September 5, 2008
This was our last morning on the Healy. After a final massive breakfast in the mess hall, we packed our things, cleaned up our staterooms, and gathered in the science lounge for "the big wait." The helicopter can only take three people, plus their gear, at a time, so it is a very slow process. Finally my name was announced and I headed down to the flight deck, put on a "mustang suit" and off we went. The ship was only a few miles off shore, so it was a short ride but exciting nonetheless. I was lucky and got a seat in the front next to the pilot, so I have some great video footage of Barrow as we came in.
Once back on dry land (strange to feel earth beneath one's feet after a 3 weeks at sea), we threw our gear into a van and were driven out to our accommodations, a sort of ramshackle building that they call "The Polar Bear Theater." No one I asked seems to know why they call it this, since it is not a theater at all but a kind of dorm with about 10 bunk beds, kitchenette, and a couple of bathrooms, so that moniker shall remain a mystery. An interesting place, though, with floors that slope dramatically in one direction and walls that seem to have an opposing notion of what "up" means. This kinds of throws your balance off, which is already being sorely tested by the adjustment from a rocking ship to a stable earth, and I find myself wobbling around when I'm in here like a "drunken sailor." But, it's warm and keeps out the polar bears (in spite of its name.. or is there something they haven't told us?), so I'm grateful for a place to crash tonight.
One last adventure: Neil (one of the scientists on our team) started asking around to see who wanted to join in a little "polar bear swim" in the Arctic Ocean before dinner. Though the majority (demonstrating a greater display of intelligence) politely refused, three of us opted in and, grabbing towels, headed down to the beach for a plunge. We set a few requirements... it would only count if you went completely under... and then stripped down to our suits and made the plunge. I don't really have words that can describe this (at least not ones that I can write without getting into trouble), but with the water and air temp hovering in the mid 30's it was quite a shock to the senses. Unfortunately, my glasses fell of in the water, and after a few feeble and desperate attempts to dive down again to feel around in the turbid water for them, good sense and impending hypothermia drove me back to the beach and I gave them up for lost. I suppose it's worth it just for the story I can tell!
A lot of people gave a lot of time and support to get me up here, and I want to thank them all. The ARMADA Project folks, Larry Mayer and his science team, all the Healy crew, my administrators and district folks back at Meadowdale Middle School, and my family all bent over backwards for me to come up here and do this, and I am forever grateful to you all for the opportunity to have this amazing and enriching experience.
Tomorrow I jump on a plane and head home, which is not much to write about, so this will be my last entry. I hope you've enjoyed reading this journal as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Signing off from North of the Arctic Circle, Steve