Some random things you should know

  • As I thought it would, the community in this place is turing out to be a lot like college, only better. Granted I am in McMurdo which has a compartively (to the Pole) huge population and infrastructure, but it really is just like college life. Last night, I was walking through the halls of the main dorm in town (155) which are upstairs from the galley. Doors were open, people were milling in rooms, watching TV, drinking and just hanging out. The walls were decorated with handmade fireplace bricks drawn with crayon and every other doorwar was festooned with beek boxes, beaded curtains, or cheesy cards with inspirational sayings. Later that night, I found myself in the lounge drinking beer and playing pool. What’s different this time around? We’re all grown ups and able to treat each other as such. It’s a much better experience that way.
  • You really do start to get used to the cold and its affects on you. Walking to the galley no longer requires bundling up as much as possible for me when it is -5 or warmer. I mean, yeah, I do have my puffy coat on and a hat, gloves and a few layers, but I am not needing to pack myself into it all as deeply as possible and if I am “going out” I’m happy to wear just a layer or two under the coat because I’d rather wear real clothes than ECW. And I can survive. Wild.
  • I left only a week ago or so. It feels like months.
  • We started talking about sex today. It didn’t take long. A few of us were at lunch and Nicole was talking about how much she misses her husband (who will be here at the end of the month) and how she couldn’t wait to get it on again. Nick and I, who both left girlfriends at home) groaned and made it clear that she definitely was not going to get any sympathy from us. Before I knew it, we were all talking about how most everyone was gonna end up getting some at some point, because we’d go nuts here what with the access only to each other and no other stimulation (pardon the pun) which led to jokes, comments, and innuendos. Did I mention this is all very college like?
  • Even without any life besides the people, this place is amazingly beautiful.

Sunset behind Mt. Discovery

And now for some answers to your questions:

A few of you left comments a few days ago with questions (which is great. please, feel free to e-mail or comment on my posts, pictures or whatever). I want to answer them as best I can. So, without further adieu:
  • Melissa: No, we don’t have to wear gloves inside. It’s all very heated here, which is good. Right now, I am in the lounge wearing a tshirt over my long sleeve, a pair of fleece pants and my slippers. I’m a tad warm.
  • Mom: They gave us two pairs of thermal underwear pants and two thermal underwear shirts. They are really warm. As far as the rest of the ECW (for those who care) I got:
  • a pair of uncomfortable boots (I have better ones that are quite warm that I wear)
  • a big red parka
  • an insulated Carhart jacket with a furry hood
  • more pairs of gloves and mittens than I know what to do with (5 works gloves, 2 leather gloves, three different mittens, and liners
  • 5 pairs of wool socks
  • a balakava
  • a hat with flaps
  • a neck gaiter
  • a hat liner that breaks the wind
  • Tim: I can’t go play with the penguins for two reasons. First, it is totally against the law. the Antarctic Treaty forbids interaction with animals unless it is a scientific study. Second, they’re not back yet as it is too early in the year. Hopefully in Feb. when I come back through, I can go for a walk to look at the colony.
  • Alona: Yes we need fire extinguisher training here. The Pole is one of the driest deserts on earth and the risk of fire is mighty high. If a building burns down, you can’t live outside for long. Not comfortably anyway.
  • Zeke: The Yankees do suck, it’s true. But the Tigers will KILL the Mets.
  • PK: I have an eye shield, but the curtains in the dorm are qorking so far. I’ll update on the situation when I get to Pole. No animals yet. See above.
  • Pat: Why are we anywhere? Seriously, this question deserves a full post to answer… stay tuned.

Light snoring

It wasn’t light snoring that drove me to sleep elsewhere last night (which I have taken to affectionately calling “the jail cell”). It was that heavy, bone rattling, deep, deep snore that I imagine was how Raplh Kramden on The Honeymooners must have snored that did it. That and the smell.

I actually started out in the dorm lounge last night at 10:30 or so, wide awake because of the light. We had landed at Mactown around 5:30 and were quickly shufffled into yet another orientation/briefing about life in this place. After that, I ran off to inspect the room and drop off my handcarry bags, and then ran to dinner before the dining hall closed. Then it was off to the post office to get my checked baggage, some time in the jail cell making my bed, and then I went with a friend (Evan) to look for the bars and get a drink. They were closed, so I came to the computer room and before I knew it, it was getting late, and I was a bit sleepy from the long day.

But then I walked outside into the light and all that lifted. At 10 PM it was bright overcast outside with a streak of color in a break of clouds behind the mountain in the distance (whose name I have forgotten) and I was wide awake. My body just didn’t feel right heading to bed with so much light left to play in. Never mind the fact that I had gone through a 70 degree + temperature drop and flown 6 hours in an LC-30 cargo transport plane and no one else was out or about. It was light out and my body and mind were happy to stay up.

After brushing my teeth, I poked my head into the lounge and found the TV. We have a few entertainment channels down here including two movie stations (I think people just throw movies into the video machine and it broadcasts) and I found Poltregeist. That didn’t help make me sleepy. I decided that lying down in the dank, not totally dark, loud jail cell might help. It didn’t so I grabbed my blanket and pillow, clock, and earplugs and crashed out on the lounge couch. (picture college dorm furniture….).

Honestly, it wasn’t so bad and I did get about 6 hours sleep. I was up by 5:30 am, but thanks to the melatonin pills, I was wide awake and feeling pretty good.

So here I am, still wide awake and honestly, the amount of light in the sky has yet to change.

This morning I took a fall safety class and am finishing up with the practical this afternoon. that should be fiun. I’m gonna hang from an I-beam for a bit. Tonight is an outdoor safety course which I have to take in order to go anywhere off base while I am here which I desperately want to do. Tomorrow a few friends and I are planning a walk up Observation Hill (Ob Hill) which gives a great view of town and the surrounding pack ice (which hasn’t broken up in 2 to 3 years) and there are other cool-looking hikes I want to try.

That’s all for now. I have tons of time on my hands until I start work at Pole, so I’ll be back later today with some pictures from NZ and answers to questions below.


Ice, Ice Baby

I made it. I am here. Antarctica. It’s true. We landed this afternoon around 530 local time (don’t ask me what time that is where you are, I can’t keep track).

I don’t even know how to begin describing to you how excited I am. I mean, it’s a continent that most people never get to go to and it’s utterly beautiful, even from this teeny little mining village that is really pretty ugly.

My first glance of the place was from the small, porthole-sized window of the LC-141 that we flew in on. I had to lean over a pallet of things to poke my face into the recessed window of the door, but once I did, there was a giant Ice burg poking up out of the clouds off in the distance. I have a picture but as I am in Macmurdo (Mactown) which is not my home for the next four months, I can’t really get my laptop online quite yet… hopefully tomorrow I’ll post it.

Anyway, about two hours later, we landed and the 150 of us or so bundled up in all our ECW and trekked out into the ice. Bam! It was cold cold cold… about -21 C with a windchill of  -33 C. In the distance, Mt. Erebus (the continent’s largest) poked its head into the clouds and our massive cargo plane idled on the ice while its crew of Air force folks threw a football around like the weather was nothing. I sat on a bus.

It’s weird around here other than massively cool views that you get every time you walk out of the dorm or the dining hall. I mean, it really is a dirty little mining town and feels much like a college campus. We’re all in a computer room outside the dining hall and in a few minutes, I’m gonna walk back to my dorm and get into a bunk bed with a stinky little pillow. (My transit housing here in Mactown, by the way, is a room filled with 13 double bunk beds and guys in all of them. 26 people, one room. They call it Hotel California.)

I have an entire post about the glories of Christchurch, NZ where we spent a few days before flying down here, but again, it’s on my laptop and I need to look into getting that online here in Mactown. I’ll do what I can because you need to see the pictures of their Botanical Gardens.

Rumor has it that I fly south to Pole on Friday or Saturday. It’s all dependant on the weather. It has to WARM UP to -50 C before we can fly in there.

And it starts

There’s been a lot of lead up to this trip, but here I am in Denver for training and that means my trip — my adventure — has officially started and so has this blog.

I got to Denver last night and even before I arrived, I was meeting people also headed south. Sitting next to me on the plane was Nick and right in front of me was Misty. They’re both Polies too and we got to talking. Apaprently this is Nick’s first year as well. He, however, is doing things whole hog. He’s already signed a contract to winter over at Pole which means he’ll be down there for a year or more (Most people who go down — including me and Misty and my friend Matt who was down last year and is heading down next week — go only for the Summer which is four months long). Unlike me, Nick will be there when the sun sets and stays set for 8 months, and he’ll be there for 8 months of isolation. During the winter, no planes can get to the Pole at all. No mail, no food deliveries, nothing.

But that’s not what I am doing, so let’s not dwell on it. Today, about 20 of us suffered through 7 hours of training and orientation. Besides the 5 hours of OSHA safety training, I also learned all about waste management on Antarctica, where Raytheon Polar Services Company (which contracts with the National Science Foundation) has to haul out all the trash created by American activities on the continent (thanks to the requirements of The Antarctic Treaty). To make doing so easier and less costly, they have achieved a 68 percent recycling rate which is phenomonal! In the States, most cities flirt with the 30 percent mark. To make doing that possible, the rest of us have to pre-sort our waste into one of 16 different categories! It’s like an environmentalist’s dream come true!

Other than the waste and the safety, it was mostly a day of corporate hell. I met two other polies, another guy named Nick and a woman named Kate (I think) who is also building a straw bale house in South Dakota.

I think I am going to fit in here.

Anyway, tomorrow is a few more hours of orientation and then we all head to the airport for a massively long trip to Christchurch, New Zealand, where we will have a day and a half or so (weather permitting) to get our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear issued and then fly to The ICE…. Thanks to layovers, I’ll have time to document that then.