The rest is all downhill from here.

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wow, over half done with my contract now.  It's amazing how fast time goes.  It takes all my concentration to keep in mind whats going on here.  I am excited to be coming home soon and seeing all my friends and family.  At the same time I have that bittersweet  taste in my mouth, telling me I will miss Antarctica while I am away.  Most people tell me I will get hired again next year.  They say Raytheon prefers to keep it's employees after they have come down once.  It makes sence!  Once your in the family it's hard to leave.  I've always suspected it would be that way.  But as usual my brain won't let me hold on to that thought as if it were concrete.   I can't count on it. Nothing is for sure in this world, anything can happen in this universe and in my case it probably will.  Both good and bad, I just take it as it comes and try to be aware as to how lucky I am, no matter what the outcome.  I will be applying again for sure.  Hopefully next year I will be at South Pole Station.  Thats when you can talk about being cold.  Out here on the coast it's downright balmy by Antarctican standards.  At the pole they have temperatures that reach -100 below zero on occasion.  Whatever job I get and whichever station I will take it and I'll be happy to return.   

I really can't believe my life right now.   It's exactly what I wanted and more.  All that and a bag of chips, Cookies with Frosty boy on top.  (that last reference it to a traditional McMurdo desert on Wednesdays, although I have had to cut Frosty boy out of my life as he has added 10 pounds to my waistline)  I am so happy, even when it gets bad, I keep the presense of mind that this is what I asked for.  It took some time and persistance.  So don't get discouraged from going after your dreams.  You will get them, you can create your own realities!  Stay on track and stay focused.  Most of all don't let life get you down.  Don't let life tell you that you can't do something.  Become UN-STOPABLE!  Whenever your brain says you can't, you change your mind and say you CAN.  Whoa!  Now I can get off the motivational speaking soap box.

Meanwhile back on Ross Island...

Christmas was weird.  Not what I expected, but to tell you the truth I didn't have many expectations.  It started out on the 23rd with the VMF party (VMF stands for Vehicle Maintenance Facility, aka Heavy machine shop)  They converted their garage into a Chrismas ballroom, complete with, get your photo taken with Santa on a snowmobile,  and an almost life size abominable snowman from "Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer" , also the waste facility made and donated a giant candy cane stripper pole to the cause.  Believe it or not they also had more sentimental things like a slide show of pictures that were collected from the residents of McMurdo, of friends, family and pets from back home.  But the raunchiness seemed to prevale as many a McMurdan gave the stripper pole a try.  Most of them drunk and trying tricks that only the most seasoned stripper should be trying, and most of them falling on their asses or heads. After a while Santa had too many drinks and eventually he became dubbed "Dirty Santa" for having wandering hands whenever the ladies took a seat on his lap.  My friend took the Santa photos and we all had a good laugh as we went through them the next day, and started noticing a pattern of suprised looks on the faces of all the girls, and Santas eyes obviously wandering to the peaks and valleys of their bodies, which later earned him the nickname "motorboat Santa".  It wasn't long after that the the HR representative shut Santa down, and asked him to STOP being Santa.  I guess there were official forms filled out as well, but as with everything here it's all a rumor until you see it yourself.  I had a great time visiting with friends, getting to know some peole better.  Talking to a few new folks. Eventually I myself had a few too many and my Chistmas greeting were changing to "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"  which solicited a few crazy looks.  One poor soul came up to me, and after I greeted him and asked him how he was doing, he told me and the other two people standing next to me, he was fine, "until 20 minutes ago when I received an email from my wife asking for a divorce."  The other two in our conversation promptly left me alone with the poor chap.  After my initial shock, I quickly rebounded with, "you know what?  your better off without her.  Fuck that BITCH!  If she is that insensitive that she's gonna make you miserable on Christmas, when your so far away, and try to purposely hurt you, you don't need her, and your better off!"  I don't know if it was the right thing to say, or even my place to say it, but it was the first thing that came to my mind, so I told the truth as it was to me then.  It's a helluva a situation to be put into and I think I just went into survival mode when the guy told me his story.   The rest of the night I retired back to the dorm rooms, where the party continued and more alcohol was consumed and also where I had a somewhat romantic enounter with a girl who was wearing a candy necklace.  I know what your thinking!  I'm too old for candy!  Well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination, there are kids reading this, not to mention my Mother!

The next day was Christmas eve.  I spent most of it in bed nursing a horrible hang-over, that was made worse by the elements of drinking in a desert environment.  By the evening I arose to a decidely quieter environment in the dorms.  I hung out with some friends and watched the chick flick, "Love Actually",  while nusing myself back to health with OJ.  At 11pm myself and the girl that you know as "Candy Necklace"  Went to a small Christmas caroling/ pageant/ service/ reading at the Chapel.  I affectionately called it a McMurdo Christmas pageant.  On the way over to the chapel "Candy" told me she was horribly tone deaf and she hoped I didn't care.  I laughed it off, "as if any of us are great singers" I said.  We sat through a couple of carols and as we were singing along, I leaned in to tell her "your right, you are horrible".  We both got a chuckle and spent the rest of the chapel service trying not to giggle like little kids.  It was great fun for the evening. 

At Midnight I had Christmas dinner, as I am a night worker now. Thats when we were scheduled for dinner.  We had Beef Wellington, with Roast Duck breast, assorted vegetables, and mashed potatoes, and an assortment of deserts that could only be rivaled by a Sullivan holiday back home, where it seems we always have more deserts than entrees.  As usual the Cargo team sat together at a huge table like a big happy family.  It's nice to belong to a tight crew here.  Cargo is like being in a family.  That can be good and bad, as most of us know.   We also have a fair amount dysfunction to deal with on any given day and we don't all get along all the time.  But I do believe we all soon makeup and try to live with one another. Forgive and forget is the discipline that works best for me, I hope others embrace it too.  It can get pretty cut throat at times.  Again, to be expected as we are all humans with human faults. 

Later on around 9 am I opened the gifts I received from my Sister, and Mother.  Christmas cookies, phone cards, and face and hand lotion.  The good stuff from the body shop.  Just what I asked for.  My two other sisters gifts arrived about a week later, with a couple other Christmas cards from my friends parents back home and from Kate back in England.  A good friend of mine that I met while traveling in New Zealand years ago.  Kate was actually there, with me, when I learned all about this Antarctic job, and supportive from the get go.

The next weekend was a great new treat to me.  We actually have a music festival here on Antarctica. I don't know if it's the only music festival or not, but I do know it's the only one here on this side of the continent.  It's called Icestock and it's happening simultaneously with the traditional Chilli cook off.    All the Chilli was great, some more spicey than others.  Some a little sweeter.  Even the Cargo team was representing, theres that was really good with cubed beef.  I couldn't sample them all, there were just too many. They also have a makeshift coffee house called Sawbucks.  The whole thing was awesome fun.  I think they had close to ten musical acts. Ranging from Bluegrass, to Surfer music, Reggae, New wave, Funk and Punk.  Some acts were good, some not so good.  I guess it's up to your taste in music and the talent of whomever is playing it.  But it was all fun, as we danced our asses off, outdoors in the blowing snow, sampling yummy chilli on a beautiful Antarctican day. I had so much fun gettin' down to live music.  I WAS HIGH ON LIFE, and a couple of beers.  Not to mention just the idea of being at a music festival in Antarctica.  I loved it.  Not a care in the world, just loving the music as it came to my ears, hit my brain and was promptly translated it into my bodies physical motion.  Unstoppable and unaffraid.  No pain, no fear, arms flailing, spinning in circles, taken by the trance that they call dance.  It's my favorite thing to do, it's my form of prayer, it's how I spread my vibes through the Earth and share them with others.  I hope you all got them.  It doesn't happen like that everytime.  But when it does it's a special time and I'm thankful for it.

In other news,

The Ice breaker is on it's way in.  Every year an Ice breaker comes in and forms a channel to allow the supply ship to come in soon after.  This year it's a Swedish ice breaker called the Oden.   It's a highly anticipated event all summer long.  We all will have to work extra hard during the offload.  I mean all of us. The whole station is said to work 12 hour days.  They close the bars and forbid the sale of alcohol.  For two weeks straight we are said to off load the supplies, and then subsequently up load the ship with all our waste to be transported back to Port Hueneme, Ca.  For days I have been going up to hut point to watch the ice breaker, slowly, and I mean slowly, making it's progress from the ice edge to the port.  The kicker is they aren't even here yet.  We thought they would come in by Monday, but it went back out to cut the channel wider.  Right now it's back out at the ice edge, about 12 miles away, after being just about a mile or two away on Monday morning.  The pictures I am attaching are not mine.  I didn't get to go on the ice breaker but one of my colleagues did.  Looks really cool though.  Must've been a great experience. I've also been going up to Hut point everyday to do the Ridge trail loop for excercise.  It's a great trail that is challenging  in the beginning, with a steep uphill climb and usuall fighting a strong wind that threatens to almost blow you off the ridge down to the sea ice below.  Sometimes the wind is an asset, as it pushes me up some of the steeper inclines toward the top, but soon after the trail turns to the west and it hits me head on adding immense resistance.  Thats not bad either, as my whole point for doing the trail is to work off those extra pounds that Frosty boy has added to my waistline.  Another great benefit to going to Hut point everyday is the wild life.  This is where you will see most of the wildlife around McMurdo, the ice has gotten really thin here and allows seals and penguins to come out of the water onto the ice.  One morning before I started my hike I stood there quietly looking at the Ice breaker when I heard a noise that startled me at first.  It was a seal poking its head through a breathing hole. I couldn't really see very well as it just would poke its nose through and let out a loud exhaling whoosh!  Much like you would imagine a whale sounds like when it comes up for air.  I tried and tried to get to a vantage point where it was visible, but there was no way to see it.  I was tempted down the hill to the ice edge and maybe try to go a little way on to the ice.  It looks thick enough from here, but looks can be decieving. The hole was tucked away behind a small snow bank about 20 feet out on the ice.   I sat quietly waiting and hearing nothing more of the seal,  but then I heard another more familiar sound. It was the sea ice cracking.  It sounded like the beginning of a thunder clap. That crackling noise. Threatening me as if to say "don't even try it."  The next day I found a Skua's nest that a friend told me about.  It was said to have a baby skua there, but at first I couldn't see it. Come to find out the parents sit on the chick even after the baby hatches out of the egg.  It was obviously under the Mother.  You could see her left side was bulging a bit more than the right The father was close by and watching to see if I got too close, he would definately attack.   Eventually the mother stood up and I got a quick look at the little puff ball.  It was so cute!  Like a pale yellow cotton ball.  It squaked and waddled akwardly a couple of steps. Then settled again.  I moved on to make sure I did not disturb the family.  I did get a couple of shots in with my camera though. 
This morning when I went for my walk I did see a seal in the same hole.  This time it's whole head was coming up and nearby there were 9 Adelie penguins resting on the ice, laying down and looking very lazy.  Far off in the distance there were two other Adelies, obviously on a crusade of their own, made clear by the urgency of their waddles.   While all along, nearby to the west was even one more, just exploring the ice edge possibly looking for another entrance to the sea water.  Waddling a little, looking around, waddling a little more.

I figured I should take that cue and waddle off on my own journey.  I could sit and watch these facinating animals all day, but that wasn't gonna get rid of the Frosty boy bulge around my mid-section..  My mornings are now my evenings and if I wanted to get to bed anytime soon I should ass in gear and get a move on!
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