Drayton Valley

I spent a week in Drayton Valley and I must admit that it is remarkably similar to Fort Mac; Fort Mac seems to have a wider mix of people (tons of Newfies there) though while Drayton is lots fo oil-loving Albertans. They seem a bit redneck though and everyone drives an overly large truck (my apologies if you know some normal people in Drayton).

Our task this time was to survey  the length of a new pipeline; however, they were putting it in alongside of some existing pipelines so there was not much to see or do. Everywhere that looked like an ideal spot to sink a couple of test pits was either outside of our testing area or were highly disturbed by the pipes already lying beneath the surface. Most of the line we would drive along without bothering to get out of the argo, at least the scenery was pretty though.

As a highlight to the trip, I finally got some training on driving the argo! Sarah would normally do the tricky part of finding our destination then she would let Angie and I switch off on getting us back to the truck. The landscape wasn’t too challenging for the most part but I’m glad to have gotten in a bit of practice. However, I was the one driving the day the argo died (not my fault, honest!). We were driving and then slowly it came to a stop and sputtered a bit and then would move no more. Of course this was the same point that a thunderstorm was quickly moving in, bringing with it intense humidity and mosquitos like I’ve never encountered before. Thus we scooped up all of our gear and had to make a mad dash through the long grass back to the truck which was thankfully only about 500m away This seemed close but without a free hand to discourage the mosquitos I fear I was literally eaten alive (I had almost 50 bites on my right arm alone, they were even biting through my pants).¬† We called the argo supplier and he blamed it dying on the fact that it was a bunch of women driving, resisting the urge to have the man lynched and disposed of we instead drove back to the argo (or at least closer to it), managed to get it started long enough to load it and get out of there just before the rain it.

Sarah really loves nature.

After getting a new argo we resumed our work, which didn’t take us nearly as long as we had hoped, so we found a lovely river to cool ourselves off in for a few minutes. Sarah’s got quite the amazing brain when in the wilderness, she can remember all of the cutlines and forestry roads she’s been on. As we were driving into the area she mentioned the road (a generic looking gravel one between some trees) would take us across two rivers and that one of them would have an old toilet resting in it – she was right. The last time she was in the area was over three years ago. I was impressed, but then again I get lost going everywhere.

The rest of the trip was rather less eventful but was some good experience nonetheless. And now I’ve spent the last few days dealing with the fiery itchiness of a thousand mosquito bites, I’m sure as soon as they heal up it will be fieldwork time again.

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Adventures to the great, wild north – Ft. McMurray

I have made my way north in a giant beast of a rented truck. The ride was only unpleasant for its extreme length – almost 12 hours straight of driving. I enjoyed watching the landscape change though as we progressed north – the rivers seem so much wider, the land rolls and buckles into more hills, endless trees have replaced the familiar fields of wheat and canola. We were surrounded by suicidal maniacs though who persisted in passing when it was definitely not advisable to do so – squeezing between semi-trucks at break-neck speeds. I was informed though that today was ‘a good day’ – apparently they are usually much more reckless. I see now why they call it our most deadly highway.

I realised that in my mind I have pictured Ft. McMurray as an Old West town complete with mud streets, quaint boardwalks, women in hoop skirts, and saloons filled with brawling patrons (apparently I am correct on that last point). Somewhat disappointingly, the town looks like any other, albeit with far more giant motels and hotels, restaurants and diners to support all of the transient workers.

While out at dinner I was briefly left alone at the table. I felt like I was immediately sized up by the various workmen present – I’m not sure if I was about to be thrown over a shoulder and carried off or if they were trying to decide if I had enough muscle to do any decent work. Perhaps I shall avoid late night walks alone though, just to be on the safe side.