Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Brrrr....

Well I just returned to work for the first time since October and it is not so warm here. It is -32F at the moment and I can't say that it was really warm at home either but I did have two weeks off to play and get some things done around the house.
The last two weeks haven't been really good when it comes to my hobbies though. While in Algeria the Lead Electrician had a remote control helicopter that he kept in the shop. After watching him fly it he showed me the basics and I decided that I had to have one. The internet and online shopping are a wonderful thing! By the time I got home I had a brand new remote control helicopter ready and waiting. I have to say that I wasn't smart enough to order one that was easy to fly, oh no, I had to get the advanced version. When I ordered it I thought, how hard could this be? I should mention that this is exactly how I started out whitewater kayaking, but that is a whole different story. I looked online for tips on how to fly a helicopter and I found lots of sites but they all started with the statement that either an instructor or a computer simulator was a must to avoid "costly repairs and downtime". Well, after the second crash, one damaged (actually it was destroyed) tail rotor, two sets of main rotor blades, a bent main drive shaft and a few other miscellanious parts I decided maybe I should order a simulator. Back to the internet!

While waiting on the wonderful USPS to deliver my new simulator (which was delayed in shipping due to a holiday) I figured it was time to brave the cold and go out and ride my snowmachine. When I got home from Algeria our snow cover wasn't near what I was hoping for but it was enough to go out and play in. Before I left in early January and there was even less snow I referred to my rides as bushhogging. This was because when I would come home from riding I would have grass, weeds, and shrubbery stuck in my skis.
On our first big ride before we got our recent big dump of snow I had a little setback when I hit a stump just under the snow that broke a bolt in the undercarraige of my snowmachine. This required getting parts and removing the whole undercarriage to replace one little piece. Luckily the Polaris Shop is located a mere twelve miles from my house and they know me pretty well.
After a few days I was ready to go again, and since we got a huge dump of snow Clay and I headed for the hills (literaly), and the snow was phenominal! But due to a few tuning issues, unfortunately my snowmachine was not! It was however running good enough to hit a stump (different stump) that Clay had uncovered earlier. Of course I didn't just hit it; I HIT it. It, being the stump, sent me sailing over the handlebars and headfirst into the nice soft fluffy snow that I couldn't manage to keep my snowmachine in. Of course the Polaris shop is Closed on both Sunday and Monday and they close at 6pm every other day of the week. This just happened to be 5pm on Saturday evening, an hour from home, and my snowmachine was performing like Free Willy with his left flipper cut off (in other words it kept tipping over to the left and diving as deep into the snow as it could). Suprisingly enough the battery on my cell phone just happened to die and Clay's didn't have any reception. It took awhile and alot of times getting stuck but we made it to where we could use Clay's phone and I called the Polaris shop right before they cosed and gave them a list of the parts I needed so they set them out for me to pick up when I successfully made it out of the woods later that night. Cell phones are a wonderful thing, especially when they work!
I do figure however that without my cell phone and the internet I'd have alot more money in the bank.
I spent Saturday night in Clay's dad's garage repairing my snowmachine so I could hopefully get a chance to actually enjoy our new snow. I went riding both Sunday and Monday and everything was awesome, I'm not sure what happened? I didn't break anything.

The last few days of my time off were good, I had two good rides, and my helicopter simulator arrived (finally). I have to say that after trying to fly on the simulator and crashing a few hundred times, I'm really glad I got it. I would have never had enough parts to get mine in the air without the simulator.
I have to say it gives me a whole lot of respect for my uncle who was a helicopter pilot in the army. I can't even pilot this little thing so I can't imagine how hard a full size helicopter is to fly. I've flown a few times in helicopters but last summer when I flew out to our remote drillsite in one of our Bell helicopters I rode in the copilots seat and really studied the pilots actions, but until getting this rc helicopter I never fully understood all of the physics involved. Since I can't afford a real helicopter and my hair is too long to join the army I guess I'll have to stick to the remote control version.

Here are a couple of pictures snowmaching.

Clay on his new 700 before our last big snow.

My 600 after the last snow and before the second stump encounter.

video

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What timezone........

I was planning to post several times since the last one but I didn’t get time so I’ll compile a bunch of things into this one. I tried to get online in London before I got on the plane but I couldn’t get my wireless to work so I’m typing this as I’m doing 515 mph over the Atlantic headed for home, hopefully I can post it from Minneapolis.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts since my last posting, some good, some bad, a few maybe even profound, and a few forgotten. I’ll try to post the ones I can remember and of course only the ones that can be put into print. Don’t tell anyone but I do have to censor a few things since I know my family and my bosses wife read this from time to time. I can’t have them all knowing that it was because of too much gin, tonic, and champagne that I can’t remember a few details of the last couple of days. It can be a little difficult when flying business class and a charter plane where all drinks are free. When I’m in coach I’m too cheap to spend money on drinks so it isn’t a problem.

I just looked out the window and the North Atlantic is amazing! Pretty big icebergs floating around out there! It looks like Greenland is falling to pieces.

Ok back to my thoughts. Think, think, think…..
Oh yea, Algeria. Sunday was my last day to do any sandboarding and as I standing on top of my favorite dune Sunday afternoon, I thought of my Mom’s comment the day before about the last pictures I had posted. She said that with my long hair and baggy pants I looked like a hippie. Can you believe? So as I was standing there looking out over the dunes listening to the Greatful Dead on my ipod I had to ponder that thought. After picking myself up at the bottom of the slope I determined that although I might indeed look like a hippie, there are a few fundamental differences. The first is I don’t smoke pot (or anything else for that matter) and most importantly, I have a job. Aside from that I have no objections to living free, loving everyone, and just going wherever life takes you. Then that thought led me to the question, if I am a hippie would I be considered a Right Wing Hippie? Then I got back to the top of the dune for my next run and the ipod shuffle was playing Motzart’s Divertimento in Bb Major I. Allegro, and I was reminded that the last poll I took to determine my political stance came back that since my political feelings are as diverse as the music I listen to, I was considered a Radical. I have to say that growing up in a Republican family, being married to a Democrat, working for an oil company and being a little bit of a tree hugger cause my feelings on politics to be all over the board. Next thing I knew I was on my back staring at the sky with a new sand burn and decided I was thinking too much.

The project I’ve been assisting with hit a pretty major snag that has set them back two to three weeks so there wasn’t much for me to do other than sit in the sun and sandboard but since they really didn’t want to pay me for either of those abilities I headed out. Luckily I had my trusty traveling companion Hans with me to keep me out of trouble and from getting lonely. Monday morning we set off from the site and flew to Hassi Messaoud to catch the 757 back to London. Once we got to London we got on another flight to Florence to attend a meeting with GE. Unfortunately we got into Florence late and were in a meeting all day Tuesday so I didn’t get to see too much of the city. I did wander around a little Monday night after we got to the hotel and I have to say the architecture is stunning. It is really too bad that noone in today’s world puts that kind of effort into making a building look breathtaking. After our meeting we headed straight to the airport and flew back to London. I was originally planning to wander around London for two days like last time before heading for home but I thought the opportunity to go to Florence was a better option even if it was just to sit in a meeting all day.
We got back to London last night around eight o’clock and Hans had an early flight so we didn’t go into the city. I made sure to get a good night of sleep so I’d be assured not to sleep on the plane! This is my fourth transatlantic flight and I haven’t slept a wink on any of them. I got some Ambien from my doctor before my first trip but I’m afraid if I took one they wouldn’t be able to wake me up to get off of the plane.

I just finished watching the movie Into the Wild on the inflight video. I never read the book by John Krackour because I was never really interested in some crazy guy who walked into the wilderness and starved to death in an abandoned bus less than 150 miles from my house. Although the facts of the book have been disputed, I think they did pretty well on the movie. One of the reasons I wanted to see it is because it was filmed (the wilderness scenes anyhow) in Cantwell, which is a tiny town about halfway between my house and Fairbanks. Last year I went with Sandi to a mid-distance dog race across the Denali highway (she was a trail veterinarian) and the crew we worked the checkpoint with all helped with the filming of the movie. So it was pretty cool to listen to some of their stories about filming and then see the movie.

I was supposed to go with Sandi this year to help but the race was last weekend. So instead of spending the weekend camping out at minus 25 degrees with my wife, I was sandboarding (and working) in the Sahara. I was bummed that I missed it until I heard what the temperature was. When I talked to Sandi after she got home, she said that she had frostbitten her nose! I sand burnt my elbow and shin on the dune, but I don’t think I’m going to get too much sympathy.
She said that we finally got some snow at home so I guess I can finally stop complaining (about lack of snow anyway). The best part is I have two weeks before I have to go back to Alpine so I have lots of time to play on my snowmachine. Hopefully I’ll have some good pictures to post in by the end of the weekend.

The charter flight from London to Hassi is operated by Astraeus Airlines and I have to say it is hands down the very best airline I have ever flown. While I was in Algeria one of the electricians told me that one of the pilots for Astraeus was (is) the Lead Singer for Iron Madien which was a really popular heavy metal band in the late 70’s and 80’s. The guys all know him from flying back and fourth and apparently they have gotten together for a world tour and Astraeus sponsored them a plane. They have a whole plane that has been painted with their logo and the lead singer (Pilot) is flying it from concert to concert worldwide. We went right by the plane on the way out of Gatwick airport today so I thought I’d post a picture of it. I wouldn't normally be too impressed by it but I've heard some great first hand stories about the guy that make it worthwhile.

Here are some pictures from the last few days.

North Atlantic

Astraeus Plane in London

Nightime view from Florence Hotel Room.

Morning view from Florence Hotel Room.

Florence side street.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Math Lesson

Rain + Sand + Wind= Hard Sand

≈32 ft/sec squared x 300ft x Hard Sand +bush= Loss of skin and board

Starting point.



Meeting of bush and separation from sandboard and a little skin.


Today I spent an hour and a half on the south side of the big dune (K2) looking for a little bit of soft sand. Unfortunately the sand is still quite wet and very hard. I managed to get a couple of short runs but they were not at all what I was planning on, or spent weeks daydreaming about. On a normal day the sand on all but the most windblown faces is very soft and fluid. This just hasn't been a normal week (in any sense of the word).

After playing around on the south side of the dune for an hour or so, and a few faceplants later, I decided to head back to camp by going down the north face.

What is the fastest way down a giant sand dune on a sandboard you are afraid to stand on because wiping out would break bones? That's right, sit on it. I learned today however that when sitting down traveling at a high rate of speed on hard sand you CANNOT steer or stop using your hands or feet! As I was careening down the dune face at what felt like 180 mph getting my face sandblasted by the sand my feet were kicking up, I noticed one lone bush coming rapidly in my direction. Do you think I could steer left or right one lousy foot to avoid a lone bush who by design to survive in the desert is covered in thorns? Well, based on the photo above and the loss of tissue from my arm and shin, the answer was no. My sandboard separated from my backside once I was airborne and I felt like I had been launched from a catapult and then landed on a giant sheet of 120 grit sandpaper. After sliding on my backside for a few feet, I still had plenty of forward momentum to go from lying flat on my back to running down the dune in one fluid motion. Once I caught up to my sandboard I figured I should call it a day and begin the difficult task of cleaning sand out of every imaginable place on my body.






Friday, January 11, 2008

Who would have thought....

Praying for sun in the Sahara?

Seven days of rain in the last three weeks has made the sand like concrete. I have actually worn the laminate off of the bottom of my sandboard on the edges due to the friction of a few loose grains of sand on top of the hard stuff. It takes only about two days to dry out the sand but so far everyday until today has been overcast. I was able to get a few runs in today but they weren't nearly as good as they could be if the sand drys out.
The weather has been in the 50's until today and it warmed up to about 65 after the clouds cleared. The locals are all freezing and it feels like a nice summer day to me. Hopefully I'll have some good pictures to post, assuming the sun is out all day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today is my Mother's 60th birthday!!! I guess that means I'm not 22 anymore either.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for her) most everyone is gone for her big day. Dad is at work, Rick and Jeff are both at work, and I'm in Africa. I heard that TJ was pretty sick so she was staying at Mom's. I guess she might be the only one to give Mom a present, unfortunately it's a virus.
The option of throwing a huge surprise 60th birthday party wasn't really considered by anyone due to how Dad's surprise 60th party went. We planned a big party about a week before his birthday because both he and I were going to be at work on the big day. So we invited a whole bunch of people and planned a big party. A couple of days before the party he decided to have an aortic aneurysm and almost die on us. After a few weeks in the hospital he made it home ok but I think all of us (especially him) could have lived without the experience. So due to the effect of Dad's surprise 60th birthday party, I don't think anyone wanted to curse Mom with the same potential effects.

So instead of a big surprise party all she get is this lousy Happy Birthday message posted on my blog (and maybe an averted aneurysm).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wet Sand......

Out of the last three weeks it has rained seven days here. Most of the guys here have said they haven't seen that much rain in such a short period. Things aren't really designed to withstand that much water here, ceiling tiles hit the floor like soggy saltine crackers. I wasn't really excited about the weather until I talked to the guys at work and it was-42. I can live with a little rain, plus it warmed up a little today.

I tried out the sandboard at lunch today but the sand is so wet it is like concrete. It's really sticky so I couldn't go very fast and it is hard to turn when the surface is so hard. At least I got out though, next time I'm going to see about finding a southern face that might be a little more dried out. Hopefully the sun will stay out and dry things out.



I took this picture on the way up today, the sand was so saturated that it slid.

Another self portrait atop of K2.

The colors in the sand continually change and the more it rains the darker they get. The black really comes out also.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A little snow would be nice...

It is pretty unbeliveable that we live in Alaska and can't get any snow! The North East is having a record snow year, Northern California and Tahoe are getting tons, and to top it all off Iran was just crippled with about a foot or more of snow this morning! I told Thane to do a snow dance and see if it would help us out.
Since we don't have much snow to play in, going back to work was a little easier than it would have been had there been six feet of new snow on the ground. Hopefully by the time I get home we will have had our turn for snow and gotten six or twelve feet, although two feet would be great!

The world is an amazing place and I can't get over how fast we can traverse the globe. Friday afternoon I was riding my snowmachine around the snow covered (barely) lakes and swamps across the road from my house and last night I was standing in front of Big Ben in London. It takes only about fourteen hours to fly from Anchorage to London, but with the time change it is more like 23 hours. Still it is funny to think that Friday I was alone in the middle of nowhere and yesterday I was in the middle of a city of 7 million people on a whole different continent. It is a lot of flying but it sure beats taking a boat!

After Christmas I got an invitation to go back to Algeria for one more trip and since I'm not sure I am ready for minus 30 just yet one more trip to the desert sounded ok. Since I haven't had time to go snowboarding at home I bought a sandboard to bring with me so at least I can take advantage of the trip down everyday I climb the dune. Hopefully by this time tomorrow I'll have had a chance to try it out. I'm planning to be a lot more conservative in the sand than I am in the snow, sand isn't near as soft as powder snow and it also doesn't melt when it is packed into your nose.

Well, I'm off to catch a flight from London to Hassi Messaoud, Algeria. Funny to think on Friday I was in the middle of nowhere in Alaska and this afternoon I'll be in the middle of nowhere in Algeria!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

Well 2008 is here like it or not. I was liking it just fine until I woke up this morning.
Thane was sick on Christmas Eve with some sort of 24 hour virus, but felt ok on Christmas day. I was ok on New Years Eve but I feel pretty ill today. I'm pretty sure I caught that nasty virus that was going around (especially last night), I think it is called the Vino Virus, and I found a bottle of Merlot that contained the virus.
Last night around 6pm I realized how truly exciting I have become; as I was sitting in front of my outdoor fireplace by myself listening to my ipod eating soy beans. Sandi and Thane came out a little later and we ate lasagna and enjoyed a nice fire. Afterwards we rode snowmachines over to my parents to say hi to my Mom and then headed back home. Thane was having fun riding with me and when we got home he wanted to go again. We all rode over to TJ and Jeff's to see the new baby and visit a little. They weren't doing much more than we were so we ended up staying there until midnight. Every year a bunch of the neighbors have a huge fireworks display and bonfire pretty close so Jeff and I rode out to the lake where it was all happening and sat and watched the fireworks display. After that we headed home, and aside from getting stuck in the yard and losing my glasses in the snow while trying to get unstuck it was all pretty uneventful. At least that's the story I'm sticking with.


I hope everyone had a fun and safe New Years Eve and wish everyone a great Two Thousand And Eight!