Day on the Slope

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It snowed today over most of Alaska.  I say this because today I saw most of Alaska, and that’s say an awful awful lot.

Today, I had a meeting at an office in Deadhorse, AK – a tiny village that is no more than an airport, a post office, a few modular building that look could be packed up and shipped away in weeks (some that are called hotels), and flat barren snowscape.  The area is more commonly called the “North Slope” or more directly “The Slope” as it lies on the northern slope of the Brooks Mountain Range – a slope that runs hundreds of miles down to the coast just a short distance from Deadhorse.  The Slope lies 650 miles north of Anchorage, and 250 miles north of the Arctic circle.  At 70° north of the equator, it is approximately 400 miles further north than I have ever been in my life.  Deadhorse is the entry point to the Greater Prudhoe Bay Oil Field — underneath lies an oil reservoir that will result in approximately 25 billion barrels of oil in its lifetime making it the largest oil reservoir in the USA and double that of the second largest.  BP has no other assets in Alaska than those in Prudhoe Bay, meaning the slope is the quite simply my production line, my manufacturing source, my shop floor, where I make the donuts.  Today, I made my first visit to this place.

Thousands of people work on the slope, doing everything from maintaining rigs, to monitoring wells, to fueling trucks, to cooking the food.  Nearly all the workers don’t actually live on the slope.  Most are on a 2-week rotation.  Typically when I communicate to people on the slope, I am talking to a position that will get filled every two weeks with an alternate.  People working on the slope could be from absolutely anywhere, since it takes just a day to get up there from the lower 48, but most live in the Anchorage area.  When working on the slope, people stay in camps.  Since I only touched on one camp today, I’ll leave that description for later.

What I can tell you is how crazy the concept of getting to the slope is.  650 miles from Anchorage means that you need to take a plane, or face nearly a full day’s drive in bad conditions.  Every day hundreds and hundreds of employees for BP, Conoco Phillips, Exxon, Shell, and a long list of contractors head up or head back.  That much traffic means … guess what … corporate jets.  BP and Conoco Phillips co-own an airline called “Shared Services”, which acts like any other airline flying out of ANC. With a fleet of three 737s, they make anywhere between 5 and  7 round trips to Deadhorse everyday.

The airline isn’t like your typical ones though.  We get reservations from one of our employees who basically bills our department direct.  We get to the airport where they have the manifest of those with reservations printed on little slips – they give us the slip the pulls a sticker off a sheet with a number on it … that’s our seat … thats our boarding pass.  I am sitting at the gate this morning at 6:30 and up pulls the 737, and people drag themselves to the gate like getting on the bus.  The plane goes up, we head across the entire state of Alaska, and land an hour and a half later.

The Shared Services terminal is nothing but a tightly packed shed with a couple of workers and twice as many TSA personnel.  Luggage is thrown into wood crates and hauled by a front end loader.  We walk across open tarmac to get to the building and fight off the other 100 men for the 4 urinals in the bathroom.

Because its winter, Arctic gear is required (in our vehicle, not on at all times) which is super heavy (yet comfortable) coats and a super heavy overalls pants suit thing.  You could see why today, when blowing snow kept visibility down to less than a half mile for most of the day.  Our meeting wasn’t too far from the airport.  It lasted less than an hour than we hung out at a camp and had lunch before catching an afternoon flight home.  So put simply, I didn’t see anything.   What I could see was flat that would make the state of Kansas make fun of it.  There was supposed to be a small lake out the window, but you could barely see where the road ended and the next anything began.  I could see some of the structures there, but moreso in the dark when the lights were on (and it didn’t get daylight until 10am-ish).

So that was my day on the slope, and not the last.  My current schedule shows at least two more multi-day trips to the slope before Christmas, and more likely three trips.  I will get to know it pretty well by the end of the year.  But at least I got the first one out of the way.

Busy Week

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Snuck in a quick blog during lunch today because its gonna be a busy week here.  Busy enough that there will be blog worthy stuff to come, just maybe not tonight.

Monday:  Recovery day, from getting a bad night sleep while fighting off a working injury.  That, and my new TV has netflicks and I discovered “Raising Hope” (7 episodes discovered).  I have to be up around 4ish for a plane, so sleep is weighing heavy.

Tuesday:  This is a big big day.  I go further north than I ever had before in my life and go above the Arctic Circle for the first time ever.  I catch a flight to Deadhorse, AK for a quick meeting then turn around to head back that afternoon.  This will be my first trip to “The Slope”.  But believe me, won’t be the last.

Wednesday:  Audit Time / Aughie time.  My first audit for BP … kinda.  officially an assessment, and a limited one at that.  But finally getting to do what I love to do again.  That night, I get to see Aughie the Doghie (erm, Doggie) who I heard is feeling lonely because his litter mates are gone now.

Thursday (and Wednesday too, kinda): American Society for Quality – Alaskan Region Conference.  Basically our industry’s organization has an Alaskan group, and this is they keystone event.  Should be able to slip in some time there. 

Thursday Continued:  Last of the installations to installate.  DirectTV finally gets me hooked up.

Thursday Continued Still:  First of the month means its the Monthly Bunny Count.

Thursday Continued Even Still:  I hop on a Plane, the first of three, to get me to …

Friday:  Chicago (before you say it, have you ever BEEN to Chicago?) so I can attend ….

Saturday:  Cousin Ted Eagle’s wedding in Lake Geneva, WI.  Will be good to see family down there, drink some drinks, catch up on stuff, yadda yadda yadda, but too bad I have to turn around and get …

Sunday: Back on a plane for Anchorage.

Monday: We Celebrate the invention of the Flux Capacitor (that which makes time travel possible).  All of England will be shooting off fireworks for this event, that they oddly named Guy Faux day (which makes no sense since what does that have to do with 1.21 Gigawatts … and that’s pronounced “gigga like giggalo”).  It’s also Aughie Day, and I bring the little bundle of poop and fur home.

Three Homes

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Busy week this week, that’s why I was a bit quiet.  Work has had me on my toes with early calls and long drawn out days, then fitting in time at the gym and a little time with my puppy, the week filled up quick.  Next week will be worse, but that’s a blog post for another day.

The real stress is dealing with my three homes.  YES  … My THREEEEEEEE Homes.  I have THREE homes.

First of all, there’s an open house for my place in Kansas on Sunday.  Turns out everyone in a mile radius decided to sell their home this month, but for $10 less than mine was listed.  So guess who had to drop the price on his house.  If you live in Wichita and are looking for a house … that place is becoming a killer deal (and killer to my wallet).

I’ve been living in the Bear Den all week, without a hitch at all.  Just alot of boxes and everywhere I look there are things to do.  There’s a lot to do this weekend too.  Geek Squad stops by tomorrow to mount a TV and I have to set up my den complete with running wires through my house in the crawl space.  Satellite guys show up later in the week too, so I will need to be ready for that.  I need to get all the boxes stored somewhere, things cleaned up, and all things doggie dangerous taken care of because I won’t have much time to go before the puppy comes home.

Finally, there’s the apartment downtown that has been my lifeboat for the last 3 months.  I need to be checked out by Tuesday, and that means all signs of me have to be gone and cleaned up.  It won’t take long to clean the place up, but it will still take time.  I am leaving that for Sunday because … well … I will likely crash there Friday and Saturday night so I can head to the pub & walk to the bed rather than choosing between being sober and getting a cab.

Have a good weekend out there folks.

The Long Sunset

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This morning the sun came up at 9am.  9:08 to be exact.  Take a look outside at your place at 9am and see if the sun is in the sky at your place.  Know that at 9am here, its still going to be a couple minutes before it peeks its head over the Chugachs here.  Here’s a point of reference, Sunday was the first time I watched a Green Bay Packer game (in the US at least) when the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

Tomorrow, we will get 9 hours 17 minutes of daylight.  Truth is, it’s only an hour and a half less sunlight that is in Kansas tomorrow, but its still quite quite …. quite noticeable.  Since the day I moved here, we have lost 7 hours 40 minutes of sunlight.  Before the winter solstice, we still have another 3 hours 49 minutes of daylight to lose.  On December 22nd, the sun will come up at 10:15, and go down at 3:43.  Take a look outside tomorrow at those times to see where the sun is, and know that in December, the sun would not be up.

What’s already starting here, though, is the stranger way the sun is here.  I remember it when I was here in November last year, but seems already starting in October.

Science moment, the sun doesn’t come up and down at faster or slower rates, it just is further north or further south.  The angles change, not the speed.  But when the angle is what it is, then the sun stays just above or below the horizon for long periods of time.  For instance, it seemed like the sun started to set around 4:30p today, even though it went down two hours later.  Then it stayed light for another hour after.  Add that to the morning where it seemed to be sunrise for just as long, it was the “magic hour” of golden sunlight for five hours today.

The orange of the sky makes the snow white of the mountains gleam brightly.  On the clear days when Denali can be seen from the office, it shows pink.  The Chugachs show orange on grey.   The colors stand out like any good sunrise or sunset on any day, they just go on for hours.

With hope, I can appreciate it as the days become shorter, but we will see.

 

 

Ready for a Good Night Sleep

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For most of y’all, by the time you read this I would either have finished or in the midst of the first night sleeping in my new house.  Yeah, I took ownership earlier in the week and stuff was moved in on Friday, but I didn’t have it set up for me to actually live here until today.  Bedroom had to be painted (it was lavender before, and that wasn’t going to cut it).  Once that was done, the bed had to be set-up.  Here’s the funny thing about my bed.  I bought it the first weekend of the first job out of college. Not counting the temporary place I had the last couple of months, I have slept in that bed in four of the last five homes/apartments I have lived in.  BUT, I haven’t slept in the full up bed since 2001.  See the box spring never fit up the stairs in my home in Kansas, so I threw the mattress down on the floor and made due.  Setting it all up today was like going back in time to my days living in Wisconsin or in that first place in Kansas.  It includes a dresser and mirror, and that mirror hasn’t seen the light of day since probably the 90s.

But its kinda nice to have a room “done”.  I mean, I still need to put stuff on the wall and make it prettier, but that bedroom is the only one without crap loads of boxes or cardboard all over the floor.  It wasn’t like that this morning, but in a few hours of work the thing was transformed and ready for sleep.

So I am sleeping here tonight, setting the alarm early.  Have a 7am meeting, but I expect to have a mad dash to find clothing, bags, and stuff to make it through the first day — its going to be chaos I think for a bit.  I have alot of work still left to do around this place, far from being ready for anything.  But the transformation will be pretty cool over the next two-three weeks.

First of all, I have new furniture coming Thursday.  I was chatting with a guy on Friday night at McGinnleys whom I have chatted with on and off for the last couple of months and told him about the house.   He said “New house?  You are going to need new furniture.”  Turns out he works at Treeform, a good furniture store in town (second largest and soon to be the largest, specializing in Amish built).  I stopped by there Saturday and he pulled me back to the “orphans” section.  I spotted a 5 piece soft leather living room couch/recliners there that I loved – he said it was returned because the buyer didn’t like how the stitching lined up from chair to chair.  Regular price $6000, I got it for $1950.  There was this rustic wood bookshelf there too that was one-third the price because it has a bit of a wobble (I got a $5 pad that will take care of that).  All and all, $8500 worth of furniture delivered for under $2500.

Picked up a new TV as well, which was dropped off today and will get mounted next weekend by the Geek Squad.  Put a few pieces I should have offloaded in Kansas onto Craigslist to sell, and am waiting for some bites on those.  Went shopping for loads of stuff around the house.

Most of all, I started picking things up for the little bundle of poop coming the first week of November (that would be my puppy).  He’s got a name now,  Aughie (pronounced Aww-gee … like Doggie without the D … or Aussie with a Ga sound … already chanting Aughie Aughie Aughie, Oy Oy Oy).  I am going to Kennel train him, which means when I am at work he hangs out in a kennel … also known as “The Aughie Dome, One pup enters, One pup leaves”.  But I want to have the house in order for when he arrives.  In part because I don’t know if he will tear things apart lying about – but more so I just want to impress him.  I am reminded of a Simpsons episode where they got a new dog, and Homer wore a tie to impress the dog … that’s kinda what I am feeling like.

Anyway thats it … kind of a rambling blog tonight, but I’m tired and am ready to go to bed.  Night y’all.

Enter the Bear Den

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This morning, the great transition of moving into my home turned up a few notches.  The movers arrived to unload the stuff that was packed up in Kansas way back on August 2nd.  For the most part, they have left me to unpack everything, but it was good to actually start spending time in my new house and see what is ahead of me.  Like any time in a new house, I went through and looked for any goodies left behind (of note: a V-8 Engine Block and a Transmission) and start looking for the work that is needed to make it better.  Then I also spent WAY too much money on things today that I think I need — like, nearly a paycheck of money today alone (of course, most of that was one thing, but still).  Hopefully by the end of the weekend I will have three things accomplished:
1) Paint the bedroom – it’s a nice lavender color, but  … dude … I’m a guy.  I ain’t gonna be sleeping in no lavender bedroom.
2) Set up the bed & bedroom.  I want to be “living” in house by Monday.
3) Take pictures so y’all can see the place.

Secondary Goals:
4) Find the color for the paint for hallway, cause it needs some touching up, and to put on a whole new coat (or new color) would mean painting half the house, including the vaulted ceiling.
5) Set up “Aughie Dome – one dog enters, one dog leaves” …  That would be the kennel where my new puppy will whine continuously because I left him alone all day.
6) Launder all clothing
7) Wash every dish
8) Figure out how I am going to make up the “Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium” (aka Guest Bedroom)
9) Take pictures of everything that goes up on sale on Craiglist
10) Put all the crap that I shouldn’t have brought with me to Alaska on Craigslist

But I am in, and that’s what is important for now.

Tonight I am sleeping in the apartment, mostly so I can waddle down to the bar tonight, then stumble back without having to get a taxi to the southside.

Tomorrow I get to work on the stuff that needs to be done, and if I regain whatever crazy work habits I got when I cleared out my Kansas house I shouldn’t be that bad off.

 

The Next Big Thing is Small

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A few minutes ago I made the next big change to my life happen.  While the decision was one that took a long time to make, it can be summed up by a statement made by Jenny McDonald (aka Jenny Poopie):

“Every good house needs a good dog, which means a new house needs a puppy.”

I just committed myself to becoming a new owner of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  This began late last week.  A co-worker, Mickela Lamb, pestered me a bit about a puppy she heard about.  She’s going to get her hands on a pup herself next spring when a litter comes along and she will be in a better place to keep it, but the breeder had some pups they were looking for good homes for.  Since I mentioned I kinda wanted a dog and the house was about mine … she sent me this:

Mickela and I swung by on Saturday to meet the little guy, his parents, his breeder, and just get me started with loads of questions.  He isn’t weened yet, so he is still some time before he is ready for me to take him.  Which is good, because I need time to get ready — like read books, buy stuff, and get myself dog ready.

The pup is a pure bread Staffordshire Bull Terriers (or staffies). If you google them (here, let me:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staffordshire_Bull_Terrier) you find staffies are sort of like pit bulls but not in any bad way.  They are athletic and sturdy, bigger than wussy toy dogs but smaller than big sloppy things.  Where they differ form pit bulls is their attitude … differ alot.  The breeder told me “don’t expect them to be a security dog, because they love all humans … even strangers trying to break into your house”.  They are social and want human attention.  They like other dogs but can be trouble around dogs looking for trouble.  Breeder again said “they don’t start fights with other dogs, but they are determined to finish them”.  The trick is going to be making sure I make the time for him.  Most of my research was trying to figure out what would happen if I leave town and who could watch him.

For the record, I don’t have a name, and will have to think of one quick.  Tomorrow (ironically immediately after I pick up the keys to my new house) I show up and finalize the deal, and spend a bit of time with him.  He is weening still, and won’t be able to pick him up for a couple weeks.  I may get some bonding time over the meantime, when I can at least.  As it turns out, I am going to wait until after going to Lake Geneva for Cousin Ted’s wedding … and will pick him up on the anniversary of the invention of the flux capacitor & the day Guy Faux tried to blow up the English Parliament (depending on how much you know me … you will get what this day will mean).

So, that’s the next big decision.  It was quite big for me, but … as it turns out … the big decision was for something quite small.

Mine!

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I signed my name 21 times today and initialed my name another 22 times.  With all that scribbling I finalized the sale of the house.  It’s Mine now.  I was asked throughout the day if I was excited, and to be honest I am not sure why I wasn’t.

The house buying process is like it is anywhere.  Search a while, put down an offer, go back and forth on details, go back and forth with the bank, sing loads of paperwork, and its all done.  Nothing really to get excited about if you ask me.

I get the keys tomorrow when the sale goes on record.  I don’t think I will be in a hurry to grab it.

Things will probably turn come Friday, when the movers arrive complete with all the stuff that has been in transit or storage for 3 months.  I’ll be able to start setting up the cool stuff I want to do … the wireless internet, the satellite TV, the Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium (aka guest bedroom) … but then again, I will have time for that.

But with a firm handshake to the son of the previous owner, the house is now mine.  Turns out there is mail waiting on the mantle … my mantle … with my name on it (the mail, not the mantle).  As the guy was telling me, I realized that I didn’t even know what my mailbox looks like.
Meh … all part of the fun.

For the record, if y’all want to google spy on me or just sign me up for spam — my new address (effective immediately):

Mitch Nelson
1350 W 78th Ave
Anchorage, AK  99518

Winter hasn’t Won Yet

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Winter isn’t here yet, but its advance team is definitely in town.  Saturday, I had a loaded day of errands to run.  Many had certain appointments, spaced just wide enough that I had to kill time in between each one – so gaps were filled with hikes & geocaches.  In the early afternoon, flakes were starting to move in.  During that time I was on the east side near the Mountain View neighborhood and knowing that it was a bit cooler and a bit more snow likely up there I took that as the source.  As the day continued, there was more and more, and it was getting time for me to head down to the southside.  By late afternoon, it stopped being a nice dusting, and started become a good snowfall.

To be honest, it was one of those snowfalls you don’t mind, and maybe even like.  It was thick, fluffy, and sticking to everything.  There was a consistent layer of it all on all surfaces.  There wasn’t patches of piles, no ice patches, no heavy winds blinding you — it was just the nice coverage you think about when you think of Christmas.

For most of the morning on Sunday, the snow stood its ground – but failed to keep as the day’s sun came out.  The snow in the mountains may stick it out now (the termination dust on the peaks last month we were expecting to stick through the winter fell victim to the heavy rains of the last couple weeks), but it was pretty clear this stuff wasn’t going to stay.  We think there will be a few more flurries this early part of this week, but colder temps later in the week may make that stuff a bit more permanent.

In some ways, I am ready for it, some ways not.  Those errands I ran — a coat that can stand the cold more than the wet and snow tires (I went for the regular snow tires, not convinced the need of studs).  I also picked up the payment I make tomorrow to close on my house.  But this cold that comes later this week?  That’s about when the movers show up to move me into the house.

So as much as I liked the snow on Saturday, I could take the snow holding off just a little longer.

 

Pagentry, How I Miss Thee

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About a week and a half after I accepted the offer to come up here, I had to send an e-mail that was hard to swallow.  There were a lot of things I was willing to give up for the opportunity to live and work in Alaska, but there is a part of my life so important that it has been influencing my decision making since 1997.  The e-mail was sent to the executive team of the Central States Judges Association (CSJA).

Depending on how well you know me, you either know exactly what I am talking about, kinda know what I am talking about, or about to learn more than you ever wanted to know about me.   Ever since 1997, I have worked as a high school marching band competition adjudicator exclusively for the CSJA and have been a proud member since 2002.  For a given show, it would be my job to evaluate a marching band’s performance against a set criteria and give a score, which combined with other judges who for the most part are looking at different things than I, contribute to an overall score.  These competitions are practically nation-wide (not Alaska, but will get to that) and over the years I have judged in 11 different states (not Kansas, which is a whole different story). I had looked for competitions in Alaska, but haven’t found them – but when I go to High School football games I don’t even see a half time show, so not surprising there isn’t a circuit (that and there are only about 30 high schools state wide, which doesn’t help).

I got my start doing this shortly after I stopped touring with Drum Corps — which is a more advanced summer version of your high school marching band competitions.  When I toured with drum corps, I did so for seven (and a half … ish) years, two years as an instructor in Michigan (and half year in Wisconsin … ish),  before marching – three years with the Colts (from DU-BU-QUE, Iowa) and two years with the Cadets (who at the time were the Cadets of Bergen County (NJ) now from Pennsylvania).  Prior to that, sorta, I marched in my high school band back in The Du.  Why do I point out this resume?

Well, the e-mail I sent was to tell the CSJA that I would need to take this year off.  From what I could expect during my first marching band season while in Alaska, I won’t have vacation until February, I didn’t know how I could sneak down to the lower 48 yet, and I needed to be focused on finding a house.  This meant that for the first time since 1984, I would not be involved in the marching band circuit.

It’s really hard to describe to you how difficult this was to come to this conclusion, because its hard to describe to people outside of the activity what the activity means to those of us in it.  When you marched, you became part of something that was truly greater than the some of its parts.  You learned more about yourself than you could ever learn on your own.  It’s effect left me energized every time I see a show.  My heart beats faster, my body can’t stop moving, and I don’t sleep well that night.  I can be a passionate guy, and nothing makes me drip with positive passion like marching band shows (good or bad – they always get me going).  Judging was just the gold speckled super milky chocolate icing on the mint chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake.  I would sit up in the best seat in the house, have the kids perform to please me, and all I had to do was give them ways to do it better next time.  We got paid, but I never made money doing it, I would even take jobs at reduced rates just so I can work.

The timing of this all was tough too, because last year was easily my best year.  I judged some great bands, judged some great shows, and judged with some great people.  Not only that but I was good.  Let me restate that  … because if you know anything about me, you know I am my worst critic … but I can tell you, last year … I Was Good!  I was feeling it like nothing else and living for each show and each band.  In fact, when I interviewed with BP, my season just finished and I almost walked away to say no just so I didn’t miss a single chance to judge again.

It’s the people too that I miss.  CSJA is a judges guild, intended to be the way schools can get high quality judges for their shows, and we don’t have to worry about finding the gigs to work.  It’s a business, and people make business decisions that cause break-ups and politics, so I can’t mistake it for a family.  But we are quite fraternal.  Some of the people I have judged with are some of great friends – friendships that extend well beyond any other business relationship I have been in and well beyond judging.  These are people I am unafraid to hug, unafraid to check on, unafraid to be there for if I am ever needed.  We went through a bit of a rough year this year, and I am a little happy I missed the politics, but I miss the people dearly.  I can go on forever about those folks – some of you are reading right now — like I am sure Dick Turner is reading this while sitting on a toliet somewhere, and I want to remind Jerry Robertson about that day in Catoosa when we got the show in, and Knapp would probably want to ask if I had a margarita anytime lately like he remembers (but I don’t) me having in Greenfield.  Come tomorrow like many days during this season, I am going to look up on Facebook all those folks out there judging and I will have to miss them — knowing they will be doing what I love to do.

I tell myself every Saturday this last couple months that this is just temporary.  I am going to damn well try to make it temporary.  But if any of you out there get to do a show between now and the end of the year, I ask three things from you:

1) Don’t Suck

2) Make them cry

3) Take a walk down to the 50 yard line, take in a deep breath, raise your hands to the air and call forth:
BRING ON THE PAGEANTRY!