Trip to the Pole

Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
Trip End Feb 16, 2009

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Sunday, November 16, 2008

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I am on a US Air Force C-130 along with the twenty or so faces I can name and about 30 others headed for the great white south. My ears are useless with the engine noise and earplugs and my feet are suffocating in my new "bunny boots" that should keep them warm through the -80 degree weather in which I will be working.

I'm wondering again exactly how I got into this.

Raytheon Polar Services Company was kind enough to fly me from San Diego [where the epic BIKE TRIP ended-look elsewhere for details] to Denver for a short orientation session. I was very happy with the plush accommodations after spending two months camping, hostelling, and Halloween night cat-napping in the airport. Still, I couldn't sleep. Excitement, I guess.
My frame backpack with most of what I wanted with me during my Antarctic experience and afterward didn't make it to Colorado until after we departed on 11/2, but hopefully it will be here soon. My small backpack, still smelly from two months of cyclist's backsweat, went missing after a very long Qantas flight to Sydney and tight connection to Christchurch, New Zealand, but I finally received it last night, complete with two wife beaters, two thin t-shirts, two pairs of holey underwear, and a stack of papers I really should have mailed before leaving my home continent. Alas, I am complete, ready for the cold.

New Zealand was a quick but enjoyable experience, and I can't wait to experience more of it in a few months. Although the RPSC group missed election Tuesday (days disappear like that when you cross the International Date Line), hoardes of gregarious Kiwis were happy to celebrate Obama's victory with us in the streets and at the pubs.
Yesterday we donned our ECW-Extreme Cold Weather-gear for the first time, and it occurred to me that I was just a few airtight gaskets and a breathing apparatus away from becoming an earthbound astronaut. It's not like the firefighter PPE that I was trained to put on in 30 seconds; if I can get myself into this crap in less than half an hour, I'll be happy.
After ECW fitting at the New Zealand Antarctic Centre, twice voted New Zealand's best attraction (by whom I don't know and refuse to believe), our day was wide open to explore the city.

Hotel So was were I stayed, and if I visit Christchurch again with someone to split a room with, I would readily shell out $69 NZ to experience the ultra-modern feel and conveniences again. My room wasn't much more than a crowded, windowless cell, but the bed glowed blue underneath and a large plasma TV greeted me as the morning alarm with soothing music, automated mood lighting, and a time-lapse slideshow of gorgeous New Zealand scenery. The bathroom was interesting, too-I could shower, brush my teeth in the sink, and use the toilet all at once, with an dazzling light show to boot. Gotta love NZ.

I left Hotel So yesterday with a kid from Georgia who is headed to McMurdo for the season, another first-timer. We had some of my favorite Turkish food a few shops down, then explored the city centre. We arrived at Cathedral Square's cathedral just in time to chat with a few gathering red-clad members of the Labor Party, assembling to protest the conservative National Party's prime minsterial candidate John Key as he delivered a scathing speech about the evils of "the world voting left."
I saw the whole situation on NZ national news later in the day.
Dennis the Georgian with dreadlocks and I sat in the square contemplating the events of the moment for a while and chatted with some Maori performers about the modern and ancient Kiwi politics, then another Polie named Darren strolled up and told us that he had just rented a car and would like to drive somewhere. Darren is from Alaska.

He is also a terrifying driver, at least in a place like Christchurch, NZ.

We rode all over the city and quite a distance outside of it to a secluded overlook, then couldn't find our way back to buy ourselves some alarm watches.

*   *   *
So I'm on this plane.  Qantas is a nice enough airline, apparently the only one which has never crashed, or something like that.  I was sitting next to G the carpenter and Trudy, the wildland firefighter from Idaho.
Qantas lost my little sweaty backpack for a day, too. At least on this plane I can see all of our belongings palletized in cargo nets in the back of the large cargo hold in which we sit.


I'm at the South Pole. It's a little past midnight, and my thick curtain can barely block the intense sunlight through the window of my Jamesway hut. My "room" until February is a 6'x8' division of a half-cylindrical insulated tent partitioned off by a curtain.  I don't feel like sleeping. I just walked back from the elevated station SPIT computer lab where I had an interesting, somewhat comforting conversation with my supervisor, Dave. My job(s) here should be very... educational.

Yesterday I stepped off the plane to McMurdo to a world of blue and white. -5F was probaby the coldest temperature I'd ever been exposed to, and it seemed like nothing under my ECW. I focused downward on the ice so that I didn't slip during my first few minutes on this continent, but when I looked up, I was astonished.

Ross Island is beautiful!

Immediately behind "Ivan the Terra Bus" loomed Mt. Erebus, an active volcano currently steaming, and white mountains with highlights of exposed rock surrounded the flat airfield. I didn't have much time to absorb McMurdo station, scheduled to fly to Pole the next morning.

This place is cold.

Bed time.


I seem to have picked up "the crud," so I will spend my Saturday in the quiet reading room and movie lounges. For the last few days, people have been quick to assume that I was just having trouble adjusting to the high altitude, but somehow I doubt that a relatively healthy young person who spent all summer at 8,000 feet and just rode a bicycle from Canada to Mexico is unable to get enough oxygen, while geriatric, overweight scientists seem to be just fine. Anyway, fever and all that-must have gotten it from one of the many sick coworkers around here.

So I've been here a week now. People at the South Pole are mostly very nice, but of course they're all slighty insane. I guess you'd have to be a little wacko to want to move to one of the least habitable places on earth.

That said, most people here are really intelligent or over-educated. It seems that the scientists are actually the least well-rounded people here. I can name more than a few engineers and MBAs shoveling snow.
I am the Operations "General Assistant," meaning I get passed around to whoever needs any kind of help that can be taught, from chipping ice off of Caterpillars to surveying cable layouts for the Ice Cube neutrino telescope. It is kind of nice not knowing what I'll be doing each day.
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