Halloween, Antarctic style

McMurdo threw quite the ho-down this weekend in honor of everyone’s favorite excuse to dress up. It was a total blast and was in fact, much better than I expected. Let’s face it, considering the place, the fact that the party was in a gym and what we know of the McMurdo community (it’s college, glorified), I figured that the most I could hope for was a relatively cool high school dance type shindig. A bunch of us were even preparing to celebrate on our own in one of the town’s three bars. We ended up closing the party down before heading to MidRats (Midnight Rations) to soak up all the alcohol with curly fries and Sloppy Joes.

First of all, hard as it is to believe, some of the costumes people created to transform themselves would have impressed me back home. Being in Antarctica and somehow finding the materials to make an Empire State Building complete with date dressed as King Kong costume is beyond all reasonable expectations. Also helping matters along were the people themselves. Most Halloween parties I’ve been to have two types of people: those who are there to show off their amazing costumes who are the ones who expect (and generally deserve) praise. Rarely though, do they give any. Then there are the folks who are there, but not really into the whole Halloween thing. They’re generally too self conscious to find the nerve to approach anyone they don’t know. I’m not saying that this ruins Halloween parties back home. Not at all. But the crowd here is so thankful for something different to do that they were all off the wall happy. As a result, everyone spent the first half of the party stopping each other to comment on and take pictures of the creations. It was a really fun atmosphere to share in, especially for the first big throw down of the summer.

It was overall a pretty amazing time to dance with about 250 people, all looking fantastic, drunk as skunks here. It almost made me not miss the parties back home. Almost.

Anyway, here are a few choice photos and a chance to see all the ones I took.

not there yet

Seems to be a time for an update on the pole trip. We haven’t made it. You can tell because of the no-caps title to this post. No caps means sad. I’m trying to remain positive while stuck here in MacTown, and generally am, but this time was hard because there was a lot of talk from my Met friends that thetre would be a window and we’d probably get off today. I even packed away more of my things than last time since we had to re-do our bag drag/check-in procedure last night.

But no. I was awoken this morning to the sounds of someone telling the bunk house (which has now been named “Man Camp”) that flights were cancelled. I’ll continue to tell you (and myself) what I’ve been saying for the week: “At least we’re not the winter overs at Pole right now.” From what I’ve been told by people down there, each day that goes by with cancelled flights breaks their spirits a bit more. Apparently there are tears from some folks each day, and everyone is getting a bit squirrely.

I can only imagine. Last night, a group of us were sitting around in the galley drinking tea before bed, talking about the first party we’re going to throw when we get there, favorite albums and the how to avoid the winter overs when they rush the plane as we disembark. When I gave my line about “at least we’re not stuck there after a year” someone else pointed out that they actually were probably doing the same thing we were at that moment except that, instead of sitting aroudn talking in a group, they were probably all at seperate tables facing away from each other.

Think about it. It’s been more than a year for them, most of it in darkness, and they all expected to be off the Ice a week ago. Instead, they’re still stuck there, vacations being cut into, no fresh fruits or vegetables since last Februrary and only one candy bar left with┬áno way of knowing when they’ll get out. If there was any lingering doubt in my mind, I’m not going to winter over.

On the brighter side, there was a Halloween party here on Saturday. I’ll have pictures for you all later.

Two Walks, Clear Heads

A couple of days of work makes all the difference in the world and now things are better here folks. Thank you all for your concern, kind words and advice. Although I may not have replied, trust me, they were all heard and taken to heart and even agreed with. That last post was just at the end of one of those days that we all know so well. you know?

But it’s Tuesday now (for a bit more than an hour, it’s actually Tuesday here AND there) and thanks to some actual work and some good walks with friends, I’m a changed man. No, we’re not at Pole yet. More flights were cancelled yesterday and today and probably will be again tomorrow, but I finally got the opportunity to go and put in some time in the kitchen for more than an hour or so, and I took it. that was the first thing to clear my brain.

Yesterday I helped the guy who has my job here do food pull (which is when the cargo people bring the week’s orders over to the kitchen’s loading dock and it all gets put away). It was massively physical work carrying around 60 pound boxes of frozen beef, cases of giant cans of peeled tomates and 50 pound sacks of flour. At the end of the day, I was wiped, but it felt good. Today, I spent the morning in the salad room prepping, yes, you guessed it, salads! That was awesome! I cut six bannana boxes full of lettuces, two full of spinach, countless red and green peppers and then mixed a huge spinach, mandarin orange, cheese and walnut salad in this big silver bowl with my hands. I made a lot of salad. Again, at the end of the day, I was tired and hurting, but happy to have been useful.

But the walks really sealed the deal. No matter what goes on here or where my head may be, it really is totally gorgeous in Antarctica and any chance to get out and look at the view is not one to be squandered. So last night Nick and I left the galley/155 (which is the main dorm and gathering place in town) around 9:45 and took a walk out to Hut Point.

Hut Point is an easy 20-minute walk to the shack that Scott and his men built and lived in for a god-awful amount of time while they were stranded here in the early 1900s (I’m sorry, my Antarctic history is atrocious, so details are scant). The point is a small one, sticking out only slightly into the sea ice to the north and west of McMurdo with a high ridge directly to the north of it. The shack, at least from the outside which is all I could see since it is kept locked to perserve the items in it from scavengers, is not much to look at, but the view is great.


The view from the spot is basically the same as the one seen from town, but without most of the encumburances of buildings and other structures in the way. It’s a vast expanse of sea ice, mountains and windswept snow.

The walk was really nice and head clearing for both Nick and me. Nick was dealing with some issues at home with his girlfriend and his car and not really feeling all that stellar. He needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of 155, which keeps up even as most people are heading to bed and burrowing in for the night, because it kept distracting him from his real need to work out the fact that the problems at home really weren’t worth losing sleep over. I just needed some space from everything. Thankfully, we both got what we needed while we talked out Nick’s stuff, tried to figure out where the snow that had been there went (it hasn’t melted, trust me), and told stories about tinkering projects and first cars.

Today was a glorious day when I woke up. The flights had been cancelled early and the temperature here in MacTown was a balmy zero with no wind. So when I left work, I rounded up Nicole, Rose and Rose’s roommate Jessie and we took a hike around Cape Armitage.

This hike was glorious. Much of the walk was taken up by watching the ever-changing shapes and conturs on the ice as wispy clouds of snow raced across it creating minor ridges for the sun to paint. The sound of it all constantly buffeted my hood and whooshed through my ears as frost formed on the few centimeters of my beard that poked out from time to time from underneath my neck gaiter. Nothing untoward that may have been left in my head could survive for long in that.

Finally, after a long flat trudge into a strong headwind, Scott Base came into view (Scott base is the Kiwi base down the road from us). From there, it’s another two-mile walk along a road to MacTown. Or you can call town for a shuttle ride back. That’s what we did.

Yes, that’s me next to a parking meter. In Antarctica. It’s at Scott Base and is where the Americans park when they drive over to pick people up or go to the bar on American night at their base. Weird. Nicely though, the Kiwis make the electricity at the parking spot 110 volt to make it possible for American visitors to park their block heaters in while they’re there. Sweet Kiwis.

Ugh

Everything has been such a good time so far that when it sank in today how far away I am from home, I was taken off guard. Nothing has changed here. I’m still in Mactown and still am happy to be here meeting all these new, cool people and learning amazing things about penguins and icebergs, but suddenly, over the past day or so, I have really felt the distance between myself and home. To be honest, it hurts.

There’s a lot I love about home and there’s a lot I am growing to love here. But today, I am feeling crappy about not being there. It’s the end of Sunday in Antarctica (at least this part of it) and that means it’s the community-wide day off today. I think that sharing a weekend day with the rest of town (because, let’s face it, this has been a week of days off for me) has made me think about what i’d be doing at home, if I were there and it were Sunday.

I’d wake up with Alexis, probably we’d sleep in before getting up and making a breakfast together and then finding something warm and dry to do for the rest of the day together. We might have ended up at someone’s for dinner, or maybe we would have rented a movie. Jake would have been on my bed at night and man it would have all felt so warm and comfortable and easy.

Here, it was warm (inside anyway) and of course it was easy, but none of it was what I would call comfortable. I woke up a bit late today and ate some brunch which was ok, then volunteered some in the kitchen where I washed pots with the DAs (Dining Attendants) before I went to play some volleyball and basketball in the gym which was really helpful for my sanity because I couldn’t think of anything but the games. After ball, I came home (so to speak) and took a shower and a nap before dinner and the Sunday night science lecture about penguin colonies that are having problems thanks to global warming.

Now I’m here, dorking out on my computer. Admittedly, re-reading that, none of it sounds bad or like anything I should be whining about. But, it’s not home. No matter how much fun it is, no matter how great I think it is to be in Antarctica and about to go to the South Pole, it’s not what I know, and sometimes, I really would like to be with what I know.

New links on the left

Well, rumors may abound but the facts are these: The first flight to Pole is on weather delay right now due to winds and a storm coming into Mactown. Viz is dropping every hour and it really looks as if we are going to be here till Monday at least (no flights go on Sundays as that is our day off down here). So I am pretty securely here for now. We’ll know more in about an hour when the next forecast is done.

Currently, I am sitting in one of the computer labs next to Misty and John doing, well, nothing. We’re all bored and just waiting to be told the flights are cancelled. It’s a pretty exciting life here in Antarctica. Last night I played a game of Hearts and then learned a new game called Spoons, the goal of which is to grab a spoon before everyone else does… it’s really just an excuse to get rowdy and wrastle.

I added some new links on the left today. Check out the South Pole Weather Forecast (Type NZSP into the box,┬ácheck the TAF’s box and the Translated button to get a readable forecast. For Mactown, type NZIR) to find out what the weather is going to do in the next few hours there. For some Antarctica reading, read Tracy the GA’s blog or Katie the DA’s blog. Both are friends I’ve met on this trip.

I’m sorry I haven’t been telling you more about what we’ve been doing, but really, it’s not exciting in the least. For example, my day yesterday was spent in a training on the computer-controlled inventory system, then sitting practicing on that arcane, DOS-based software before giving blood for a study being conducted by the Mayo Clinic on altitdue sickness. Then I had lunch, did some laundry, packed for bag drag (which is where you check in all your bags for the next day’s flight and weight everything you have), watched The Mets lose ingloriously (Hey Zeke, don’t worry about it too much. The Tigers would have crushed them anyway!), and then watched Aquateen Hunger Force before dinner. I know, Antarctica is wildly adventorus. Hopefully the weather will clear tomorrow here and I can go on a hike and tell you stories about that.