch by this point so I was solidly grumpy. I felt like Dexter the serial killer stomping around angrily with the giant wrench I was using to open containers. The rig hands thought it was hilarious to see me all worked up and angry for once.

I keep wanting to say, "At least it can't get worse," but I know that's asking for trouble. I just hope I can make it through a few more days. As my wise friend David once told me, "Sometimes life just gang rapes you. But it will get better soon."

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