Saturday, September 11, 2010
Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay
When George and his wife called to say they were running late for our planned get-together over breakfast, Denny and I took the opportunity to wander around the downtown area of Anchorage, first heading down to a small park on Cook's Inlet and then wandering around a local antique store. After breakfast we played tourists taking pictures and then headed back to the hotel to check out and catch our bus to the airport.
Our bus driver was a native Alaskan (as in born in Alaska, but not of Eskimo heritage) who is a full time teacher who also moonlights as a bus driver during the summer. He was full of information about the area and was kind enough to point out the fact that Mt. McKinley was visible from a park in Anchorage as we were en route to the airport. He even stopped the bus so we could take pictures which was a bonus since one never knows if you are going to be able to see Mt. McKinley on a normal day.One of the little factoids the bus driver mentioned was that the Anchorage International Airport has five air traffic controllers and three of those handle nothing but the "bush" planes flown by residents who fly in and out of the Lake Hood airport in float planes. That totals about 800-1000 flights a day for the private planes. That's pretty incredible.
After the normal flight delays Denny and I arrived in Prudhoe Bay, aka Deadhorse, AK. As the two of us were waiting in our seats for others to leave the plane, the flight attendant announced, "we have a problem, could you please exit the plane as quickly as possible." And of course, everyone resumed their normal crawl out of the plane as the flight attendant repeated her message several times. Still stuck on the plane, I looked out the window as crews were pulling a large fire extinguisher over to the area of the plane's wheels (over which we sat!) as smoke rolled out. Denny and I were finally able to get off the plane, where we saw that the hydraulic line to the landing gear had blown. What a start to our adventure!
After gathering outside the building that acted as a small terminal, we saw two buses and this blue and white building, so Denny and I thought that's where we would be staying. But our baggage got on the bus, so we boarded for our actual motel.
This is the type of modular unit all of the employees of the oil companies live in while working in Prudhoe Bay.
The rooms are comfortable but basic. Twin beds, a small TV, an analog clock (I couldn't remember how to set the old style alarm clocks--duh!) a tiny shower. Once again, we had been handed our room keys when we stepped off the bus and our luggage was delivered to our room. Once it arrived, we wandered down the hall to the dining area where a buffet of fast food type meats had been prepared.After dinner the Prudhoe group, as we called ourselves, gathered in the meeting room for a brief talk about our Prudhoe Bay guide's native heritage (I would have liked to have heard more but he was new-in-training and hadn't quite developed his spiel yet.) After the speech everyone once again boarded a bus to be shown around the oil camp where we were based.
Grant, our guide, pointed out a distant snowy owl while mentioning that it's rare for the tour groups to see one and then we saw some tundra swans. As we drove through the oil camp Grant explained that workers can only work on the rigs in the winter when the tundra is frozen enough for the heavy equipment to be moved. In the summertime the workers simply do maintenance on the machinery, pipeline and buildings. Their schedule is either two or three weeks on, followed by two or three weeks off. That's 14 to 21 days straight of working. At our particular camp there were a few things to do for exercise and entertainment but some of the larger camps apparently even have a small swimming pool, nice exercise rooms and games. It simply depends on the particular employers at each camp.Since all the oil camps are in effect temporary, the buildings are modular units on wheels that can be relocated.Conditions can be harsh, with winter temperatures dropping to -80 degrees. Brrrr!
Next up came our opportunity to do the tourist thing--taking off our shoes and socks to dip our feet in the Arctic Ocean. When our friends Don and Vicki were here earlier in the summer, the ocean was still frozen at the shoreline so they made snow angels! What a difference a couple of months makes! Of course, the water temperature was 35 degrees, so I didn't stay in long which is why Denny took such a terrific picture of me--that's why he doesn't get to man the camera very often!The ice fog rolled in while we were standing at the shoreline so it was time to get back on the bus and warm up. It had been a long day and we were ready for bed.