Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Go back to the previous post and see photos, now with the magic of color!

Apologies for not posting photos of Svalbard yet...simply have not had the time. Soon!

Monday, July 07, 2008


In the illustrious words of MC Frontalot, “Just get in the ring.”

This blog has muddled itself into obscurity over the last year; this I know. It’s finally time to recap the last months and hurdle full-steam back into ColdPhoto: no longer a year in the north, but many years in the north.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t keen to blog about my life in the geology world (no insult to geology but rather to my odd internal categorization of “things to blog about”), I had quite a number of interesting adventures (geology and non-geology) over the last year. In the fall I visited friends in Hawaii and Indiana, and over winter break I got to spend a frigid weekend in the Joshua Tree desert with some old friends from Longyearbyen. Early spring found me skiing for the first time in Bloomington, Utah (see the last post), and mid-March I shipped myself to Boulder, Colorado, for an intense week-long training certification in Arctic survival.

The course included wilderness first aid, bear safety, basic survival skills, and most interestingly aviation crash safety and rescue. This aviation training deserves special mention as I breeze through the rest of these trips. After discussing the theory behind putting a helicopter into auto-rotation, learning crash positions, and being shown countless nightmarish photos of Arctic crash sites (fun, I know), we went outside and took turns strapping into a mock-helicopter and timing how long it took us to escape. This included not merely unbuckling and stepping out the door, but breaking through windows, grabbing survival gear (first aid kit, inflatable boat, etc), and finally – most valuably – doing everything blindfolded, and then doing everything blindfolded in snowmobile gloves (huge things that give you zero dexterity with any sort of strap or buckle).

The most important message from this exercise was the importance of memorizing your surroundings – even little things like “in which direction does my seatbelt unstrap” cost time and energy in the mild panic of our testing. The course, titled “Learn to Return”, also offers a longer version of the aviation safety which includes being strapped in a helicopter cage and dropped upside down…underwater. Excellent training but I’m rather glad I didn’t have to do that part. Our helicopter training, however, took special significance for us with the grim news of a crash in Antarctica, which killed two German polar scientists in March.

The next major event in my life was another surgery on my accursed foot. After having quite a bit of pain, I was disturbed by a new sort of crunching in my foot and went to an orthopedic surgeon to check out my Norwegian bolt. As it turned out, the multiple holes drilled in my foot resulted in the bolt slowly getting jarred loose – it was still in the bone, but sort of bouncing around. So, in April, I went back into surgery to have it removed.

YES - this foot please, not the other:

Ready to go!

I was able to stay awake for most of the procedure, but was put to sleep after they found they had to remove more bone growth than expected. After a irritating 2 weeks on crutches (only two weeks this time, and it still managed to drive me out of my mind), I discovered that although the bone was going to be fine, the surgery had cut a nerve line and I can no longer feel the right side of my foot. Luckily I can still move all my toes, which was the major concern, and now a couple months later I find myself with a gnarly scar and not much sensation at the surgery site, but essentially able to run freely. And yes…of course I kept the bolt.

What’s next…this brings us close to the end of the school year. I went on many excellent geology field trips this year, but none so epic as the week-long department field trip to Zion National Park in Utah. The trip occurred immediately before I was to end my stint as the geology technician, so despite going a little out of my mind with the stresses of moving and orchestrating the survival of 12 geology students in the desert, it really was a spectacular trip. In all, we visited Snow Canyon, Zion, and the Valley of Fire, with no casualties. Success!

The geology kiddos:

The day after we got back, I jumped on a plane and flew to Halifax in eastern Canada for a much-needed vacation. Being the geology technician this last year was immensely educational, but I found living in the outskirts of LA uninspiring, and was more than eager to get back to the sorts of adventures I became accustomed to during my Watson. In Halifax I stayed with my friend Lisa, who I had worked with on the Canadian Coast Guard. While I primarily enjoyed sleeping and taking walks to the lake with her dog, the most exciting part of the trip was when I drove out to Prince Edward Island and backpacked across the northern coast solo for 4 days.

The weather on my first day out was gorgeous.

That day, I and my 50lb (20kg) pack went the 12km from the point of Robinson Island to Stanhope Beach. This nearly killed me (I blame my out-of-shape bad-foot leg), and upon reaching the campsite in Stanhope, I found that the campsite was closed, and that there was no water, and that there was an abundance of mosquitoes. Then it began to rain, and I discovered I had forgotten a can opener, making dinner somewhat useless. Being too tired to hike back out to my car, I spent a fitful night in the campground, only to wake up at 4:30am (worried about getting caught) to pack out, in the rain.

Trying not to fall over:

Eventually I was picked up along the road by a nice old lady who must have thought I looked as beaten as I felt by that point. This gave me the energy to continue on to Cavendish, where I spent the rest of the day hiking sans pack.

I left Canada thoroughly rejuvenated.

Through the rest of this June I have been preparing for my next foray into the north and taking a few small trips. I got to see my brother and my good friend Pete in the Bay Area (San Francisco). (Side note: My brother Dane is on the crew team at Stanford, and is currently in England for a race before heading to Switzerland with an archeology project. My brother is AWESOME!)

Me and Dane:

Most recently I spent a couple days hiking through Joshua Tree, this time earning myself some mild heat stroke with my friends Zach and Cameron. 120F (49C) weather is one very good reason I look forward to colder climates.

The Joshua Tree desert:

Ok! That brings us up to the current project! I am writing from the decks of the RV Lance on my way to Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard. I am returning to the island as a research assistant to a little auk seabird project – the same research I was involved with in 2005. We will be living at the Hornsund Polish station until mid-August, when I will travel to Longyearbyen and look for work on Svalbard or in Tromso. Or possibly Alaska

The auk research team this year consists of Nina Karnovsky (the Pomona professor leading the project), me (fancy title: Field Director), and Derek and Julia, two undergraduates at Pomona. Right off, I encourage you to check out www.project.pomona.edu/arctic which is our research blog – it’ll include posts from everyone on the team. I don’t want these two sites to duplicate each other, so here’s the deal: the photos on ColdPhoto are exclusively mine, and can’t be found at the Pomona site. On the other hand, some of the photos and stories on the Pomona site will be taken by me, but not duplicated at ColdPhoto. ColdPhoto also, being my personal site, will revolve around Me and not the little auks.

We left California early Wednesday morning – picked up in a stretch limo, nonetheless. Ridiculous. We flew from LAX to Newark, then directly to Oslo, and finally on to Tromso – remarkably smoothly, and discovering all of our luggage in the Tromso airport. In Tromso we were greeted by Daniel, an old friend of mine from Longyearbyen, and Jorg, a collaborator on our dovekie work.

The last time I was in Tromso, I was on crutches, flying to Drammen to suffer out the end of my foot recovery before flying to Siberia – and the last time I had explored the city was the day before my first surgery in April 2007. Being back a year later, able to walk properly – well, it is something I have been waiting for for over a year. We had dinner with Joachim, Lene, Pierre, and Johanna, more friends from Longyearbyen that you may remember being featured on ColdPhoto.

On Friday the team explored Tromso before loading our gear on the RV Lance and heading into the north. Our first stop was at Byornya – Bear Island – where we dropped off a small Polish team, including one woman I had met in 2005. We have seen quite a few whales, and tons of birds, and just now we have passed our first ice flow. Derek and Julia are beyond excited and absolutely everything on the ship is bringing me back to my days on the CCGS Amundsen.

Tonight we will reach the Polish station – I remember the last time I saw it 3 years ago, driving out on a zodiac to the ship that would take us to Longyearbyen. That was the moment I knew I was in love with the Arctic, and coming back to that place is like going home.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Well Then

SWEET STALKING MONKEY! Apparently there are still, on average, at least 30 of you visiting this site every day. And I know you're not just my parents, because the technology says you come from 6 different continents! Who do I know in Columbia? Or, let's see, SUDAN?

Ok so its been awhile since I've written. Let's move on.

Since I last wrote I have taken time off from my geological duties to visit Indiana, Hawaii, and most recently Utah. If you can't go international, go national! In a couple weeks I'm going to Colorado to learn how to survive helicopter crashes (yes, seriously). While in Utah, I tried my hand (feet) at skiing for the first time. Crazy, I know! Of course I mean cross-country skiing, because the idea of strapping sticks to my feet is crazy enough without then throwing myself off a mountain.

This is approximately how well it went:

Snowshoeing seemed a bit more my speed. (Photo courtesy of Nina Karnovsky.)

As for relevant updates: adventures are in the works! I'm not completely at liberty to discuss things yet, but for those of you desperately clicking the refresh button, waiting for something exciting, you will be rewarded in, say, about 3 months. Until then, I continue doing the geology gig, trying not to go out of my mind while surviving suburbia, and spending all my money on airplane tickets.

Maybe I'll write something about the Colorado thing. Look for that mid-March.

Oh yah...shameless self-promotion: here. And here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

For anyone still reading

I know I said I would continue writing. I didn't mean to take a month. But things have been happening.

To answer your first burning question: I have a job. And it issssssss:

Geology technician!

Yeah, I hear those quizzical grunts. I'm the new geology technician at, actually, my old university (Pomona College - for you foreigners, college out here is the same as university, and this is quite a good one despite the fact that not many people have heard of it). And yes, I know I've never really talked about geology extensively before, because yes, I'm a photographer- ecologist- journalist- healthcare researching- animal wrangler, not a geologist.

But who cares about all that! I can be a geologist if I want to! And so it is written, and so it is done. Most of what I do involves running the department, from managing all the technology (XRD, laser particle analyzer, rock saw, computers) to being a web editor to being driver/cook/manual labor/babysitter on field trips. Its varied enough to keep me interested, the department has a lot of good people, and I get to learn stuff.

I also have a new home. And it is innnnnnn:

Los Angeles! (Claremont, specifically).

Ugh, I know. Well, my new place is nice, I live in the garage of a nice house. Just kidding! Or not, actually, I DO live in the garage, but in an awesome extra room with a LOFT, which is the most fantastic place to sleep ever. Its like living in a tree house. A ridiculously hot treehouse, however, as its been 100F (39C) more often than not the last few weeks.

So, here's the plan. I'm going to be working here for a year. Then I'll either go to grad school or get myself to Antarctica. Now, my creepy website-stalking program is telling me people still visit this site, so I guess I have a good reason to keep writing. But now the theme will revolve around the wild and crazy world of GEOLOGYYYY EDUCATIONNNNN!

It's good to be settled. Now I just need a social life. I'm still wondering where the line is for sketchy old alumna/staff hanging out with students. I mean, they are basically my age, but I'm supposed to be a professional now. And stuff.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Loose Ends

Remember Penteleikha?

Yah! Those were fun to wake up to in Canada, when I noticed my skin coming off! Now, I've gotten blisters on my feet maybe...maybe twice in my life before, and not for lack of trying. I simply do not blister. (Incidentally, I've never gotten poison oak before either, which seems a rather extraordinary stroke of luck that makes me believe I may be immune). So, seeing those puppies was actually sort of terrifying.

Some last views of Cherskii, while I was waiting for the helicopter:

(That says "Cherskii" in Russian.)

(The Arctic Siberian Airport.)


(At least for a bit.)

I get a lot of questions about my living conditions in Russia, which I really found quite comfortable, barring my food situation. So, to satisfy some of those questions, here's a photo of my Russian bedroom:

Now...technically that bed is about an inch of foam covering a sheet of plywood, which is really more comfortable than it sounds. Laying on there diagonally I just about fit.

Speaking of that, I've got an announcement for America: TALL PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE TOO. Walking around foreign countries, I expect to get started at, for whatever reason that might make me look unusual. But my god, people here at home are ruder than I remember. Who runs up to people and says, "You're really tall!" Uh, thanks for the news flash? What sort of training do American's get as kids that slack-jawed stares and idiotic comments are the first response for people of unusual size? My family is perfectly proportional but sometimes it feels like going into town together is like putting on a show, let alone when there's just one or two of us walking around. (I think I've brought this up before, but I'm 6'3", and my family is sized around that, my bro and dad signficantly taller than me and my mom slightly shorter). Oh, and here's a good one! People that walk past you then IMMEDIATELY start going on about "Good christ did you see how tall they were!" We're not deaf!

Somehow I'm oddly reminded of a VERY odd experience I had my first time in London, coming home from Norway two years ago. I had to spend the night in a hotel and took the tubes to get there with my massive amounts of luggage. Exhausted, I ended up on a train seat next to a man who, after staring at my arm for five minutes, said "You have realllllly nice skin."


Well there's my little rough-transition rant. But that business is nothing new. As for otherwise in this coming home transition, things haven't gone all that bad. I'm still having a hard time with how much food there is here - not even in a "American glutenous" way, but just coming to terms with the fact that I don't constantly have to strategize where my next meal is coming from, and I can eat until I'm full.

Other things I've noticed:

I'm no longer afraid of the dark. Disclaimer - I was never particularly afraid of the dark, but I wasn't a huge fan of running around at night. Now it doesn't faze me at all (internal disclaimer - as someone living on a farm, I should never, ever had seen "Signs"). [Additional note: don't watch John Carpenter's "The Thing" if you plan on going to one of the polar regions]

I wake up almost instantly. I know exactly where this comes from - living with the Canadian coast guard and our wicked sampling schedules. That was alarm rings BOOM dressed fully conscious in about 5 minutes, ready to go haul and filter water for the next 6 hours. 2am or 6pm or noon, gotta be ready to go.

I've been horribly spoiled by freedom. My internal tolerance for boredom has become slim. I'm reminded of a small tantrum I threw in the Norwegian hospital, a few hours after my second surgery (no one saw it, I do have some measure of pride): the nurses pushed my bed from the emergency ward out to radiology (I wasn't allowed to get up yet), where I was left for about 30 minutes by myself. Sick of the entire scenario, I began singing "bored bored bored" to myself and used my hands against the wall to push my bed up and down the hallway.

There is a very significant chance that that was the drugs talking at that point in time.


There are a great deal of people that I need to thank for everything thats happened this year.

For the funding (Thomas J Watson Foundation)

For support at home (Mom, Dad, Dane, and extended family)

For my advisor and constant source of contacts (Nina Karnovsky)

For the people that trusted a very random American enough to take her in and give her a job (Christine Michel, the Canadian Coast Guard, and ArcticNet; Peter von Staffeldt, Arne Munk, and the Ittoqqortoormiit School; Jorgen Berge, Piotr Kuklinski, Marek Zajaczkowski, and the University Center in Svalbard; and Sergei and Galina Zimov and the Northeast Science Station)

For the people that gave me a home (CCGS Amundsen and crew; Eric and Therecie Pedersen and family; SITO and UNIS; and the Zimov's and Sergei and Ana Davydov)

For the families and friends of friends that took me in, in times of dire need (Anna Prokopowicz; Marisa and Jon Kjartansson; Lisa Delaney and family; Sarah Terry; Nina Seifert and Philip; Carol Svea and family)

For the hospital care (The Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh (Scotland), Longyearbyen Sykehus (Longyearbyen), Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge (Tromso), and Sykehuset Buskerud (Drammen))

For friends at home that put up with random and occasionally panicked conversations (you know who you are)

For new friends met along the way (too many to count and I'd never want to leave someone out)

And for everyone who made this impossible year happen.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Year

Well, I guess I dropped the ball with the blog. Just because I'm not doing something fantastically exciting anymore doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing...although I imagine my readership will drastically decrease. I will say this - it shouldn't be long before I start doing something else ridiculous, so if you're interested in that sort of thing, I recommend checking up here periodically to see where I've flown myself.

I've been in California for about a week now, and the Mexican food is as beautiful as I remembered, as is the Jamba Juice. My arrival in LAX was only slightly marred by my ONLY luggage mishap of the year - and a fairly minor one at that. They managed to send my camera gear to the wrong part of the terminal. It is miraculous that my luggage and flights this year have all essentially been made intact.

The week began with a slew of doctor's appointments, luckily curing me of my Siberian deafness (yeeeah...I had lost my hearing in one ear, but no worries, we're good now) but unfortunately not killing the everlasting pain in my foot. It seems heat makes it significantly worse, rather than better. Ah well. The weekend was spent in Claremont, home of my alma mater, attending the Watson conference. Essentially, a bunch of brilliant amazing people gathered in a shell-shocked mass to talk about their utterly priceless years while attempting to empathize with 50 other people who did equally insane, yet totally different things. AWK-WARD! I kid, it was awesome, there was free food. But especially after Siberia, I'll be honest - I don't really deal well with people yet. One on one I can do, and nameless crowds are ok, but constant cheerful chattering and smiling...not so much.

Ergh, that doesn't sound so nice, I'm sorry. I'm actually liking it here better than I thought I would. I've just never been the socialable one. And then theres my consistent shock to overhear people speaking English. I'm starting to learn how to drive again (it was only a little...eh...the first time). After getting back from the conference, I took myself to the beach on a cloudy day, fell asleep, and promptly earned myself one of the worst sunburns I've ever had in a long, painful history of horrible sunburns. My skin really was built for northern fashions. I seem to exist in a permanent state of red now. Not attractive, but just wait for the itchy flaking leper stage.

WELL, on that note, let me apologies again for not emailing/calling/blogging anyone and everyone that I was so excited to be able to contact again. I seem to have lost the ability to communicate to anyone not within 5 feet of me.

Patience, my good people.

Are you wondering what wonderful thing I will do next? That, it would seem, is the question of the hour. A mystery to us all.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day 364: Tomorrow

It is about midnight, the night before I will fly home. I've spent the last few days in Halifax, Canada with my friend Lisa, after arriving safely from Siberia. The trip was intense, although all in all everything ended well. I left Cherskii Tuesday evening, arriving in Yakutsk late that night to find the hotel had no record of my reservation, and no one on duty who spoke English to any useful degree. After awhile, they tried to give me a room for about $300, at which point I mildly flipped out and they woke up a manager to give me whatever I wanted.

The next day began an utterly grueling 48 hour journey. The final dregs of my banking account have gone to Mother Russia, in her exorbitant fees to transport my excess luggage. During the first leg, between Yakutsk and Moscow, I realized something: I am tired of traveling. Not forever, but right now, I am tired. Two hours into the flight, I realized I still had four more hours to Moscow, 4 more five-hour flights, and 3 customs officials to fight through. Every time I got on a new plane I turned back my clock, finding myself progressing almost not at all through the day and having no idea what time my body was actually on. I was in disgusting shape by the time I hit Canada.

Ever since then I've had a lovely time here. We're gone swimming in the lake everyday, I've got my first sunburn of the year, and I've rediscovered food. But to summarize my pre-home epiphany: this is nice. I am tired of moving. The novelty of flying a bazillion miles to far-away places has worn off. I missed my only brother's high school graduation and all of his senior games. I haven't seen any friends in a year. My foot hurts. I'm ready to be done.

But don't let that make you think I haven't enjoyed myself. I wouldn't have traded this year for anything. I'm just glad I've come to terms with going home, even if I have butterflies in my stomach tonight. I'm sure I'll be wanting to move on again soon enough, but for now - I'd like a bed thats not a piece of plywood, and to be able to understand what people are saying, and to make friends that I don't have to say goodbye to in three months.

People often remark on the bad luck with my foot. I have a hard time saying "bad luck". It's a thing that happens - things happen, especially in this crazy journey. I never thought I'd buy a snowmobile. I never thought I'd live in the shadow of a mountain and not be able to reach the first bouldery plateau. I'll go home with a permanent souvenir of this trip - a three inch bolt in my foot.

And when you think about it, how cool is all that, really.