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The Misadventures of a Prospecting Trip

Or

It was definitely worth it. June 2006

Sometimes what starts out crappy, ends up not so bad. I need to remember this.

I was recently preparing for my prospecting trip to Alaska.  All the usual stuff.  Get a list, buy all the stuff, lay it out on the floor. then stand back looking at all the stuff and wondering how the heck it will all fit in my baggage for the trip.

I decided to carry my metal detector onto the plane instead of risking damage or loss during the flight. This meant breaking down the detector and packing it, along with my camera, into my carry-on bag.

The good news was I actually found a way to pack everything so I had two bags. One less than 50 pounds for the checked luggage and one small carry-on for my camera and metal detector. As my chest was swelling with pride for such a great accomplishment I headed for the airport.

My wife and I were talking when my cell phone rang. “This is an easy update from United Airlines. Your flight has been cancelled. Please call 555-555-5555, or some such number, for further details.” Well, I pulled over to the side of the road and called United Airlines. After having the honor of pushing 37 buttons to get to an operator that could help I was put on hold for at least 15 minutes. During my waiting period on hold I received an incoming call from none other than United Airlines. “We have rescheduled you on flight XYZ for Anchorage leaving at 5:00 PM this evening.” Great news except it meant I had a six hour delay before my flight left. I hung up anyway and headed back home.

Off again to the airport with a new sense of optimism. The bright side of things was this flight was a non-stop flight arriving about the same time. I should note that I attempted to get on this flight when I made my original ticket purchase. I was trying to avoid the extra stop in San Francisco. I was told it was full.  Why was it full four months ago, but not now!

Should not ponder that one too long as it will upset me.

Finally I am through the United check-in line and headed for the security screening area with my bag containing my metal detector and camera. As I handed my boarding pass to the TSA employee I mentioned that the bag contained many wires, cables and several delicate instruments. Basically my metal detector and camera were inside the bag.  I requested he be careful with the bag.

I took off my shoes, my belt, as it has a tremendous metal buckle and I emptied my pockets into a ziplock bag I carry for trips to the airport, placed everything on the conveyor belt, and walked thru the metal detector. I made it just fine but my bag on the conveyor belt set off every bell and whistle that TSA had available.

A stern voice stated, “Is this your bag?” I answered, “Yes and the bag contains delicate electronic instruments so please be careful.” I suspect that in order to get a job with TSA the word careful must be a word that is never understood or acknowledged. I stood by in horror as the agent threw the bag on a table and started to unzip it. I got up from where I had been instructed to sit during the inspection and started to approach the agent.

Another stern voice indicated, “Sit down.”  As I looked around, I expected to see God but it was just another agent. I said, “I would like to help since the bag is packed tightly and the instruments are delicate. I know how I packed everything and I can get it out easily for inspection”. Again God spoke, “Sit down.”

As I took my “sitting” position again I was watching the agent attempt to unpack my bag. I could not help but cringe. He took my camera bag out and set it on the edge of the table. I said, “You might want to move that away from the edge of the table as it is a $800 camera.” He glared at me like I was some evil person. I was beginning to wonder if I had started to grow Dr Spock ears or warts or maybe, God forbid, I had contacted leprosy.

The agent was struggling with the metal detector and could not get it out of the bag. I said, “I can help.” God spoke again. “Sit Down!” The agent finally got frustrated and decided to open the camera bag. He pulled out the camera and set the camera on top of the camera bag on the edge of the table. He then proceeded to try to get the metal detector out of the bag. Do I have to tell you what happened?

I closed my eyes and waited. It was not long before I heard what I knew I would hear. It was the sound of $800 camera being flushed down the toilet. When the ringing in my ears stopped I opened my eyes to see my camera on the floor in three pieces.

I no longer could remain seated. Within a few seconds we had roughly a half dozen TSA agents buzzing around me, my bag, and an agent I was tongue lashing. I was only tongue lashing because I did not want to get thrown in jail for killing a TSA agent.  Besides, I might have missed my flight.

 “Calm down,” I was told, “we will get a supervisor here and straighten this out.” I said, “Hope they bring a new camera with them.”  After a 15 minute wait, the completion of numerous forms and much dialogue about how stupid some people are, I was on my way with my now three-piece camera.

I got to the boarding area and read some of the paperwork I had received to complete. One of the first things I was to do was to call a special number and report the incident immediately. Well, it was 30 minutes before my plane was to board so I dialed up the number they indicated.

I spent a few seconds talking to a very nice young lady that was REALLY upset with TSA for printing her personal home number in the TSA letter. So much for calling immediately.

Again, I put myself in positive mode. I was hoping to put the frustration of not having a camera for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure behind me. I could always buy a couple of disposable cameras.

We boarded the plane and were off to Anchorage.

On arrival I trekked to baggage claim with all the other passengers. We waited patiently for our bags. As I stood there waiting I started to notice that there were only a few passengers left and my bags had not yet arrived. Again nervousness set in as I tried to decide what I would have to buy if my bag did not arrive.

Suddenly a burly baggage attendant came bursting through a door carrying my bag. As I let loose with a sigh of relief I noticed my bag looked funny. It looked like it was pregnant or maybe another bag was somehow attached to it. The attendant set the bag down and then with a mighty heave he separated my bag from the other one. The tearing sound he produced in the process was frightening.

Apparently, I was told, something in the cargo bay had exploded on the trip and whatever it was had managed to glue my bag to someone else’s bag.

So….welcome to Alaska with a broken camera, a luggage bag that was ripped and another set of paperwork to complete to get a bag replaced. At least I had something to do while I was waiting for my flight to the gold fields.

Off to the hotel for the night. Except it was daylight 23 hours a day. I guess you still call it night. Everyone kept laughing at my bag. It looked like someone had poured Gorilla glue all over it and then ripped the front off.

I slept well and again tried to put myself in a positive mood. No more incidents to report.

After taking a plane to McGrath,AK and thena bush pilot flight to Ganes Creek, things were looking up. I had a whole day without some other disaster striking.

First afternoon in the gold fields so I had to try my luck. My metal detector survived the trip and was working well. No luck on Sunday afternoon. Found a bunch of iron and helped Dan dig a two-foot deep hole in the middle of a stream. We could not stop the flow of water nor stay ahead of the cave in’s. We finally gave up. If it was gold it was big. Most likely it was a 50 gallon drum that someone buried and crushed.

Monday was good. Found two nuggets. A small one and a nice 1.74 oz nugget. Made my day. Things were looking up.

Long dry spell till Friday and then I hit pay dirt. Found a 1.5 oz nugget and walked about 30 feet and found a 10.91 oz nugget. It made up for all the shell casings and false targets I dug.

Oh yeah, I forgot to update you. TSA said they would give me the replacement cost for the camera. They even sent me a letter saying they would. The letter even included the amount they say they would pay.  Sort of like the old saying “The check’s in the mail.”  Still waiting. They told me it could take up to ten months. If you want to experience a nightmare of paperwork, bureaucracy, and inefficiency, just try to file a claim against TSA.

United Airlines gave me a new bag, actually better than the one they ripped.  I sent them a thank-you note. Sure glad they ripped the bag. This new one is nice.

 And best of all, I found over 14 ounces of gold nuggets. Certainly paid for my trip. Now I don’t get so many complaints from the kitchen about how much money I spent for metal detectors and trips. I even have a bunch of people suggesting that they should go to Alaska with me next year.

Think I will stay home. No one can be that lucky and find that much gold  twice.