The highs and lows of fieldwork

Four trying days into my latest field expedition, I seriously considered packing it all in and coming home, as I was clearly channelling the spirit of Murphy.
Firstly, my vehicle broke down on the drive out. As it happened, this was not the car I was supposed to be driving, which had been trapped in its garage by some idiot’s car (I’m currently plotting some signage warning people not to mess with people who walk about with hammers and diamond tipped drills). Fortunately, the gearbox decided to stop working as I was coming into a reasonably sizeable town rather than in the middle of nowhere, but I lost a day waiting for it to be repaired.
The next couple of days would be amply covered by the phrase ‘teething troubles’. There was lots of sweaty lugging of drills and assorted paraphernalia a couple of km each way along a rocky river valley, in temperatures which were a lot higher than the low autumnal sun suggested to my high northern latitude sensibilities. It took some time to get used to drilling again; and, because Archean basalts are a little harder than the Neogene sediments I was used to, I kept drilling cores which were too short. I also found that the kit I had been given contained no specialised core extractor; I puzzled for quite a while over getting the damned things out of the rock before working out how to bodge it with a non-magnetic screwdriver (which, it turns out, is the approved method here – or, it has been up to now…). Then, just as I was sorting out all these problems, in a moment of wincing clumsiness I broke the water pump used to cool the drill.
At this point, I was not in a particularly good mood, since my efforts to that point had yielded precisely one core. Hence the temptation to march back to Jo’burg in a huff. Fortunately, however, my habit of stubbornly and masochistically clinging to lost causes actually worked in my favour for once. I took the unexpected half day of non-drilling to get a better feel for the geology of the area I was sampling, which led to the useful discovery that the map which I put up before I left was not entirely accurate, missing out at least one major fault which duplicates some of the stratigraphy (as well as a moderately sizeable intrusive sill, but I already knew about that).
The next day, a trip to a hardware store and some magic with silly putty and a drinking straw got the pump working again, and I finally started making progress. I even persevered through a windy Sunday which turned the river valley I was working in into a giant sand blaster. And Monday – the last day – was great. Nice weather, everything working smoothly, I was feeling on top of the geology, and I got everything done which I set out to do. I had 100+ cores, and I was feeling pretty good about having stuck it out. I was even sketching out a blog entry about one of the possible reasons why it’s so easy to forget the hard fieldwork days and remember the good ones: the bad ones generally occur at the beginning of a trip, as a sometimes necessary precursor to the good ones, which generally occur at the end.
Then, yesterday morning, I awoke to discover that the car had a flat tyre. So much for that theory, then.

Categories: fieldwork, geology, ranting

Comments (4)

  1. Brian says:

    ahh…field work
    those of us who have continued to do field work (i.e., beyond the requisite training for a degree) have a talent for remembering the good parts and being able to laugh about the various misfortunes (after they’ve occurred of course)

  2. Vibrato says:

    We need pictures! Especially the loaded jeep with a 100 cores, on the spring stops, and a flat tire!

  3. Chris Rowan says:

    Photos you can have, but not that particular one…

  4. Simone says:

    Ive only done the “requisite” field training, and a small undergraduate mapping project….(starting grad school this fall)…but i cant WAIT to get back into the field!..bring it on!