Today we left Toolik. I woke up at 7am to finish cleaning my room and packing up sleeping bags, which is always harder than it looks. I borrowed one sleeping bag when I arrived to lay down on the bed as a bottom sheet, and then I had my fleece liner that I slept in with another sleeping bag on top of me. It worked very well for keeping me warm, though it would have been nicer if the fleece liner unzipped more than halfway, so I could use it like a top sheet. None of them packed up super easily.
At breakfast I got a chance to see everyone again, including some staff that had just gotten back from a break the night before. The staff have schedules that change, but may be two weeks on, two weeks off or three weeks on, one week off. So it was nice to see a few more friendly faces before I left.
I said my goodbyes and then Cory and I drove off with Kim and Laura, who both work at Toolik. We left around 9:15am and arrived in Fairbanks around 5:30pm. Along the way we stopped at the Arctic Circle so I could have my picture taken with the sign. I also spent a lot of thinking and reflecting about my experiences for the past few weeks. I learned and did so much, but there were also opportunities missed. I should have tackled my fear of messing up and tried pit-tagging a squirrel, for example. I could have done it. I was just nervous.
We drove to the university to drop off the truck, loaded our things up in Kim's car, said goodbye to Laura and hello and goodbye to Jeanette. She came by to say hi and to pick up the samples that we had collected from the squirrels – feces, blood, cheek swabs – to take them to the -80˚C freezer, where they would be well preserved. We transported them in a cooler with dry ice in the truck from Toolik, but that only keeps them cool for so long. Afterwards, Kim drove us to the Sophie Station Suites, where I am staying tonight. Cory's flight is at 1:30am, so he spent time here with me until then.
We contacted Emma and she was having dinner with the Wolverine Boys before her flight, so we got a cab and met them for pizza at a brewery. Oddly enough, Kim had stopped there on her way out to drive to Anchorage (another 6 hours!), so we were all together again. The pizza truck was out of pizza when we got there so we ordered some bread sticks instead. Eventually, Matt drove Emma to the airport while we stayed with Tom, and when he came back, he drove us back to the hotel.
After some internetting and laughing over Amazon.com reviews, Cory and I walked over to the Fred Meyer, the biggest store around – and it is huge – and he bought some snacks for the plane and I bought some food for breakfast tomorrow. We even ran into Tom there! Small world.
It's a little strange to be back in town, on my way out, with my expedition over. Cory will head back to Flagstaff, and he will continue his work with the squirrels, processing data to understand what the long-term trends are. He will also share data with me so that my students can use some of it to process as well. I will take a shower and wash my hair. Everyone wins.
I'd also like to mention, for any science teachers out there, that there is a lot of data collected that is available and free to use. Toolik Field Station is a great example. Their Environmental Data Center is online and available to everyone. They have biotic and abiotic data collected in the area.
Check it out here:
I'm going to miss it here, and I already miss Toolik and the squirrels, but I have one more day left in town, and I will spent the majority of it with Jeanette, so I'll have more to tell you later.