So fuel is pretty important to this expedition. We need quite a lot of it – some 650 gallons of gasoline to complete our route. Enough in fact that we cannot haul it and all of our scientific equipment at once. So our plan has been to machine north 350 miles or so with a huge load of fuel to put out then returning to get our science gear. After spending the day pumping out fuel drums yesterday and getting our food and camping gear in order, we were optimistic that we’d head out this evening.
This morning, however, when we started the machines, they were running very poorly. In fact they were really not running at all. Back into the shop they went for evaluation, where we eventually noticed that a few drops of splashed fuel from them was not evaporating. Cold weather gasoline evaporates very quickly, so this is not a good sign. Closer inspection revealed the problem – the liquidy petroleum substance our machines were filled with was not gasoline but Jet-A, basically diesel fuel. Sniffing fumes, dipping fingers in gas cans, and trying to light the fuel with a sparker quickly became the activity of the morning as we tried to determine which jerry cans were good and which weren’t. The conclusion was that about 2/3 of our freshly pumped fuel supply is contaminated with Jet-A or some other heavier, oilier hydrocarbon that does not make snowmobiles happy. Further checks to figure out what happened also revealed that all of the barrels this mystery fluid came from are clearly labeled Mogas (motor gasoline) – and not Jet-A. Somewhere along the chain of custody, someone mislabeled or even mixed this stuff. Blame has not yet been assigned… but with pretty major implications for our departure and possible damage to the snowmobiles, some choice words may have accompanied this discovery.
Field science is an interesting beast though. There are good days and there are bad days, but if you are a pretty stubborn and a bit handy you can often transform a bad day into a good one. Complaints are generally wasted so we hopped to on our latest snag. The rest of the day today was spent trying to confidently determine which fuel is good enough to trust taking out on our long expedition, getting the machines back in running order, and working with the logistics providers to get more fuel up here ASAP.
I’m happy to report that with the crack team here spending the day in the monkey wrench pit, the machines are all back up and running. We’ve arranged for nine barrels of new gasoline to be put onto the flight scheduled to bring Nate in tomorrow. Weather forecast for tomorrow is not great for flying, but we’ll be hoping for the best. It may be about 130 am right now, but we’re feeling pretty good – we just got in from a few mile test run with a couple of the repaired machines and some of our laden sleds. We all needed some speed and the wind in our faces for a bit!