The hardest part of getting home was leaving Greenland. Not because I wanted to stop flying with NASA’s Operation IceBridge, but because the only way to get home was to fly in the exact opposite direction from home. The only commercial flights to Greenland this time of year all originate in Copenhagen, Denmark – 2,400 miles in the wrong direction. During the entire flight I just kept imagining the distance between my family and me stretching out across the Atlantic. The cold North Atlantic felt a lot colder just then.
Copenhagen was an adventure and not necessarily in a good way. I arrived at my hotel at 11:30 pm only to find they had given my room away, so it was back in another cab to their sister hotel. The cab driver dropped me off, and wouldn't you know … he had dropped me off at the wrong hotel. So it was back into my third taxi for the night. I finally arrived at the correct hotel and they had rooms. Themed rooms.
Apparently this place is pretty famous in Copenhagen. The rooms are painted and decorated by artists from all over the world. All I really needed was a bed and an Internet connection to post another journal. What I got was a tent in the middle of my room. You can’t make this stuff up. A tent. In the middle of the room. On the floor, inside the tent, was a mattress with a fake bear skin comforter. Yes, seriously. And no furniture. Unless you count an 8 inch tall footstool and a 4 inch high tray table. I laughed out loud. And the walls? Jungle theme. I took a picture because I knew no one would believe me.
A few hours sleep in the tent and back to the airport; this time to head in the right direction. The flight path from Copenhagen took me … and you know this is coming … right over southern Greenland! At that moment my displacement was nearly zero even though I had traveled a distance of nearly 5,000 miles.
Time out for physics: Displacement is the initial position of an object subtracted from the final position of the object. Since my two positions were almost the same, my displacement was about zero. Distance is simply the total length of the path traveled. You car’s odometer measures distance. If your car’s odometer did measure displacement, what would it read after going from home, to the store, and back home? That’s right, zero. What’s the displacement for any round trip, no matter what you do in between? Correct, zero again.
Even Jake was excited to see me!
There was a time in my life when I moved around a lot and I liked it that way. From age 18 to 28 I can count 22 addresses. I wasn’t sure I would ever ‘settle down,’ let alone be a family guy. But marriage and the birth of our two kids changed something very fundamental inside me. I like having a home. And I really like being a family guy. I loved the experience I had, and the science and flying blew me away. Engineering and adventure were an intoxicating mixture for a nerd like me. But I wouldn’t do it again. I missed my family. In practical terms I missed about 0.7% of their childhood. Maybe I’ll do something like this again when the kids are older; but not anytime soon. First I have to catch up on all the hugs, bike rides, and bedtime stories I missed.