Monday, March 16, 2015

One ridiculous day of an ambitious trip

Loading the ICE-MITTs onto our plane
This is a ridiculous and ambitious project.  When I talk to my family and friends, they all think I'm crazy.  I get that.  First of all, I'm well aware that I'm not normal (nor do I aspire to be).  But beyond the personal characterization, I understand that the general public considers any work in the Arctic or Antarctica to be foreign, unusual, fascinating, and just a bit different.  One of the primary reasons for having this blog is to describe and share this incredible world with those in my life.  Add in polar bears, a true electronics engineering project in -30 degree weather, and a logistical nightmare complete with snowmobiles, trucks, chartering a plane, Uhauls, generators, a 5,000-mile trip across the country with sea ice, and I start seeing why you all are explicitly calling me crazy for this project.  However, it isn't fully until I start talking to all of the seasoned "experts" in the field and their eyes begin opening upon hearing about what we plan to do, that I truly appreciate just how ambitious of a project this is.  Every step of the way, from the natives in Barrow to the sea ice scientists to the logistics support team, they all can't quite believe we have made it this far already.  There are just so many places where things could go wrong and this project falls apart.  Remember, if the ICE-MITTs stop working for just a few hours (I'm still shocked that they are OK while unplugged for 2-3 hours), the temperature gradient is gone and the experiment is a bust.  Once we left Barrow, there is no option of simply getting a new sea ice core (although word on the street is that Massachusetts Bay had some sea ice this winter?...).

Psyched for the flight
March 12 was pegged as the day that all had to go perfect because there were just too many opportunities for failure.  After barely sleeping the night before from packing up all of our gear, we awoke and eagerly threw our belongings into the truck.  We then corralled 5 trucks and generators to transport the ICE-MITTs in 2 trips from our base to the airplane hanger.  Despite a few hiccups, we plugged the ICE-MITTs into electricity at the hanger by 11:15 am and so far, they are all still working.  Next up was to gather the last of the gear and then start loading the plane.  The guys take one look at our stuff and astonishingly ask if we do indeed need to try and fit all of it into this small little Beechcraft 1900.  Although I had gone over the measurements ahead of time with the owner and told him that we would weigh about 2,400 lbs in total, all evidence suggested otherwise in regards to fitting.  At first they tell us that the only way it can be done is if we tip the ICE-MITTs onto their side.  I've never done this before and know they aren't built to carry their weight on edge, and am thus, super reluctant to agree.  However, before I cave in (what other option do I have?), I see the pilot chucking seats out of the plane.  Right.... Next they are asking us if we do really want all 4 people and our dog to fly (Dog?? Yes, we now have an ICE-MUTT by the name Nukka.  Ellyn adopted her and there will be a whole post devoted to her later).  A few magic tricks later, I see all of our ICE-MITTs, gear, and at least 4 seats on the plane, are somehow packed in and ready to go, with only 1 ICE-MITT tipped on edge.  Time is 12:45 pm, which although only 45 minutes behind schedule, represents 45 minutes more of time where the ICE-MITTs are unplugged.

From plane to Uhaul
Our pilot Wayne is great and agrees to keep the heat off on the flight (although slightly uncomfortable, less likely for ice to melt).  After a beautiful flight over the Brooks range and seeing mountains and trees for the first time in 6 weeks, we touch down in Fairbanks, AK.  3:15 pm.  We quickly unload the ICE-MITTs from the plane and find some outlets on the runway to plug everyone back in.  Miraculously, all ICE-MITTs are still functioning, and even more impressively, the temperatures had only changed by 1-2 degrees despite being unplugged for 3.5 hours.  Next up is getting our 17-ft Uhaul and two 5-kW generators for this epic roadtrip.  All those logistics go smoothly so we return to the airport, transport the ICE-MITTs to a temporary storage facility, and head to my friend Marc's cabin to spend the evening.  (Quick side note: Ellyn realizes she had lost her cellphone, but she somehow finds it buried in a snowbank when we return and search at the runway).  Long at last, we celebrate a well earned dinner and my first opportunity to buy a beer in 6 weeks, at a delicious Thai restaurant. 

All ICE-MITTs (and Nukka the ICE-MUTT) safe in Fairbanks
After a couple of days in Fairbanks, it was sadly time to depart.  However, since the weather had welcomed us with some more -30 degree days, we were more than happy to head southwards.  The time in Fairbanks enabled us to "safely" pack our Uhaul, and rig our generators to funnel all the exhaust out the back.  We said goodbye to Natalie who flew back to Dartmouth, and the 3 of us plus Nukka piled into the small cab to begin our 5,000 mile journey home.  Although we still have quite a few miles (and likely adventures) ahead, I've got to say it is a big relief to see all 10 ICE-MITTs working while connected to 2 generators in a Uhaul, and still maintaining their desired temperatures.  Yes, this is indeed a ridiculous expedition, but that is part of what has made it so exciting and enjoyable. 
Marc hosts us at his cabin in Fairbanks for 3 nights

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