chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Leaving the South Pole via New Zealand and an Asheville Thanksgiving

(As we waited for our plane to prepare for our plane, which
you can see in the background)
A little more about our Antarctic departure.

I did not think I would come to a point where leaving the South Pole would feel like leaving home - well a home away from home.  But the time spent walking to work during our long winter, certain community events, spending more time with my wife on a daily basis than we ever have before, and other various factors made living at the end of the world quite appealing.

When November finally came around, so did the time for us to leave the South Pole.  This was an odd time for me.  When Sarah first went to Antarctica I was unable to join her as I could not procure a job.  The second time she left for the frozen continent and I was again incapable of finding a way for myself, and the place I had spent so much time reading about began to leave a bitter taste in my heart.  She would come back, clearly changed and moved by her time in Antarctica, leaving a gap of sorts between us.  This was a place that separated us.  And yet it was a place she always longed to return to and was always sad to leave, which was difficult for me to say the least.

(She might having a hard time keeping her eyes open during
her last visit to the geographic South Pole, but she was very
excited to visit one more time.  One last visit!)
So when we tried for a third attempt at an Antarctic adventure together, I was a little more than jaded and doubtful.  Until the moment I climbed down out of a plane at the South Pole, I honestly thought any number of the countless different obstacles that could keep me from making my way would suddenly spring up out of nowhere.  "Ha ha, nice try Brett.  You got organs removed and did your best but you're not going to the South Pole you punk!"  Stepping onto the glacial ice just outside of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station was a surreal moment for me - not so much an achievement as a thing finally achieved.

While Antarctica had become a small divisive force in our marriage up to the point of us both arriving at the Pole to winter-over, it did not take long for it to become one of the most unifying forces of our ten years being married.  Sharing ten months together on the Antarctic plateau gave plenty of opportunity to live and grow as a married couple.  Mostly, though, it was being able to spend so much time together that was so nice.  The lack of normal distractions allowed us to more aptly experience and enjoy our time at the South Pole together.

(I will leave these jokers unnamed for the weak sake of
anonymity - this shot was taken on our layover in
McMurdo on a short walk over to the Kiwi station Scott
Base nearby.  They guys...)
The planes started coming and our time at the Pole was coming to an end.  We packed, shipped back some of our belongings, devoured the few pieces of fresh food that came in on the planes that transitioned through the Pole, said our goodbyes to everyone on station, and took as many last minute photos as we could - we literally drug one of our friends out to the ceremonial pole only minutes before our plane was supposed to leave.  During this time of preparing to leave, a feeling of sorrow and sadness began to creep into my heart.  As excited as I was to depart, I discovered what Sarah always tried to explain to me when she arrived back had begun making it's way into me as well.

So I found myself feeling unexpectedly nostalgic the day we stood waiting for the LC-130 to land on an ice runway to take us home.  While I felt the pull of family and friends we had not seen in so long, I also felt a feeling of loss seeded deep in my gut.  Though I was ready for some tasty food and copious amounts of sunshine, I knew I would soon find myself missing the oddities that make living at the South Pole memorable.

And yet it was time to leave.  We looked ahead to some time in New Zealand and some much needed family time.  One wonderful part about leaving, that did not happen on the way down, was Sarah and I were fortunate enough to fly together.  This made our departure, transitional time at McMurdo station, and our flights much more enjoyable.

(Should have got a shot together in the sulfur version of the
pools as they are a little cooler looking but this is the one
where we got a team Baddorf photo)
New Zealand!!  I shared some in our last post about the time we were able to spend in New Zealand on the way back home.  I wanted to add a few more photos of our time there - so much good food, amazing wines, relaxing moments together when we could just enjoy the New Zealand landscapes, and overall a time of rejuvenation.  Last time I shared about our hike through Arthur's Pass, so this time I thought I might post a little bit about our time at Hanmer Springs and the New Zealand Air Force museum.

While driving around this go around in New Zealand, we tried to visit as many places as we could we had missed during our year of living there.  One of these such places was Hanmer Springs.  This little town was not on the way to anywhere we went to on our previous adventures, and we had definitely missed out for having never been there.

A cute little town, this haven of hot springs offers a way to enjoy the water from the springs in the form of a park.  This enabled us to experience water from the springs in various pools of different temperatures and forms.  Some of the pools were in their natural sulfuric state, while others had been chlorinated for a more clean way to soak in the healing waters.  There were plenty of fun little shops in the town and a good sized hill nearby that offered lots of nice hikes.  I ran a few of them and we hiked one of them together.  We really enjoyed this out of the way nook of peace and tranquility.

One of the last places we visited before leaving to fly home was the Air Force museum.  We have a definite love of airplanes and always enjoy getting to spend time around them.  This museum is a must for anyone who enjoys airplanes and/or museums.  The Kiwis have always played a role in major wars, and learning of their dogfighting skills that came from flying in a country full of wild winds and cropdusting mountainous terrain was intriguing.  We took a free behind-the-scenes tour of planes that were not quite yet ready for the main museum yet, learning even more about the process of how the planes are acquired and made ready for visitors.  We both enjoyed our time at this museum and could have easily spent a few more hours enjoying ourselves learning about the history of planes in New Zealand.  What a nice visit.

(Seals!! Sarah poses with a seal who is also posing. A couple
of posers. Man we could look at these guys for hours)
One last New Zealand note - the seals!  While we were hoping to swim with the seals, it was not quite the right time of year to jump in the water with the dogs of the sea.  Even so, we spent some time in Kaikoura and made sure to visit an area where seals come ashore to sunbathe.  It is not the same thing as swimming with them, but watching seals, or any marine wildlife in it's natural habitat, is one of our favorite pastimes.  We always have to resist the urge to attempt taking one of them home as a pet.  I am quite certain we might just come away with a few fingers less if we tried to act on these impulses, but we still think about it quite seriously.

Thanksgiving!! This year we spent our Thanksgiving with the Williamson side of the family in a cabin not far outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  What a way to enter back into our lives here in the United States!  We enjoyed several beautiful hikes through the mountains, visited numerous waterfalls, caught up with our family, and played countless games late into the night.  Some of the highlights from this week are Mount Mitchel (the highest peak east of the Mississippi), visiting Biltmore, and of course hanging out with Bubba - Gordon and Miriam's boxer.

(At the top of Mount Mitchel enjoying the view. What a
great day for a hike.  Our previous hike at the mountain
offered only clouds for scenery)
Mount Mitchell boasts hours of hiking on trails that are magnificently maintained.  The summit offers a stellar panoramic view as far as the eye can see.  Other mountains, small towns, countless trees in every direction - the mountain truly offers a commanding view of the area.  We did two hikes that started on Mount Mitchell and enjoyed both of them immensely.  If you ever find yourself anywhere near this mountain, go and hike as much of it as you can!

Biltmore was almost as unbelievable as the view from Mount Mitchel but in a very different way.  While the mountain offered a fantastic view of God's creation, the Biltmore house showed what human ingenuity (which I believe is placed in us by the Creator) can achieve with resources and creativity.  It was easy to be impressed by the vision of George Vanderbilt while walking through the house he built for his family.  A monumentally sized house, every aspect of life there was built around the concepts of art, beauty, history, and maximizing the aesthetic value of a home.  Extravagant yes, but also magnificent.  Apparently in all of the excitement of looking around at everything I neglected to take a single picture.  Oh well.

Bubba - well I'll just share this one last photo.  This is a pic of us hanging out and snuggling.  It probably says about all a picture needs to say about the nature of our relationship, and Bubba's personality.  He's a big time lover dog.  And as it turns out he's an avid hiker who likes climbing mountain trails maybe even more than I do.  What a guy.

Well thanks for dealing with my missing Antarctica so much I posted again about it, and a brief walk through of our journey back to the United States.  Now it's time to celebrate Christmas Memphis style.  By the way, Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Antarctic Rearview and Vietnam in Sight

(One last photo shoot at the Pole the day we left. The plane had literally landed and people were waiting to get on - so we ran to the Ceremonial Pole and took some photos. Thanks Andrew!!)
November ended our time at the South Pole.  Sarah and I were fortunate enough to fly out together, unlike our travel down which was done separately.  It was quite nice to experience the last part of our Antarctic journey together - the flights on the LC-130 and C-17, the short stay in McMurdo, and then coming off the plane together in New Zealand at the same time.

Something has to be said about the first steps we took as we arrived back to the world.  After having spent ten months in a place where the wind is always a frigid bite at the skin and the temperature was constantly cold enough to easily kill us, the first few steps onto the tarmac in New Zealand were beyond description.  I will certainly always remember the warm embrace of the breeze as it caressed all of my exposed skin.  Instead of recoiling from the weather and climate, as was now my custom, I embraced the kind welcome of Christchurch.  It was the perfect temperature for walking around with a short sleeved shirt on all day long.  I just think I might remember this experience for the rest of my life.

(Sarah was having trouble letting go - literally
 of the Pole. We enjoyed our time at the South Pole
 and were were a little bit sad to be leaving, maybe to
never see it again.  Who knows?!)
Sarah and I had planned to make our way to Australia and dive the Great Barrier Reef during our short stop off before heading back to family for Thanksgiving; however, due to being a few days late off the ice and our schedule being as tight as it was, we did not have time to follow through on these plans.  Instead we spent our time driving around our beloved New Zealand.  There was delicious food (oh the food was so good after eating frozen food for so long!), spectacular wines (again the wine was stellar after such a small and less than perfect selection at the Pole), waterfalls and good hikes, and just driving through the beautiful countryside of New Zealand.

The main highlight of the trip was a hike we did in Arthur's Pass.  Without all of our hiking gear we were not able to do a hike that would take us a  few days, so we instead did a decent hike in a spectacular area.  Arthur's Pass is a part of the country that always stood out to us during our last stay in New Zealand.  Though on our previous trip we only drove through the area in a rush to somewhere else, this time we made some time to stop and hike.  After reading about a bunch of hikes that all said they were 6-9 hour strenuous alpine jaunts, we settled on doing a 3-4 hour hike called Mt. Aicken.  This is a fantastic hike that heads almost entirely vertically up the side of the mountain.  Of all our New Zealand hikes it was the most abruptly steep for the entirety of the venture.  Wonderful vistas overlooking the pass and mountains, a great sandwich kept for a nice stay at the top for an outdoor lunch, and a challenging hike that proved to give us a good workout.

(Once at the top we celebrated our climb. What nice weather
and the views were stunning.  Definitely worth the climb!)
Our time in New Zealand was short but sweet.  It was nice seeing a good portion of the country we both learned to love a few years back. We enjoyed our short stay and turned our eyes towards home.

We are now back in Memphis and our Antarctic adventure is over. We spent a refreshing time with Sarah's family in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC for Thanksgiving.  Being back is nice and there are plenty of people we still need to see and catch up with as soon as possible.  Seeing our families and spending time with friends has been revitalizing.  And yet this rest is just that - a short break before our next venture, as has become our custom for now.

While it will not be as long as the ten month stint in Antarctica, we are very excited about a trip we booked to visit Vietnam.  After one of Sarah's trips to Antarctica, we visited Thailand and had an amazing time seeing as much of the country as we could.  While we were there we decided we wanted to visit more countries in the general area.  So this January we will be going on a trip we booked to see as much of Vietnam and Cambodia as possible.

(Halong Bay - picture taken from the Getaway Halong Sapa website. Very thrilled to see this place!)
Usually we do our own booking of events and planning as we work through a country, but we were wanting to try out a particular website we had been watching for some time for another trip - and so we used it to buy a trip to see Vietnam.  This put us in contact with an in-country traveling agency called Getaway Halong Sapa .  As we have been preparing for our trip so far, it has been nice to have the help of Getaway Halong Sapa.  They have sent a full itinerary of the trip and we are both now more excited about our visit than we were when we purchased it.  The details of our daily schedule have increased our anticipation and desire to see the country.  One of the greatest helps they have been so far has been with our visas, which they sent to us today!  No worries, no fuss and all taken care of for us.  I count this as quite a benefit.

In reviewing our agenda it has also been comforting to know we will be seeing and doing some things I think we would definitely have missed if not for the expert help of a group that knows which parts of their country need to be visited.  We had certainly found some of the sights we will visit through our research of where to go and what to do, but we had missed some sights that now are some of the ones we are most excited to visit.  And it will be nice to have all of our accommodations planned out for us!  We cannot wait to go to Vietnam and experience the trip Getaway Halong Sapa has planned out for us!!

As this trip takes place, we will take copious notes on what is amazing, and will of course be excited to share some photos and stories about how this adventure goes.  Till then - Memphis!!  We plan to enjoy our time here and to not be distracted by our future ventures.  Family, friends, birthdays, Christmas, and seeing all of our favorite Memphis places is just some of what we are excited about.

Hopefully all of you had a rest filled Thanksgiving.  We would love to hear about the trips any of you might have been on that we should go and experience.  Enjoy life and creation!    

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

South Pole Running and a Weird Decision

Most of this post was sent to Memphis Runners Track Club for their monthly newsletter. The beginning is an addition:

There is a fun tradition I think I have mentioned on the blog before. The South Pole was originally discovered and achieved (meaning they made it there) by two groups of men in the early 1900's.  This meant that these men hiked/sledded/pulled/climbed the nearly 850 miles via their own power and some animal power (one team more than the other).

At any rate, to encourage exercise while we are here during the winter at the South Pole, there is a "Back to McMurdo" challenge. A person keeps track of the mileage they have done on the treadmill/outside/on the rowing machine/on the bike/etc. There is a conversion chart for those who are not running or walking, so one can easily determine how many miles to add to the chart. The chart is a long banner hung in the workout room where anyone participating writes their name and their miles marked next to their name.

This brings me to the horrible decision I made. In mid-August I made it to McMurdo. I felt a little bit of satisfaction and then I thought, the guys who did this originally came from McMurdo to the South Pole and then turned around to go back. Crap. I already knew what I was going to do and I was not happy about it. Did I have enough time to make it back to the South Pole, thus completing the entire journey? Only one way to find out.

Thus began the last two months of two-a-days, and often three-a-days, just to make sure I could get enough mileage in to finish this silly goal. This past Saturday, with a tired body, I finally achieved enough miles to make it back to the South Pole. All my miles were done through running and rowing. The rowing gave my body enough rest to continue a ridiculous amounts of miles at times - there were times when I was hitting 22 to 26 miles a day. 

My secondary goal to this whole fiasco was to finish in time to get back to my normal routine before leaving the South Pole. It was a journey of almost 1700 miles. There were a lot of workouts when I definitely considered how entirely stupid the quest truly was.

I guess at the end of the day the only rational thought I had was that if I needed to actually attempt to make my way back to McMurdo on foot I would be ready. This is unlikely as the planes are pretty good at getting here but you never know.

(Below is what I shared with Memphis Runners - I believe they shared it in their August newsletter. This was mostly about my attempt to run a marathon on the treadmill)
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station sits upon two miles of glacial ice at the bottom of the world.  It is one of the most remote places on this planet, over 800 miles from the next closest station. 
A group of people gather in this unusual location to help support science being done by the United States Antarctic Program. The United States has had a presence at the South Pole since 1956.  More than a few support staff are needed for the scientists to complete their work and a small community forms. During the summer the population can soar to over 150 people, a teeming metropolis compared to the less than fifty who hunker down the long winter months.
It is odd being one of forty-six people at the South Pole. Antarctica is not necessarily a place I saw myself ever visiting. Before we got married Sarah had at one point mentioned she wanted to go to Antarctica one day, but that is the sort of thing people say. Little did I know my wife is not most people.

So I find myself living on a glacier and spending the entire ten-month Austral winter at the South Pole.  Traveling and running is always difficult. Routine is broken. New places, while intriguing, sometimes offer odd dangers – getting lost, running into the wrong neighborhood, not knowing local laws. I’ve certainly found myself attempting to figure out the whole running deal while traveling for the past few  years, and yet Antarctica has offered some fresh challenges for me.

In route to the Pole I was waylaid for three weeks at McMurdo, a station on the coast that all planes fly through on their way to ninety degrees South. At this point it was the end of summer and the weather was really not too bad. I was able to get in a number of runs outside, enjoying some of the last sunshine I would run in for quite some time. I ran around Observation Hill and trails that lead past Robert Falcon Scott’s hut from when he and his team sought to earn the prize of the South Pole.  It was not until I left McMurdo and headed to the Pole that I encountered the most obvious and main two obstacles I would experience while in Antarctica - the extreme cold and being at altitude.  

The South Pole sits at 9,306 feet. The real issue is barometric pressure changes on a daily basis. Today we feel as though we are at 10,817 feet, though for the past two months we have spent most days over 11,000 feet. When combined with the dry air we breathe in here, Antarctica is technically a desert, the acclimation time for running took me quite some time.

Then there is the cold. I grew up in Ohio before moving to Memphis my senior year of high school. I have run in cold temperatures while training for track during the winter months.  Though this part of me became quite accustomed to Memphis winters, I had experienced bone chilling temperatures. Well, I thought I had. Arriving at the South Pole was a little bit of a rude awakening. I managed to get two runs in before the sun disappeared. Both were short and terrible. There is an almost constant wind ripping across the Antarctic plateau that our station sits on, and it is not forgiving. Negative fifty degrees with a strong wind is not pleasant. It was fine running with the wind but at some point one has to turn around. I have never felt wind cut through multiple layers of clothing (more than I had ever worn to run in my life) so easily. I froze.

With the sun promising to disappear for four to five months and temperatures dropping I had only one valid option before me. It is an option I have avoided at all costs in the past.  The treadmill.  The treadmill has always been a tool I have loathed. Boring. Mundane. Unchanging. Pick the negative word and I have most likely associated it with the treadmill at some point in time. Yet there was this damned machine and it was my only option if I wanted to run. So a few months ago I hopped on the treadmill and began a strange journey.

There were some immediate problems that arose. I had eliminated the problem of the extremely cold temperatures, but the altitude and dry climate still persisted in offering their resistance. The treadmill itself was everything I had expected of it. I made the decision early on to watch television shows or movies while running to keep my mind distracted, and maybe to keep my sanity intact. While keeping my mind occupied was not a replacement for running the trails at Shelby Farms, it did help stave off the sheer boredom of running in place for thirty minutes to an hour. The one aspect of treadmill running that has bothered me the most has been my inability to run the paces, according to the machine, I am accustomed to running. Until only recently, I have been at least one minute slower per mile and there is not much I have been able to do except for attempt to push a little harder to lower pace. Is it the altitude? The dry air? My hate for treadmills? A combination of everything? Or just some mental block to running on a machine?

It has been months since my decision to take advantage of the treadmill. I have been slowly making my way through our extensive television series library. And, contrary to my expectations, I am beginning to like the treadmill. It could be like learning to enjoy the company of an unwelcome running partner simply because he is your only current option.  But after he keeps showing up, run after run, as a faithful running buddy, a person can learn to like him. Running itself has always been this way with me. I ran hundreds of miles before I learned to love running. Even then the relationship was dicey at best, though usually running has been a joy. Learning to be content with my current running circumstances has not been easy, but the treadmill is becoming a close friend. The development of my new affinity for the treadmill, though welcome and surprising, has also opened the door to me making an absurd decision.

I am going to run a marathon on the treadmill.

(Planes started arriving at the Pole! Just going through but soon they will
be taking some of us with them. Yay)
Here is the issue. As any serious runner travels, she looks to the opportunities afforded to her in the running world. I have done the same with my time here in Antarctica. There are a few different chances to run a marathon on continent. Unfortunately none of them overlap the time during which I will be here. This was sad news to process. How perfect would it be to get in a marathon while on the continent? How many people have run one on all seven continents? With two continents under my belt it was sour grapes to see this opportunity slipping through my fingers. But did it have to be this way? I stared at the treadmill and considered. Could I even bring myself to make such a decision? The answer is apparently yes!
As many of you might be thinking already, there are concerns with this marathon attempt. Does it really count if it is on a treadmill and not out in the elements? Surely anyone could run a marathon in a hotel in China and count the entire continent of Asia. I have my concerns on this issue, and yet should I allow these concerns to keep me from achieving what I might never have another chance to do in my lifetime? I made the decision to go ahead and begin my training, which meant also pushing all doubts and naysayers to the side – including myself. It is what it is and there is nothing to be done about it.
So here I stand, with a goal I would deem absurd if anyone else mentioned it to me. This week I completed my longest run on a treadmill to date. Twenty miles came and went, along with multiple episodes of The Wire. Thanks to a homemade running gel (made of honey, water, salt, and molasses – I cannot just head down to the local running store) and being way more conscious about taking in plenty of water I felt much better than I thought I would. Previously anything above twelve miles has been quite a struggle. I have been mentally working past some of my previous issues with the pace on the treadmill, though I am still not working out at paces I am used to running the full marathon distance at in the past.

In two weeks I will be attempting to run the full marathon. I am still debating on my pace goals. At this point I am fairly confident I will be able to finish this distance. My body has been responding decently to the twenty miler this week and I’m getting excited about seeing what will happen when I try to tack on another six miles. I never could have imagined running any of the distances I have completed on the treadmill, let alone a full marathon. I would say it is ridiculous but at this point it is just beginning to feel normal to me. It is as though the part of my brain that hated treadmills has been slightly worn away, as if a grinder has been slowly wearing it down.
Running in Antarctica has been a challenge. I never would have thought the treadmill would be a friend in a time of need. I do look forward to the return of the sun and weather that will not sear my lungs, leaving me with a bloody cough for weeks.  Even more so, I cannot wait until I fly through New Zealand and have the chance to go for a run in a much more accommodating climate. And yet I have this peculiar feeling that when I leave I might just miss my new companion.  I will always be grateful to the machine I once despised, but between the two I will always choose a nice trail outside. Perhaps the South Pole can be my exception.
For now the treadmill is a glorious machine enabling me to run, even while wintering-over in a place where the normal ambient temperature outside is around negative eighty degrees Fahrenheit – this does not include wind chill. The treadmill is my safe haven. Like many other tools in running the treadmill, however reluctantly I say even now, does have its place. Ok treadmill, let’s do this.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

South Pole: Changing of the Flags, Sunrise Dinner, and Life

(Sarah and I take a moment after the flag changing ceremony to pose for a picture at the ceremonial South Pole)
The winter has been long, and though we have truly enjoyed our experience at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, living in such conditions can be arduous. There are so many wonderful things to experience, like the auroras and night sky (which I talk about extensively in previous posts), but at the same time, Antarctica is simply not the kind of place that welcomes humans with open arms. We constantly joke that Antarctica is motivated by some sort of malevolent force to wipe out all human life, as if she is a living entity. It certainly feels like this at times. This energy that is innately a part of this ice covered continent, seems to bend its entire will at working against our existence here.

A quick example. We have giant doors (vehicle sized) attached to the LO Arch, where I work on the daily. These doors have been closed during most of the winter due to the inclement weather we can experience. We do, however, have to open these doors when we need to bring in materials from the outside storage berms, or for other various purposes. This past week, we spent the better part of a few days shoveling out the snow that sneakily seeps in through cracks of the doors. It wisps in, as the unstoppable force it is, and creates giant pillars of bulky snow on the inside of our doors. We cleared this entire area out and, rightly so, we were quite proud of ourselves (see last post about shoveling). The doors were swung open, smiles all around, and then the rest was cleared with a machine from the outside.

And then... Antarctica struck. "She took back her space," one of my co-workers mentioned. The winds picked up and the temperatures dropped down close to negative 100 F. This meant we now needed to close our doors because those temperatures could negatively effect some of the work spaces in our arches. Guess what? We could not close our doors due to the extra snow. So after a few hours of work to clear the area, we were finally able to close the doors we had worked so hard to open. Only a few hours later I walked back past these very same doors. The dreaded snow pillars were already reforming, a visible monument to Antarctica's relentless pursuit to remain untamed. I can hardly wait to work on opening those doors again - well, yes I can wait.  

(Our station manager says a few words before we took down the flags that had flown the long winter night)
One unique thing that happened in the past two weeks was the changing of the flags. The ceremonial pole is home to the flags of twelve different nations. These nations were all a part of the original Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959, and this is honored by their country being constantly represented by the flying of their flag at the ceremonial pole. Countries included: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Russia, England, and the United States. These countries all had some sort of investment, or interest, in Antarctica at the time of the treaty, and the treaty ensures certain protections for the continent as a whole (since then more countries have joined the treaty - click anywhere to read more about the treaty).

The changing of the flags was a fun event for us. We took the new flags out and each person was assigned to a particular flag. Our station manager made some comments on the significance of the flags and the countries represented, and then each person attempted the difficult task of removing and replacing the flags. It was challenging due to performing this task in the extreme cold. Our warmer and more protective mittens make such a task somewhat problematic, and I know the only way I could negotiate the metal clasps was to take those off. This makes for attempted quick work, fumbling with numb fingers, and I know I heard a little bit of frustration being expressed as those around me worked diligently to put up their new flag. In the end, we did manage to successfully hang all of the new flags that will soar for the rest of this year and most of 2018. As I did not have a designated flag, Sarah was nice enough to share hers with me. She was changing out the New Zealand flag, which has special significance to us. We lived there for a year, thus the title of this blog, and we absolutely love the country.

After the changing of the flags it was time to get inside and warm up our hands! 

(Working together to change out Sarah's flag)
Sunrise Dinner!

Our chefs really outdid themselves on this one. The theme was food trucks. They set up stations all around the room and even decorated in various ways. Viktor was serving drinks, Hunter was making Cubans, Sugar Bear was serving up some sushi, and Zak was making Indian food. We sampled it all and found that each person had truly made some delicious food. I think we ate pretty heavily off of the sushi bar, but we made sure to leave room for something special from the other chefs as well. It was definitely the best food we have had in a while!! Good job guys.

Each year there is a box o' goods that are shipped down for us all to open around Mid-Winter. Some of those things filtered out into the crew around this time, but some of it got sidetracked for various reasons until now. A table of various goodies (books, knickknacks, dried fruit, etc) was put out for anyone to take. One of the guys noticed there were some LED badminton birdies. He went and set up the gym for what would later be badminton in the dark with our new light up birdies. This dangerous...but mostly fun. There is a picture below that shows some of what it was like to play in the dark. Sometimes the birdie would turn off after being hit, making it impossible to return (other side cheers in victory, once it is the birdie is discovered on the other side of the net as no one could tell where it went). The real deal was making sure to watch your teammates, especially once the game included over half of the people on station, so as to not hit or be hit in the face by a racket. Lots of fun.

Overall a great night. Sarah and I finished it off by playing a game with some of our friends (also pictured below). Moments like Sunrise Dinner are a highlight for certain. They not only mark a moment in the winter as being a time passed on our way toward redeployment, but they also tend to lift the spirits of everyone on station (for the most part) as well. 

(Sugar Bear rocking out the sushi rolls - they really were delicious!)

One other memorable event was paired up with Sunrise Dinner. Traditionally each year the flags that are taken down are then raffled off to members who are wintering over at the South Pole. This includes the twelve flags already mentioned above, and then also two more American flags (flown in other locations on station) and the NSF (National Science Foundation) flag. It can be a big deal as you win a flag that has flown at the South Pole, and some people find that to be exciting. We certainly were thrilled about the idea of having one of the flags. Certain flags tend to be more desired than others, though it depends on the individual for obvious reasons. The American flags, Norwegian flag, and the English flag are usually the top choices. The Americans generally all like the idea of taking home one of American flags. There is historical significance for the Norwegian and English flag as the explorers, Amundsen and Scott, were Norwegian and English.

Unfortunately, even though we technically had twice the chance to win over a single person, we did not win a flag. It was disappointing but it was also fun to watch the enthusiasm of those who did win a flag. The Norwegian flag, pictured below, was claimed by our station manager. He is planning a trip to Norway when he leaves the ice and part of his journey will take him to see the boat the Fram, which was the boat Amundsen and his crew used to reach Antarctica on their way to the South Pole (it was also used in many other voyages in the Arctic). He asked if we would all sign the flag so he can present it to someone while he is in Norway. What a fun way to celebrate a little bit of the history about the South Pole as we prepared to eat some tasty food.

(The Norwegian flag ready to be signed by the station crew. Pictures of the Fram are hanging on the wall above the flag)

That is about it for our South Pole update for now. We have a few more events planned for the rest of the season, but for the most part we are through with the major events like Sunrise Dinner. As of today, September 30th, I have only thirty-six days left on the ice (it can always change). Sarah has roughly thirty-nine days left. It is so crazy that we are this close to being done with our time at the South Pole.

Well, I guess I better get back to shoveling snow. 

(The Materials Team poses for a picture. Steve was quite proud of his dress. Kim actually made it for him. He was the only one at Sunrise Dinner in a sundress. Go figure)

(Photo by Daniel Michalik - badminton in the dark)

(Photo by Daniel Michalik - ending our Sunrise Dinner night with a game)

(And yes, the sun is up completely now - really fun watching it come up. Soon it will be so bright we need to wear sunglasses again while working outside. Today is pretty close - not pictured here)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Antarctica =s Lots O' Shoveling

The past few weeks at the South Pole have been filled with birthdays, departments lining up those last few jobs that need to be finished before summer, and people solidifying plans for when they leave the continent. We have all be waiting to get our official off ice date, which really only means a date when a person will leave dependent on weather and such, and as we get those dates we can finally confirm plans for after we leave. It can be a little difficult to plan such traveling around a date that can fluctuate a decent amount, but we are doing our best.

Sarah and I finally made a few of our purchases in regards to the quick stop off we are going to make in Australia for some diving. The plan is to dive the Great Barrier Reef and do some sightseeing before we shoot on back for Thanksgiving. We both love to dive and are very much looking forward to diving this particular part of the world. Mostly it will just be nice to get back in the water. By the time we leave it will have been mover ten months since we have been submersed in any water, let alone the ocean. Surprisingly we do not have a pool here at the South Pole (said sarcastically).

This week we finally got to see our team winter-over photo. Matt Smith and Hunter Davidson worked on making it what you see above. It is a few photos combined - the night sky on the right and the sun starting to come up on the left. We have missed being able to look up into the Milky Way, which did look almost as pictured here to the naked eye. Good work on the photo guys. 

Our materials team has been driving out to the storage berms in search of goods for various other departments. On the last trip we had to go pretty far out so we made a little detour to the "end of the world." We took some photos at this same location as the sun was beginning to set about six months ago, and so it was fun to take some now as the sun is beginning to rise. The colors the new rising sun has been pouring out over our white landscape have been quite nice to watch. Lots of purples, reds, oranges, and pinks. Pretty soon we will see the actual sun itself - that will be nice!

And oh the shoveling. The shoveling... As you can see in the picture where I'm about to crush Steve's head with a giant piece of snow/ice, the wind blows snow in through the cracks in the doors to our arch. When this picture was taken we had already managed to get about six to eight feet move from above where we are standing. This week we needed to shovel this all out of the way so we can then open the doors and drag the snow out with a machine. Needless to say I'm a little sore from all of the shoveling, but we got it done and our doors are open. It's nice to have some natural light pouring in through our open doors.

The final picture was taken at the end of the world also. Someone had fun taking blocks of ice and building a cairn type structure, which is actually really cool to find way out in the middle of nowhere. It is almost as if it is one last final warning to turn back before the vastness of the land before you.

The first picture is a Scott tent that one of the guys here set up so we could take some nice photos. It was pretty neat to see what a tent like that would be like set up in the snow. I think I prefer our station to the tent life as it did not seem quite as cozy.

Only a short time left before we leave. We will have our Sunrise dinner this weekend, a fun event and major marker of our time nearing an end. Pictures and stories will follow. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Endless Night is Over: The South Pole and Some Sun

(Not the best picture but these are some of the first glimpses of sunlight)
Almost every day, I walk to work outside. It is a fairly short walk, and while there have been one or two days I was not happy about being outdoors, for the most part I am attributing this to being a big part of what has been getting me through the Winter. Even on the worst days, there has been something refreshingly nice about a little clean air and an abruptly brisk wake up. It is hard to feel asleep after a nice morning Antarctic embrace.

The best part about walking outside has always been the nighttime displays of astronomical delights such as auroras, the bright Milky Way, the moon (with some of its random displays as well such as moon-pillars), the Southern Cross, and other such wonderful sights. I have borrowed plenty of pictures from our shared drive and posted them on this blog in previous posts. They were all random and we never really knew when they would happen. There are the weather reports and even sometimes helpful alerts to let everyone know there was a massive aurora storm happening, but by the time a person can get suited up and out the door they were occasionally gone as quickly as they came. This is why a person just needs to get outside randomly as you just never know what might be happening out there.

As wonderful as it was to witness all of these phenomenon of the Antarctic night sky, nothing quite prepared me for my walk to work last week. I walked out of the back door from our berthing rooms as normal. I had one eye shut to help acclimate my eyes to the darkness more quickly. I was then arrested on the top of the stairs, as I began look around and see that upon the horizon was the faintest hint of sunlight! The sun had begun taking back a little bit of the Antarctic night. I felt excited - this meant we were one more step closer to going home! I felt a slight feeling of awe - how many people have seen the first rays of the sun as it starts to slowly creep back up over the South Pole after a long winter's night? I felt a feeling of... disappointment - as I looked around and took in the faint sunlight, I also looked up and noticed there was something missing. The Milky Way was gone!

I have been waiting for the sun to come back. We all have been waiting for this momentous occasion. Without the sun the weather will not be accommodating enough for frequent fights in and out of the South Pole. This drastic change in our South Pole experience is vital to fresh food, to departing, and to life. And yet there was a part of me that was inexplicably sad when I realized I could not gaze deep into the core of our galaxy's center any longer. I had grown so accustomed to taking quick looks up into the Milky Way on my walks to work, that now I felt a loss I did not anticipate. I looked desperately for my favorite constellation, the Southern Cross, and it was thankfully still there. But for how long? I knew this change meant the auroras would be less and less visible as the sunlight forged its way across the sky, and I was pretty sure I could deal with their loss. Yet there I stood, and mixed with all of my other emotions was an unforeseen sorrow.

Don't get me wrong. I am filled with a high sense of expectation and energy upon having seen the sun. It has revitalized a part of me that is ready to see family and friends, to travel, to eat fresh food, and to do all of the other things I have been missing while we have been at the South Pole. It may be the case, however, that we never return to this place. Looking back, it is likely that I have spent my last Antarctic night staring into the crystal clear Milky Way and contemplating the greatness of the Creator. I want to cherish these memories and hold on to them while they are fresh and bold in my mind. While the sun brings change and much needed revitalization, I am going to hold on just a little longer to the memory of the long Winter.

Having said all of that, I am immensely enjoying the sunlight and all it brings with it. Our station took down all of our window coverings this past weekend. One more fun sign to point to the nearing of the end of our time here. Though our windows have a heavy tint on them and we could mostly see only our own reflections for the first few days, there have been moments where we can see the glowing reds of the sun peering over the horizon.

We are all still alive. The sun has started the long sunrise back over the most southern place on this planet. Life is, I dare say it, good. I will say my goodbyes to the Milky Way and auroras soon enough.  Perhaps I need to find the right time or thoughts. They have left regardless. I guess I just want to wait a little bit longer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No Solar Eclipse at the South Pole

(One thing we, as a materials department, do is to volunteer every few
weeks to cook pizza for the station. It's a lot of fun and we really enjoy
trying to come up with some mysteriously delicious pies)
It is with a sad note that I offer to you all that there was no solar eclipse at the South Pole. One reason for this is the obvious absence of the sun. While it is certainly good to report we have caught a few glimpses of the sun peeking over the distant horizon when there are no clouds obstructing our view, it has been a bummer to have missed out on a full solar eclipse passing over the United States. From the pictures I have managed to see on social media, it seems there are plenty of people who enjoyed it in our absence.

Speaking of the United States, watching the news as it filters in to the South Pole has been somewhat discouraging. The only thing I want to offer on this subject is prayer. Being away from the country at this time leaves me feeling a little more than impotent in my ability to take part or help out in any way. Today I saw a post on social media from one of my former seminary professors, Dr. Lloyd Allen. As a Church History professor it is appropriate for him to share a prayer by Thomas Merton from 1962. This is the prayer I offer up now from the South Pole for the United States and the rest of the world, in the hopes of peace and reconciliation.
"Lord of History Whose designs are inscrutable. . . . Mercifully hear this prayer . . . from . . . a world in which You are forgotten. . . . Your presence ignored. Because we do not know You, we have no peace. . . . Help us to be masters of the weapons that threaten to master us. . . . Resolve our inner contradictions that now grow beyond belief and beyond bearing. . . . Teach us to be long-suffering in anguish and insecurity. Teach us to wait and trust. Grant light, grant strength and patience to all who work for peace."

Moving back to life at the South Pole, somehow it is already August! One aspect of living at the South Pole that gets a good amount of attention is the time a person has left before the first plane comes to get us and we head home. As the months whittle away and people get more excited about the idea of leaving, the days are counted with increasing care. We have started receiving our tentative dates for leaving the ice. This is an exciting time for planning and looking forward to some much needed change. It might not seem as though we are too close to possible November departure dates, but when you have people who have been here since last October (we did not get here till January) the idea of another seventy days truly is something to celebrate.
(Taken during the marathon - it was not fun)

Are we excited? Let me say it this way. If a plane came today and we could leave I think I would be game for jumping on it. Having said that, Sarah and I enjoy our time here as well. I am not cringing while I think of the remaining seventy plus days to come, though I am beginning to look forward to certain aspects of departing as well.

For instance: Good food. Our food here is decent most of the time, but almost all of it has been frozen for years. It will certainly be nice to enjoy some deliciously fresh food. I cannot stress how excited I am about a change in our food. The other day a group of us sat and talked for about an hour about good food we miss/are looking forward to eating when we leave. I could see the food forming before me, and then evaporate as a cruel trick. Family.  It's a long time to be away and we have some new family members coming our way soon too! New babies! We are both missing friends and family quite a bit, and we are certainly looking forward to catching up with them.  Traveling.  While being here is amazing it's the longest we have been in any one place for a while. We have some fun plans for when we leave. There are plenty of other things either or both of us miss, but this covers the main things.

I will most likely do a separate post about this at some point, when I feel more like talking about it, but one thing that happened recently was a self-imposed marathon on a treadmill. Due to certain time restraints before and after our time at the South Pole (and considering wanting to run one shortly after leaving), I made the decision to run 26.2 miles on the treadmill. In my efforts to run a marathon on every continent, I would obviously prefer to run this outside but the adverse Antarctic conditions made it clear I am here at the wrong time to complete this feat. There is a marathon run at most of our U.S. bases during the summer; however, not knowing if I would ever make my way back for such an occasion I made the hard decision to embrace the terribly boring treadmill. And that is how my marathon went - terribly. Oh well, for now I'm taking it as a win. I ran a marathon at over 11,000 feet at the South Pole. It was rough but the thing is done.

(We are both still unicycling. Sarah is still way better than me. And
these two guys, Josh and Peter, are way better than the rest of us.
Here they are pushing their abilities to the limit by holding hands and
riding in circles. Note Peter's shirt - the Hope shirt!)
On a much more celebratory note, Sarah and I have been learning more about wine! One of the guys, Viktor, on station is a level one sommelier and he likes to share his passion and knowledge on the subject. Not only does Viktor teach a class each week with another guy, Clint, for anyone who wants to come, but he has been giving Sarah and I more in depth sessions once a week too. It has been a fun subject to study and our appreciation for the fruit of the vine has been increasing through gaining more knowledge. Now when we do our tastings (with our VERY limited wine selection here on station), we have a better idea of what to look for when sniffing and tasting. It really does make the whole experience more enjoyable.  I can already see a few trips being planned around some French vineyards!

And there was a pool tournament. Sarah and I both signed up to play in the tournament for the joy of being around the community. I cannot stress enough how our decision to play was based in no way on any skill either of us possess to play billiards. Neither of us are downright terrible. I do not mean to imply a complete lack of skill. However, when compared to people who actually play pool often enough to hone their felt tabled talents, our abilities are certainly wanting. This does not mean we did not have fun. We both did better than either of us thought we might do, and we both had a few moments when we know we should have done a little better. Once we had been knocked out, and even between games, we spent the rest of our time watching (mostly Sarah) and heckling (mostly Brett) the players. Thanks to Josh for putting on the tournament, even though he won it and made us all look like we had never played the game before.

One last update for today's post. There is always one moment for which almost every South Pole person who winters over waits. That moment is when the temperature finally drops below -100 degrees F! This happened briefly, and perhaps appropriately, during our mid-winter celebrations a few months ago. But do to the nature of our events planned for that night, we did not really have much opportunity to go outside and experience this ridiculously cold temperature. This time we were ready! And not only was it super cold, but when we went outside we discovered an extremely bright aurora display dancing across the sky! There are moments that define the South Pole experience, and heading outside at -100 degrees to be greeted by the brightest aurora of the season was uniquely special. There are not too many places in the world where a person can be exposed to a cold of this nature, and though I am not sure I would have sought it out, I count myself fortunate to have experienced it. 

Seventy-four days! We can do this.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Antarctic Christmas in July: How the South Pole Do

Christmas in JULY.  Why? Because it's cold you twit and it's fun to celebrate Christmas whenever you can to enjoy it more (sorry, pathetic attempt to take a quote from Alan Rickman and use it for Christmas joy of movie viewers everywhere. We are all less off for him having passed away. This is from him playing the Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Ya that was bad, but Christmas in July was not. Most people like Christmas and when it is frigidly cold outside it feels like it is time for Christmas. So Kim, my supervisor down here for the materials department and a lady who loves Christmas, planned an entire event for us to celebrate. As you can see from the picture, this of course included as much decorating as possible. In a good way, if that is possible, the galley looked as though our Christmas decoration boxes projectile vomited their contents onto the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was beautiful and I can say with pride my hands were a big part of making sure it was as classy as described.

Well you know how Christmas goes, especially when it is celebrated at the wrong time of the year - amazing!! Once our decorating was done, we started off our celebrations by decorating tons of cookies that Kim, Sarah and Catherine shaped and cooked up for us all. Sugar Bear, one of our beloved cooks (and yes we call him Sugar Bear), had prepared all the dough to make this cookie experience possible. Thanks Sugar Bear and cookie makers! As you will see from the pictures below, these lovely folks made so many cookies that our cookie decorating party was really quite fun. People brought their creative skills to life in the form of sugar cookie art. You might think I am just making this up or being polite, but when you look down to some of the cookies these people brought to life you will see what I am talking about. Michelangelo? Maybe not, but certainly art. Penguins with backpacks. Polar bears eating penguins. A distant relative of the octopus I made in an attempt to make Steve uncomfortable (he's not a fan of the octopus as he appropriately fears their brain capacity and ability to track one down far from the ocean). I should have added more photos of the cookies but you'll get the idea.

With cookies done and eager to taste what Kim was preparing for our Christmas day feast, some of us gathered in the galley to watch Christmas movies. Choices ranged from A Christmas Story to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Elf to various other titles that were watched that day. People were celebrating through the kind disposition Christmas beverages offer in times like these, and mostly there was just holiday relaxation. Dinner was served and was scrumptiously wonderful. It is odd how a few movies, a little bit of music, the right food, and some lights can make a place feel so much like Christmas right smack in the middle of July. Having celebrated Christmas in July twice now, once before in New Zealand, I am a fan. Why only have Christmas once a year when one can easily have it twice?

What else goes along with Christmas in July - gift exchange (as seen in pictures)! We all worked hard on scrounging up the most desirable of gifts and wrapped them for a good ole' fashioned White Elephant style gift swap. Gifts ranged from calendars to bottles of wine to handcrafted replicas of this years pole marker (smaller in scale of course). There was excitement as people opened gifts. There was despair as others then came and ruthlessly stole their prized gift. There was amusement and laughter as others watched people lose their newest joy in life. And then there was a type of revenge, not directed at the person who had stolen their gift because that is impossible according to the rules, as those deprived of their gifts went searching to steal from some other person admiring the gift they had just opened. It was as any white elephant gift exchange should be.

And then there was our Ham Radio class. Dr. James Casey (pictured all the way to the left in the group photo) was generous enough to offer a station wide class on Ham radio. To operate these amateur radios one needs one or all of three license available, all giving slightly different privileges on the Ham. There is the Technician, the General, and the Extra. I put off my studies a little bit and only had time to really go over the Technician well enough to pass, but Sarah was able to wrangle in the Technician and the General! So one more thing that happened while we were at the South Pole that one time - we earned our amateur radio licenses. Not a bad deal at all. And special thanks to James for putting on the class and for putting up with all of our ridiculous shenanigans in those class sessions.  

That is all for this post. We have had a lot of other things happen but now is not the right time to talk about any of them. For instance, we took our group winter photo and yet it will not be ready to view for some undisclosed amount of time. I also ran a marathon (on the treadmill) this past weekend. However, not only do I not feel like talking about it yet, but I will most likely write a post about it at a later time. There have also been studies of wine, which again I will most likely post about all on its own in the future.

For now please feel free to scroll down through the few extra photos I've added. The aurora shot is by Hunter Davis (yes you have seen a few of his photos now) and sadly is not mine. He really knows what he's doing with his camera. Click here to check out more of his photos.
(This wooden reindeer explodes when touched - so be careful and no touching!)

(It was a cookie making extravaganza)

(That's my two eyed creation. Inspired by an extreme hatred of Steve, based on his hatred for the octopus, this little guy ventured all the way from the depths of the ocean to the South Pole in search of justice. Unfortunately he was eaten and Steve is still safe and sound)