Mel Fiel's Diary
Icelandic Glaciers

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Monday, August 16, 2004
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Saturday, August 14, 2004
Friday, August 13, 2004

Thurday, August 12, 2004
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Monday, August 9, 2004

Sunday, August 8, 2004
Saturday, August 7, 2004

Friday, August 6, 2004
Thursday, August 5, 2004

Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Monday, August 2, 2004
Sunday, August 1, 2004

Saturday, July 31, 2004
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Friday, April 9, 2004

Thursday, February 5, 2004

Related Sites

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I've completed several presentations, and the trip was published in my local paper and in the Alcoa corporate newsletter. This will be the conclusion of my published journal entries, although I will continue to maintain a personal journal. The journal has been a great way of capturing the moments.

With everything that I have gone through the past year—broken leg, stroke, and topping off the year with breaking my hand while out on the Icelandic expedition—people have asked me what have I learned or how have my experiences changed me?

Life changes are subtle, like water carving a canyon. The forces of the water continually change the canyon, but to the passerby the view is the same. Similarly, the influences over the past year have changed me, although the changes are not quite visible to the casual passerby.

The adventure of a lifetime has mellowed me, even though I still feel my sharp edges come out from time to time. I am still quick to discipline my children, and in other cases I'm a little more forgiving and understanding. No longer am I demanding improved performance. I learned to be happy with what individuals have accomplished, not driving them for additional improvement but allowing them to progress at their own rate. I have been less anguished about the future. Above all, I have seen the value of setting goals and keeping your sites on those goals. Because even though you may not reach the goals, the journey is just as important as the goal itself. Both the journey and goal define the person.

I have had the opportunity to complete a great adventure, and along the way I have seen people's generosity, their compassion for their works, and, above all, I have seen the value of friendship and family. I have had the good fortune to participate in a corporate program where improving the Earth's environment was the only objective.

Is this the end of my story or rather the end of another chapter? Will all of the chapters of my life be this adventurous? Most likely not. But, there is always satisfaction in the achievement, and as long as you make the attempt, there is hope that you will achieve your goal. I hope that you all set your own goals and that all of you enjoy the journey as you strive to achieve those goals.

Monday, August 16, 2004

I had planned to stay a little bit longer in Iceland, but with my hand broken, I felt that it would be a good idea to head back home. Andy gave me a ride to the airport since he wanted to make sure that I had help with my bags. We left around 10 a.m., and the weather was clear. It turned out to be a nice drive back to the airport. The drive in had not been good since the views of the countryside were obscured by the rain and fog, but today there were views of the towering moss-covered mountains the color of limes. Each mountain had a minimum of three waterfalls. The strangest waterfall had the water spewing from a hidden cave, dropping several hundred meters, and disappearing into another hidden cave.

As we drove, we talked about the research and geology of Iceland. Andy explained to me that he expected several papers from this research to be published in the next few years. Some of the benefits of this research will describe the processes of glacier floods in the areas where we studied, and another paper may be written on ground-penetrating radar and its uses in glacier flood areas.

I was fortunate to have this opportunity to ride with Andy to the airport, where I could talk at length about the different volcanic formations. He was able to point out the volcanoes and explained the volcanoes' effect on the landscape.

The three-hour trip went quickly. When I arrived at the airport, Andy helped me with my bags. I picked up my ticket and we shook hands and said goodbye. I thanked him again for allowing us to help him with the research and for the enjoyable time I had working with his team in the field.

As I boarded the plane, I realized I would miss the hard work and being out in the field with my research team. After having the opportunity to see Iceland, I now realize it is a great place to go on a vacation. Hopefully, I will get to return on day knowing that there is one thing that I will need to bring—lots of money.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Since my injury was considered minor, I was able to finish off the research project. On Sunday, we packed up the main tents and stored the equipment for its trip back to England. With just one good hand, I was only able to assist a little.

We completed packing around 4 p.m., and then we began cooking our final dinner—two legs of lamb. We had a small party to celebrate our accomplishments, and Andy gave a presentation on the research that we accomplished. I was amazed at the amount that I learned about the geology and geography of Iceland.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Today is 65° Fahrenheit (18° Celsius) and our last day in the field. Everyone's spirits were high today, with a lot of joking and laughing as we began our fieldwork.

The first task of the day was to clear a hillside, and we were taking pictures and filming the activities. It took us several hours to complete this task. After lunch, they needed volunteers for the radar, and I was given the option to watch the radar group or help dig in another area. Even though I was tired, I did not want to appear that I was lazy, so I decided to go help dig. Of course, I also knew that no one was jumping at the chance to dig.

I thought it would be more efficient to begin at the top of the hillside and work my way to the bottom. Leon, another researcher, was assisting me with the task of clearing the hillside. I was almost finished with the top section, having only one more spot to reach and clear. I stepped a little closer to the edge and leaned over to clear the area. No sooner had I put the weight of my body on my left foot than the hillside gave way. I slid down the two-yard (two-meter) rock and sandy slope.*

At the bottom of the slope, I rolled once and put my hand down to stop my roll. The force of my body bent my fingers back, and immediately I had a sick feeling in my stomach. My hand was hurt, but I felt that it was nothing serious. I attempted to shovel some more, but it was too painful. I walked over to Andy and told him that I had fallen and hurt my hand. He asked me if there was any swelling, and I said a little. Andy felt that we should go get it checked out. He asked Maryann to go with us. While in the car, I said that I know what a broken bone feels like, and this did not hurt enough to be a broken bone. Andy still insisted we get it checked out. He made a call to the clinic, and the doctor told him that she would meet us there.

We drove to the clinic, which was only 20 minutes away, and the doctor drove up shortly with her husband and baby. She was young and not exactly what I was expecting. Upon entering the clinic, we removed our shoes and left them at the door, which is customary in Iceland.

The clinic appeared to be adequately equipped to handle most emergencies. The doctor asked what had happened, and I described the events. She took a look at my hand, noted the swelling, and suggested an X-ray. She commented, ""Sorry about the equipment. It is old, but it works, and I know how to use it."" It took five minutes to develop the X-ray. After examining it, she said that I broke my hand but it is minor. She took me to another room where she put a splint on my hand. We were in and out in a couple of hours, and the total cost was only $50. I guess there are some benefits to socialized medicine.

*Candid reporting of any perceived concerns regarding safety helps support continuous improvement in safety. Alcoa refers any such reports to Earthwatch for investigation and, if required, corrective action.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Today it was 56° Fahrenheit (13°Celsius). It still feels warm out, and a stream of fog is blowing between the mountains. We found out later that the fog is generated by warm air rushing over the ice caps. From the glacier and east of us, there is a thick line of fog blocking the coast, yet in the interior of Iceland it is sunny and clear. It reminds me of a scene from the movie King Kong, where the researchers could not see the island due to the fog that blocked their view.

The work in the field was hot today. Everyone is trying to enjoy his or her last few days. Personally, I am beat. As we return to camp, the campsites are filling up with Icelanders for the weekend ahead. Some are beginning to play loud music that is a mixture of Icelandic country music and American pop. An Icelander told me that country music is the rage.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The temperature was 68° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius). We don't need to worry about hypothermia today, but we packed extra water to prevent dehydration.

The fieldwork is more of the same—radar and surveying. Today, visitors interrupted the monotony of the fieldwork. Icelanders allow their animals to run free during the summer months and then round them up and bring them to the lowlands for protection before the harsh winter season. As we drove out to the work site, we saw four horses off in the distance. As we drove closer, the horses began to gallop toward the trucks. As we passed them by, the horses looked curiously as if to say ""why don't you stop.""

We continued to the research location, and we did not see the horses again until around lunchtime. They started walking toward us and then stopped several hundred meters away. We attempted to call them over. They would walk a few steps and then stop. We continued to do this until we had reached our trucks to get our lunch, which we ate while watching the horses.

One team member decided to approach the horses. Instead of galloping away as we had expected, one horse moved toward the individual. So, we all went up to the horses and began to take photographs. We tried to share an apple with the one of the horses, and surprisingly he passed it up. We then walked back to the trucks, and the horses followed. The horses stayed around through the rest of lunch break, and occasionally they would try and nibble on the truck. We really didn't think much about the strange diet of the horses until, when returning later, we noticed the teeth marks on the truck. They seemed to enjoy the rubber around the windows, leaving chunks of it missing. After Andy saw the damage inflicted on his truck, he said if they return we will need to chase them away.

After returning to camp, we noticed the other people who were camping near us were in bathing suits and sunning.

We sat in our dining tent and had dinner. I looked through the window at the mountains and saw clouds forming. I said, ""It looks like it is getting cloudy again."" But nobody believed me until Nigel opened the tent door and said the fog was coming in. We all got up to look, and by the time we got out of the tent, the mountain we had climbed the day before was completely covered in fog and a tidal wave of fog was heading toward us. Within 10 minutes, the camp was covered in a thick fog. It was a perfect setting for a horror movie. One minute it is warm and sunny, and the next it is cold, damp, and foggy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The temperature is 62° Fahrenheit (17° Celsius), and the wind is from the southwest. It was our second day off, and it is actually a nice day. Most of us spent time washing clothes and cleaning out our tents. We also decided to take a quick trip up the mountains behind our tents. The hike was very nice, and we were able to see the two ice caps nearby. We had a nice lunch, and it was a truly relaxing day—the first one we had.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The temperature this morning was 65° Fahrenheit (18° Celsius), the warmest day yet. This was the first day that everything was dry when we awoke. We went to the new research site, and by this time we were experts on the equipment and got started right away. We took a long lunch and naps on the moss and black sand. I noticed from my thermometer that close to the ground was 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius). When I stood up, the temperature was a very comfortable 60° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius).

We were told that if we would radar another kilometer area, we would take a trip to the glaciers. Everyone agreed. We all hopped into the trucks, excited about the trip. Before we got to the glacier, we stopped on a hillside and were ask to dig several holes before continuing our trip. We spent several hours digging holes and were ready to leave when Andy decided to jump in one of the holes to take a look. We realized he would have spent the rest of the evening in the hole if not for one of the researchers reminding him of our journey and telling him that we would meet him by the trucks.

We finally made it to the glaciers. They were towering three-storey ice blocks with black stripes running through the ice. Opposite the glaciers were thousand-meter moss-green mountains. The whole area looked surreal, as if something out of a fairy tale.

Monday, August 9, 2004

Today it is 61° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius). Finally a nice day! We had time to lay out our wet clothing on our tents before heading out to the research site. The research was the same as before, and my task today was to be on the radar team. The next day we would move to a new site, so we packed up the equipment a little early and made it back to camp for an early dinner. This gave us time to walk along the beach and watch the puffins fly. Spirits were high due to the nice weather.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Today it is 55° Fahrenheit (13° Celsius). Back to work! We went out early this morning with the wind blowing from the north off the glacier. The field area would be colder than the shore temperature of our camp. We were forced to quit around 1 p.m., giving us time to go to the local restaurant to order fries. After eating the fries, we decided to blow off the camp dinner and order dinner from the restaurant. It was great sitting in a warm place eating hot food. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will improve.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

It is 56° Fahrenheit (13°Celsius), and today is our day off. I did not realize that we were about to embark on a horrendous hike. It started off raining, so I took the time to go into town and pick up a few postcards, asking everyone to wait for me to return. As I returned from town, I ran into the group heading my way. I had left my lunch on the table back at camp, and they had picked it up for me.

We started up a 765-yard (700-meter) hill. The trail was easy, but the climb was steep. We stopped frequently to remove jackets and excess layers of clothing. Once we reached the top, the wind began to blow and there was a slight drizzle. We made our way to the cliff, where there was an overlook. Once we got there, we noticed seabirds and puffins flying up to the cliff's edge. Once the puffins noticed us, they became interested in what we were doing. They began to fly closer but just out of our reach, protected by the 328 yard (300 meter) drop to the ocean below. Everyone was excited to see the puffins, which have funny-looking orange and yellow beaks. Their flight appears awkward and has a tendency to cause you to laugh as you watch them fly. They would fly within a few meters of us, turn and look at us, and then quickly fly off. Their little wings made flight look as though it would not be possible, but they used the strong winds off the face of the cliffs to enhance their flight.

We continued hiking over the far side of the mountain. We hiked to the road below in hopes there would be a restaurant. To our disappointment, there were only farmhouses and a road leading to the beach. We continued hiking to the beach. As we made it to the beach, on the right of us was a huge cliff with a hole in it large enough for a plane to fly though or a ship to sail under. To the left was a cliff face with unusual geometric rock formations. Later I found out that when lava hardens, it naturally forms these six-sided columns.

We walked toward the rock face to get a better look. It appeared to be a cave, so we decided to explore this area. It was interesting that as we walked closer to the rock facing, the sand turned into small round pebbles. The closer we got to the cliff, the larger the rocks became to the point where they were small egg-shaped rocks. It turned out not to be a cave entrance but a large indentation where the sea and wind had weathered the area.

We sat under the overhang and had a peaceful lunch. It was just our group looking out over the ocean and a border collie that had followed us in attempt to mooch some lunch. We were sitting there eating our usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when an individual walks in our sight, obscuring our picturesque view of the ocean and geological backdrop. Another person then entered our view and another until there were several hundred people on the beach enjoying the view but blocking ours. One in our group started complaining about the tourists, and we chuckled because we were pretending to be Icelanders enjoying lunch with our adopted dog.

I noticed a couple of huge waves, which any surfer would love to catch, heading toward the beach. I mentioned to the others in my group, ""Look at those large waves!"" As the waves crashed on the shore, we heard screams of excitement and panic. About a dozen of the tourists had gotten too close to the shore. While engrossed in taking photographs, they were nearly swept away with the tide. All survived but will have a wet journey home. We decided to leave, and we walked past the tour buses that had dumped the hundreds of tourists that had obscured our view and spoiled the serenity.

We walked up to the trail that led back to the mountain, and several in the group stated they would prefer to walk around the mountain and not over it the way we had come. Although there was some dissension, we decided it would be best to stay together and began the walk on the road around the mountain. As soon as we began to walk, a cool breeze began to blow as if to indicate that we had upset some Icelandic mountain god. Then we began walking down the road, and strange things started to happen. The horses, sheep, and cows that bordered us on both sides of the road began to take notice of our trek. As we walked, the cows—one after another—followed us and were halted by the fence that separated the pasture from the road on which we traveled. Each cow then lined up along the fence as though they were waiting for a photo opportunity. Several members of our group took pictures, but unfortunately I had run out of film.

We continued our journey as the wind began to increase its velocity. A slight rain began to fall. Elanir said, ""That's hail mixed with the rain."" As I felt the sting of the ice pellets hit my back, I realized he was right. We continued to walk for several kilometers in a steady rain. Finally, we made our turn onto the main road and then the weather worsened. The steady rain became a heavy rain with strong winds. Elanir attempted to flag down a truck and only got a cheerful sound of a horn for his efforts. As we continued down the main road, you got the feeling that many of the cars wanted to stop to pick us up, but our group was too large. So, we continued on the journey. At this point, the rain was too heavy to describe. Our waterproof gear was wet both inside and out. My right boot was saturated with water, but I was pleased that my left foot was toasty warm. This made for an awkward gait as we traveled on.

After walking for several hours and with the town finally in sight, Rob decided to light up a cigarette only to find that the rain was still too heavy to get his lighter to work. After trying several times, the cigarette broke from the butt, leaving only the humorous sight of Rob holding a lighter with nothing to light but the butt.

We made our way through the town to the sanctuary of the hut, joking about how we would write of this adventure in our journals. One suggestion, ""How about we hike up the mountain #@# . Puffins #@#. Let's go around the mountain #@#. Hail #@#. Home at last.""

Friday, August 6, 2004

Temperature today is 55° Fahrenheit (13° Celsius) with gusting winds and rain. We are remaining in camp today since the researchers are afraid that the vehicles will get stuck. They told us stories about vehicles in this type of weather getting blown over.

Fortunately, our tents are still holding up. Some of the tents are leaking, but luckily not mine. Even with that said, everything is damp in all the tents, including mine.

We took the time to walk around town and went out on the beach, which proved to be a mistake. We ended up getting sandblasted by the black volcanic sand. We then went to the grocery store and the tourist center, trying to determine what we would do on our day off this coming Saturday. We found our options were limited, so we decided we would take a hike.

While at the grocery store to pick up snacks, we start to realize how expensive everything is. I purchased a bag of chips and an apple, and it cost around US$4. It was still raining when we returned from town, so I retreated to my tent to write, read, and take a nap.

When I awakened, I went searching for the rest of the group and found them huddled together in the 20-by-20-foot (six-by-six-meter) hut the researchers had rented to house their equipment since the tent had been destroyed. You learn a lot about people if you spend three hours in a small confined space with 11 individuals. Kim, as you know, is a teacher in New York City and is in her early twenties. She came to Iceland on a corporate educational grant. She teaches at a bilingual school and speaks Cantonese and Mandarin as well as English. Rob is from London, and his bank is sponsoring his trip. The same bank is sponsoring Elanir from Brazil and Tatiana from Moscow. This bank sponsors 500 Earthwatch fellowships per year. Maryann is a fellow Alcoa employee from Australia, and Terry is the lone person who personally funded her fellowship. She is from Arizona and works for American Express. This is her fourth Earthwatch adventure. She uses the volunteer experience as a tax write-off, which means the cost of the fellowship and her travel expenses are deductible.

The rain stopped at 7 p.m. Vik has the most rainfall in Iceland.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

It is 53° Fahrenheit (12° Celsius). It rained this morning, and once again it cleared before we reached the research site. There are two teams set up today. One is the radar team, and the other is the survey team. I was on the radar team today and will be again tomorrow. We learned that Saturday will be a day off, and I need a day off.

The wind is blowing so hard on the site today that several times I lost my footing. Occasionally we were pelted with small pieces of gravel picked up by the wind. If you want to see how your camping equipment holds up to weather, this is the place to test it.

The background is beautiful, but the environment is harsh. This is definitely not the picture you see in the brochures. The people on the team are compatible, and even with the harsh weather and hard work, we are enjoying ourselves.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

This morning it was 56° Fahrenheit (13°Celsius) and light rain. The rain quit before we reached the research area. The individuals who did the radar scanned 1.2 miles (2,000 meters). I was on the survey team, which gave me a break from the radar.

I am still tired from the previous night's sleep. It rained so hard it sounded like we were at a football game and the home team had just scored. Several of the tents in the campsite were destroyed by the weather. Fortunately, none of our sleeping tents were damaged, but the equipment tent was damaged to the point that we had to take it down.

Today, everyone was noticing a sulfur smell from the glacier area. This caused concern, because we did not want to be in the area when there was an eruption. We talked to Andy, and he felt it was due to the ice releasing vapors during the melting caused by the torrential rains.

I am feeling good today; so far no problems. I hope and pray that I remain in good health. The work and the environment are all very demanding. I should sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

We woke up to a light rain and 55° Fahrenheit (13°Celsius). Breakfast was cereal, and lunch was a choice between peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches. Breakfast and lunches would remain the same for the next 15 days. Dinner consisted of canned beans, canned vegetables, and whatever else could be mixed in a pot. The food wasn't great, and some days were better than others. Enough said about the food.

We were all outfitted in waterproof cold-weather gear, and it was a 20-minute drive out to the research site. As we drove up to the site, occasionally the weather cleared and allowed us a view of the Myrdalsjokull (ice cap/glacier). Most of the day clouds hid the glacier, but when it was viewable, we could get a feel its size. It is massive, about 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) in length and between 109 and 328 yards (100 to 300 meters) in depth. The glacier was formed from years and years of snow piling up on Katla—the volcano under the glacier. The glacier is formed similar to pouring cake batter in a pan. As the batter piles up, it spreads out under its weight. As the snow piles up on the glacier, it is squeezed out through the mountains.

On our first day of research, we were given hardhats and then proceeded to walk down a 22-yard (20-meter) sandy hillside that was composed of soft black pumice. As you walked down the hill, your foot sank up to your shin in the pumice's sandy grains. We were looking for layer features that could be used as a reference for later work. You could see layers in the sandy hillside, and this is what the researchers were interested in understanding. We cleared several meters of the pumice, creating a vertical section. The researchers took notes on the section and photographed it as well. We did not comprehend what they were doing until we climbed back up the section and were introduced to a new piece of equipment called the ground-penetrating radar.

The ground-penetrating radar was a device that we slid across the sander plain, which is a relatively flat area created from a glacier flood's deposits of pumice and rock. The planes are vast and have added hundreds of miles of coastline to Iceland. We were to use the ground-penetrating radar to generate cross-sections of the sander 22 yards (20 meters) deep. The cross-sections captured by the radar were equivalent to digging a trench 20 yards (20 meters) deep across the area that we surveyed using the radar. The researchers were using the exposed area as a reference point for the ground radar.

We were instructed on how to use the radar, and the radar unit was placed on a sled that we used to pull across the sander. We set up 218-yard (200-meter) ropes in a straight line. The ropes had a mark at half meter intervals. We were to pull the sled to the half meter mark and then say ""okay"". At that point, another person would push the radar scan button, and that section would be scanned. We proceeded to scan the sander area. By the end, we had scanned 6.2 miles (10,000 meters), saying okay at every half meter. This radar task became monotonous after awhile. The weather turned bad, so we called it a day.

Monday, August 2, 2004

I was up bright and early this morning to make my way to the bus station. I lugged my 100+ pounds (45+ kilograms) of supplies down to the cab, and the driver took me to the bus station.

I was the first of the group to arrive at the station. I had breakfast and coffee and then watched as hikers, tourists, and Icelanders made their way into the station. There are a large number of male and female campers getting ready to board the bus for their destinations. It turns out that camping is a favorite pastime for both Icelanders and Europeans.

Slowly, the other Earthwatch volunteers arrived. Several of us had gotten together the previous night for dinner, so we had no problem hooking up. The bus left the station and headed down Highway One, which goes around the island. Highway One was completed in the 1970s and has opened up tourism in Iceland. Prior to the completion of the highway, there were sections that were dirt.

After you get out of town and pass the flat lands of Iceland, you enter into the volcanic mountain ranges of the south. The ranges are covered in a lime-green moss, and through the haze they look like something out of a fairy tale. The mountain skyline was dotted with waterfalls, and in some places there were several waterfalls within several miles of one another.

Maryann, the other Alcoa employee, had sat beside me on the bus. I realized afterwards that, in my excitement, I had talked nonstop for three hours.

We arrived at Vik, the rendezvous spot, shortly after noon, and Andy Russell, the principal investigator, was waiting for us. We took our bags and loaded them into one of the Range Rovers, and the staff drove us just across the street to the campground. The campground was only 200 yards (183 meters) from the gas station. This was convenient, giving us access to a local restaurant, grocery store, and medical facilities that would prove to be important later in the week.

At the campsite, we pitched our tents, which were heavy-duty, four-season ones that could withstand a pounding from bad weather.

After throwing our things in the tent, we had a meeting where Andy reviewed the objective of the trip and safety concerns while working in the field. Following the lengthy briefing, Andy drove us to one of the glaciers to review the type of work we would perform at the sites. Everyone was very excited to see his or her first Icelandic glacier.

He took us out on the glacier, and it was not as I had expected. The ice was covered with dirt and sediments from previous volcanic eruptions, and the glacier did not dump into the ocean as you often see in pictures. There were large ice caves where water spewed from beneath the melting glacier.

Most of Iceland's glaciers are receding. Even though they have periods of surging forward, very few dump into the ocean. Andy explained that during our stay in Iceland, we would be studying the sediments from the glacier. These sediments were deposited by the glacier due to volcanic eruptions beneath its surface. The massive mounds of ice, the river of water spewing from beneath the glacier—the visual stimulus was overwhelming. We took some time exploring the site and then returned to the camp.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

I had a free day before leaving for the research area. I could not decide whether to take the golden circle tour due to the 9,000 krona expense. Since I might not get another opportunity, I decided to go on the tour.

The tour started out visiting geothermic-heated greenhouses where bananas are grown and exported. We went on to the spectacular Gillfoss waterfall and then the geysers. A safety rope is the only thing that separates you from the two geysers. I touched the water runoff from one, and I had to quickly take my hand out of the water because it was very hot.

Finally, we stopped at Thingvellir, where the mantel of the earth is exposed and where both the American and European tectonic plates meet. Thingvellir is historic for Iceland, since it's where the early Icelandic people spoke the Icelandic law. In early Icelandic history, the law was not written; it was recited.

The golden circle tour was worth the cost and time.

Saturday July 31, 2004

I managed to meet one of the other Earthwatch volunteers— Kim, a New York schoolteacher—at the airport in Iceland. Hopefully, we will hang out together. It's always more enjoyable to share an experience with another person.

I arrived in Iceland with no incidence, but it was difficult to find the customs agents to get my passport stamped. I ended up following the crowd around the airport and turned a corner, and there were the customs agents. There were two lines—Europeans and citizens. The European line was shorter, so I went through that line. In retrospect, I should have gone through the citizens line. I'm still not sure why, but when you leave the country you have only have one choice—the citizens line.

After making my way through customs, there was one sign in English for baggage. I continued down the long terminal hallway and eventually found my baggage. Next, I exchanged U.S. dollars for krona. The rate was 71 krona to one dollar, and I did not grasp what that meant until later.

I ran into Kim by the bus to Reykjavik, which cost 1,200 krona. We made our way to Reykavik and had plans to hook up after we dropped off our bags at our hotels. As luck would have it, we were not able to get together later that afternoon. Apparently, Kim's check-in information was incorrect, and we were not able to get together until the next day. I decided to see some of the sites on my own.

I paid some of my 2,000 krona to get a ride to the blue lagoon. I got off the bus and walked down a long path cut through a lava field. I went in the front entryway to the blue lagoon. I changed into my bathing suit, not realizing I forgot something important—what time does the bus return? It was around 54° Fahrenheit (12° Celsius) with a cool breeze blowing. The walk to the water was quite cold. As soon as I stepped in the blue-green water, the temperature contrast was extreme. Finally, I was able to step in the soothing water. I stayed in for several hours. I enjoyed the waterfall massage and taking part in rubbing silica over my face and allowing the silica to dry. After being exfoliated and rejuvenated and picking up a few souvenirs, I made my way to the bus stop.

There were no buses going back to Reykjavik, and all of the signs were in Icelandic. It took about 30 minutes and asking several passing bus drivers to found out when the next bus to Reykjavik was. I was told 6 p.m.; therefore, I had an hour's wait. I took the time to talk to a young lady from Sweden. What I learned from her was that a lot of Europeans go to Iceland for the summer to work. Iceland is a safe place, and because of the exchange rate, a person could make a decent summer income.

The bus arrived, and I made my way back to Reykjavik for dinner. I found a small restaurant that served rancid shark and puffin. The shark was good, and I had a glass of Black Death to wash the shark down. Black Death is a liquor that clears your sinuses as you drink it. I also had puffin, which tastes like steak. I was expecting a chicken flavor, but puffin is a red meat.

After dinner, I walked around Reykjavik. The city was just beginning to become crowded, and I looked at my watch. It was 12 a.m.. I thought it was 8 p.m. because it was still light out and, of course, my internal clock was still on U.S. time. I made my way back to the hotel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

In case you were wondering, the neurologist approved me to travel to Iceland. When I went to the neurologist's office, I was expecting a battle. But the neurologist took a look at the medical form and said sure, no problem, you can go. I was shocked the doctor was actually encouraging me to go. What the doctor did for me was to save me from a deep depression; also, I was very happy. It was ironic that his daughter had just spent spring break in Iceland. She went there to see the northern lights and had just recently returned back to the states. The doctor's daughter's trip gave the doctor an understanding that Iceland was a modern country, and it would be safe for me to go. My only restriction was that I couldn't go scuba diving. I don't think that I will be very disappointed if I have to pass up scuba diving in Iceland. Back to the part of not being depressed. Instead of being depressed, I am walking four miles a day and lifting weights. I have come a long way from only being able to walk down the hospital hallway to now being able to lift 20 pounds and walking long distances.

Here it is three days before I leave, and I would like to thank everybody who has assisted and followed me through this journey. I thank Pat Atkins, Alcoa's program sponsor, who I had to call last year to let him know that I broke my leg and could not go on last year's trip. Kelly O' Toole is another person that I would like to thank. Kelly is the diary editor, and she has edited all of my entries. During my difficult times, she sent me e-mails that helped keep my spirits up. Also, I would like to thank my fellow employees who covered for me when I was out, and my family, who suffered with me through all of my injuries and my sickness.

This has been more than an experience. It has been a quest--a quest of overcoming pain and hardship, which I don't care to repeat. If asked, I would go again--but I would do it a little differently. I would skip the broken leg and stroke. What I find interesting is that I am just like everyone else--capable of making it through difficult situations to achieve a goal. This is not the end of my journey. I am just at a point of completing a goal. After I return, hopefully I will be able to share my adventures in Iceland. With this adventure almost complete, I look forward to living a long life and experiencing other adventures.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Once again, I am on the bubble. Will I ever get to go on this trip? This one is up to God.

Last year, I missed going due to a broken leg, and if my fortune could get any worse, this April I began to feel some numbness in my left arm. I knew that I was scheduled to go to Iceland; so, I decided to go to the doctor to get checked out. Little did I know that the events were beginning to fall in place where I was about to embark on an adventure where I was going to learn about the importance of family, friends, and what it means to be the best company in the world.

At the doctor's office, the doctor thought that I pulled a muscle in my neck and scheduled me for an MRI later that month (an MRI is a devise that takes a scan of the body). That night, I had a more significant episode with numbness in my left arm, so my wife and I went to the emergency room. The emergency room doctor thought that I may have had a stroke and wanted to admit me to the hospital. But my personal physician thought that I was too young to have a stroke, so they sent me home with an aspirin and scheduled me for an MRI the next morning.

The next morning, we went to the hospital, and all of the tests were completed by noon. The technician told us that we could go and get something to eat in the hospital cafeteria, and he would find us when the results were in. We had a nice lunch and went back to the waiting room. As we came out of the elevator, we met the technician. He told us that the radiologist had seen something, and my doctor wanted to admit me to the hospital immediately. The technician put me in a wheelchair, and an escort came and took me to administration. Administration would not tell us why I was being checked in, but we overheard the person saying on the phone that I had had a stroke. We were shocked. The realization finally hit that something serious was wrong.

Up in my room, my personal physician came in to tell me the results of my test. She said that there were signs of stroke, but they did not know why. She said that it could be multiple sclerosis or a stroke, but they were going to run a Doppler test to check out my heart and the arteries in my neck to help determine the cause.

The Doppler technician came in and took pictures of the blood flowing through my neck. Then they wanted to check out my heart by shooting bubbles through my veins. While I was hooked up to an air syringe, I asked—won't air in your veins kill you? They said, oh no, this is only a little bit of air. Then the person handling the air syringe said "ready shoot," and he shot a syringe mixture of 10cc of air and saline solution in my veins. I looked at the Doppler screen, and I saw thousands of tiny bubbles shooting through my heart. It looked as if as if someone had blown bubbles in the air and a strong wind had taken them quickly away.

Shortly after the Doppler test, my physician came in and said that my right artery in my neck had a blockage and I needed an operation to remove the blockage. The doctor was very happy about the diagnosis, although I was not very happy about the prospect of having an operation on my neck. I was to be transported to another hospital that had the facilities to do the operation.

On Friday, April 16, I was transported to Mercy Pittsburgh and scheduled for the operation on Monday, April 19. My parents and sister-in-law, all from Virginia, drove up over the weekend, and my mother-in-law visiting her son in Alabama cut her visit short and flew up to Pittsburgh.

The operation was scheduled for Monday morning, and the escort came for me at 10:00 a.m. Around 1:00 p.m., the doctor spoke to my wife and said the surgery had gone well. He said I would be in recovery for several hours and that she should wait in the room where I would return. My parents came to the hospital shortly after my surgery was over, and they and my wife were in my room waiting for me to come out of recovery. They waited nervously for more than four hours until a nurse came up to my room and told my wife that she was wanted in the recovery room. So, my wife and parents all went to the recovery room.

I was in the recovery room, and everything was going great. I could move all of my fingers and toes. Everything seemed to be going well. I was feeding myself some ice, and I noticed that I could no longer hold the spoon. I began to lose control of everything on my left side. I did not know what was happening; all I knew was that I needed to see my wife.

My wife came in and held my hand; tears began to run down the side of my face. She quickly calmed me down. My parents, who were not supposed to come into the recovery room, came in anyway. My mother and father stood by my side, and the tears quickly formed again. The doctor later informed my wife and parents that platelets were covering the walls of the artery that had just been cleared of the plaque that was blocking the blood flow, and I had to have a second operation.

I was taken back into the operating room. As I drifted off, I could hear the doctor giving out commands like a pro quarterback (football player). I was reawakened around 8:30 p.m. Later, I found out that my wife waited three hours after the second surgery before going home just to make sure that another blockage did not form. Also, I found out that four of my friends from work were there that Monday night. I don't think that they will ever know how much my wife and I appreciated them being there.

A company is not just about its bottom line. It's about its people and how those people respect and care for their fellow employees. There was nothing for my coworkers to gain by their visit. They only came out of concern for my well-being. At that moment, when they all arrived at the hospital, Alcoa was the greatest company in the world. I will never be able to thank my friends enough for being there that night when my family needed them the most.

I remained in the hospital another week, and the care that I received by the hospital staff was exemplary. My wife visited every day. My sister-in-law, who is a nursing instructor, was there to help me recover. I received numerous cards from work and phone calls from people that that I had not heard from in years.

I am out of the hospital now. I survived. I do not know if I will make the Earthwatch trip. There is still very little control in my left hand, but it is slowly getting stronger. I typed this entire journal entry with my right hand.

Even if I don't make it on this trip, being a part of this program was the reason that I went to the doctor so quickly, which may have saved my life. It's been an interesting two years, and I'm glad to be here to continue on with life's adventure.

Friday, April 9, 2004

Now that spring is here and my winter training is over, I would like to recap my experiences.

It's a long road to Iceland, but winter was the only time to test out my equipment and my resolve to living in the Icelandic wilderness. Early in February—177 days before my trip—I took the opportunity to do some winter camping. I went with my Boy Scout troop to simulate some of the conditions that I might experience in Iceland and to test the equipment that I planned to take on my trip. During my training experience, I learned a little more than expected.

We arrived at the camp Friday night. It was warm for Pennsylvania, at a cool 38° Fahrenheit (3° Celsius). The road to the camp was completely covered in ice; it was hard walking to the campsite. The scout troop had rented a cabin. Although tempted to stay in the cabin, I felt it necessary to practice for the upcoming trip.

On the first night, I planned to tarp camp. (A tarp is a plastic blanket that can be set up as a makeshift shelter.) It was difficult finding a location to set up my tarp. I picked a spot on a hillside beside a tree. My plan was to dig a hole in the 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow and lay one tarp on the snow and use another tarp as the shelter. I tied a rope to the tree and ran it out, securing it with a stake. Then, I threw the second tarp over the rope to make the shelter. I had eight aluminum stakes that I had planned to use to secure the sides of the tarp. As I tried to put a stake in the ground, I realized the ground was frozen. I could not push the stake into the ground. My solution was to push the stake in as far as possible, pack snow on top of it, and stomp on the snow to pack it on top of the stake. After packing the stakes in the ground, my shelter was complete.

There I was, lying down in my sleeping bag with a pad under it. I realized that I did not smooth out the snow enough. I was lying on large, snowball-size bumps, and I couldn't flatten them out because they had frozen. (Learning experience #1: Prior to sleeping in the snow, flatten out all bumps). Later that night, the temperature dropped, and the snow beneath me turned to ice. I was awakened by the motion of my body sliding inside the shelter down a slight slope and being stopped by the snow wall that I had built. I no longer could sleep in my original spot. All attempts to move to the original spot resulted in me sliding back down into the snow wall. (Learning experience #2: Pick a level spot.) I resituated myself and fell back to sleep.

When snow is around you, everything is still. When sleeping in the snow, sounds are absorbed by it. It was a very peaceful night. Later on, I was awakened by the sound of wind and a tingly feeling on my face. The tingling feeling was pleasant and felt like crisp, cool sparkles touching my face. I went back to sleep. I was again awakened by the tingles on my face, but this time I opened my eyes and realized that I was in a snow storm. The tingling feeling was snow blowing in under my tarp shelter and hitting me on my face.

At this point, I thought about running to the cabin, where there was a nice warm fire. But I was in training, and I decided to stick it out. I built up a snow wall that blocked the snow from coming in my shelter, and I moved as far as possible from the opening in my shelter. (Learning experience #3: Set up a better shelter.) Soon I was back to sleep. I woke up at 7:00 a.m., nice and warm. Looking up, I realize that my shelter had, for the most part, fallen down but was still protecting me from the snow. I carefully climbed out. Over the night, several inches of snow had fallen and covered the tarp. Under the weight of the snow, the tarp all but collapsed.

With all that I learned the first night, I set out to build a better shelter for the next night. I first took a short stop in the cabin to warm up.

I built a three-sided snow shelter using the blue tarp for a roof. The shelter looked like a box with a blue top. The walls were two feet (0.6 meters) high, and I closed in most of the opening. This night, everything appeared to be going well. The floor was level, and the enclosure provided better protection from the elements. Later on in the night, though, the temperature dropped. It became so cold that I had to get up and put on my extra clothes. Afterward, I was warm again, and the night went uneventful. When I got up in the morning to put my boots on, I could not get my feet into them. My boots were frozen solid. There was no way I was going to get my feet into my boots. (Learning experience #4: At night, loosen up the shoestrings on my boots.) Luckily, I carried an emergency pair of insolated booties. I found out later that the temperature went down to 6° Fahrenheit (-14° Celsius), which was much colder than I would expect in Iceland.

Let's recap what I learned. The ground freezes in the winter, making it almost impossible to put a stake in the ground. Don't set up on a slope in the snow; you could find yourself sliding down the side of the hill. Take the time to build an adequate shelter; you don't want to wake up in a collapsed shelter. Open up your shoe laces at night; you can never tell when your boots will freeze. Finally, carry your booties on all cold-weather camping trips; you can never tell when you will need them.

Winter is over, and my cold weather training is complete. Spring is here, and I will need to focus on my physical fitness and learning about Iceland.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

Second time is a charm? I can't believe it. Once again, I was selected to participate in the Alcoa Earthwatch Fellowship. Last year, my journey was cut short. Prior to ever getting the chance to go to Iceland, I broke my leg in a freak softball accident. Instead of representing Alcoa in the Earthwatch Icelandic environmental program, I spent the next six months recuperating from my broken leg.

A good friend from work who is from Bangladesh put every thing in perspective when he said, "All you can do is plan and hope everything works out, but sometimes life takes you in a different direction."

Once again, I am going to plan, workout, and prepare. What am I going to do differently this year from last year? Before I do anything, I am going to pause and think "How can I do this safely?" Then I am going to go for it. I am not going to slow down; in fact, I am going to speed up. I gained a lot of weight after my accident, and I've got to get back in shape. For starters, I'm going to go out with the Boy Scouts on a winter survival trip. I'll let you know how things go.


Related Sites


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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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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Photo Gallery


View the images from Mel Fiel's diary.
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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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