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July 8, 2011 Home Sweet Home

While I know that there's a lot interest in the science we are doing, I also know that many people just want to know the nuts and bolts of our daily routine; where do we stay, what do we eat and drink, and how am I able to communicate with you from the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness?

Well, last things first. I like to call my set-up "Circuit City". I have never gone on a camping trip with so many electronic 'toys'. I have a laptop computer, a satellite phone, a solar panel, a digital camera, and a pile of cords and connectors. I write my journals in a notebook, then type them on the laptop, download the day's photos from my camera, and create a series of emails with the journal and separate ones for each photo I want to include. The photos are resized to make them as small as possible while still, hopefully, rendering them somewhat legible for the website. The true battle begins when I attach the satellite phone and dial-up the connection (remember dial-up internet?). Often, outgoing journals compete with incoming messages and that really slows down the whole process. You can only fit so many bytes in one pipeline.

Circuit City
Here's my tent with the solar panel ready for charging.

Why do I care about how long it takes? Well, all this electronic stuff runs on electrons that have been stored in batteries. Once the electrons are gone the only way to put them back in is to use a charger. My charger runs on the sun. I have a 40-watt solar panel that I can use to make electricity to push those electrons back into my laptop battery. I had it hooked up today while we were out in the field, but the low-angled arctic sun did not give me a full charge. I have designed a new charging set-up that I will test out tomorrow. The panel will sit at a much steeper angle to make it almost perpendicular to the sun. That way I will be able to maximize the photons available to me.

I don't want to waste too many more electrons talking about electrons. Now on to the really important stuff. Where do we stay and what do we eat? We have set up our camp with 2 separate spaces--one for eating and one for sleeping. A wise idea in bear country. I wouldn't want to sleep with all that yummy food near my head. We each have a small tent that serve as our personal home, with a sleeping bag, inflatable pad, and all our clothes and individual gear. Far from this area sits our screen house and mosquito haven. This is our cook and gear tent. We have a small backpacking stove on which to heat water and cook our meals. While breakfasts and lunches are fairly simple, we have pretty substantial dinners. We have an assortment of freeze-dried dinners that are actually pretty good. It's hard to imagine that pouring boiling water into a foil bag filled with mysterious ingredients could produce anything edible, but so far they have all been great. We've had Tofu Pesto and Thai noodles with peanut sauce. Tonight we made macaroni and cheese, and added some dried mushrooms and vegetables and used powdered 'real' Vermont cheddar cheese. Yum!

yum
Look what's for dinner!

The only problem with our food is that we aren't eating it fast enough. The containers in which it is stored are supposed to carry out all our samples at the end of the trip. So far we've barely made a dent in it! We may have to go on double rations before the end of the trip!

eating
Kevin samples tonight's culinary event--Spinach Puttanesca al Foil Bag.

When we need water to drink we can't just head off to the nearest faucet--tht might take many days. We are using Mancha Creek as our water source. While it appears to be clear and pristine, it's the things you can't see that might cause some issues. We're using two different techniques to assure that our water is safe to drink. Kevin is using the 'tried-and-true' and very simple method of iodine pills. These small pills kill the microorganisms that are found in the water. The iodine leaves behind a distinctive taste in the water, so after it has been working for 30 minutes, you can add a small ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) tablet that precipitates the idodine out of the water, leaving it tasting almost like water. Angie and I are using a 'Steri-Pen', a battery-powered handheld UV light. The light shines through the water in our bottles, rendering the microorganisms unable to reproduce. The benefit of this method is that it doesn't change the taste of the water. The downside is the fact that you need batteries.

steri pen
This is our water purification system. We use the large container to haul water to camp. The steri-pen is sticking out from the top of my water bottle.

While our small tents are great for sleeping, they're not great for socializing or hanging out in camp. We are fortunate to have a large screen 'house', a floorless shelter that provides shelter from bugs.

screen house
The screen tent is an essential part of camp. It provides us with an almost bug-free cooking, eating, and living space.

Best of all, the views are always great. Our camp is on a gravel bar with long views in every direction. We are less than 2 miles from the Canadian border, so we have unimpeded views into two countries.

tent view
I can see Canada from my tent!

Photos

Circuit City
yum
eating
steri pen
screen house
tent view
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Susy Ellison's picture
Author: Susy Ellison
Expedition: Forest Response to Arctic Environmental Change