Hey everybody. So life is pretty good here. We get the occasional work order but most of my job is going through radio equipment, batteries, antennas, and making sure it’s all working right so that it can be issued out to people in the summer. It’s actually pretty tedious and boring, but it’s easy and I get to stay inside, out of the cold most of the time. That was not the case yesterday though.
I told you that the last flight is gone now so they’re working on shutting down the airfield. That involves removing power and heat from all but one building out there. So since there is comm gear in several of those buildings that are going to go cold we had to go out and remove it.
I went with 3 other IT folks who had to take out some of their own gear. It’s about a mile to get to the road to Pegasus that is out on the permanent ice shelf. Once you get there it’s another 14 miles out to the airfield. The weather wasn’t too terrible in town, but it got MUCH worse the further out on the road we went. I had my small camera with me but the windows were iced up and with all the snow blowing around you wouldn’t have really seen anything anyway, so I didn’t bother taking any. I did take my GoPro and the head mount so I did get some video at the airfield. I wish I had brought the suction cup mount so I could have put it on top of the van so you could see how nasty it was, but I didn’t think of it.
The road is 2 lanes on the ice, one for vehicles with tracks, and the other for vehicles with tires. They’re each probably about the width of a 3 lane highway or so, and there are green flags lining one side and red flags lining the other. The flags are about every 100 feet or so the whole way out to the airfield. The road also forks a couple of times where it goes out to other destinations. There was a lot of blowing snow the whole way out. After that first couple of miles we were having trouble seeing the flags. Probably the very best visibility we had at any point may have been about a 1/4 mile. The rest of the time we were seeing maybe 6 to 8 flags out. There were way more times than I was comfortable with where the visibilty dropped to 1 flag, and there were a bunch of times where that 1 flag was getting hard to see. We were very close to having to just stop the van in the middle of the road and wait until we had more visibility. I found out after we got back that if you can only see 1 flag that’s a Condition 1 weather situation and you’re supposed to stop, radio the firehouse to let them know your approx location, and wait it out.
We made it though, and really those 1 flag situations weren’t lasting for a prolonged time. We’d have 1 flag for a few minutes, then it would open up to 5 or 6, then back to 1, and so on. So the weather conditions were quite literally the worst they can be and still keep a vehicle moving in it. The road was crappy too, there was fresh snow and snow drifts everywhere. It’s a 4WD van that’s lifted with some fairly beefy knobby tires and we were still fishtailing and swerving all over the road. We finally made it to the airfield and as we slowed down ended up in a snow drift and didn’t have enough momentum to break through it so we got the van stuck. We were able to get it out but ended up getting it stuck later a couple more times, luckily not bad enough that we couldn’t get it out. I saw a few nasty storms the last time I was here, but nothing like this. I got out of the van and grabbed a bag of tools out of the back of the van and I had to struggle to get the door open against the wind. Later on I found a wind guage in one of the towers and it showing it bouncing around from 45-60mph. We made it over to the first building and I stepped around a huge piece of equipment and the wind and snow hit me in the face. That was the first time I ever had the wind blowing the snow into my face so hard that it was actually painful. I tried to cover my face and hustle up the stairs to get in the building. I had goggles in my jacket but hadn’t bothered to put them on. After that I had the goggles on and buttoned myself up tight. It’s really hard to walk in those snow drifts when you’re sinking in up to the top of your boots, especially for a big ol’ fatty like me! There were about a half dozen buildings we had to hit. We got most of what we came for but there were a couple antennas mounted up on top of the buildings and there was no way I was going up there with all that wind so we left that stuff for now. Hopefully we’ll get a nice day if we have to go back. There were a couple times where the wind really peaked and I was trying to walk toward these steps but the wind was blowing me sideways as I was trying to go forward. It was kinda like Michael Jackson moon walking only I was trying to go forward but sliding sideways. There were about a half dozen times where it came close to me being blown off my feet. Actually I’m not sure how I didn’t end up on my butt a couple of times. I was carrying some equipment out to the van so my hands were full and there was a gap between my goggles and my beenie that the wind could get at and it felt like my skin was burning! My God it was so cold! BRRRRR! After going back and forth between these buildings a few times we finally had everything loaded up and left. The road was just as bad on the way back and we were sliding all over the place! There is one spot where the road forked and we almost went the wrong way and didn’t but it made us slide and we took out a couple of the flags and a mile marker sign. Ooops! In the end the van stayed on all 4 wheels, we didn’t get overly stuck, and we all made it back in one piece, so it was a success.
I looked at the GoPro footage and the picture is fantastic, but it SOOOO doesn’t do it justice. It didn’t seem to capture as much of the snow as it felt like there was, and you certainly can’t feel the wind or cold, or feel how hard it can be to trudge through all that while trying to breath heavily through a gaitor and a parka zipped up to your nose. So when you watch it imagine -30* wind blasting you in the face. Better yet, go grab a couple ice cubes and hold them on your face while you watch. 🙂 One of these days I’ll get good at video editing and I’ll edit out the crappy boring stuff. In the meantime I’ll just post what I have and you can curse me for not editing it.