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