June 29, 2013

Where the Mining Life Takes You

I don't have a Mongolian wife.  I don't have an account with the Bank of South China that the Treasury Department knows nothing about.  I don't own 3-4 houses across two continents which half are paid in full.  I only speak one language fluently.  I am boring and in mining circles, I am not well travelled.  Friends working in cities doing more of the consulting type work for mines have literally have done been jet setting around the world at mines on 4 or 5 continents. 


My career has taken me to two continents and places I never would have dreamed of. 

My first internship was at an aggregate company just outside of New York City.   I got the rare opportunity to do things at the same time, like mixing oil and water, and that was to work in mining and live in one of the most cultured cities on earth, NYC.  I stayed with a college friend and her family and had a memorable time.  I was running a lot back then training for the upcoming cross country season and didn't really socialize or want be uncomfortable in a club or bar spending 10 dollars for a light beer (wait, Perth is 14 dollars a drink).  I feel like I ran in every city park but none more so than Rockefeller state park on the weekends.  I love the city parks.  I love the hot summer heat right after work at 5 o’clock, going for a 10 or 12 mile run, then going to a corner shop and buying a 99 cent big can of Arizona Green Tea.  I did that literally every working day.  

Footlocker Northeast 2003
Here is a list of parks I regular visited in the big apple:
1)      Rockefeller State park:  Massive forested park with wide cinder trails.  Probably the best place to train at in the tri-state area.  I make the 20 minute trip about 2-3 times per week for longer runs.  Got lost once and was out running for 2.5 hours.  My longest run up to that point.
2)      Hart’s Brook:  A secret park where I will occasionally run into some dog walkers.  The park is very small (2 square miles) but provides me with a beautiful place to run within 5 minutes of home. 
3)      Old Croton Aqueduct:  Very similar to the New River Trail or Montour Trail.  Flat, cinder paths weaves its way through neighbourhoods along the Hudson River for several miles.
4)      Bronx River South:  This is a paved bike path that runs along the Bronx River Parkway.  I did the most of my runs here the first week but quickly phased it out due the Murder that occurred on the trail recently.  Actually, the run got very boring after two or three times
5)      Sprain Ridge Park:  Thin, rough trails cover the majority of the park.  Comparable to Sewickley Heights Park only not as nice and slightly smaller.
6)      Van Cortland Park:  Rolling hills and a lot of people but still cool.  Located in the Bronx (I think) across from Manhattan college.  I ran Footlocker Northeast here my senior year in high school.  Good memories.  A great place to run   I think

Bagdad Copper Mine with Snow capped  peaks in the background.
My second internship was in a small mining town in Bagdad Arizona.  There are two roads to the town.  One is a windy paved road with zero stop lights for 65 miles.  The other is about 55 miles of dirt road sometimes impassable due to snow and mud in the winter months.  This was a dream come true for me.  Not the internship and certainly not Bagdad Arizona (but later come to love its mystery and splendour).  The dream came in the form of 45 cents per mile relocation expense.  Wait, you are going to pay me to drive my hand me down red ford Taurus across the United States to Arizona?  That’s awesome.  I later made it a habit of combining company trips with my own personal side trip.  Seehow I fell in love with the American west post I just did.
3 months wasn't enough time for to adequately explore the copper state so I took the opportunity to go back to Arizona after graduation as a full time engineer.  So my real life began back in the summer of 2008.

The quiet town of Bagdad is awesome in many ways.  I loved my time there but I started to get bored and my learning curve flattened of.  I was bored and not meeting many new people, I was not challenging myself or stepping out of my comfort zone.  Life was too easy (if you could ever say such a thing).  The company I was working for had loose plans to send me to the Democratic Republic of Congo at a lucrative copper project for a few months but that fell through.  It did stoke the adventure flame that was burning hot inside me.  So I started looking at more exotic and far flung mining destinations for my next position.  

Landing at Kotzebue airport.  The Port in Kotzebue is frozen all but 100 days per year.  It is in that time window when the mine receives all of its provisions.  
I then found an opportunity in the arctic of Alaska.   I passed stage 1 of the interview so I found myself at the familiar Sky Harbour International airport in Phoenix.  First stop Seattle, then Anchorage and then onto the Red Dog Mine.  I believe, and I do have some credibility in this department, that Anchorage airport has the more bearded men than any airport in the world.  That was until a few days later when I touched down in Kotzebue, 130 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  Flying over the Brooks Range and the Alaskan tundra in a 6 passenger plane is something that a lot of people would pay good money for.  I was able to take that dream flight on the company dollar.  

Red Dog fell through and my running picked up big time so I dismissed any option of leaving Bagdad.  It’s hard to beat a life where you are running 80-100 miles a week, living cheap paying off student loans, and exploring mysterious old mining towns and Native American heritage.  I was content with that and I think I will always be content with that.  But when I stress fractured my femur, I was broken inside as well.  I was bored without running.  The hills around Bagdad lose their majesty when you can't run up and over them.  I was ready for a better work life balance. 

Australia was never on my list of places to live or work.  It never really appealed to me mainly because there are no big mountains.  But then an opportunity which was too good to pass up came along.  It seemed like a no brainer to move onto to Australia.  I wanted an adventure, it was a good job, and it was Australia.  Everyone and their friend and their dog Skippy told me they always wanted to go to Australia.  This actually made my decision really hard because I was afraid I would be living someone else’s dream.  Was it what I wanted?  What made it even harder was that I had a simultaneous offer to go to Colorado which had mountains, friends from college, and the girl I liked.  I reasoned that if she knew me, she would understand and love me for the adventurous soul that I am and hopefully show her adventurous side and join me.  No go.  I can’t remember what the deciding factor was, but I made the choice to go to Australia.  I knew what Colorado had.  I didn't know what lied ahead in Australia.  I would have regretted not going to Australia for the rest of my life. I had to find out what was behind the door. Otherwise I would have never known and been sitting in a rocking chair at the old folks home wondering what if.  I would have been that guy who almost went to Australia when he was 25 and not the guy who launched himself into the great unknown.  I cited this Mark Twain quote when I left for OZ:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover" 

So here I am now, in Australia, maybe living everyone else’s dream.  I can't say I have always been content with the decision.  I have many regrets.  But life is the adventure and I couldn't be any more alive right now.    

Red Dog Mine, 130 miles north of the Arctic Circle

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