It always amazes me how easy it is to get from a seemingly “normal”, populated environment to a very remote, very Arctic feeling place. It’s only about a 1.5 hour flight from Anchorage to Deadhorse, but the end points represent totally different worlds. Upon arriving at the airport, you deplane from the Alaska Airlines 737, from the back door, by stairs, because it is a “combi” aircraft meaning that the front half is set up for cargo and the back half for passengers. We deplaned and realized that we were one person short. Since the airplane continues on to Barrow from Deadhorse, only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the passengers on board actually deplane, and the rest stay seated. Thinking Nathan may have fallen asleep and wasn’t aware that we were at our destination, we sent the agent on board to find him. Turns out he was just talking with his seat mates and didn’t realize that he needed to deplane rather quickly! Once we collected our bags, we met up with Al in the terminal, loaded our gear into his truck, picked up our equipment from Northern Air Cargo (it all made it — yay!) and headed over to get our rental truck. After letting Al check out of his Deadhorse hotel and grabbing a “to go” lunch there, we set out on the road to Oliktok.
Knowing that the oil rig was likely still blocking the road, we developed a rather complicated plan to get ourselves and all of our gear out to the Air Force facility. Sure enough, the massive piece of equipment was sitting in the middle (ok, let’s be honest, on all of) the road. It amazes me that these things can just be driven around from site to site. I’ll spare you all of the details, but in the end, we succeeded in getting ourselves and our stuff to Oliktok. Never mind that one of our trucks is currently parked at a camp about 15 miles from here, or that we had to essentially portage all of our gear around the stuck rig — we got here, and that’s all that matters.
Once on site, we went through both USAF and Sandia orientations to get acquainted with the site and learn about how to handle bear encounters. While the latter may seem excessive, the odds of running into a bear (either grizzly or polar) are substantial enough to want to know what you’re doing. In fact, as we made our way back to the USAF facility for dinner, one of the oilfield security trucks stopped us to let us know that a grizzly bear had been spotted in the area, and that we should be on the lookout.
After spending the afternoon and evening assembling equipment, we’re pretty much ready to begin some flight activities tomorrow morning. We still have some final strings to tie up, which is ok, because the weather quickly went from great for flying (good visibility, light winds) to miserable for flying (rain, windy, low visibility). Based on the forecast, I think that tomorrow will not be a very good day for flights, with more rain and wind expected, but may be good enough for some calibration flights. Tuesday and beyond look much better, with lighter winds and little precipitation. We’re looking forward to getting started!