The dreaded squeal of the alarm clock sounds at precisely seven a.m. I arise with sloth-like intensity, my brain struggling behind a curtain of sleepy eyes to comprehend the situation: it is Tuesday morning, “Fly Day,” time to go to work. I review my mental checklist and slowly pull myself together for the impending commute. The apartment looks fresh and uncluttered; everything appears to be in order. I fix a bowl of cereal and pour a glass of orange juice while keeping a watchful eye on the time. Breakfast consumed, I quickly rinse out the glass and bowl and call for a taxi. Usually it’s about five minutes before it arrives, just enough time to put on a jacket, lace up my sneakers and have a cuddly farewell with my feline roommate. Suitcase and laptop bag in hand, I hurry out the door and into the elevator. An idling City Cab awaits me. I have begun phase one of my commute to work.
The cab drops me at the G&G terminal. Gathered there are wives, husbands, children, and friends all participating in the biweekly ritual of bidding farewell, enjoying those final precious moments of togetherness before the workers are summoned to board the Boeing 737 parked on the tarmac.
I find a seat in the crowded boarding lounge and engage in early morning small talk. Sipping from my coffee I casually scan the crowd of a hundred or so. Each face tells a different story. Some display great enthusiasm – an eagerness to return to work after plentiful rest while others exhibit indifference – just part of the process of living, working and trying to eek out an existence. Always there are a few that reveal a certain level of anxiety, perhaps even dread as they face being isolated from their lives, their families, the comforts of home and freedom.
It is time to board. A line forms and shuffles toward the gate. A ground handler checks off each name from a flight manifest as we make our way onto the tarmac and up the air stair. Throughout the cabin there is mostly silence as the Boeing taxis toward the runway threshold.
It takes 32 minutes to cover the 310 kilometres between Yellowknife and Diavik. “How was your time out mate?” my seatmate asks in a weighty Australian accent, possibly the most commonly asked question after a two-week absence from work.
A bus takes us from the landing strip to the main accommodations complex through security. Carry-on luggage and coats are X-rayed as the line moves efficiently through the screening process. I am handed a cardkey to my dorm, the same one I’ve occupied for a little more than five years. It has become a second home, a place to relax and unwind in privacy and comfort. It has a queen-size bed, full bathroom, desk and locker. There is a phone line, internet connection and 36 channels of TV. Not bad for the middle of nowhere. The third floor window offers a fine view of the rugged Subarctic terrain and Lac de Gras with its crystalline blue waters shimmering under the summer sun.
Soon the cafeteria/dining room bustles with workers coming and going as the newly-arrived mingle with the “soon-to-be-departed,” trading stories, exchanging information and small talk. It is an eclectic mix, gritty underground miners, engineers, housekeepers, chefs, all bound by a single common thread. I help myself to some fresh fruit and a couple of freshly baked cookies and make my way toward the 400-metre-long “Arctic Corridor”, a pedway and utilidor that connects the main buildings – quite useful in deep winter when temperatures plunge below -40 Celsius.
It takes under five minutes to reach my cozy, windowless office. It is just as I left it 14 days earlier. The first day is typically quiet. There are cross-shift notes to read, emails to get caught up on, some filing to do. For the next two weeks, each day will be a carbon copy of the last, a set routine where I’ll know exactly what needs to get done and at what time.
In the late afternoon, I go with my Mervin, my co-worker, to the open pit for a short reconnaissance mission. The open pit is intimidating. The second of two gigantic cavities carved from the bed of Lac de Gras, the A418 pit is 700 metres across and 170 metres deep. A non-stop cavalcade of 220-ton trucks run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hauling out kimberlite and waste rock. Giant shovels almost four-storeys tall fill the trucks while massive drills pound away at the bedrock. We keep a safe distance behind a truck the size of a two-storey house and radio the supervisor when we are clear of the pit.
My favourite time of day is dinner time because dinner at Diavik is always a gastronomic adventure. Several main courses are offered and standard fare such as pizza, pasta, fries and burgers are available each night. I arrive at the dining room at precisely six thirty. A short lineup is forming at the main counter where tonight’s specialty is flank steak, a profoundly delicious and extremely popular dish served only on rare occasions. I am served a generous portion and proceed to the salad bar where I serve myself some chef’s salad and a fresh dinner roll.
Next it’s off to the condiment refrigerator where I prepare my personal favourite Diavik dinner drink: cranberry juice, ginger ale and a slice of lemon, accompanied by a glass of ice water. With my dinner tray lavishly adorned, I join a table of eight other friends and acquaintances and jump into the ongoing conversation. Dinner time is always the main social event at Diavik. Stories are told, jokes exchanged, advice is given and plenty of laughs are shared. It’s a chance to relax, feel at home and get acquainted with co-workers.
After a solid nine-hour sleep I’m well rested and arise quickly to start my routine: go to the office, check email, head out into the field, return, more office work, prepare for lunch. The uniformity is welcomed as it rarely offers any unusual circumstances to deal with – something I’m completely comfortable with. Today is no different. Freshly showered and shaven I arrive at the breakfast counter and order a deluxe omelette with bacon and hash browns. I prepare my orange juice and coffee and seat myself in the nearly empty dining room. No large gathering this morning as I sit alone and watch the morning news.
By the second weekend at camp, spirits are up as the countdown to “Fly Day” begins. By the final Monday, the excitement has turned into euphoria. All around camp the mood is cheery. My tasks are numerous: ensure my paper work is up to date and properly filed. All equipment and vehicles must be checked, cleaned and fuelled. The office must be left tidy and cross-shift notes completed. Back at my room, my personal effects are packed and ready for check-in early the next morning. It is a process, but knowing those two weeks of downtime are coming makes it a pleasurable one.
The alarm sounds at five forty-five. It is time to go home. By nine-thirty a.m. my rotation has officially ended. The weather is perfect – clear blue sky and a bright sun, a terrific way to end a two-week rotation. We are greeted with smiles by the same flight crew that brought us to Diavik. Chatter and laughter fills the cabin as the 737 taxis into position. My preflight anxieties evaporate as I ease back into my seat with a big smile – because the first Tuesday is always better than the final Monday.
In memory of First Air Flight 6560 C-GNWN