Real news

Not a big entry here because most of what is going on for me right now is moving tons of food out of one part of the dome and into another. If it sounds like an exercise in futility, well, there is a point behind it, but it could have been avoided. Nevertheless something ver cool happened yesterday that is worthy of noting as much as possible.

Around 15:30 local, a team of four Scottish Marines showed up at the pole. “But Charlie,” you might say, “tourists fly in all the time now and aren’t noteworthy since they spend $30,000 a pop to fly to the pole dressed in all this bad-ass gear even though they spend just enough time outside to take pictures but more time inside buying shit in the store.” Well, that may be true, but the guys who showed up yesterday skied 700 miles here and are skiing (assisted by the wind) back. That’s freaking hard core and deserves some props.

So props to the Scots who finally made it here. I plan to go out to their tent and say hi today. I’ll try and get a few pics of their beat-up faces and maybe a story or two.

Holiday Weekend

It’s Christmas Day and I am feeling better than I have in a long time, both physically and emotionally. About 10 days ago I was diagnosed with strep throat after coming down with the worst sore throat I’ve ver had. I was confined to my room for 24 plus hours and while the opportunity to have nothing to do sounds good, when all one is left with is a 6×9 room, it’s more like being in jail than I’d like to imagine. Being sick and stuck in my room for so long did nothing to help my teetering emotional state and I spent the beginning of last week in a deep, deep funk, again.

Writing an article for the Antarctic Sun about getting engaged while on the ice woke me up to what was going on and how to get myself out of the hole I’d been slipping into. Basically, I think I was close to the edge of true depression and taking myself into the abyss by sequestering myself in a rut-filled life of work and going home to read and watch movies. But my writing dispelled the flase comfort I was finding in doing that and trying to ignore where I am and I realized that I needed to force myself back into the life going on around me. I had to stop only pining for what I find so impressive back home, and allow myself to be impressed by this place again. It was surprisingly easy to bring myself back from the brink.

I volunteered in the galley twice this week to help prep vegetables and decorate cookies for Christmas dinner which were my first forays back into life here. Then came this weekend which I had been partially dreading and looking forward to. Two days off is definitely a treat at this point, but it can also be a trap of sorts, with little to occupy my brain, I find on days off that I long more for home than on work days. But working my way out of my funk started paying off fast, as I’ve said, and by Saturday evening, I was ready to party and play with my friends.
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Everyone else had had a rough week too, rougher than mine because it was full of inaccurate accusations and stupid bullshit, and so we found ourselves in a priavtely created lounge for a pre-func drink, or three. When the cause of their week’s stress walked in, we all walked out and headed for Summer Camp Lounge, scene of our infamous and wonderful Toga Party and still home to the stripper pole. The plan was to unwind by watching The Big Lebowski and drinking white russians (The Dude’s drink). But alcohol was already flowing freely and the movie never happened. Instead, Emerys and I borrowed a snow mobile and took it out to ARO where he works and which happens to be in the clean air sector. There, we went upwind of everything on station (the point of ARO) and gathered some of the cleanest snow on Earth to mix in our drinks. You have not experienced a great drink until you’ve chilled it with snow unpolluted my man’s emissions. It’s a different kind of cold.
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Sunday, Christmas Eve, dawned bright and cold, which was nothing different for here, but nice nonetheless. After a lazy afternoon watching The Big Lebowski (no white russians though) the crew of us that had gotten mohawks the week before ambled off home to get dressed and ready for dinner. The results were spectacular. This being Christmas and all, and since we had volunteered to serve wine to the second dinner seating, we knew we had to do something special. We scoured the Skua sites and the arts and crafts room and most of us came up with some amazing costumes. Coupled with Sarah’s boa donations, we were a hit that, from all acounts, added an extra-special touch to an already special and excellent dinner.

(For the record, dinner was Beef Wellington (veggie wellington for me), roasted veggies (freshies), Crab Legs, Asparagus, Salad and three kinds of dessert (Chocolate Cake that came close to rivalling my mother’s, Pumpkin Pie and Cheesecake smothered in fresh raspberry sauce)).

The evening was quiet and relaxed, for my friends and me, though there was a raging party in the bar that I checked in on and was able to get much gossip info out of thanks to my sober state.

But it’s yesterday, Christmas Day, which was the crowning glory. Tradition here dictates that Christmas Day is the Race Around the World at 10 AM and about 100 of us got ourselves around the 2-mile course somehow. I ran, clocking in at 23:05, and it was easily the hardest two miles I ever ran. Breathing hard, frosted face, deep snow…. It’s as much as an accomplishment as any 10K back home…. But I did it. Afterwards, I sat in the galley, chatting with friends, organizing pictures and felt wonderfully unrushed. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in months and one I relish. From there, a few of us went off to nap in front of two movies before dinner. I capped the night off by winning the week’s edition of pub trivia, thanks in a large part to roger’s voluminous knowledge of history. Beers for everyone!

I hope wherever you are reading this, the day brings you as much joy as it brought me.

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Hats

There’s not much variety in what a person wears at the South Pole. Six days a week being workdays, we all dress for work most days. Since a lot of the work this season is construction of some sort, and every season involves a lot of outside tasks — like shovelling snow, pushing snow around with a dozer, moving cargo and the like — more people than not are dressed for really cold weather. Even as we get used to the temperatures here (currently hovering around a balmy -20 F) and find it warm for short periods of time, if you’re working outside, you have on big boots, at least two shirts, a pair of padded Carhart overalls in either tan or black, possibly a fleece or a heavy-duty sweatshirt, a neck gaiter or two, and a jacket which is either a tan Carhart with a furry hood, a red, puffy USAP jacket (which is not practical for work but people wear them for some reason) or a green issue which is not as warm but more practical for work. A very few people eschew the issue jackets for their own outer layer, but these people can be counted on one hand.

As I said, people wear the same thing all the time and most of it looks like everyone else’s clothes. Bundled as we are, there’s not much to tell one person from another, until you look at the hats.

Hats, here, are the one feature that people use to distingusih themselves from the crowd. Sure, the program issues you a couple of hats, but for the most part, they are ugly and uncomfortable and most people don’t wear them. One guy does and he, not suprisingly, is very unique because of it. I don’t know him from Adam, but I could pick Martin Lewis out of a crowd because of the way he wears the issue red cap with the ear flaps flipped up every day. Katie Contos is visible across the station because of her birght pink hat and Sarah is easily visible (when she’s not wearing a welding helmet) because of her black hat that covers her ears and has two little points on each side that look like cat ears.

So when someone gets a new hat, like I did from my sister for my birthday, folks notice. All day when I first put on the bright blue knit beanie she sent me, people have commented on it. When my boss got back from MacTown, where he’d been for all of three days, the first thing he said to me was, “Did you get a new hat?”

In the halls I’ve heard “nice hat” countless times and been asked where it came from (not many places to buy a hat here). Friends have admired the color as “different,” “unique,” “good on you,” and “not what I expected you to wear, but I like it.”

It’s been pretty neat actually because everything here is so the same, day after day, week after week and month after month, that any little change is noticed and commented on ad infinitum. But rarely is it something so innocous and tiny as a new hat on a person. Never in my life has a piece of clothing been so a part of my identity (before this hat, I wore a pretty old brown knit beanie pretty religously and would throw on a blue and gray stocking cap with ear flaps on Sundays for the change) that people had to comment when it went away. And believe me, I have worn some articles of clothing until they couldn’t be considered clothing anymore.

I’ve heard it said that clothes make the man and everyone knows how important it is to accessorize well. Well, at the South Pole, it’s the hat that makes the person, and it’s way more important than a simple accessory.

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Birthday

I’ll tell ya what, I wasn’t expecting much for my birthday down here. I thought, maybe a cake, a few people wishing me well and a drink or two with friends. I got all that, but much more too.

I’m not a person who is content to let my day pass without being noticed. I like to mark anyone’s birthday because, to me, a birthday is the one day a year you get to do whatever you want. At home, working on my birthday is anathema to me and anyone who does work that day is weird in my mind. Here, it’s not an option to just take the day off, but you sure can make sure folks acknowledge it with a “Happy Birthday” and, if you want to do something special, you can have folks join you for most any activity you want. So I did.

I told folks, numerous times, in the week or so leading up to the day that we would be gathering in the galley at dinner time and having a shot of tequila — one shot mind you, since work the next day would be calling — so I could start my year off with that calm, relaxed feeling that only tequila can bring. Hopefully, that’ll stay around and I can carry it through the year with me. I also told the galley staff that my day was coming up since, well, I work with them and I wanted them to know and maybe plan me a cake… I mean, it’s a birthday and I love cake so…

The day of (here), I woke up a bit early and called home to talk to Alexis. That started my day off on the perfect note since I usually only talk to her on Sundays. Hearing her voice before work was a really nice change. We had a good talk with lots of laughing, some wedding plans and really it just put me in a great mood to start the day. Afterwards, I went back to my room, got dressed and headed out to work.

When I walked into the new station, the first thing I saw was a sign: “Happy Birthday Charlie!” with two balloons taped to it. At the top of the main stairs, there was another and then the cart that sits outside the galley door where I put my stuff and use as my office was wrapped with streamers, a banner sign wishing me happy birthday , balloons and an inside joke about how my cart is mistaken for the free pile (known as skua here) so it was also piled with random clothes and goofy gifts that were found in Skua.

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When I walked into the galley, the food line had a huge banner and balloons on it and even Joel started my day out without the usual shit about making eggs over medium.

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The whole day then was filled with people wishing me happy birthday in the halls and around the base which felt really good. Also, during the day, small items kept showing up on my cart from little notes filled with silly things I’m known for saying here, cookies, some wine and other gifts. At lunch, I was embarrassed as much as possible when Carol the cook got on the mic and had the whole galley sing me happy birthday. It was okay though because Jake the baker had also made me an amazing Chocolate Bannana Cream Cake.

The night was not to be an exciting party or filled with drinking, unfortunately, since we all have to get up so early and work so long, but I made sure to get a few key people together for a shot of Tequila. My hope is that that wonderful feeling that fills my body and brain with one or two shots of Tequila would infuse the rest of my year. After a trauma team meeting that I had to go to, I ran into one of the key people who couldn’t make it and we ended the night sipping on Tequila and trading stories about birthdays past.

Truly, it was much more and way better than I ever expected and made me feel warm, loved and almost as good as I would have felt at home.

Anniversary

Those of you who know me know that yesterday (or today at home depending on how you look at these things) was (is) my birthday. It was a really good day here thanks to everyone in the kitchen and elsewhere that celebrated it for and with me. I have a post to write about it later today, but wanted to take a moment and acknowledge another anniversary that definitely takes place today, here.

This, from the NSF representative here on base:

“Today 95 years ago today, Roald Amundsen and his party arrived at 90 South, the first person/s to stand at the geographic South Pole. Take a moment to reflect on what it must have been like to achieve that goal at this very location, alone, and without any back up support. And now today we have the Elevate Station, SPT, IceCube drill camp, LC-130 operations, and more.”

It really is amazing when you think about the fact that in 1911, these guys somehow made their way to the spot (give or take) where I am posting to a blog today. At that time, they didn’t have gortex, snowmobiles, heat, planes, phones, a galley, a microphone in that galley to embarrass people whose birthday it was or cakes for those birthdays. They didn’t have exercise rooms, poker nights or toga parties. All they had was cold, wind, hardship, fear and drive to make it here. Oh, and a lot of really heavy gear that probably wouldn’t even be looked at as an option for car camping by us today. And yet they made it.

Sure puts all my sad days when I want to be home into perspective.

But now, I must go drive a loader powered by diesel fuel to deliver thousands of pounds of food to a station of 250 hungry people. First though, I’ll stop in the bathroom with running water, brush my teeth and then go and put on my lightweight, heavy duty warm clothing and walk out into the beautiful late, spring, windless morning and give thanks that I’m here now, not 95 years ago.