Llaima Volcano, southern Chile | January 15, 2015 | 2:22pm
On expeditions, you talk about other expeditions.
"We were on the Santa María volcano in Guatemala. It's really remote - way, way out in the jungle. So I had dropped everybody off, and was driving back on these dirt roads, past farms where everything looks the same..."
Jonathan recounts this story as he drives us towards the base of the Llaima volcano. Clouds of dust billow around our truck as we zoom down the gravel road leading into Conguillo National Park. I'm in the passenger seat, listening.
"So I end up getting lost," he says. "I took this one road that went down a hill, and as I went down it got more and more narrow. I turned this corner and got stuck. When I tried to get out of it, the truck rolled down the hill - completely totaled the truck. I was beat up, but I walked away from it."
"Damn," I say. "It's amazing you didn't get hurt."
"Yeah, but it was a mess. I had to pay for the whole thing."
We enter the park. I lean out the window to show our permit and chat with the Spanish-speaking guard. It's our seventh day in the field, and we are preparing to install seismometers that have never been used before.
"Do you know how to drive a stick?" Jonathan asks, looking down at the manual transmission between us.
"Really?" His surprise is reflected in his tone. "Not many people know how to drive manuals any more. It really comes in handy down here."
He turns off the gravel road and drives directly onto a field of volcanic ash. As we cruise across the mass of finely grained pyroclastic debris, I'm impressed with our little rental truck. I think of how silly it is to drive a pickup truck around Chapel Hill. This is when you need a truck.
Jonathan parks the truck, we unload the equipment, and spend the next eight hours here. As we work, Jonathan tells me big chunks of his life story - how he decided to become a volcanologist, his PhD work on Mt. St. Helens, the pros and cons of being a professor, the excitement of an expedition versus the less sexy but equally important task of data analysis. He explains the details of the very small earthquakes that happen continuously around the volcano, and the technology he uses to record them.
I dump ash out of my boots - Jonathan tells me this particular kind of ash is called tephra - and it's one of the many types of pyroclastic materials that shoots out of Llaima during an eruption.
Late in the afternoon, Tim joins us. He's a recent graduate of the geophysics program at Boise State University, and is eager to impress everyone here. He has already hiked six hours to install equipment on a higher, steeper part of the volcano. Instead of riding back to town with his team, he offers to help us.
Jonathan and Tim spend another hour finishing the installations. I plant myself at Tim's feet, focusing my 50mm lens on his shovel and trying to capture the curtain of dust that forms with every heavy scoop of ash.
As they finish up, Jonathan asks me to go get the truck. I grab the keys and hide my giddy excitement. I get to drive a truck across a volcano. Awesome.
As we head back to town in the late afternoon, Tim drives and entertains us with stories of his adventures in Idaho and across the west. He talks about wilderness EMT training and trad rock climbing. He tells us about the time he biked the entire west coast from LA to Oregon, and the time he almost died trying to kayak a class five rapid.
He's bragging, but his stories are captivating. I stare out the window, pretending not to listen. I wonder if he's full of shit.
That evening, over cheap Chilean beers, Tim and I talk for a long time. He mentions type 2 fun.
"So type 1 fun is like what we're doing now - chillin and drinking beer. It's easy." He pauses and smiles. "Type 2 fun is hard shit. It's fun when you're talking about it later. Like biking in freezing rain or getting stuck on a mountain or -
"almost dying in a class 5 rapid?" I ask, with a smirk.
"Yeah, totally." He's grinning.
I take a sip of beer and try to relate this idea to some of my own experiences. "Like when you're running the last mile of a marathon?"
"For sure. Type 2 fun all the way."
This kid is funny. His voice has the tone and cadence of a surfer bum and his body language radiates cool confidence. He speaks broken Spanish and he can't write, but he is a very capable scientist and mountaineer. One minute, he's arrogant. The next, he's self-deprecating. He is constantly trying to prove himself. This morning he initiated (and then won) a pull-up contest. He is very, very strong.
There are many reasons to write him off. He's young and cocky and immature. But I can't help it - I feel drawn to him.
[Click here to read Llaima Expedition Part III]