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“Is there a hardware store around here?”

Updated: at 08:05 PM

“Is there a hardware store around here?” We hear the C-130 Air National Guard pilot ask the airport front desk worker in Happy Valley Goose Bay (HVGB), Canada. We, thirteen stranded scientists and science-adjacent people, let our mouths fall agape, make eye contact, and laugh heartily at the undeniable humor in our misfortune. Beneath the laughter though, mental clocks start ticking. How many days can we afford to be stuck here and still complete the necessary tasks in Kanger before carrying on to Raven? How many days is too many days?

Our cargo is exchanged between the broken and the new C130

The hydraulically challenged C130 in the foreground relents the cargo to be brought over to the recently arrived functional plane.

Ten minutes prior, while reboarding after a fuel stop, Michael regaled us with the story of the last time he’d been in Happy Valley Goose Bay. He got stuck here for three days due to a fuel leak. When we were subsequently ushered off the plane due to a mechanical failure, it was clear Michael had cursed us.

Back in the waiting room, beginning to suspect we might sleep in Happy Valley Goose Bay, I, Cat, turn to google to learn about our temporary home. Ominously, the first thing I learned was four days prior the North portion of town was evacuated due to a series of explosions and a fire. A decommissioned tower and hangar on the former airbase were destroyed. The pictures showed the charred skeletons of framing, standing on blackened earth, foregrounding a desolate gray sky. Noone was hurt. Locals were quoted grieving the loss of these buildings in the news clippings.

Now, after a two night stay in Happy Valley Goose Bay, a distinctly planar and sprawling rural community, I can see that the exploded tower had truly been the only gesture at a skyline. Happy Valley Goose Bay was founded in 1941 as a project of the Canadian and U.S. Military. With 8,000 residents, 45% Native and 50% White, HVGB is the largest community in Labrador. As military operations have dwindled, I wonder where people work here. Apparently, there is a port with significant shipping operations and hunting tourism. At lunch the next day, we spot a handful of “United Steelworkers” hoodies.

We continue to eavesdrop on the pilot and mechanic. It’s unclear who is saying what, but we catch more confidence-degrading snippets.

“That’s the wrong plane. It’s a C-130” “I’ve never worked on a C-130 before.” “All I need is five gallons of isopropyl alcohol.”

Needless to say, we are bussed to Hotel North 2, an expansive hotel in the style of a warehouse with a polar bear logo on the outside. In the lobby, my eyes fall on three hung tapestries. Two picture polar bears, but the third a panda. Were these the last two polar bears for sale and the shopper figured eh a panda’s close enough’? What I would give to know the answer to this utterly inane question.

Matt, Von, and Cat work out the details of the problems to be solved in the lounge

After a good night’s sleep, our team of four gather to figure out what, if anything, we can do from Happy Valley Goose Bay that is productive. Luckily, our fifth teammate Andrew flew commercial to Greenland and began preparation of our camp gear with a productivity that begs the question “Has Andrew cloned himself?” Those of us stranded find plans needing refinement and spend the day talking through them.

The workday highlight comes on the lunch break. As we meander from Tim Horton’s to Subway, Von spots a sign that sparks his enthusiastic curiosity for the French language. With a bounce in his step, he turns to our french speaker Michael and asks “Now what does Fi bein ternet mean?” Before Michael can answer, I respond “I think it’s meant to be Fiber Internet.” We all have a good laugh at Von’s expense; though, Von has the hardest laugh of us all. In his defense, there is a confusing amount of French in HVGB. Wikipedia tells me Newfoundland and Labrador is the most linguistically homogeneous province of Canada with 97% speaking English as a first language.

Von learns french

Five o’ clock rolls around and we make our way to the hotel restaurant and bar “Jungle Jim’s”. Jungle Jim’s branding is a clip artian image of a white man in a safari hat and sunglasses. He peeks out from a swath of bamboo, baring a devilish smile with a fork and knife gripped aggressively upright in his fists. After a long deliberation on the merits of electric blue alcoholic beverages, we order Canadian Molson, dubbed “the normie” by the menu.

We share a convivial meal and beers. Our conversation ranged from work to personal, but the part of our night that will stick with me was the detailed and digestible lesson I received in the ice sheet surface energy budget from Matt, Von, and Michael. I kept the fantastic napkin diagram they drew me.

After some lively card playing, we go to bed with the understanding we will leave the next morning. Another C-130 has been flown up with spare parts and talented mechanics. We will carry on to Greenland in the new plane, while the new crew will fix the broken plane.

But now, just as I write, we are once again in the airport waiting room, having been delivered the news that we can’t fly today due to the snowstorm swirling outside. We will try again tomorrow for an 8am take off. Hopefully, this third night in Happy Valley Goose Bay is the last. The mental clock ticks a bit louder. Is there enough time remaining?

Next to me Matt, our team leader, says “Dire times. We might have to drink one of the blue drinks at Jungle Jim’s.”

Jungle Jim's restaurantHotel North 2