Sunday, December 27, 2009

busy weekend

So, the Race Around the World was held this weekend, with both human and engine-powered contingents. IceCube had a particularly cool float:

The race course provided a great vantage to get photos of the deconstructing Dome:

The station has also changed a lot in complexion since I first came here in 2007. Long gone is the tacky-looking plywood cladding, which is now covered by this dark paneling that is still being installed on a few areas of the station's exterior.

Hopefully this week will go quickly and without too many hitches. Our band, which has now officially been dubbed SECURITY IN NOISE will have a couple more practices and a sound check before we take the stage as the second of three bands this coming Saturday night.

“It is less difficult to bear misfortunes than to remain uncorrupted by pleasure.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I just can't wait to play with the band next week!!! Wish you were here...

Let the festivities begin!

My Christmas morning started with a trip to the Dark Sector to troubleshoot a project's power system. We couldn't get everything troubleshot in short order, so the staff back in the States were cool enough to say just shut it down and deal with it after the day's big events. It's nice when folks in the World remember that those of us on the Ice are actually human beings that might want to do something other than work 24/7. Thanks Stanford!

The big dinner, for me, starts at 5pm, so I'll have to get a shower and changed here before the rest of my science checks kick off. At least I have plenty of friends that will be ensuring I have a seat reserved, if I can't make it there early enough to fend for myself.

I did get 3 packages yesterday, 2 from home and 1 from Becky. Thanks for the ridiculously varied contents of the box(es). I felt like I'd hit the payday in Vegas or something.

Anyhow, I need to get back to the grindstone for a little bit longer. Best holiday wishes for everybody who takes the time to read this, and travel safe if you're headed anywhere away from home. It's dangerous out there in the World, you know!

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”
~Marcus Aurelius
"A friendship like love is warm; a love like friendship is steady."
~Thomas More

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Up and Down, Con/Decon

The CosRay detector platform began to be erected yesterday afternoon. I just kept my distance, but it was interesting to see how high the platform, where the detectors in their 6,000-lb. housings will be located. I'm not exactly sure how I'll get the detector tubes full of Helium-3 all the way up there, which looks to be a bit more difficult than presented to me. Oh well, it'll be a good challenge to overcome.

In the foreground of this photo some of the big fuel bladders brought in overland from McMurdo Station by the South Pole Traverse are visible. I believe each bladder holds something like 3,000 gallons of fuel. At least on paper, the traverse is supposed to be a much cheaper means of cargo transport than flying everything in here on an LC-130 aircraft.

Dome deconstruction continues, though the changes are a bit less dramatic than they were for SkyLab.

Was out in the Dark Sector doing some errands last week and, thanks to R.A.B. for the photo, got to go atop DSL and have a look see at the South Pole 10-meter Telescope. It's a radio telescope probing the microwave remnants from the early moments of the Universe. That's a pretty cool thing to have out in your backyard!

We actually managed to have a full band practice last night, without a power outage, and most of the songs sounded quite good. A few that we've not played as much need some work, but we've another 1.5 weeks to remedy those deficiencies. Planes are few and far between this week, lucky break for the cargo folks, so nothing much (including mail) is really arriving on station. Pretty soon I plan to start reading through the couple books on glaciers/glaciology that I brought down. Who knows whether that major change of career path will happen this time around. I'm doing a pretty decent job of just living in the here and new and not letting my mind stray to what will come after next November, when I finally depart Pole again.

“Time is the only critic without ambition.”
~John Steinbeck
“All men's gains are the fruit of venturing.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Lowdown

Wednesday we had an airdrop of supplies from a C-17. I had to work, and didn't go out to watch the drop, but did get to see the "fly-by" (almost) of the station that the plane performed afterward.

The top of the Dome has begun to be "deconstructed":

A group of parachutists visiting Pole before doing their drop, which will be far away from the station itself. The last time skydiving was done here it did not got so well. I'll let you research that on your own. All the icy menhir have been distributed beside the station so folks can play sculptor with them.

We had a power outage a few days ago, which was a beast to recover my projects from. That day of work ended up lasting from 5:30 AM to 10:15 PM by the time it was all said and done. Last night I managed to really relax and had a great time just hanging out with friends playing video games and watching rugby. What a difference a day makes!

I'll have an abundant supply of uninterrupted days here at Pole over the coming 11 months, since I just notified my employer I will not be accepting R&R in New Zealand next month. It is not what I wanted to do, but it was what that robotic side of my personality and conscience compelled me to do. It's one big, mean robot with nasty pincher claws, my conscience is, so it's usually best to just do as it says, despite the cost.

“Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this.”

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Presto chango!

Well, here is a little subjective update on the deconstruction project at Pole this summer. As of a couple days ago, this was the state of progress on the removal of the old science building (Skylab) and the Dome (which has yet to begin):

And, as of this morning there is no Skylab apparent from the windows of the galley in the Elevated Station. I don't know if the whole building is gone, though, since that drift is several stories high around the old facilities:

We're installing new antennae and a data acquisition computer to augment one of the space science projects here, so that has been challenging at times. The still-lingering-in-nameless-purgatory band had a really good practice last night, but I unfortunately had to duck out early to go to an informational meeting for winterovers. Right now it looks like I don't have to do any further psychological evaluations or medical checkouts (I may get another dental cleaning, though, next month), and I'll probably not be bothered with jumping through all the hoops and whatnot that have been established as new policy for R&R in New Zealand. As much as I would like to go, I just don't think I can do it. Sometimes it is a real drag being me. It will just be that much more plunder in my pocket for post-contract travels, should they be a valid option. Don't you all go breaking the global economy even more while I'm down here! Seriously!

Tonight there is supposed to be an airdrop of bulky cargo by a C-17, which is always fun to watch. This morning I will have the always-interesting experience of leading a tour of the station for some paying tourists. Tomorrow I get a haircut in the morning from the barber/hair stylist that is visiting from McMurdo.

“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
~George Washington

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Changing Skyline

In the past week the “deconstruction”, not sure why the word “demolition” is verboten, of Sky Lab began. The crew doing that job is working nights, so each day it is interesting to see how much progress has been made whilst asleep.

H1N1 vaccine arrived on-station this week, and I guess I need to decide whether or not to get it. I probably will just to be safe. Illnesses like that are problems more for us here while we keep getting people arriving from the outside world. Once we have been closed for winter for a while that sort of illness is far less common, and kind of burns itself out after a certain interval.

I had fun retrieving a small wind turbine from the field and disassembling it for retrograde shipment to the States. The only bad part was getting a good numbers of splinters in my hands from the fibers that reinforced the composite blades. They were more of an annoyance than anything.

Inevitably this coming week will blow by as quickly as past one did. Somebody seems to have hit the existential fast forward button on the remote control of our lives here. Next weekend is a normal one day off situation for most folks. The coming week, a majority of the station will have Friday and Saturday off for the holiday, but go back to work on Sunday. I’ll be carrying on with my normal routine, despite the ebb and flow of others’ schedules.

One small request, if any of you know or actually are movie director James Cameron, could you arrange to have a copy of the new movie “Avatar” sent down here? If it would not be an imposition, a 3D projection system would be much appreciated, too. That would be awesome of you, for sure!

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greased Lightning

Wow, this week is absolutely flying into the past. There has been the usual litany of work, as well as a much smaller amount of recreation. The even-as-I-type-still-to-be-definitively-named band's practices are going well. Tuesday night we started work on some new songs that I'm not singing/rhythm-guitaring, but will be playing the bass guitar for, which was a fun change of pace. Emergency response teams got a little excitement yesterday with a fire alarm to respond to some heat trace that roasted around the door to the emergency power plant in the elevated station. It wasn't a serious threat, and was under control by the time we arrived. There wasn't even enough smoke to set off a smoke detector, but wow did that get my attention when the announcement came over the all-call.

We've had our first 2 planeloads of tourists recently, which is always a bit surreal. I couldn't imagine what life would be like if I could drop $40,000 on a vacation and not feel like I'd short-changed myself financially in practically all other practical sectors of my existence. I'm signed up to be a tour guide again, so we'll see how that goes.

"Deconstruction" of Sky Lab has commenced, from the top down. I'll try to get some pics of that as it goes. The VLF beacon is back online, though not at full power, and we'll have another grantee down here in just a couple weeks to do more work on the infrastructure. The current grantee departs today, weather permitting, and it's almost going to be like losing one of our techs in the lab, since he's been here for a full month of the season already. The siding crews are working on cladding the final bits of the elevated station, the cryogenics facility, and the Dark Sector Lab. IceCube is drilling and has occupied the B1 Lounge, as is their wont. Some antenna riggers arrived a couple days ago, and will be removing some disused towers from out grid east of the station. Some new/changing projects of mine include the CosRay detector platform is supposed to be moved pretty soon, and the cables for the Dartmouth antennas have been trenched, laid, and filled in. In general, the station is a hive of activity, as it is every summer. If I had more unstructured time I'd probably be spending a good portion of it wishing for the calmer tempo of winter. Unless something changes, it looks like I'll be working straight through without R&R this time, so my stretch of consecutive work days is going to be rather lengthy by the time this 13 months is over.

"That all courage was a form of constancy. That it was always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily."
~"All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy
"You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair."
~Taisen Deshimaru

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grist to be ground

Lots of work and little play seem to be the norm here right now. It's still hard at times to believe/digest we've brought down/replicated Corporate America down here. That sort of contact with the outside world always strikes me as surreal, at the very least. Away from work the perhaps-now-named band is going well. We added several new songs over the last week, and only have 2-3 more new ones to work on between now and New Year's Eve. Here are some pics:

Transmission cable junction for the VLF beacon-we swapped connectors covered up right near the "T" of the wooden support:

Main entrance from outside of Dome:

Empty innards of the Dome-demolition begins shortly:

Exterior of Sky Lab, which I never got to go into, also to be demolished soon:

"Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant."
~Tsukahara Bokuden

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Full Tasking

I had a decent (working) holiday weekend. I did eventually get some dinner for Thanksgiving, but that was after I spent 2 hours in the gym by myself working out. The dancing and party after the meal was pretty tame, by Pole standards.

I've had a busy week thus far, with yesterday morning finding me and a grantee out in the field replacing power transmission line connectors and swapping out a transformer for the VLF beacon's 7-km antenna. There are a lot of things going on at once, and nobody seems to be able to be definite with their schedules. The one constant you always have to deal with down here, at least in this position, is that everybody else's schedules trump yours. I guess it's just easier that way, for them. Regardless, there's no changing that phenomenon, so you just have to roll with the punches.

The fire brigade will be having a couple weeks of stepped-up training tempo, so I have been and will be spending a lot more time on top of everything else preparing and executing those training sessions. If doing this again a second year doesn't prove I'm an altruist then I don't know what would. Monday afternoon we had a drill out at the IceCube drill camp, which went well, though there wasn't much for the fire brigade to do.

Last night I co-hosted a trivia event, which was pretty fun. The questions I used were ones I'd written back in the summer of 07-08. My categories were "Islands" and "Box Office Disasters".

Anyhow, duty calls.

"We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds."
~Aristotle Onassis

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Day, Take 1

Well, the holiday is upon us (some of us) here at Pole. So far I'm doing laundry and working just like normal. I always like using the big clothing centrifuges to get more water out before putting my things in the dryer. There's always something that seems just barely in control about the big, humming contraptions. The station is pretty quiet so far, with mostly night-shifters with time off rattling around. The science lab currently has none of its phalanx of overhead fluorescents on, and just the light from our several windows is a pleasant change from the harshness of the normal illumination scheme. I'll definitely be hitting the gym sometime today. Last night I watched "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", and I wouldn't mind emulating the title character's physique by the time I redeploy.

Well, have a great weekend wherever you are. It would be fabulous if my afternoon could include doing something like this, but I'll take what I can get.

" seemed they cared better for the weapons they wore than for the weapons they were. It seemed a strange way to behave, but of course this was a strange world."
~Roland, "The Drawing of the Three"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not a moment to lose

Things keep hopping during this pre-holiday-for-some week here at Pole. We've received a bunch of cargo in the last few days, which should enable us to get on with some work on the big 7-km VLF transmitter antenna. Emergency response training has been coming quickly, with tours of the IceCube facilities today and a Monday evening training session on the SCBA compressor that we use to refill our bottles for the fire brigade. On top of that work stuff, I've had two band practices in the last 3 days and have continued to hit the gymnasium regularly (love the rowing machine). I've also found time to do a bit of reading in "The Pillars of the Earth", which I'm enjoying ever so much. I'll probably pile right into the sequel book "World Without End" when I'm done with the first. Thanks, Bill!

I've tried to keep taking photos of new/different things from years previous. Here are a few more to look at:

A view of the Dome and Skylab, both of which are slated for demolition this summer:

Perihelia flank the accumulation of ice on a rooftop bathroom vent:

A nice, full halo around the sun, which is due to ice crystals in the atmosphere:

Though I never got to live under the dome, it still is going to bizarre to have that major landmark disappear. My first time down I got to see it with the buildings still in the interior, but they were demolished the winter of 2007. The physical hole the absence of these buildings will create is going to be impressive, to say the least. I reckon many folks that did get to live there will rue its passing, but such is the fate of all things.

"And a dear God indeed to them was the Roof of the Kindred, that their fathers had built and that they yet warded against the fire and the lightening and the wind and the snow, and the passing of the days that devour and the years that heap the dust over the work of men. They thought of how it had stood, and seen so many generations of men come and go; how often it had welcomed the new-born babe, and given farewell to the old man; how many secrets of the past it knew; how many tales which men of the present had forgotten, but which yet mayhap men of times to come should learn of it; for to them yet living it had spoken time and again, and had told them what their fathers had not told them, and it held the memories of the generations and the very life of the Wolfings and their hopes for days to be."
~Excerpt from "House of the Wolfings" by William Morris

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Breaking the Rules

So, a couple nights back I had been talking to some folks at the dinner table about my previous exploits sailing from Auckland to Easter Island/Rapa Nui aboard the Soren Larsen on my way home from Antarctica the first time. I came really close to sailing on another vessel from the Canary Islands to St. Martin in the Caribbean, crossing the Atlantic in 19 days. Well, the timing and berth availability didn't work out, so I had my other, fun trip in Australia and S.E. Asia instead. Anyhow, I looked at the website for that ship, the Stad Amsterdam, again, and they already have a similar voyage across the Atlantic posted for late November/early December 2010. So, assuming I leave here in mid-November, I could probably do this voyage. Sure, it's expensive, but how often do you get to cross an ocean under wind power?

I was not trying to overtly break one of my rules for long contracts on the Ice, by thinking about post-redeployment travel this early, but there it is. I'm not antsy to leave, by any means, but it would be awesome to have something like this all lined up for when I do finish my time at Pole and have to get myself back to the other side of the world.

"All loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I."

~Louis L'Amour

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sisyphean Resignation

Well, this week, like the many to come, was filled with much work. There has been plenty to do with science, as well as the fire brigade. Yesterday we had our monthly combined-team drill for the station ERT apparatus, which went pretty well. Sure, we could do things much better, but that all will come with time and practice, neither of which we have had a whole lot of yet. Right after the drill we had a real alarm, which turned out to be nothing. That anomaly is almost always a given, the follow-up alarm after we have had a drill. There is certainly something to be said for experience of all sorts, but eliminating that particular gremlin would be nice.

This coming week brings the first holiday of the season here: American Thanksgiving. I, unfortunately, did not get signed up for the only dinner seating that would jive with my work schedule before it filled up (no holiday for me anyway), so am not sure what I will do. It would be fun to celebrate with most of my friends, but perhaps I will just make use of the gym while it is abandoned by others in favor of gluttony.

I have been working out every day, and am feeling that gratifying soreness that comes with physical exertion. I plan to start winter, and an adapted 300 workout, in much better shape than I did in 2008. Having such ready access to a gymnasium is probably one of the best perks of a contract here at Pole. That, and the free room and board. Between exercise and music, you have the two pillars for relieving stress upon which I rely heavily to make it through to the end of my perpetual work week. Once I can establish a routine, I also hope to start studying geology/glaciology some, as well as put in some quality time with my {ubiquitous brand name omitted} Russian language software .

“A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard.”
~Bruce Lee

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Plugging Away

I'm still here doing this whole multi-tasking thing at Pole. Since posting last, I've also gotten to swap out 32 big batteries for the VLF transmitter and excavate an autonomous VLF receiver from the field. That latter activity took several hours of shoveling on Monday morning, and was the biggest hole I've dug here to retrieve the smallest piece of equipment to date. I've also started writing a consolidated SOP/checklist for how to do my job as science tech. It'll be the equivalent of the Grand Unification Theory (that may be hyperbole...) for the Cusp Tech position, but is mostly being done to facilitate coverage for me if I need to leave to do work in the deep field or-by Odin's beard-actually get R&R in January.

I'm also pushing forward as best I can with getting the fire brigade up and running. For some reason it is taking a LONG time just to get people onto the team, which has consumed a lot more of my time this year than previous. We have to be fitted for our respirators by the safety engineer, go through a brief physical with medical, get a properly programmed radio, and be issued bunker and SCBA gear. That's just to be allowed and equipped to respond, and doesn't even mean you have the training to really know what you're doing yet. All that process of building the team and bringing skills up to sufficient proficiency is what's on my plate for the coming summer (and then I get to do it again for winter). It's tough to schedule training when you have folks working on 3 different shifts in the same team, not to mention the fact that I have a "good deal" of work for my own primary job to do every single day. Oh well, I think it's important for the station, and it will hopefully look decent on my resume if there are any jobs to apply for when I leave here.

"Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body."
~Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Polie Errant

Well, the last two days I have gotten to go out with a visiting grantee and inspect the full 7-kilometer length of the VLF Beacon antenna. Yeah, it's 4.34 miles long. We got an early start this morning and did the northern half of the antenna. Here are a few pics:
The view back to town:

Our faithful Rocinante, Pisten Bully #309:

Again, the trusty steed:

This sort of picture, with the antenna stretching into the Flat White, reminds me what a beautiful and alien place this Antarctica can be:

Yesterday we did the southern half. Just as we were getting back to the station, I heard a fire alarm called out on the radio. So, I rushed in and helped verify that there was no problem. After a very brief lunch, and finding out our vehicle was having some mechanical issues, I only then had somebody tell me that it was in fact Friday the 13th. It made total sense. I'd felt-in the Force-that something was going to happen today, so had alerted various folks associated with emergency response that I was going to be off-station for several hours.

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this.”
~from "Don Quixote" by Cervantes

That has to be one of my favorite quotes I've come across in a long time. If you know me, you know why.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best Effort

The frantic pace of summer seems to be coalescing here at the bottom of the world. I’m doing my best to juggle the science work and firefighting responsibilities, along with station responsibilities like House Mouse. Today I get to clean my dorm wing’s bathrooms, as well as one of the lounges. Yesterday, at the end of 12 hours of work, I had to walk out to MAPO in the Dark Sector to move by hand 2,622 pounds of batteries for one of my projects that has a lot of its infrastructure out there. I also ended up staying awake until 2:00 A.M. to issue a new firefighter his full panoply, since he’s currently working on swing shift. So, I got a bit less than 3 hours of sleep this morning. What are you gonna do?

"I yam what I yam."
~Popeye the Sailor Man

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Billions, ya' dig?

Yesterday I got my first good work out in the field under my belt. I had to dig up the electronics case for a geophysical experiment that I support to retrieve some data off a compact flash card inside. It took a couple hours of shoveling carefully, to ensure not to cut any power or data cables, to uncover the box, but the retrieval of the data was quick and easy. It was beautiful and nearly cloudless, though cooler (~-50F), with very light wind. I've another field project that I need to do, but the winds are higher today (~20 kts), so I will postpone until a more clement day.

With all the tumult in the news about NASA and the manned space program's future, I thought I'd mark what would have been Carl Sagan's 75th birthday (11/09/1934). May I be as articulate and engaged in my life as he was in his.

"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."
"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."
"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."
~Carl Sagan

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is going on here?

OK, so I happened to find this ghost-written Tom Clancy book called "Cold War" here at Pole, which I'd been interested in reading about for a few years. I probably read my first Tom Clancy book, "The Hunt for Red October" back in 7th grade. I started reading this novel a couple days ago, and it was interesting hearing somebody relate in this format about Antarctica, McMurdo, the Dry Valleys, etc. Well, I was doing laundry fairly late last night, and encountered a plot point that (for me) was as bizarrely familiar as the bits about Antarctica. So, the hired-gun author decided to include a major solar flare event as part of the plot line. Well, it just so happens that I was sitting there in the galley at the South Pole reading a Tom Clancy book that included the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and people working at Goddard Space Flight Center. I got to read brief descriptions of instruments onboard SOHO, which I used to actually work in conjunction with during my time on that mission's flight ops team (FOT). Anyhow, who would have thought that some unremarkable techno-thriller novel would encapsulate so many of the major events in the last 8 years-plus of my life. If, in the book, somebody turns up a Jayhawk and liking to sail tall ships then I'm going to really flip out...

I do have to say, though, that the summertime temperatures in McMurdo are much closer to +50F than -50F. You also have more than just a few moments wearing polypropylene glove liners at -20F before your hands start to freeze. I've been able to work for about 5 minutes at a time in glove liners at sub-negative 90F. I guess this is the difference between knowing the ground truth from personal experience versus using secondary sources. I'll see how the rest of this literary masterpiece goes.

"Just the facts, ma'am."
~Sgt. Joe Friday, Dragnet

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taking the reins

I'm still plugging away here at Pole, and our transition between winter and summer crews is progressing. I haven't done anything much "exciting" since arriving, and am pretty much trying to lay low and get over this bug I picked up in McMurdo. Today is the first outbound flight with a whole bunch of winterovers, so the dynamics of the station will be changing rapidly. The remaining winterover crew members will-as always-get antsy and really want to leave, too. This is a case where the grass is actually greener. Anyhow, I don't have much else to share right now.

“Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Visual Stimulation

Turnover is going pretty well here, but it's always fraught with more stress than during the middle portions of each season. I'm now on-call fire brigade lead, and will be so every day until I go on R&R or redeploy. I'm doing my best to just think about the short-term periods to come, not the contract as a 13-month whole. My science turnover has gone pretty well, too. It's AWESOME not having to learn all this from scratch again. One downer is that just as I was leaving McMurdo I picked up a cold, and that's not making the altitude acclimation process any more pleasant. But, hopefully I'll get past that in the next week. Anyhow, before things pick up for the day, I'm delivering on the much-awaited promise of photos. They're kind of random, but whatever.

Old supplies inside Scott's Discovery Hut at McMurdo:

Roll Cage Mary, a tribute to a guy who died when his bulldozer plunged through the sea ice:

We get two two-minute showers per week at Pole. McMurdo folks live it up in relative luxury:

A Delta vehicle at the Long Duration Balloon facility outside McMurdo, with Mt. Erebus (southernmost active volcano in the world) in the background:

A peek at the Trans-Antarctic Mountains from my C-130 Hercules flight to Pole. Once past these, the terrain is nothing but the flat white expanse of the Antarctic Plateau (a.k.a. my home):

A very last-minute Halloween costume that turned out pretty well. I managed to sew that little water bottle satchel and throw together the other pieces of the get-up in about 45 minutes. Yes, without the proper gear you really feel that (-75F) windchill:

"Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory."
~Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr., Temple of Doom

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

At the drop of a hat

A fedora would be the appropriate head wear, in my case.

With about an hour's warning, and my laundry just put in the dryer in McMurdo, I got notice I'd be flying to Pole on a Hercules this morning. The laundry got mostly dry, and I made the transport time to the Ice Runway, and a few hours later the fedora had dropped to 90 degrees south latitude. I'm moved into my room, catty-cornered to my one from last summer, had dinner, visited the band room, played more games of pool (being 1) than I did all last year, and gotten to see a few familiar faces that were down here for the last 9 months.

"Well, I'm back."
~Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

Monday, October 26, 2009

broken record, scratched CD,...

Nothing much here has changed on the flight schedule to Pole. Nobody has gotten in or out of there since I last wrote. McMurdo continues to fill up with people, with an infusion yesterday of 50 Aussies headed for Casey Station.

I guess I'm headed out to the LDB field camp to help set up the galley there, which is supposed to open for business tomorrow. If we get done with that early enough I will also go help open up the galley at the sea ice runway. Other than that, I'm not sure what will happen today.

"Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty -- his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure."
~Aldous Huxley

Friday, October 23, 2009

La indecision me molesta

Who would have known that THE CLASH would have so many years ago summed up my feelings about the situation NASA faces these days with the Augustine Commission's findings and recommendations? This recent news of their report's findings are certainly somewhat troubling, but not unexpected. It's the same story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, not unlike a lot the last year I lived through. Anyhow, hopefully a decent plan can be agreed upon, enacted, and funded that will ensure I still have some chance of fulfilling this dream/goal/quest I started upon back in the sixth grade.

My Basler flight to Pole was most recently scheduled to leave this afternoon from McMurdo, but the morning's flight has been put on weather delay, so the subsequent flight is now in question. I suppose if we don't go today then we probably won't try to fly until Monday. I don't reckon most folks involved with air transport will be too happy if asked to work on their day off on Sunday (poor babies). This whole station opening push each year ends up butting heads with the realities of the weather during this time of the year, and delays are pretty much the name of that game and probably will always be so until they either start training Polies to be parachutists and make airborne drops on Pole, or we build a giant catapult here at McMurdo to fling people and cargo in a southerly direction, or we develop Star Trek transporter technology,... OK, shut up Ethan. Like the astronauts and pilots in "The Right Stuff", I'm finding that maintaining and even strain is paying off for me so far this year.

"You boys know what makes this bird go up? FUNDING makes this bird go up...No bucks, no Buck Rogers."
~The Right Stuff

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still waiting

OK, so days have passed, and we've still only the single Basler into Pole. I'm still in McMurdo, and keeping myself nicely busy during the days. I've been working in the Berg Field Center (BFC), which is the equivalent of an outfitter's store back in the States. The BFC is where field camps get a lot of their gear, and the folks there do a whole lot of work to keep it clean and in shape and organized. It's a really nice workplace, with a fabulous view out over McMurdo Sound to the Trans-Antarctic range.

Yesterday we had like 40-knot winds here, which made life both chilly and interesting. Somebody got blown off their feet out front of the BFC, which was fairly singular in my experience here in Mac-town.

The earliest I might be flying would be Saturday. The weather at Pole is supposed to be improving, and tomorrow (Friday here) Pole has the potential for getting the 2nd and 3rd Basler flights completed. This would be a good thing.

"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm."
~Willa Cather

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weather, like other things, happens

The forecast isn't so great down here at the bottom of the world. We got one plane in yesterday, but now the weather is not cooperating so well. I probably won't be heading south before Thursday or Friday now, so am doing my best to keep the training ball rolling in McMurdo.

Last night I spent a couple hours washing pots with the DAs back in the kitchen. It was nice to see my old stomping grounds, and to re-amaze myself that I survived doing that for 4 months with sanity intact.

Other than that there isn't much else to report from your man in McMurdo.

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?”
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Treading water

Well, the last few days have been peppered with lectures and training sessions. A couple days ago I did a fall protection class, which covered most of the harnesses, anchor points, deceleration devices, and tactics one needs to use when working with the potential of a rapid release of gravitational potential energy (i.e. you might fall off something higher than 4 feet). I also attended the mandatory lecture required to do a good number of the hikes and recreational activities here in McMurdo, so am now good to go on that front. I might have an opportunity to go support some deep field science this summer, so I did my refresher course for Snow Craft (a.k.a. Happy Camper) yesterday afternoon. That included lectures about cold injuries, SAR protocols (here at McMurdo), setting up anchor points for tents/gear in snow and ice (pretty nifty stuff, that), using camp stoves, and (though I have virtually no prospects of getting do do so) protocols for flying in the helicopters down here.

Today, being Sunday, is a "day off", and it will likely be the very last one I have until if/when I actually get some R&R late in the summer. My Basler flight might leave on Wednesday, I guess, but the weather has been fouling up the nominal flight plans, as it always seems to do this time of year as the station is trying to open for the season. So, I'll keep trying to stay busy, and will probably put in a stint in the kitchen doing my crypto-profession, which is working as a dishwasher. I think most folks, myself included, are ready to arrive at their home at Pole. I've been underway for over 3 weeks now, and it will be nice to unpack my bags and stay someplace for a while. But, until then, I'll enjoy the journey as much as possible. At some point I'll start taking some photos, too.

"Endurance is patience concentrated."
~Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baby steps

The flight from Cheech to McMurdo went fine today. I'm getting all my "chores" done, and still need to go do Ye Olde Bagge Dragge from the MCC to my lovely room in 155 (room #127 for all you ladies out there...). The weather here is fine, so the meteo-gods are smiling on this journey thus far. I've encountered a few familiar faces, and most seem to be only slightly surprised to see me back here again. More when it happens...

"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."
— Neal Stephenson, Anathem

Monday, October 12, 2009

Roughing it

Well, the morning started out a bit overcast, but it's now clear and fine here in Christchurch. I exploded my duffel bag's contents all over my room this morning, and will reassemble them this evening before I call it a day early to get up tomorrow at some unreasonably early hour to catch my flight.

I've had lunch the last two days in a nice food court just south of Cathedral Square. Yesterday I had Cambodian; today it was Thai. I really liked eating in places like that when actually in SE Asia, since you usually got a lot of variety and quantity of eats for your baht, khmer, etc.

I've been spending a lot of time just walking around and enjoying the town. I'm reading "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson, as well, which is suitably different from his other works, and proving to be quite a good read as I get accustomed to his invented jargon and history for this particular sci-fi tome.

"Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways."
~Neal Stephenson, Anathem

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I am suffering the overwhelming sorrow associated with being bumped from tomorrow's flight to McMurdo and being rescheduled to go down on Thursday. With weather as disgustingly sunny and pleasant as it is here in Christchurch, I'm just ever so heartbroken over this prospect...

Fighting the lag

I got to Cheech yesterday, following a pretty seamless trip via LA and Sydney. The A380 was really nice, and the loading/offloading procedure didn't take too excessively long. It's a nifty aircraft, for sure. Cheech is beautiful, as usual. The weather is cool, but dry. The botanical gardens were fabulously gorgeous yesterday, and I'll probably go back for some more green time (not the type according to Honeywell, but I digress...) today after getting my ECW gear up at the Antarctic Center. Anyhow, it looks like we'll fly to McMurdo tomorrow if everything goes as planned. I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy on the way down. I'm still trying to sort out how that has affected me. What wonders a great book can wreak...

"Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire."
~Cormac McCarthy (The Road)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Fedora Ventures South

Cue the stirring John Williams score...

So, with all my training completed, and only one morning's worth of orientation lectures remaining, I'm headed for DIA tomorrow afternoon. It was good seeing a few familiar faces today at headquarters, and the talks about employment-related topics were relatively painless. I even managed to get all my expense reports processed, so that was a coup. Doing stuff like that from the Ice is always a pain. Anyhow, many miles await me tomorrow, and I hope to be able to score some solid hours of ZZZs with my fedora cinematically tipped down over my eyes. Of course, I'll probably be in a giant Qantas Airbus A380, not a Pan American "China Clipper". The flight takes long enough as it is, let alone retreating to airframes from the first half of the twentieth century. That's reserved for my flight from McMurdo to Pole on the Basler!

“Motion through geography is consoling; association with place names gave one an odd sense of importance, of accomplishment, infinitely better than the depressing, deadly shuttling from one forgotten mud hole to another of the winter past. Here was the big world and we were moving through it to great events; by now we could tell where we were and we had some idea of what was going to happen.”
~Brendan Phibbs, “Our War for the World”

This quote is from an absolutely fabulous memoir of a doctor's experiences fighting on the western front in Europe during WWII. I think this book is right up there on the order of "With the Old Breed" by E.B. Sledge, according to my taste in non-fiction. Thanks Tom!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Next Stop... the Orient(ation)

Well, over the last few days we 8 Polies worked our way through the numerous drills and presentations from the kind souls at fire school. Today we had a refresher/review lecture in the morning and an introduction to the use of tools to perform a forced entry through a locked door. After lunch, we ran a number of scenarios responding to a fire in the burn building (with real fire, none of that imitation stuff), including search and rescue for a patient inside. I think people were having a good time, and certainly learned a lot over the last five days. I still don't know anything about whether or not I'll be the fire brigade lead, but at least I've gotten a good refresher if I am. Credits for the photo to whichever of my teammates took the photo:

So, up next is a couple days of orientation at my employer's headquarters, and then we're off to start the big marathon of flights way west and way south. Yesterday evening I got my email about where I'll be staying in Cheech, so that whole leg of the trip is now in place. I guess some of the flights from Cheech to McMurdo have been backing up, so I'm not sure when I'll be making that flight. Anyhow, it feels good to have this bunch of training completed. I wish I could have had 2 weeks of fire training, but I'll take what I can get.

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
~Bertrand Russell

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Getting Fired (-Up)

Today we had our second full day of fire school here in Denver. Yesterday we got all the gear, and spent some time learning about the nature of fire. Today we drilled a bit on donning bunker gear and SCBA, and finished out the morning with exercises crawling through culverts and performing searches in buildings for fire and people. In the afternoon we geared up and sat in a burn room with a bonfire, while the heat and smoke increased and increased. It was nifty how the smoke/thermal layer was so defined from the cooler/clearer layer near the floor. I guess the temperatures got up to around 600 degrees Fahrenheit at roughly head level. When we exited the room, we had to avoid touching our gear with anything but gloved hands, lest we be burned. The last exercise of the day involved using hoses and moving them through the twists and turns of a building's interior spaces. I really wished we could have spent that time doing something with gear or tactics we'll actually use at Pole, where we don't have any sort of fire hose infrastructure and have to rely primarily upon handheld extinguishers for portable fire suppression and attack. I'll try to get some photos in the next couple days.

Anyhow, it was a good day of training, and I love the achy feeling of exertion and exercise I have right now. It's how I remember feeling throughout the entire football season each year in high school. We have three more days of fire school, and then folks kind of go their own way. It turns out not everybody is being made to deploy directly after completing the winterover training, but there are a handful of us that are making tracks for Cheech in less than a week.

“The Way is in training... Do nothing which is not of value.”
~Miyamato Musashi

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I just received notification that I passed the psych eval, so am now free to pass "GO".

~Anakin Skywalker, The Phantom Menace

At the Mountains of Madness

Well, yesterday was my appointment to take the psychological evaluation required for people spending the winter at Pole. The first exam was 567 true/false questions, and the second exam was close to 200 multiple-choice questions. Once done with the written exams, I had a pretty brief interview where they asked me a number of questions about my background on the Ice, my personal behavior and history, and a variety of pretty pat (at least for a tame guy like me) other questions about things like alcohol and other substances. I'm still trying to get a call into their office to find out whether I am officially sane in their eyes or not, but hope to get through their busy signal here at some point.

Today we don't have any training scheduled, so people are just taking it easy and making the best of our surroundings. Tomorrow our group of 8 will begin the fire school portion of the pre-deployment agenda, which will undoubtedly be interesting. It is a different academy from the fire school in 2007, so maybe I'll learn something new.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
~H.P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Past Trauma

Well, we just finished up our 2.5 days of trauma training. The syllabus covered loads of topics, and we got some good experience in drills. The problem is, I'll probably not get to review much of that while at Pole if not on the Trauma Team. Oh well, maybe a NOLS/WMI course would be in order sometime in the future.

Fire school starts Friday, but I have to pass my psych eval tomorrow morning, or this whole production comes to a screeching halt.

I don't have anything more on the schedule for today, so am getting together with an old friend/co-worker from back in my days at SOHO. Like I wrote last time, it feels good to be heading back into such a remarkable place. I keep wondering what is in store for me in the coming year.

“I think that fortune watcheth o'er our lives, surer than we. But well said: he who strives will find his goals strive for him equally.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The horror...

So, today we (all 8 of us) winterovers learned about critical incident stress management from a pair of psychologists. The presentation dealt a lot with the nature of how you can be traumatized by certain experiences, recognizing that you have undergone some sort of trauma, and how to cope with and move past all that unpleasantness. I found it to be interesting (again), but since I've never had any classes in psych, it's a pretty fresh subject for me.

There are two familiar faces in my group, and it's good to see them both again. Tonight there is some sort of mass outing for dinner, so I'll find out whether I know anybody else here for the training in the other group.

It feels good to be back in the saddle again, with this whole year stretching out before me. I certainly like doing this whole Antarctica thing!

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
~James Arthur Baldwin

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What next?

Well, this will be my last missive from good, ol’ Kansas. Friday afternoon this new, strange trip gets underway, and with a lot of family arriving in town tonight, I don’t think I will probably have time to get to this writing thing if I put it off until later. I'll do my best to post updates as I gradually make my way south over the coming weeks.

I finally got all my packages sent on their merry way yesterday. The kind folks at the post office seem to be getting used to me doing this, which in its own way was kind of cool. That is one thing I definitely like about living in a small town like this: it’s an actual community, where people interact with each other as something more than a moving obstacle and competitor for common resources. Is it perfect? In a word: no. No place ever was, is, or will be.

I’ve had many people ask me what I’m planning on doing when I get back as we’ve discussed the coming chapter of my life. I simply say that I have absolutely no idea, but that I’ll probably do a little traveling on the way back to the States. Where will I travel? I reply that I do not know that either, but if I haven’t been there I want to go. There is a lot of living to go on between now and next year, when I finally am in the position to start thinking about what work and recreation I would like to pursue once I leave the Pole. So much of the last nine months involved accepting the world as it is, and trying to do the best with what options were actually available. Some things can’t be rushed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that waiting patiently for future to become present heralds defeat. Reconciling oneself to the immediate living conditions is a big contributor to making a successful year in an isolated place like Antarctica, or wherever you happen to be. I look forward to what the coming year may hold, but will do my best not to get hung up on expectations I might have about how I would like it to transpire.

As I bid farewell to the familiar faces and places of home, I know they may not look or act the same when I get back. Some things might not even exist the next time I am back in this part of the world. People change. Places change. All things wink in and out of existence on their own timelines. The only constant is the ineluctable, unceasing flux of life. Where once was an inland sea, now there is the last real bastion of tall grass prairie on the continent. We only see the stony, skeletal remains of things (like these crinoids, fossilized plant stems) from this bygone era.

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.
~Frank Herbert (Dune)

I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.
~Joseph Campbell

"Was it pretty? Your country. . .your land?" "It was beautiful," the gunslinger said. "There were fields and forests and rivers and mists in the morning. But that's only pretty. My mother used to say that the only real beauty is order and love and light."
~Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Friday, September 18, 2009

Marching Orders

I finally got my travel itinerary for deployment yesterday. I'll be leaving next Friday (9/25), and will spend all the way through to 10/9 in Denver doing various training sessions, orientation, psychological evaluations, etc. I'll then fly commercial airlines to Los Angeles, Sydney, Australia (losing 10/10 crossing the international date line, which isn't as scandalous as it sounds), and finally arrive at Christchurch, New Zealand. Once in Middle Earth, I'll spend an undetermined number of days waiting for my flight to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, but will get to definitely go through all the rigmarole of receiving my extremely cold weather (ECW) gear and getting all my various articles of luggage headed in the correct direction. Hopefully I'll be able to work in a bit of Greek food at Dimitri's in Cheech before making the leap to terra australis incognita. But, I'm getting way ahead of myself.

Today I made the "big commitment" of sealing up some of my packages that I will mail to myself at Pole. They'll arrive eventually, and hopefully be intact and unspoiled by pilfering freebooters. I speak not with cynicism, but from experience.

So, with one more week remaining I'm pretty much ready to go, minus a few of the details. Last night my immediate family and some close relatives met for dinner at the Hays House. I'd been wanting to go there since way back in grad school, when I'd read their menu at my office computer while eating the ubiquitous PBJ sandwich for lunch. It was a tasty meal and a pleasant outing along the old Santa Fe Trail, at very long last.

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called 'Spannungsbogen', which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
~Frank Herbert, Dune

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Road Trip Retrospective

Well, I'm back home again after finishing off an exceptionally fine trip out west. Here is how the latter portion of my little vacation transpired.

After taking the day off after hiking Mt. Antero, I made an early start and hiked up Mt. Sherman. It was a much tamer hike, in terms of length and elevation gain, but was a whole lot of fun. From near Fairplay, CO, I had to drive about 12 miles in on a rock road that got pretty rough in the last stretch. My little car did just fine, but I had to go pretty slow at times to avoid high centering. I hiked up in the dark, all by myself, and had a great time spinning stories in my head to go with all the shadowy old mining buildings that lay alongside the trail. The stories were along the lines of Tolkien's descriptions of Mordor and goblins' mountain strongholds, imagery from Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series of books, and a good dose of prose of the ilk of Robert E. Howard. I had the top to myself for sunrise, and didn't meet any other hikers until most of the way back to my car. Hiking down in the light was interesting, because now I could see all those vaguely foreboding shadows uncloaked in the light of day.

After finishing the hike, I drove the rough road back out and headed up to the Guanella Pass. I camped about 4 miles from the summit, and made an early start on Friday to summit both Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans in the same day. Near the final pitch to the summit of Bierstadt, I encountered the first of a good number of mountain goats.

From the top of Bierstadt, I could not only see the summit of Evans, but also the entire length of the connecting ridge that I would have to traverse to get there. The ridge is named the Sawtooth, which is a very apropos appellation, given its jagged profile from the east or west.

I had the hike totally to myself all the way up to the top of Bierstadt, across the Sawtooth, and almost all the way to the sanitized final trail up Mt. Evans. There were lots of people on top of Mt. Evans, but that is because the highest paved road in the U.S. carries folks to within 100 vertical feet of the summit in their automotive wombs.

To get back to my car, I had to reverse course all the way back across the western ridge of Mt. Evans and then down a very steep gully that penetrated the band of cliffs just to the north of the Sawtooth. That bit of trail really got my dogs to barking, but the rest of the trail was quite level, though a bit swampy and overgrown with thickets of willows. Nearly every boulder or set of rocks in this area had a marmot sitting up top, surveying his neighborhood and neighbors.

From Guanella Pass, I drove down to Denver and watched a nearly continuous stream of traffic headed the other direction for the holiday weekend. I had a really nice visit with some much beloved family members in the Denver area, and was probably so well fed that I regained whatever weight I might have lost in the previous week’s exertions. After leaving there, I stopped and had a nice, though brief, visit with a long-time friend from college days in Hays, America. If I were less self-secure, I’d probably have walked away from that visit with a serious case of TV envy… Anyhow, the next morning I had to depart, and made a stop at the Cozy Inn in Salina, and got a dozen little burgers for a late breakfast and lunch. Instead of taking the usual route home on the same interstate and highways, I cut cross-country on smaller roads, and went past the town house and farm where my grandparents lived and worked. It had been some time since I’d been up there, and it was interesting driving those familiar roads on which I commuted and ran grain trucks for a number of summers in high school and college. Everything seemed really wet, and I was intermittently rained on most of the way home from Hays. The really lovely, and much needed, road trip came full-circle as I pulled back in our lane road and unloaded my venerable steed, which finally hit 70k miles in Castle Rock, CO after over 15 years of faithful service.

So, now I am changing gears and getting on with the preparation for the next big journey. I definitely feel recharged and invigorated after getting out and seeing a nice swath of the world, a world that will look, feel, smell, and sound demonstrably different from the environs I’ll inhabit for the coming 13 months. What will be next after another year at Pole? I have no idea. I have no idea, and I’m fine with that.

“All major changes are like death…you can’t see to the other side until you are there.”
~Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Day After

Well, today I'm laying low and just hanging out at the campground. It's actually getting a bit cloudy, so hopefully it doesn't portend significant rain for later. Anyhow, I'm licking my wounds after a pretty tough hike up and down Mt. Antero yesterday. I hit the trail at 1:20am yesterday morning, and was on top by 6:15am, right before sunrise.

So, to back things up a bit spatially, and present them in reverse chronological order (since I walked up in the dark), this is roughly how it went getting to the top. At about tree line the summit was finally in view.

After following a winding and very rough jeep road up some big switchbacks, I finally got to the point where vehicles turn back.

Immediately behind me in the picture above is the following view, which greets people headed to the top. I wonder how many of those folks, who strap on 2,000+ pounds of gear to get themselves up here (i.e. a vehicle), instead of the 20-something pounds I carried and wore, turn around when they see the final ridge and summit pitch.

The final summit pitch was very loose granite talus, which shifted underfoot with almost ever step. The dearth of air to breathe at this altitude, compared to the relatively copious atmosphere at the bottom, doesn't aid the endeavor.

Once back down at the road to St. Elmo, a nifty little "ghost town", I eased my weary bones into my faithful steed El Civ, and motored (at the speed limit, of course) back to the campground and something to eat.

I'll be making an early, early start tomorrow morning to drive the 50 miles to the trail head for Mt. Sherman, which is up near Fairplay, CO. I hopefully will be able to get to the higher parking area, which will make for a hike of about one third the length and half the vertical gain of Mt. Antero's 15 miles round trip and 5,200 vertical feet gained. I'll assess how I feel after this hike, and will make the call on doing Mt. Evans and Bierstadt Mountain on Friday at that point. Hopefully rain can keep clear of the forecast for another few days. Anyhow, I'm flexible with this itinerary, so whatever will be, will be.

Shortly before I started this trip, somebody made a comment about why I would want to haul myself on top of all these big rock piles. All I have to say, is you have to experience it for yourself to understand. There is a great sense of finite accomplishment in summiting a mountain. I got myself to that mark on the map under my own power. I achieved a pinnacle, an accomplishment that is and will forever be. You usually learn quite a lot about yourself in the process, too.

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
~Edmund Hillary