Monday, April 30, 2007

My bags have arrived!! I am a happy person! I haven't yet checked to see if anything's broken - I don't want to spoil the wonderfulness of having my stuff. They came in the nick of time, too - we're leaving bright and early tomorrow for our home for the summer: Devon Island.

A few more pictures from Resolute:

The devastatingly cute husky puppies, Big Red and Sunshine.

A polar bear print, near Resolute.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

On thick ice

Yesterday, we had some arctic training with Simon, one of the local elders. He has a cheeky grin and an interesting way with words - sort of a cross between Santa and an Arctic Yoda. The training mostly consisted of him telling polar bear hunting stories. One of his pointers was that it's mainly the hungry and/or angry bears that we need to worry about. One trainee asked the obvious question: How can we tell if they're hungry and/or angry? The answer: "You can't. I can, because I've hunted them all my life, but you... [shrug]." The moral: Every bear is a hungry bear.

Simon then took us out on snowmobiles, out onto the frozen bay. I didn't even realize we were on the ocean until we saw the iceberg. Crazy blue.

It was also crazy cold. I need my bags full of winter gear! C'mon, United!!
Media coverage.

The mission has been getting a lot of coverage in the Canadian press (see the official blog for more), but not so much so far in the US. The Honolulu Advertiser has, oddly but flatteringly, published two separate articles on it, and the Star Bulletin has done one. My hometown paper, the Maple Ridge Times, also came through. Thanks, all - it's nice to know that someone is paying attention!
South Camp Inn

Resolute, population 200 or so, has three hotels, giving it a visitors-to-locals ratio as high as Waikiki's. We're staying at the South Camp Inn, a sprawling place with a lived-in feel, more like a multi-generational home than a hotel. Most of the visitors are heading off on expeditions, whether scientific, personal or for public consumption. There are several TV crews here, including one for the UK show "Polar Challenge".

We asked Ozzie, the guy who runs the place, who's the craziest person who has been through - present company excepted. "Oh, no one's crazy," he said. "Everyone has their thing to do, and they do it. We support them all." He then went on to tell a story about a guy who tried to ride a mountain bike to the magnetic pole, but found that the bike kept sinking in the snow, so had to walk it the whole way. I guess crazy is relative.

We just celebrated the last sunset we'll see until August. The sun barely dipped below the horizon, and it didn't get the least bit dark. It's going to be a long day!

Midnight in Resolute:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The happier side of flight.

First Air, unlike UA and AA, provided excellent service evocative of a more romantic and adventurous era of flight: complimentary food and drink, friendly staff, and airports of, um, character. Nanisivik Airport, for example, may be a metal hut on the north end of Baffin Island (thanks for the pics, Ryan), but I'd rather be there sipping hot chocolate than at yet another Chili's in O'Hare.

Our first leg was a three hour flight to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. At the south end of Baffin, it's not exactly a major metropolis, but it is the hub of activity in these parts. The girl sitting next to me on the flight was returning from a shopping trip to Ottawa, but was disappointed with what she found: "It was all pastels, capris and strappy sandals. Not really Iqaluit, you know?"

Although in the south-eastern corner of Nunavut, Iqaluit was already impressively Arctic: bare of trees, covered in snow and cold as hell. Then, four hours north to Nanisivik, and another hour or so to Resolute. Here we're about 2000 miles north of Ottawa, and about 4300 miles north of Hawaii. We're north of everything here - only about 200 kilometres from the magnetic North Pole!
A pox on both their houses.

Both United and American airlines, to put it bluntly, suck.

United got me as far as Chicago O'Hare, that fabled site of travel disasters. The flight was eight hours and neither the food nor drink were free, but that's the state of modern air travel. [Side bitch: Planes are now so understaffed that the flight attendants are no longer supposed to attend to your needs. I got chewed out by a stewardess for hitting my call button for the trivial reason that I needed water but didn't want to wake the girl in the aisle seat.] It was 5:15am and I was exhausted, after several days of packing and moving all my belongings into storage (thanks to everyone who helped!), so I crashed out on a chair. [Side bitch 2: Why can't airports provide seating without armrests, so that it's possible to lie down? I don't think this simple comfort would cause people to rush off for a romantic weekend at the airport.] I woke up, stiff and slightly crooked, an hour before my 8:20 flight, only to find that it had been canceled. Why? I called United to find out.

The United voice recognition system was baffled by the ambient sound of the airport ("I think you said you wanted to reroute your flight to Abu Dhabi. Is that correct?"), but after hollering "AGENT!!" several times into the phone, I got it to connect me to a human. [Side bitch 3: Everyone has relocated their call centers to India, and I'm OK with that. But why do the agents have super-haole names, such as, in this case, "Spencer Roy"? Is there a rash of Indian parents giving their kids mock-Hollywood monikers, or does United give them special company IDs, in the hopes that customers will be soothed into complacency by being able to pronounce the name of the person who is pissing them off?]

'Spencer' explained that the problem was weather in Ottawa (it wasn't: when I finally arrived in Ottawa, it was fine, and the staff there said it had been fine all day), and that I was booked on a flight at 6:40pm that evening, almost twelve hours later. I insisted I needed an earlier flight (I was supposed to be helping with the last-minute shopping and packing before heading up north early the following morning). 'Spencer' said they could book me on an American Airlines flight. There was one at 9:10am, but it was full, so it would have to be the 2:30pm flight.

Wait a sec. The weather is OK for American planes, but not for United?? How'd that happen? And now that I think of it, they canceled the flight a full hour before its scheduled departure - how did they know the weather wouldn't improve? 'Spencer' guessed that United might have wimpier planes, but didn't know.

So, I got on the American flight. My bags, however, did not. Those would be the bags containing all the clothing and gear to keep me alive and sane in the Arctic for four months. We left for Resolute in the morning.

Over the next two days, there were many, many phone calls to American and United. Some highlights:

- "No, we have no way of knowing where your bags are until they turn up in Ottawa." Don't you have computer tracking, like FedEx? "No." What are the bar codes on the tags for, then? "So that the computers know which conveyor belt to put the bags on." Well, can you find out which conveyor belt the bag was on most recently? "No, the computers aren't connected."
- "You're in Resolute? Well, maybe you could just drive to Ottawa and see if your bags are there." (Distance: Over 2000 miles)
- "I'll just message the staff there, and they will get back to me soon, so please call back in an hour or so." This is the third time I've been told this - do you know if the staff there ever read their messages? "They're much too busy to read messages."
- "I'll just call the staff there." No answer. "I'm sure they'll be back soon." What number did you call? "I'm sorry, we can't give that number to customers." Perhaps you're calling the same number I have called ten times over the last two days (613-248-2000 ext 1508) without getting any answer, ever? "Er, yes, that's the same number."

Long story long, my bags are still missing, location unknown, although United "thinks" they probably arrived in Ottawa late Thursday night - which would have been nice to know then, since I could have picked them up before flying out on Friday morning, but at the time they were still insisting that the bags were in Chicago.

So, I'm in Resolute, it's -20C, and I have no winter clothes, boots, gloves etc., not to mention all the carefully packed books, DVDs, food and so on. We leave for the hab on Monday morning. Did I mention that we'll be there for FOUR MONTHS??

Split awards for worst service ever: United and American. Pfft.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Selling my house, buying a house, packing, moving, finishing all my work until September, prepping for FMARS... What better time to throw a Yuri's Night party?? Here's the invitation. Fun, of course, was had by all.

Some pics:

Note the message: "Don't catch a cold!"