Back to "civilization." To cars, and news, and people. I am enjoying Thai food and showers, but it always seems so sudden, this transition from wilderness to city.
Packing up was bittersweet. Leaving a place we love, but excited about what lies ahead. We spent our last day organizing gear. Samples and some important gear to Flagstaff, other gear sorted for the return flights in the spring. In addition to packing and sorting, we cleaned up camp, making certain everything was cleaner than when we arrived. The Arctic ground squirrels were on alert – probably due to an unseen predator – but I'd like to think they noticed the change in our routine and were curious about what their short term neighbors were up to.
The landing site is quite a ways from camp, and we repeated our arrival to camp, only this time in reverse. Pack boat, shuttle to Chamberlin Creek, unpack boat, carry gear up hill. Dirk gave us an approximate arrival time, but there was still a nervous anticipation, waiting on the tundra with all our gear, straining to hear the engines of the plane over the rain and Chamberlin Creek. The Beaver appeared suddenly, banked hard to circle the lake and landed a few yards away.
Dirk loaded us rapidly, expressing his relief that he was able to pick us up. A front was bringing weather conditions that may have trapped us at Lake Peters for days. Before I knew it, we were crammed back into the plane and careening down the runway towards Lake Peters. I wondered how we could possibly get up enough speed on the bumpy tundra. The lake rushed towards us, my heart leapt into my throat, and suddenly we were airborne. I finally could relax, taking in the scenery: camp, Chamberlin, Carnivore, GL3, then on to seemingly endless mountains, drainages, and tundra. In the air, Dirk updated us on current events and the weather, impressing us with his breadth of knowledge and experience.
Our drive from Coldfoot was uneventful, other than rainbow after amazing rainbow along the Dalton Highway. In Fairbanks, I went straight to the ER. Remember in my last audio journal when I said that we were mostly safe and sound? That's because I slipped and landed on my chin, resulting in a laceration about 2cm long and 1cm deep. Chris and I used our WEMT skills to make a plan, and he cleaned and patched my wound. We departed a day early, and a doctor looked at it in Fairbanks within 48 hours. It was too late for stitches, but the ER staff marveled at our good work. I feel fortunate that we were prepared with wilderness medicine training, and that I wasn't too badly hurt. The terrain in ANWR is beautiful, but unforgiving. As Dirk remarked, it is a wonder that we come out unhurt as often as we do.
I am excited to continue to Kaktovik, on the Arctic Ocean, where Ellie and I might see a polar bear, and to Anchorage, where I will learn more about the Arctic Glacial Lake project. But it's sad to be away from Lake Peters. I miss the lapping waves, the cozy cabin, and the physical demand of field work. I know that it is unlikely that I will ever be able to return, and I feel so grateful to have spent two weeks in such an amazing place.