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