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October 29, 2004

Full Moon Over Antarctica

Amazing. Amazing to start the season with a night flight to Erebus. Particularly nice this time of year, since the late night sun still dips low enough in the sky to cast soft sunset pinks and corals.


[On our way. Photo: Jim]

Jim and I were scheduled for a 10 PM night flight which was delayed to about 11. I had headed home at a bit after 3 to nap, and slept solid from 3 to almost 6. I hung out with my roommates and friends learning to knit, and then headed down to the lab to get ready. Jim and I donned our standard ECW with some bonuses: Our own gloves and brand new, first-time-worn yellow Koflach plastic boots. We grabbed cameras and our GPS equipment and tools and headed down to the helo hanger.

The helicopter wasn't in yet, so we made ourselves comfortable in the passenger terminal (a small room with a couple benches against the wall and a desk and chair and radio for comms and a scale and a wall of helmets) and waited it out. We could hear the helicopter's approach, so knew when to pack on the layers again and took our gear out to the helo.

Our first flight of the season.


[Sunset in the plume. Photo: Jim]

The first stop was Abbott Peak, where we had left a GPS receiver running over the winter. The data were not radioed back to the McMurdo computer, so we had no idea how well the equipment had run, or even if it was still there--twice GPS antennas have been stripped from their mounts in the winter wind at this spot.


[Jim at work.]


[Me at Abbott Peak, taking down the GPS antenna. I look cross-eyed, but really my left pupil just gets lost in the fur of my coat. Photo: Jim]

The antenna was still there, and not only that, but the receiver was still powered up, was still tracking satellites, and was still collecting data. Good news. We pulled the receiver and antenna and headed off to Cones.


[I'm trying to show the ice on my balaklava. Such a small amount of ice, too, compared with what was to come... Photo: Jim]


[My boss, Jim.]

Our task at Cones was a bit more involved, and the air was cold. It's always cold up there, and fortunately there was no significant wind, but still the temperature was -32 degrees C, which is certainly enough to chill a person. Unfortunately, Jim and my task involved being stationary, working with wires and cables and such, which makes staying warm even more difficult. Several times, we each stopped to swing our legs and/or walk around. The good news for me is that my hands stayed warm. The bad news for both of us is that our toes were not warm enough, and we ended the evening with painful who-the-heck-slammed-my-foot-with-a-sledgehammer-and-why rewarming processes.

While we worked, the helicopter pilot and mechanic explored.


[Jim and volcano.]


[Our transport.]


[Me at work. Photo: Jim]


[Yikes! That's me again. Looking like some weird Antarctic Animal. Ice galore on my balaklava (except for where my breath comes through), eyelashes, and -- my favorite -- eyebrows. Photo: Jim]



[Full moon over Antarctica. The shadow is that of Mt. Erebus. Photo: Jim]

Posted by beth at 11:08 PM | Comments (9)

October 26, 2004

Keepin' On

Jim and I were scheduled for our first outing today: half an afternoon on Erebus. It was to be splendid--the simple yet interesting task of swapping out a GPS receiver on a station that is not working, and scoping out a location for a repeater site to transmit some data from farther away. Jim's never been up Erebus before, so it will be new to him, and that's fun, and the weather since we've gotten in has been ridiculously nice. Until today. Skanky weather, cloudy and snowing lightly, with this view from our office window:

On a nice day, there would be lovely large mountains in the frame.

So Jim is outside our office in the staging area actually working, and I am in here trying to think of what I can do so that I look like I'm working. We've been way too efficient this past week (we've only been here a week?), I guess.

There has been some excitement today, though. At lunch, we all got to sing Happy Birthday to Kelly Brunt, a friend of mine who has been coming down for a while. I guess this act in and of itself is not inherently interesting, but it was actually her birthday. As in, ever since folks discovered two seasons ago that Kelly becomes surprisingly embarrassed when the whole galley sings Happy Birthday to her, it has happened countless times, whether it's her birthday or not. I feel very, very privelaged to have been able to call attention to the occasion and start up the song on the actual day. It only happens once a year. And yes, Kelly was embarassed. Marianne, who is going to be out at a field camp with Kelly for a few days, put me up to it--I figure Marianne didn't want to do it herself and have to bear the brunt (so to speak) of Kelly's wrath out on the iceberg.

The other exciting thing is that I received a package from my parents today. And, it's my brother's birthday. So the way I see it, I got presents for his birthday. A book about witches (Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake), a soft fuzzy stuffed tarantula (I was obsessed with tarantulas in 5th grade and really wanted one for a pet. I did a report on them and learned that if dropped, their abdomens will split open "like a bag of jelly"), fuzzy orange Halloween socks with black cats on them, a down comforter (having nothing to do with Halloween) and an amazing amount of candy. All the good really junkie stuff that everyone gets as a trick-or-treater. So if you happen to be in McMurdo and reading this, come by my room for a treat! Tricks only available with prior notice.

I'm about to train Kelly and Marianne's group on how to use their GPS equipment on the iceberg, so I must run. Hope your weather's nice and that you're enjoying the week.

Posted by beth at 3:15 AM | Comments (3)

October 24, 2004

Update, Oct 24, 2004

Not much new to say. Last night was our first non-school-night, and today is our first day off. On all accounts, I've been low key. Last night, I visited my friend Lisa's room which is *fabulous*, listened to some friends play music at the Coffee House (the wine bar), and shared a couple beers with friends at Gallagher's (the non-smoking bar). Today, I slept in, helped my roommate Elizabeth with her jewelry show (and even bought a couple pieces), enjoyed Lisa's slides from this past year off the ice, and came here to take care of a few things but my stomache demands otherwise. I'm hoping to have a nice, quiet evening, with some time to do my thing and organize. There's always too much going on, especially with only one day off a week!

This coming week will hopefully bring a day trip to Erebus and continued organizing of the immense amount of equipment which needs to go out mid-November. And the planning of my Halloween costume for Saturday.

Posted by beth at 5:43 AM

October 21, 2004

Opening shots

Here are some opening shots of what we've been up to so far:



The plane we flew down in, at the beginning of the journey in Christchurch. Big plane.


Jim and I, and Bear Bear.


A view down the plane. This time, more cargo than passengers.


Me in the flight deck.


The approaching continent.


Our boxes. Lots of boxes.


The equipment that we pulled out of our boxes. Lots of equipment.


The state of things.

Posted by beth at 6:14 AM | Comments (4)

October 19, 2004

Whole lot of Huggin’

It’s good to be back in McMurdo. We made it down on our first shot: Jim picked me up at the Y at 7:30 AM, we went to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) to get changed and organized and checked in, walked to the airport for breakfast (looking pretty fly, I’m sure, in our wind pants, which are overalls), came back and watched the briefing, boarded, had an uneventful flight, and landed out on the sea ice outside McMurdo at around 4 PM. From there, a general inbriefing and we were set free. We came to Crary, the science building where our office is, and changed out of our ECW into more comfortable attire, said hellos to our office neighbors, the IT folks, and retrieved our checked luggage from the MCC, or “Movement Control Center” (great name, eh?). From there, I went to my room. And arrived at the same time as my two lovely roommates.

I didn’t mention the weather. WARM. People who were out in it all day yesterday said it was cold, but compared to the day I arrived last year, it is quite warm. No hat weather. It’s nice.

The evening brought quite a treat. There was dinner, with lots of people to reunite with, and there was after dinner. The usual shenanigans. I happened to arrive on the day in which Matt O. and blue-eyed/powerplant Dave (friends from my first season down) were going to settle a bet. Does hot water freeze faster than cold water? Dave said cold, Matt said hot. The short version is, they were both right and both wrong, and thus both are going to jump rope 20 jumps in skirts in the galley at 12:15 (the height of lunch time) on Thursday saying, “Sarah is queen. We suck at science.” In the original version, the loser was supposed to jump rope in a skirt for 20 consecutive jumps, starting over if he messed up, while stating that the other was champ, during lunch in a prominent spot in the galley. But since the actual details of the bet were poorly defined (what temperature constitutes “hot,” and what “cold”? What is freezing—is it 0 degrees C, is it when ice crystals start to form, is it when the top is frozen over, is it when all the water has frozen solid?), we essentially declared both men losers (and yes, as the 5th judge, I was a key part of this process) and sentenced them to praise Sarah, another moderator. It all works out in the end. So long as they keep up their part of the deal on Thursday. I made them shake on it. Well, we did a sort of Wonder-Twin powers activate / go team shake where those still present (the whole ordeal took quite some time, and we’d lost spectators by the end of it) put hands it and agreed.

For those who are curious: The cold water reached zero and started to form ice crystals first, but the hot water froze all the way through first. I can’t give the reasoning behind it, because I was just there for the shenanigans; you can do a search and read about it on the web.

So, yes, welcome back to McMurdo. Here I am at 6:44 on a Tuesday morning, showered and at work. Partly because I’m still adjusting to the time, and partly because I slept on the couch in our room—I didn’t have a chance to make up my bed, and it’s a top bunk which is a mere foot-and-a-half or so from the ceiling. Not so inviting. Word is, my downstairs bunkmate, who I have yet to meet, is heading out to a field camp for the season in a week or so.

Today, Jim and I have our “push course”—our refresher class for safety and survival, in leu of having to do snow school again.

Posted by beth at 1:24 AM | Comments (3)

October 17, 2004

Clothing Issue

We had clothing issue at 1 PM today, and all went pretty well. As usual, either the sleeves for the long underwear were too short or the torsos were too big. Sigh. So I went out afterwards and bought some of my own long underwear. Hopefully it will be cozy.

The day here in Christchurch has been rainy. Good thing I brought an umbrella. With an umbrella, it's really pretty pleasant. Plus, this is the last rain I'll see for four months. It's also the last green I'll see for the next for months (apart from some algae), so I took a nice walk with my umbrella through the botanical gardens. The rhodedendrons (sp??) were lovely, and the poppies plentiful. I visited the rose garden, devoid of flowers, just so it will look all the more splendid in February when I see it in full bloom.

There are two flights tomorrow, and Jim and I are scheduled down on the second one. He'll pick me up here at the Y at 7:30; check-in time is 8:15 and the plane is scheduled to depart at 10 or 11. (The discrepancy between check-in and departure is to give us time to change into our Extreme Cold Weather clothing and go over safety on the plane and in McMurdo.) That will put us in Antarctica at around 3 or 4 PM. At least we'll get there in time for dinner. How fun! I am definately looking forward to seeing and getting to hang out with some old friends.

AND, rumor has it we're flying in a C-17. HOORAY! The C-17 is the same plane I got to fly down in last year, and it is absolutely *lovely* because there is plenty of leg room. De-luxe.

Once again, hope for good weather.

Posted by beth at 8:47 AM | Comments (6)

October 15, 2004

The Best Antarctic Clothing Ever

I just got the best possible piece of Antarctic clothing ever. Okay, that *might* be a bit of an exaggeration, but I was looking for an article of clothing like this but didn't know such a great version existed. I think it may have been made for me. A fleece skirt. It's long, it's soft, it's stretchy, and it's warm. It even has a pocket in it. It's a pretty lame pocket, but it's a pocket. I love it.

Bring it on, Antarctica.

Posted by beth at 5:09 AM | Comments (1)

Work hard, play hard

By the way--in response to Billy's question about whether McMurdo is more like a resort than a lab: There are indeed some good parties and good people and a lot of good fun to be had, but there's also a 6-day work week with most people working > 8hr days (7:30-5:30) and a lot of busy times and demanding physical labor, depending on your job. It's all about balance. Keep in mind that the Coasties may have an easier gig than a lot of people down there and that they probably see the contract workers at the bars in the evenings, not at the work centers during the day.

But, people wouldn't go back to McMurdo if there wasn't something good about it.

Posted by beth at 12:47 AM

Christchurch

I made it to Christchurch! Jim Greenberg, my supervisor, and I flew out of Denver at 3:50 yesterday; had a four-hour layover in LAX during which we ate and caught the end of the last presidential debate (you all better be voting) and tried to watch "Old School" on my laptop; had just enough time in Auckland to walk from the international to the domestic terminal and grab a lamb-filled pastry; and arrived in Christchurch on time at 9:30 or so. I am now in my nice cozy (tight, some would say) single at the YMCA on *wireless* internet, freshly showered and in clean clothes and thinking seriously about lunch. My computer clock still says 5:29, but that's Boulder time; here, it's 12:30 PM on Friday.

It's nice to be back in Christchurch. It will be nicer after I get a full night of sleep. The weather is mostly cloudy but pleasant; the Y still smells like the Y, with the same people working the front desk; and the air smells strongly of spring. I need to motivate to go find some food (I've got a kabob on my mind), and maybe do some shopping. I'm going to hit the outdoor stores for a warm shirt or two, and am considering getting knitting supplies so I can learn to knit. I like the idea of knitting, because in those times when I am sitting idle but supposed to be paying attention--in a lecture, for example--I can still do something that feels productive when I get bored. The problem is, I don't know what I'd want to make. I'm not huge on knitwear--I prefer fleece, or at least wooly wear lined with something yummy to the touch. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to resolve this. Any craft ideas? It has to be something that can at times be mindless.

We're scheduled to get our clothing issue on Sunday afternoon and to fly out for McMurdo on Monday morning. Jim and I both hope to get down there on time. Rumor has it 400 people worth of flights were backed up a week or so ago, but apparently they're caught up and flights are going as scheduled. Hope for good weather.

Posted by beth at 12:21 AM | Comments (2)

October 4, 2004

Getting Ready

It's October, it's fall, and it's time to go south.

I have actually started early this year, and have been getting ready for a couple weeks now. Physically ready, that is--emotionally, I have been READY to go for at least a couple weeks. I am very excited to go back to the ice. I'm excited to go to Christchurch, I'm excited to arrive in McMurdo (my stomache just turned briefly into a little flock of butterflies as I envisioned that process), I'm excited to establish my room with two wonderful women, Julie and Elizabeth, who I know and love, and I'm excited to see some great folks who I befriended two seasons ago and who are going to be back this season. Those are the things I am most excited about.

Then, there is work, and getting good and into a healthy work ethic and getting excited about doing a good job of the job and about getting out into the amazing Antarctic world. Seals and penguins and barren rock and dynamic glaciers and the wind, the cold, the sun--raw, unhindered elements.

And, I'm bringing down skis this year. Skis and warm fuzzy things, like stuffed animals and socks (compliments of my parents) and a fleece blanky. Those things are all for McMurdo. I did get some new boots and a new jacket for the field, though, and a travel alarm that I can close up in my sleeping bag so it won't accidentally get shut off (or stop working because of cold outside my sleeping bag) which shows the temperature. Those things in the field should be fun.

I also have new contact lenses and got my camera fixed and am in the process of getting new glasses and broke down and got an Ipod and basically have been running a lot of errands the past few weeks. I'm ready to be done running errands and just go. Although getting new stuff is kind of fun. I'm just sick of packing up my room.

Right--the living situation. I moved into a closet when I came back in March. The closet is a large closet/storage space which I have made my own, and am now in the process of making generic again. I will store my stuff at a friend's house, as I've done in years past, and will reclaim it when I get back to Boulder in March. In an ideal scenario, I will move into a place in which I can actually unpack everything, but most likely most my boxes will once again stay packed and I'll save that hope for another year.

I fly to Christchurch, New Zealand from Denver via L.A. and Auckland October 13-15 (New Zealand is a day ahead), which is next week. I have three nights in Christchurch, which will be nice, and then am scheduled to head down to McMurdo October 18, which is a Monday. Two weeks from today. Except less, since New Zealand is that day ahead. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, since Jim and I have a lot to do once we get down there before the first projects start going out in early November.

Stay tuned! The adventure is just about to begin.

Posted by beth at 8:57 PM | Comments (5)