July 14, 2008 – Monday – Finding my way home
There’s no place like home…
Packing up equipment and long travels have left me weak and worn, but I after 2 nights sleep in a MY BED, I am refreshed once again, and I wanted to take time to fill you in on the trip home!
So, settle in, this is fixin’ to be a short novel instead of a journal entry!!
July 10, 2008
We were scheduled to leave Summit Camp at 7am, we were all ready to go when we heard that the plane was having mechanical problems in Kanger and wasn’t able to leave on time. Finally, several hours later, the Herc arrived to drag us off the ice.
The flight was much more eventful that it should have been! First of all, we tried to take off one time with no success, the snow had already warmed too much. So, we taxied back to Summit so the crew could place the JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) firing caps on the rockets, so we could have a little extra boost! However, the boost wasn’t needed after all and the Herc took to the sky, lumbering to gain altitude. We were cruzing along, looking out the pothole windows at the ice below when all of the sudden the crew started scrambling around, shouting to each other. Their words were lost in the rumbling cabin so we were clueless to the problem and most people were quietly sleeping. Soon, they were waking people and having them move around the plane so they could examine hydraulic pumps behind the seats. The plane dove down to prepare for any disaster and the crew feverishly rushed about the cabin like bees in a hive. We all just sat in our seats with wide eyes, people quickly pulling their seat belts tighter, checking and rechecking to see if they were latched in. The "Load Master” pulled several soup can looking canisters from the back of the plane and tossed them to another air man who tore out his hip knife to pop them open. They began dumping the "liquid” contents into a large tank and then they both stood and stared at the tank… One was shaking his head slowly, occasionally chatting into his head set. Finally after several minutes of head shaking and talking, he slowly sat down on the cargo netting and started chatting to one of the girls on the plane. I thought, "Well, this is a good sign that all is well and he is hitting on this lady…or…Well, this is a bad sign, all is not well and he is whispering his last sweet words to this lady."
We landed safely some time later and it turns out that we had a major loss of hydraulic oil from the landing gears. So, they weren’t sure if the wheels were going to deploy properly, or if they would hold at impact. But, they did, and we safely touched down in Kangerlussuaq to a hot, humid, overcast landscape, that seemed like an alien planet after 5 weeks on the ice.
We spent the day cleaning up with warm showers and then we headed off to the gift shops of Kangerlussuaq (both of them!).
July 11, 2008
After living on the ice sheet for an extended period, one would think that we would want to be as far away from ice as possible. But, actually the opposite was true. We had decided to take a bike trip to the "Ice Edge”, the place where the edge of the ice sheet rises up from the Greenland soil and spreads out for thousands of square miles.
The KISS (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) building had a few rag tag mountain bikes for scientists to use. These bikes were probably pretty nice about 10 years ago when they were new but now…not so much. There were five bikes available and here is the rundown. Bike 1: Chain links broken and slips gears when the broken links pop out. Bike 2: Won’t go forward in the middle gears, just slips gears until a high gear or low gear is found. Bike 3: Seat not attached, the post goes into the frame where a rock in lodged to keep it at a certain height (This was my bike and I had to pedal with my tippitoes because the seat was so high). Bike 4: No shocks, less than desirable brakes. Bike 5: A slow mover with an unsteady back tire. Bike 6: Bike 6 is a whole other story!!!
Bike 6: There were only 5 freebees at KISS so we needed to get one more bike. We had visited with a nice Greenlandic woman at the airport the day before who informed us that there was a place that rented bikes about 2 km away from the airport "That way” she informed with a pointed finger in broken English. So, I figured that I would rush off "That way” the morning we were leaving for the bike ride and pick one up. How hard could that be? (Insert sigh…followed by laughter) I set off on my bike while the others sat down for breakfast, determined that I could get us one more bike. I rode off "That way” until I ran into several buildings, all painted red, and placed as though somebody had rolled them out as dice on a craps table and they landed spread across the landscape in disorder. Finally I spotted a person, a man with a weathered face, enjoying a morning cigarette. I asked where I could rent a bike and he looked at me like…I have no idea what you just said! Finally he pointed at a building across the dirt street and motioned like I should enter the door, so I did. I took two steps inside and realized I was in what looked like a house! So, I quickly turned around to avoid being shot for walking into somebody’s home! Back outside he motioned to me again and this is what I read from this pointing: Go inside, take a right, go straight for a short bit, and take a left…stupid American! So…I did.
This path lead me right into a dining room where three families were sitting down for breakfast, in the commotion I noticed the kitchen to my left so I darted inside, thinking this would be a safe haven. I turned to my right and standing in the kitchen, slathering butter on a Danish pastry was none other than the nice Greenlandic woman from the Airport!!! Our reunion was filled with awkward smiles, hand signals and broken English, until finally she realized I was looking for a bike. She smiled a big boisterous smile and grabbed my hand to direct me to the building where one can rent bikes.
”Dis is da laast cycle in Greenland” the lady behind the counter said. So, after paying more to rent the Huffy bike than it cost to build it in 1982, I set off back to where everybody was eating breakfast…walking, with two "death trap” bikes on either side of me. "Stupid American”, I thought.
We had been told that the ice edge was anywhere from 20 kilometers (12 miles) to 30 km (19 miles) up the road, "that way”. A bit of a difference, but nobody in Greenland ever seemed to care about time or distance, and nobody thought we would make it anyway. The six of us: Christine (Houston), Jeff (New Hampshire), Tara (Toronto), Joque (Colorado), Max (California) and I were determined to prove everybody wrong and we set out on an adventure that only "stupid Americans” would be foolish enough to undertake.
I will save you the anguish of reading about the trip and let you enjoy pictures to tell the story instead. But, I will give you some stats.
Miles to Ice edge (one way): 16.5 (33 roundtrip)
Hours spent moving: 5
Hours spent resting waiting for everybody to regroup: 3
Sore hind ends: 6
Pounds of Skittles consumed: 1
Liters of glacier water drank: 24
Major wrecks: 1 (Jeff, end over end over end…ouch!)
Percent of functional bikes upon return: 20
Percent of people who would do it again 50
Percent of people who wouldn’t trade the experience for the world: 100
Tara (Toronto) pushes her bike up the first big hill out of Kangerlussuaq. In the background is Sondre Stromfjord (the fjord or sea water that reaches inland) and the airport that was a former US Air Base.
This is the rag-tag bunch that was told they would never make it to the Ice Edge, but behind them in the picture is Greenlands Ice Sheet!
As the ice edge tapers off and breaks apart, tall ice pilars shoot skyward and eventually melt into runoff that flows all the way down to Kanger, 14 miles away.
Christine (Houston), Jaque (not pictured) and I take a break in the soft grass near the ice edge.
Enjoying the fruits of our labor at the cool waters edge.
The long trip back to Kanger was filled with more sandy pits where we have to push the bike, and rocky terrain, oh…and one very impressive bike wreck by Jeff!
Sugar Loaf mountain looms over the river as we make our way back into Kangerlussuaq.
July 12, 2008
After being gone from US soil for 41 days, I found my way back on a Herc full of eager scientists, scrambling to get back to loved ones. I made it home at 11:00 pm to a smiling wife and dog, but that is a story for tomorrow!
It is 95 degrees here in Billings, MT so: