#131 Fun Times in the Field

Random sheep near one of the sites at the mine mentioned later.This is a long story but I hope it’s entertaining and instructive. I usually don’t go over 1,000 words and this is one exception.

Last week my PI told me about a project that we have been doing every year for the past couple years. He said it was a photo monitoring project. I’d honestly never heard of such a thing and was intrigued. Turns out the client has land leased from the Forest Service and there are three sites that we are monitoring from year to year. We simply have to go out, take photos in the same direction from certain GPS points and write down any adverse conditions such as erosion, cattle trails, and looting. Pretty simple really. Turns out that was the last simple thing about this project.

We ended up waiting several days for a response from the Forest Service representative giving us clearance to work out there. They wanted us out there prior to October 31st and ended up giving us the clearance on October 29th. Nice. Thanks for the notice.

Since I didn’t know when I’d be going in the field it was difficult to find someone to go with me (for safety) on such short notice. I called someone on Friday whom we have on the books but she never called me back. I called someone on Monday that usually works for us and he said he was never working for the company again. We have someone on the staff that keeps alienating people but somehow he is loved by corporate. It’s truly baffling. I ended up finding someone to go with me but we had to delay to Tuesday.

GMC TerrainThe luck I was having on the project continued at Enterprise Car Rentals. All the company trucks were out so I had to get a rental. We asked, as we always do, for a four wheel drive truck. They had a Hyundai Tucson waiting for me. That wouldn’t do. It’s too small and it’s not 4WD. They had another vehicle, a GMC Terrain, but had to drive me to the southern end of Reno to get it, making me late getting back to the office.

Now, the keys for this SUV are the switch-blade style. That means there is a large remote with a key that flips out with the push of a button. The unit, with the key closed, is large and bulky. Not only that but there were two of them and a large Enterprise ID tag all attached together. They were attached with an impenetrable Enterprise key ring that I usually have clipped. That way I can put the keys in different places for safety. Usually. I didn’t do it this time. That will come into play later in our story.

One of the keys to the TerrainWe left Reno shortly after getting the vehicle and stayed the night in Elko, Nevada. The trip out and the evening were uneventful.

Joan, the Environmental Rep at the mine wanted us out there by 6 am to have site specific training. We had to leave Elko by 4:30 am just to get out there on time. It turns out that the “site specific” training was a sheet of paper with safety topics listed on it. Many of the mines in the area have a three to four hour safety training program. Not this mine. None of those pesky safety concerns for them. No indeed. After sitting at the mine office for over an hour waiting for the sun to come up we headed out to do our jobs.

The Brunton EclipseThe three sites were on the other side of the 125 square mile mine property and took about 30-40 minutes to get to. The first site went pretty smoothly. My colleague was finding the points, taking the photos, and giving me the information which I was keeping on my iPad. As a side note, I had to show him how to use my Brunton Eclipse compass since it’s not initially intuitive but I had a problem. When I was trying to get it to point north, the needle wouldn’t move. Then, I realized that my fingerless mitten-ended gloves had magnets in them. Nice.

The second site ended up having a locked gate on the access road right off the haul road. So, we hopped the gate and proceeded up the road. I realized a few hundred feet up the road that I’d forgotten some reference material and headed back for it. I grabbed the binder from the truck, locked the door, and hopped back over the gate.

We had about a 1,000 m walk to the site over some rough terrain and mostly on a two-track road. We cut through some brush near the beginning of the hike but the rest of the journey went smoothly. Dendroglyph. Likely Basque.The photos at the second site went well and there were some great dendroglyphs as well. The one in this post is likely a Basque production. They liked to carve naked women into trees and peck them onto boulders. I’m not really sure why, although, lonely sheepherders out in the mountains probably made their own fun.

About half way up the steep hill to the truck I realized the keys weren’t in my pocket anymore. We decided to keep going because we figured they fell out when I’d hopped the gate near the truck. They weren’t at the gate. They weren’t at the truck. They weren’t on the road to the site and they weren’t on the site, at each photo point, checked several times. They weren’t anywhere, in fact. We looked for at least two hours and then for another hour when Joan showed back up. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. They were just gone.

In 37 years I’ve never lost a set of keys to anything. My guess is that the bulky keys on the huge key ring must have worked their way up my pocket and been snagged by some brush. The brush likely flung the keys some distance. It’s the only theory that makes sense.

About an hour before we gave up I’d called Enterprise and their Roadside Assistance line. Their first thought was to try to open the doors with OnStar. It didn’t work. We were in too remote a location. Also, they thought the keys might actually be inside the truck. I, as a scientist, could’t rule out the possibility. However, I was about 99 percent sure the keys weren’t in there. Either way, Enterprise said they were sending a tow truck that we’d have to meet at the entrance to the mine and then escort to the truck.

In the mean time, I had Joan drive us to the third site so we could at least finish the project on time. I felt bad enough wasting time looking for the keys that I at least wanted to finish the field work without coming back a second day. We finished the site and Joan took us to the main gate.

After about 30 minutes the guy from the tow truck company showed up. He wasn’t, however, driving a tow truck. He was in a regular truck. See, Enterprise told him to go get the doors unlocked because they were convinced the keys were inside. Ha! Well, we drove all the way out to the truck and he got the doors open. Of course, the keys were not inside. What was inside was the water and food that we’d left. It was about 4pm and neither of us had eaten or drank anything since 5 am. After he got the doors open the tow company owner called his son and told him to bring the flatbed out.

When we’d arrived at the gate I sent my colleague back to Elko and the hotel with the tow truck guy. There was no reason for both of us to stay a few more hours. Also, we had a crew on a different project in Elko and he could hang out with them. I waited another hour for the flatbed to show up. In the mean time I finished the report for the project so all was not lost.

Going up on the flatbed.I ended up getting back to the hotel at about 9 pm after a 16.5 hour day. I felt like crap and never intended to even bill all of my hours for the day. The next day we waited for several hours for Enterprise to get us a new vehicle and we went home. We only made one stop because I didn’t want to waste any more of the company’s or the client’s time. I knew I was going to get flack for this for quite some time.

When I got back to the office we unloaded the truck and put the gear away. I’d learned a lesson about getting those keys separated and will never leave Enterprise without having them separate the keys again. At least I’d finished the report, the photo log, and the photo pages before ever getting back to the office thanks to my iPad.

Since I’d never intended to spend so much time away and since I’d spent an extra night in a hotel I feel I did the ethical thing by sacrificing some of my time to the company. It was only right.

Oh, and they laid me off within 20 minutes of coming through the door. Said the company was restructuring and that my skill set did not fit the future of the office. Jack asses. I guess they don’t need someone that can lead crews, run projects, write reports, is a master at MS Word, is organized, and is not a drunk.

Thanks for sticking through this one and I’ll see you in the field.