Archive for August, 2009

August 7: A Quick Math Lesson

Posted in Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 by siberia2009

140 kilograms. That is the magic number.

We have 140 kilograms of rocks, plus or minus a kilogram here or there, and Priority Number One is getting them home to Boston. In previous posts, we have verged on sappiness in describing our affection for each and every sample that we have taken. These feelings could be compared to the first few hours after taking a new puppy home. Our feelings have now shifted to those subsequent days when the puppy pees all over the rug and chews up your expensive leather couch. Getting the samples was the relatively simple part. We now have to get them home.

We are currently staying with Volodia and his family in Moscow. The transit from Khatanga to here was a blur of lifting and lugging: for the past four days we have been carrying boxes of rocks (plus the rest of our gear) up and down staircases, in and out of trucks with no brake pads, and to and from decrepit, rear-loading, ham-sandwich-filled Soviet airplanes. Volodia’s apartment is on the 18th floor. Thank you Mr. Otis for inventing elevators. Volodia’s building has one of your original prototypes.

Volodia’s excellent apartment, despite our efforts to be good guests, is rapidly filling up with the expanding sample-packing operation we have set in motion.

Roma and Volodia have spent many hours obtaining the necessary permissions and documents for us to take “some” “basalts” out of Russia. These documents total 8 pages, with some very impressive stamps. They indicate that we can take roughly 8 kilos of rocks apiece:

    8 for Seth  
+ 8 for Ben    
16 kilos of rocks

16 … does not equal 140. However, as we have learned at MIT, the square root of 144 is twelve and twelve is obviously less than sixteen. Since most of the samples are slightly squareish in shape, and the difference between twelve and sixteen is four, which is the number of bags we can each check… We think we’re golden.

In order to convince Russian customs of this, we have decided to do a bit of creative packing. This afternoon at the flea market near Volodia’s building, we cleaned out the inventory of a surprised duffel-bag vendor. We kept setting aside the duffels we wanted to buy, and the vendor, thinking we only wanted one and were just leaving what we didn’t want on the floor behind us, kept replacing the duffels on the shelf. Finally we conveyed to her that we really wanted to buy all of them.

Ben (waving his arms to indicate English was about to be spoken): No no, we want all!
Vendor (looking incredulous): Щто? (What?) Da?
Ben: Da.

For a very good price, we became the delighted owners of six new sports-themed duffel bags. Our ingenious plan is to fill each bag with equal parts clothes and rocks, hoping that our smelly t-shirts will mask the presence of just a few paltry rocks as well. Volodia thinks it’s an excellent plan.

At the airport in Krasnoyarsk... Roma is waving, and you can barely make out Seth's Giants hat behind our mountain of baggage.

At the airport in Krasnoyarsk... Roma is waving, and you can barely make out Seth's Giants hat behind our mountain of baggage.


Now that we’re back in Moscow, we’d like to extend a last big thank-you to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who for the past month has been the link between us writing this blog in the field and you reading it on the internet. Thanks a million Lindy!


August 3: Fat and Happy–Hurricanes Ben and Seth Slam the Port City of Khatanga

Posted in Uncategorized on August 3, 2009 by siberia2009

Wind-driven chop on the Maymecha River, near 71.2N, 99.4E, in Arctic Siberia

Wind-driven chop on the Maymecha River, near 71.2N, 99.4E, in Arctic Siberia

Today we have eaten four bars of chocolate, two fat-heavy packages of Russian ham, a brick of orange cheese, two bundles of string cheese, dried fish (shaped like a stick), salted raw fish, boiled chicken, four cubes of white sugar (on Seth’s tab), pasta cooked until mushy, Pringles, one liter of Orange Fanta, two liters of Baltika beer, one liter of Sprite, one box of cereal (with milk), 23 baranke (hard bread rings), one loaf of slightly stale bread, one jar of pickles, and a box of passionfruit Tic-Tacs. If the stores in Khatanga were still open, the chocolate, Fanta, and string cheese tallies would probably rise, despite the churning, violated feeling in our stomachs right now.

Five days ago, we finished our last full day of geology. That was July 30. The next morning, we woke up to the sound of heavy rain and strong wind against or tents. Despite the wind and rain, we had to start paddling. 100 kilometers downstream, a diesel-powered freight boat would be waiting for us on the evening of August 2nd. Our job was to get there by then, regardless of conditions.

Ordinarily, 100 kilometers on a fairly big river wouldn’t be much of a problem (especially for a cadre of strapping, well-built, chisel-jawed geologists such as ourselves). But the water level on the Maymecha is lower than locals have ever seen it, meaning there is very little current. The combination of no current and a relentless headwind meant that when we didn’t paddle hard, we were pushed back upriver. In the long open stretches, the wind-chop was up to two feet and breaking over the bows of our Siberian Sloops. Progress was miserably slow.

Volodia likes to finish the majority of a day’s paddling before stopping for lunch. As a result, we paddled from about nine AM until five PM before pausing for lunch and then continuing on until ten. After two days of this we had covered only slightly more than half the distance to our goal. For breakfast on the morning of August 2nd, we ate literally the last of our food: two packages of powdered soup mix and a can of corn. Then we shoved off, knowing that we couldn’t stop until we got to that boat.

At seven in the evening, we arrived where we thought the freight boat should have been waiting. There was no boat. We kept paddling.

Ben: Is that a boat? I think that’s a boat…
Seth, in a hunger-agitated state: No!!! It’s another &$#@ing rock!

In Ben’s defense, there were many boat-shaped rocks. Finally we spotted the actual freighter anchored in the distance. Roma and Anya, on the cataraft, towed us the last kilometer and a half with the staggering power of their 3.5 hp Tohatsu motor.

Seth: I think this deserves a Yeeee-HAW!
Ben, attempting to make a Yee-haw: Eeeeeuuuuuuwwaaaoooo!

We packed our rafts, loaded our gear and samples onto the freighter, and shoved off for the ten hour trip back down to Khatanga. As soon as we went to our bunks belowdeck, Roma unveiled the sliced ham, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, and cheese that he had asked the boat to bring for all of us. If the crew of the freighter hadn’t been looking on, Seth would have let out another piercing Yee-haw.

Maybe we have made the paddling sound a bit dramatic, and the freighter/food sound a bit euphoric. But seriously–the paddling sucked and the food was incredible.

So that’s how we got to Khatanga this morning. As you know from the first paragraph, the next thing we did was put a hurting on the local stockpile of processed food.

Now we start trying to work our way back to Boston with our precious samples (more on these soon–get excited!). Tomorrow we expect to fly from Khatanga to Krasnoyarsk, then on the 6th from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow, and sometime after that back to the U.S.A.