October 27, 2003
I forgot to mention the Antarctic sky.
I came down last year late enough in the summer that the lighting was almost daytime lighting, say 10 AM lighting, and although I saw some beautiful skies, all could be described with white, yellow, and blue (except, of course, for the rainbows). This year, I see pink as well.
From my Day 1 in McMurdo journal entry:
Today was cold. Cold-cold-cold, my exposed nose already feeling as though it was getting frostnip between my dorm and Crary. The wind whipped through the station in the evening, pushing me around. Although the weather calmed again, I can hear the wind now.
The weather was incredible when we got in. Beautiful, amazingly clear (except, of course, a cap of clouds on Erebus), with Mt. Discovery and the TransAntarctics standing out in detail. This evening, I noted pink clouds, thinking nothing of it. Pink clouds, sunset. Wait. Pink clouds! Pink clouds in Antarctica! The first time I've seen color in the sky down here. Excellent.
The lighting is best at night. When I first got down, the sun was actually "setting" behind Mt. Discovery, a prominent extinct volcano west of McMurdo. Now, the sun skirts above Mt. Discovery, still producing late-evening light sometime after midnight.
The almost-sunsets turn McMurdo pink. The same night I took the picture above, I spent about ten minutes watching snow swirl upward in the wind from the pink western face of Ob Hill. Upward, sparkling in the sunlight, twisting like a tornado and then diffusing into the quiet night.
October 22, 2003
I'm trying to convince my friend Tanja to come to the ice next season, and she asked if she could bring her favorite socks. My reply to her included a story I wanted to share anyway, so here it is:
Of COURSE you can bring your favorite socks! That's what this
place is all about! In fact, I brought down some big frog slippers
that my mom got me just before I left, and I wear them around the
dorm, and last night a woman who was conversing with me like I was
a normal person caught sight of my slippers and stared, silent, and
we had just been talking about what I do, and she said, "What is
your job title?" "Well, on my business card it says Project
Engineer, but--" "You're an engineer," she said. And stared at my
Sea Ice Training
Training, training, training. It seems that lately we've been doing nothing but training. yesterday morning, I went through the waste lecture. In the afternoon, we had our survival school refresher. I fell asleep during the video on helicopter safety, which won't surprise most of you, but I got caught, which may surprise some of you. It surprised me. When I woke up, with a start, everyone in the classroom was turned to look at me, including the instructor in the front of the room who had directed everyone's attention with a smile. "Have a nice nap?" he asked. The truth was, it was too short, but I just smiled sheepishly and mumbled something. Probably, "Mmmmm."
The same instructor taught the sea ice course today. We learned how to assess cracks in the sea ice in terms of whether they could be crossed in whatever vehicle we were travelling in. The general rule is, the crack should be no more than 1/3 the wheel or track length, for ice at least 30 inches thick.
After drilling a profile across a large crack system, we set out for views of other sea ice danger zones, Erebus, and seals.
We were instructed to keep an eye out for seals while on the sea ice, as seals indicated thin ice. We were also instructed to keep an eye out for signs of seals, such as urine, feces, and blood. As it turns out, seals bleed while chewing their way up through the ice. It sounds like a hard life in those terms, but the seal we saw didn't look like it was having to hard a go of it.
For all concerned parties:
Yes, I can receive snail mail! You can reach me at:
PSC 469 Box 800
APO AP 96599-1035
It seems like "McMurdo, Antarctica" would be enough, but apparently it's not. Feel free to try out the correct address as often as you like. Everybody loves mail. AND, it costs the same as if you were sending something within the US. What a deal!
October 20, 2003
I went to my first yoga class ever tonight. Yoga. I was told that I’d love it. Yoga. I hate it. How can so many people love it? What’s the draw? It felt like work, and I was grumpy. I’d rather be climbing. I can imagine people doing yoga in hell—yoga and yoga and yoga nonstop, stretch and hold and contort and hold and hold and balance and hold and I don’t even know if running lines is worse. Okay, running lines is probably worse, but yoga and aerobics with Star are up there. (Rose Hill Junior High students will know what I mean.) (Don’t laugh—I know there’s one other Rose Hill Junior High alum who reads this.) The woman behind me at least got a couple good farts out of it.
October 18, 2003
We made it down south! Hallelujah!
We even made it in on the first try. Like last year, shuttles were scheduled to pick up ice folks from the hotels to head to the airport at 5:30 AM. Check-in time: 6 AM. We arrived at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), did some final sorting of our gear—ECW (Extreme Cold Weather issue) on, street clothes in carry-on, bags tagged according to whether they’d be staying in Christchurch, getting checked to ship with us to the ice, or coming with us as carry-ons—and weighed in. The checked luggage weighed, and the carry-on luggage weighed with us. Then, to breakfast at the Antarctic Center café. At 7:15, we all met back at the passenger terminal for our safety video, briefing us not on the flight but on what to expect in McMurdo, sent our bags through x-ray, got on a bus to take us to the plane, and, eventually, boarded the plane. Take off: 9 AM.
Last year, we flew down in a C-130 (Hercules), which is fine but takes 7-9 hours and is cramped. This year, the C-17. Ah-yeah. A huge military plane, with plenty of leg room—both Chuck and I, sitting across from each other, could stretch out our legs and not kick each other—high ceilings, actual seats rather than the red webbing of the C-130s and C-141s, and a flight time to the ice of approximately 5 hours. Deluxe.
The flight deck was up stairs, the plane was so tall. The flight deck looked interesting. Maybe I’d like to check out the flight deck. Is that someone else I see coming down from the flight deck? Perhaps. It doesn’t hurt to ask. So, about a half an hour into the flight, I approached the loadmaster at the base of the stairs up and asked if I could head up to get a picture. He put up a finger, asking me to wait, and called up to the flight deck on his radio. Are you taking visitors? he asked. He motioned me up. On the flight deck, an officer immediately vacated his seat and handed me his headphones. Ah, now this is nice. I don’t just have to take a picture and run. In fact, I was up there for about an hour, chatting with pilots Paul and Phil, who were a riot, and another officer whose name I never caught. I even bullied Paul into flying the plane. I noticed when I arrived that both pilots had their hands free, and that the airplane was flying itself. Paul handed me some postcards to mail for a friend, and showed me his own pile of blank postcards. Oh, no problem, I said. You’ll have plenty of time to write on those things. He took this to be a challenge, me making fun of the whole hands-free airplane flying, so he took the controls and took the plane off autopilot and turned it gently from side to side a few times to show that he knew how. I didn’t ask if he knew how to roll the plane.
Even more exciting than hanging out in the flight deck, though, is the fact that we made it down to Antarctica. I grew more excited as we grew closer. A season of friends, fun, interesting work, on an extraordinary continent. I was stoked. The weather when we arrived was absolutely beautiful. Relatively calm, sunny and very clear. The mountains were bolder than I had ever seen them during the daytime last year—they stood out against the sky in detail, the TransAntarctics and Mt. Discovery. Welcome home.
But we were still moving as a herd. Loaded onto Ivan the Terra Bus, off to McMurdo across the sea ice, and channeled into the galley for an orientation. We were given our room keys and network account information, and were free to settle in. I dropped my stuff in my new home—glorious closet of a dorm room—and headed off to Crary, the science lab, to meet up with Chuck.
It’s cold here. It’s frickin’ cold here! I wore a tee-shirt, a fleece jacket, and the red windbreaker, leaving puffy big red behind, because I was in McMurdo now, the low, warm town where we can get away with those things. But I couldn’t get away with it. It was frickin’ cold! I wondered seriously if I would get frostbite on my nose just walking across town. It was cold. Is this place supposed to be that cold?
We went to dinner in the galley, where we ran into friends from last year, and already caught wind of a little word-of-mouth only concert at the BFC (Byrd Field Center, the group that issues the field supplies). Night one was already shaping up. This is what we get for arriving on a Saturday.
The rest of the night went something like: run into Jenn, go with her to Craig’s room for drinks poured over 2,000-year-old ice from a glacier which he had visited that morning, go to the concert at the BFC (three brothers, one of which wintered over and one of which is down for his first time and the other of which will be wintering this year), go for a glass of wine at the Coffee House, go back to the BFC, swing by disco night at Gallagher’s, the non-smoking bar, go back to my room to change into slightly more festive attire, go back to Gallagher’s and join in the mayhem. Not so bad for our first night.
Did I mention that it was cold? The wind started picking up again in the evening, with gusts strong enough to make me grab onto nearby railing every once in a while. The best was when Jill and I ran into each other on the way to the BFC. Cold, bundled, braced against the wind, tunnel vision out of our circle of hood-fur, me assuming she was on a similar trajectory beside me and then—bam. We run into each other. And laugh hysterically.
It’s cold out, and windy, and already I’m wearing my balaclava. Snow snakes wind through town, clouds obscure the once-brilliant mountains. Jenn debates about whether to get dressed up for the disco party, since it’s so cold, her motivation waning, but when I see her later she is wearing a purple wig, an obnoxious knee-length dress, and pink house slippers. I’m Mrs. Roper! she exclaims. That’s Jenn.
Posted by beth at 8:31 PM
October 17, 2003
We're still in Christchurch. And my hand's still acting up. Word has it, though, that two flights made it up from the ice last night, and that today's flight is on the way down. Which gives us great hope that we'll make it out tomorrow. Chuck's time is short, since he was only planning to be down on the ice for two weeks, and we're approaching projects that we need to prep for, and my winter-over friends that I'd been hanging out with left to travel yesterday and this morning, so it's time to go to the ice. I'm ready. I'm ready! Let's go!
In the meantime, the sun is out and it's warm and my friend Jill and I had talked yesterday about going surfing this afternoon, so I'd better go find her. Hope all is well and sunny on your end, as well.
Posted by beth at 12:30 PM
October 15, 2003
The Journey Stalled
Well, I made it fine through clothing issue (I got hats that fit this year--what a season of experience will do), but haven't yet made it out of Christchurch. We've been put on hold, and put on hold, and put on hold, and put on hold again. As far as I know right now, we're scheduled to head out on Friday. It's at least nice to know ahead of time that we'll have another day to hang out and play. As of last night, though, I'm ready to head down to the ice. Not because last night was bad, but just because I'm ready. Ready to do something.
The past few days have been relaxing. Chuck and I did some shopping (PCMCIA cards and CD wallets for work, and fancy lotion for indulgence in the dry Antarctic climate), checked out the new art museum, went to a movie at the Arts Center ("Nowhere in Africa"), have eaten lots of good food, and yesterday went for a short hike in nearby Lyttleton.
In the art museum, Chuck and I particulary liked the print section. We learned about etchings, lithography, aquatint, etc. While studying one captivating and suggestive Picasso print of a minotaur attacking an Amazon, which represented how Picasso felt about the political situation in Spain at the time, a man approached and briefly studied the same print. He said with a chuckle, after reading the title--which was something like "Minotaur attacking an Amazon"--"It's a modern name for an orgy, isn't it?" Blasphemy. "I guess," I said, "or the Spanish Civil War." Okay, guess you had to be there.
On our outing yesterday, we hiked up to a ridge (Castle Rock, for those of you in the know) with a 360 view of the region: Christchurch, the ocean, the Southern Alps (quite impressive), the caldera sheltering Lyttleton. The crummy weather of our first few days has given way to sun, delicious sun, although the temperatures are still relatively cool. Think Seattle in the spring.
The general pattern has been hang out with Chuck during the day, and then meet up with my winter-over friends for dinner. On Sunday, as I'd mentioned in my previous entry, we ran into them at The Coffee House. Chuck and I were just finishing, and they arrived, and I hung out with them while they ate. That night, Chuck and I went for Thai food at the Mythai Monkey Bar. [We were going to go there the night before, but I stood him up. We were to meet at 7, so I went down for a nap at 4:15 and set my alarm for 6 and woke up at midnight. He forgave me and we tried again.] After dinner, we relocated from the restaurant area to the adjascent bar and who should we see but Mikee. The gang had decided to go Thai as well. So, we joined them while they ate their meal. This morning, I wanted the standard American fare, so went to Drexel's, an American diner-style joint. I ran into the crew when I got back to the Y. Join us for breakfast? they asked. Where are you guys headed? I asked. I should have known. Drexel's. Of course, I join them.
And I can tell you all this because here I am in Christchurch with nothing to do. I'm not bored, mind you--but, like I said, I am ready to head down to the ice. When I think about it. It's hard to think about it, though, because I'm here where it's warm and where I am surrounded by restaurants and am in this internet cafe with trancy music and there are lots of people from the ice around but also lots of people who are not from the ice around, and most of the people I am hanging out with from the ice are on their way up, besides, not on there way down like me, AND I associate Christchurch more with coming up from the ice than going down to it because I spent more time here after my icy stint than before. So am I really going down to the ice?
All these elements have also seriously messed with my sense of time. I think I have a decent feeling for where I am, but the when part is way off. I could do the day of the week, with a little work, the same way you have to really think about what day it is, exactly, when you're on vacation, but I've completely lost track of the month. I feel like summer's ahead, which it is here, but I anticipate the northern hemisphere summer and have a hard time realizing that it's October. October? That makes so little sense. Christchurch + getting off the ice = northern hemisphere spring = February, March, April, May... somewhere in there. Not October. I'm going to have to work on that.
I'm also going to have to go, as my right hand is acting up even though I haven't been on a computer for a while (what's up with that?) and I'm planning to see a movie on whales. Although it seems criminal, it being so nice out...
October 12, 2003
ANTARCTICA 2003, BABY!
Did I fail to prep you guys? Did I fail to mention that I'm already on my way to Antarctica?
I'm already on my way to Antarctica.
Steve drove Chuck Kurnik and I to the airport on Thursday afternoon, we flew to L.A. and then to Auckland and then to Christchurch, New Zealand, arriving in Christchurch yesterday around 10 AM. I am staying at the YMCA; they've given me a nice single on the fourth floor, overlooking the buildings of the Arts Center across the street. The weather has been pleasantly dreary: 11 degrees C and drizzly. The weather in McMurdo appears to be a bit chillier: -25 degrees C. Brrr.
Because the weather has been pretty if-y down south, flights have been if-y as well. Lots of delays and lots of boomerangs (get partway down, have to turn around and come back up), they say. We were supposed to leave tomorrow morning; now we're scheduled for Tuesday morning (remember that we're a day ahead of the U.S.). Another day to hang out in Christchurch, eat good food, and get some sleep. And, more importantly, hang out with friends getting up to Chch after wintering over on the ice. This morning, I ran into a group including two favorites: cargo Mikee and power plant (AKA blue-eyed) Dave. Hooray! And they don't even look too much worse for the wear. No weird twitches, not even any sign of suffering social skills. I'm proud of them.
In about 5 minutes, I'm due next door in the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) to get my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather gear). The acronyms have started. Time to try on lots of warm clothing and try to get some goods that fit. Hats, gloves, pants, more gloves, jackets, another hat or two, long underwear, and probably some more gloves. Oh, and boots. Wish me luck!