Mel Fiel's Diary
Icelandic Glaciers
August 21-September 4, 2003


Friday, June 27, 2003
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Monday, May 19, 2003
Saturday, May 17, 2003
Friday, May 16, 2003
Thursday, May 15, 2003

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Wednesday, May 7, 2003
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
Monday, December 30, 2002

Related Sites


Friday, June 27, 2003

While watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament, I heard the following Rudyard Kipling phrase quoted: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same...” The officials that run the Wimbledon tournament interpreted Kipling’s quote as an attitude in which to face both triumph and defeat with the same enthusiasm.

What makes us human is that we participate and understand that being a part of events is the true adventure. In defeat, it’s not that something so grand was lost; the reward is the adventure of attempting to achieve something on a grand scale. Such is my case. I deemed the reward as an environmental trip to Iceland. But in actuality, the reward is participating in the pursuit of a goal. The importance is not that the goal was met, but that the path to the goal was taken. So for me, my path toward the goal of Iceland has ended abruptly, but the reward was the pursuit of that goal.

Life put me in one of these unusual situations when a broken leg abruptly ended an adventure of a lifetime to Iceland. While playing softball on an Alcoa company league, I was backing up the centerfielder catching a fly ball—too closely, it turns out, as he inadvertently stepped on my shin. As his foot pressed against my shin, I heard the bone pop. As I fell to the ground, my first thought was I just broke my leg. My second thought was, how long would it take to heal? Members of my team picked me up and carried me to the bench and then to the car, and a cohort drove me to the hospital. Twelve hours later, I was in surgery. The next morning, my doctor stopped by to give me the news.

The doctor told me the worst case was three months in a long cast with another three months in a short cast. The best that I could hope for was four weeks in a long cast and another three weeks in a short cast. I knew that I could not hobble through the backcountry of Iceland. My adventure was over.

I have never broken anything in my life. I do enough adventure sports that I could see myself breaking something, but not breaking a leg while playing softball. It’s totally unbelievable. I backpack, ski, and climb, all of which could cause me to break something. But not softball—softball is a safe sport.

I received numerous calls from friends saying, “Mel, the first thing that I thought of was your Iceland trip.” My typical response,”That’s exactly what I was thinking of while lying on the ground.” I can’t be upset at the loss of a trip of a lifetime. It’s actually interesting that I have become a statistic. I was the one who broke his leg and could not go. Still, lying here in bed looking at my 15-pound (6.8-kilogram) cast, it’s unbelievable. It was a great opportunity, and I enjoyed the preparation. I was down to purchasing one item—the tent. Everything else for the trip had been acquired, so the tent purchase can wait.

One adventure traded for another. I traded the Iceland trip with learning to get around the world on one leg. This new adventure is already opening my eyes to challenges that I had never realized nor understood. So, I will treat triumph and disaster with the same enthusiasm. For all of those who are taking their own journey, I wish you the best of luck and that your experience allows you to grow as an individual.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Working out my itinerary. I am up against the proverbial "I want my cake and eat it, too." I am signed up for Boy Scout leadership training, a class that I have waited two years to take. The class is supposed to encompass management skills and self-awareness, which is training that I could use. This means that I have to make it back to Pittsburgh on September 4th.

The morning of the 4th, I am in Iceland out in the field. That morning, we drive back to Akureyri, arriving at 9:30 a.m. Akureyri is in the northern part of Iceland; the airport is on the southern side, a nine-hour bus trip away. In order to make it back to Pittsburgh on the 4th, I have to fly from Akureyri to Reykjavik and from there take a cab to the Keflavik International Airport. From the Keflavik Airport, I fly back to the United States. I have to take additional flights in the U.S. to finally get back to Pittsburgh at 10:00 p.m. The probability of losing my luggage is high–I better insure it. The other issue is that there is no time to take a shower. Fifteen days without a shower. I am sure people sitting beside me on the flight will be happy.

Monday, May 19, 2003

I completed the backpacking training trip. I went on the trip with the expectation of working on my endurance while carrying a load on my back. The weather forecast was clear, highs near 68º Fahrenheit (20º Celsius) on Saturday and 78º Fahrenheit (26º Celsius) on Sunday—just a perfect weekend for backpacking.

We arrived, and it was a little colder than expected—the temperature was 54º Fahrenheit (12º Celsius). The sky was cloudy with a breeze blowing in from the north. We hiked the five miles (eight kilometers) to the campsite. As we neared the camp, the sky became more overcast. By four o'clock, the fog set in and a misting of rain began coming down. The temperature remained near 54º Fahrenheit (12º Celsius), and I was thinking that this was great since it was very similar to the description of Iceland's weather.

We cooked dinner in the rain, and I got to test out my rain gear. It rained throughout the night, and the tent faired well except when I got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. I kept a water bottle with me in my tent. After taking a drink and before I could put the top back on the bottle, it slipped out of my hand. The water ran downhill, which was in my direction. Quickly, I reached for my old socks and used them as a sponge to wipe up the water. Fortunately, only the bottom of my pad got wet. If my down sleeping bag got wet, it would have been a cold night.

We woke up to 47º Fahrenheit (8º Celsius), fog, and a slight mist of rain. The weather remained the same during breakfast and the hike out. The trip paralleled nicely what I could expect in Iceland. My equipment held out, and I got to add gloves to my list. There is a US$400 tent that I have been thinking about, but I better not tell my wife.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

I planned another backpacking trip to train for the Iceland trip. Several Boy Scouts are going to accompany me on this trip. We plan to backpack two days for five miles (eight kilometers) each day. My backpack weighs a little over 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms). This will be a great trip to get me ready for the two-mile (3.2-kilometer) hike with equipment that I am expecting to take each day on the Iceland expedition.

This is the third trip that I have taken to this part of the Laurel Mountain Trail in Pennsylvania. During the first trip, I had to call for a rescue because my son poured hot water on his foot instead of on his dinner. He was unable to walk the five miles (eight kilometers) back to the car. So, I learned how to use 911 (emergency phone number), and I was able to put my first aid training to good use. In relating this experience back to Iceland, it's important to understand the possible dangers since we are going to be five hours from the nearest hospital. The two most likely places to get hurt are walking and cooking, and we are going to be doing a lot of both activities.

Friday, May 16, 2003

I started to think about personal objectives and goals. I want to ensure that my participation aids in the research and that I use my skills to maintain a safe environment for the individuals in my expedition. Also, I want to make sure that I am a good representative for Alcoa. This trip is something that could be physically and mentally demanding, so it is important that I develop my attitude prior to the trip. My hope is that I experience Iceland in a way that it molds my personality and becomes a part of my personal history: how I helped improve the environment in Iceland. 

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I continued to search for information on Iceland. I previously purchased a map and a book. I realized that there is not a great deal of information available on Iceland. It's just not the normal tourist destination. Not knowing everything is half the fun.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I got the Hepatitis A vaccination and did not have any ill effects from it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

I was just about to make my travel reservations but did not do so because my departure date was not clear. The published date is that the expedition is over on September 4, but over meant being dropped off on the north side of Iceland. I still had to work my way back to the southern side of Iceland and the Kefavik airport. I could have been stuck in Iceland for a week if I missed my flight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The entire office group is developing an interest in my trip, which I had hoped would happen.

A clarification was delivered to me today. We have to be on the north side of Iceland on August 21 instead of the southern side. If we miss our connection, we apparently could be stranded on the southern side of Iceland. I am glad Earthwatch sent out that clarification. If not, I would have been stranded on the other side of Iceland.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

My family and I took a backpacking trip to Mount Rodgers, the highest point in Virginia. Since I just purchased some new equipment for the upcoming Iceland trip, I decided to test out the equipment. I looked great. The only drawback was it started raining. Since I was wearing all of the high-tech clothing, which my family didn't have, I had to stay out in the rain and cook. All the other members of my family headed for the tents. The weather was what I expect in Iceland—40º Fahrenheit (4.4º Celsius), with a light misting of rain. The equipment worked great, and I know that I won't freeze while in Iceland. The success of my equipment elevated my excitement about the upcoming trip.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Since I had not heard anything about being selected, I sent a message yesterday thanking the environmental group for allowing me to submit an application. Thirty minutes later, I received a message saying I was in. Yeah! I have just been selected for the environmental trip of a life time.

A lot of things went through my mind, but the vision I just could not grasp was Iceland and the interior of the country. So I went to the Earthwatch web site, and there was a picture of the area where we were going to do our research. It looked like a green mossy section of Venus, not Mars. Venus is a little nicer than Mars. The picture was of a massive washout area with towering, layered black-mud walls—similar to a dark chocolate 1,000-layer cake, with the middle section of the cake torn apart and lime green sprinkles as icing. Put the cake in a smoke filled room and you have the picture of our research area. Did I mention the words rain and snow are possibilities? Cool...I get to visit my favorite outdoors store to buy new neat stuff.

Neat camping stuff is part of my life. You can't go anywhere while doing research without dressing the part. I may not be a doctor in research, but I can at least look the part while carrying 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) of equipment to support the effort. Part of the mountaineering philosophy is that there are set importance levels for any expedition, climb, or hike. First, you have to look good, and second is that you have to eat well. Everything else will fall in place. So, off to my favorite camping store. At the store, I talked to the owner's son and found out that Fred, the owner, has been to Iceland.

I set up an appointment to talk to Fred. My hopes were that I would need super durable Gor-Tex® pants, space-age fiber shirt and a cool hat. I met with Fred, and he told me Iceland was a great place; probably the nicest place that he has ever been. Thinking what he was telling me was too good to be true, my excitement increased. Finally, he crushed me when I asked him what equipment I would need. He said, "You already have everything that you need." But I replied, "I am going to the middle of Iceland, just about 300 miles (482 kilometers) off the Arctic Circle." He said, "No, you have everything that you need. You have the rain suit, you have the pants, you have everything." Seeing my disappointment, he finally thought of something—a heavy-duty pair of pants. I thought great, now we are getting somewhere.

So, I went away to do research on heavy-duty camping pants. In my clothes research, I began to think Fred was the person who took me camping in the middle of a snowstorm with three feet (0.9 meters) of snow on the ground. Prior to the trip, this person said, "You have everything that you need." Ah ha. After the self-realization that I was grossly under-equipped and ignoring the advice of Fred, I put together my Iceland equipment list:
  • Quick-dry shirt
  • Quick-dry pants
  • Zip-off-leg pants
  • Climbing pants
  • Quick-drying shorts
  • Two long-sleeved shirts
  • Three front zip wicking* t-shirts
  • Two regular zip wicking t-shirts
  • Five pairs underclothes wicking
  • Two wicking fleece
  • (insert type) raincoat
  • Leg-zip rain paints
  • Sleeping bag
  • Gor-Tex boots
  • Gaiters
  • Tent
  • Pocket knife
  • Compass
  • Map of Iceland
  • Toothbrush

*Wicking means quick drying

I am sure this list will change as I get closer to the trip and after I weigh the load.

Monday, December 30, 2002

We were asked to fill out a series of questions describing why we were interested in participating in the Alcoa Environmental Fellowship Program. After a great amount of deliberation, I submitted my application.


Related Sites


Glaciers

All About Glaciers
This glacier site for everyone contains links to glacier research, projects, and glaciological organizations.
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Types of Glaciers
Learn about the different types of glaciers.
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Glaciers: Clues to Future Climate
A PDF file of an out-of-print publication from the U.S. Geological Survey
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Earthwatch Institute


Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.
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Icelandic Glaciers Expedition


Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.
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Fire and Iceland


A photo and video expedition of Icelandic volcanoes and ice fields by National Geographic Magazine.
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Glacier Monitoring in Iceland


Technical information about Icelandic glaciers from the United States Geological Survey.
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