chilling feet

chilling feet

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)






Monday, July 10, 2017

Antarctica: South Poleympics Post Two









We finished up our Poleympic Games this weekend and the competition lived up to the rigorous training the athletes put their bodies through each year just for this event (which is mostly little to none).


Our final events were: Team Sled Pull, Supreme Commander (a video game), Settlers of Catan (a board game), Three on Three Volleyball, Rubik's Cube Speed Challenge, Best Photo from the entire competition, and the Closing Ceremonies. The first photo (has been changed for various reasons so just imagine) I have shared in this post encapsulates everything the Poleympic Games are about - tenacity, creativity, a willingness to do anything to win, a bending of the rules and nature's design, complete willingness to sacrifice the body for the team, wardrobe changes for specific events, and finally peace, hope, and love. I think you'll see all that if you ruminate on this picture long enough.






(Sarah roles for Catan. Notice you can see the number four)
Before volleyball, however, there was Settlers of Catan. This is a board game Sarah and I first encountered in New Zealand. Some friends brought the game over to our home and described it. "You collect sheep, ore, brick, and wheat. You then use those resources to trade with one another or the bank to build settlements." I had questions. Can you attack other settlements? No. Can you destroy other settlements or take over their roads? No. How am I to annihilate my opponents? You don't do that.


Well, in this game there is usually a good amount of cooperation. Great, why would I want to play this stupid game was my exact though. I might have even said that last sentence out loud as we could never get these friend to come over again. Whoops! As it turns out I was doing that whole judge the book by its cover thing. Not only is the game fun but we have played it a ton since first being introduced to it. We own our own copy. We played it in Memphis with our friends and we were delighted to discover there is a community here at the Pole that loves to play Catan as well. Catan is actually played enough that the Commissioner of the Games, Peter, added the game as an event. We had nine competitors and thus our set up was three preliminary games from which the winners would all go to the final game.   

Sarah and I started in the same preliminary game, which means only one of us could advance to the sought after finals and a medal in this event. We knew this going in and both played to put ourselves in the best position to win the game. Sarah beat me to it and won a spot in the finals. She then went on to win the whole dang deal, earning a gold medal and making the family quite proud (we would have been proud with any result but we do love gold). Some say this victory was so swiftly achieved due to the abnormal amount of fours that were being rolled that game. Sarah happened to benefit from fours and I did watch as four players in a row all rolled fours at one point during the game.  Well no matter what the circumstances, Sarah won this particular game. Another night it might have gone completely differently.


Supreme Commander. This is a game I know nothing about but I have watched as the guys all gather in large conference room to play on their laptops. I am told it's fun. Maybe one day I will try. This game was worked into the Poleympics and there were teams of two set up to pit their skills against one another. As I do not know anything else about this particular game that is about all I can say. I know each game took about two hours of game play and the guys were really into it.

The next photo was taken by Hunter Davidson, one of the best photographers of the night sky I have been privileged to meet. We have a few folks down here who can really work their cameras and do some magical stuff, but so far Hunter has really been putting in the work to produce some amazing shots. This one was taken during our individual sled pull. I'm out there at the ceremonial pole where you can see a strange amount of light bursting forth from seemingly nothing. Those are toy light sabers (mentioned in last post as I took a shot of them from my angle) all stuck into the ground (and one in my hand) lighting the way for the finish for the sled pullers. They really produced a lot of light! But just look at Hunter's photo. The Milky Way is streaming down through the night sky as a faint aurora is dancing above us, all the meanwhile there are thousands of stars shinning down. When I try my best to take a picture like this it comes out almost entirely black. I might capture a little bit of the aurora but it is grainy and sad. Definitely check out some of Hunter's photos on his website. He's really got some good stuff on there and more is being added as he takes more wonderful pics of auroras down here.

(Volleyball - the name of the game was to set Gavin)
The next morning, bright and early for a day off, was the team sled pull at nine o' clock. It was fun to look around and see how everyone had their own innovative ways of setting up a team to pull their sled across the ice and drifts. Some clearly had function in mind while others were going for more of a fun approach. While the individual sled pull was one of our events with the least amount of contenders, the team sled pull was maybe the event the most people participated in during the games. With four people on each team I believe we had at least twenty-four people (out of forty-six on station) and maybe more.

On a really cold and windy morning around about six teams gathered at the geographic South Pole in preparation for one of the most grueling events in the 2017 Poleympics. Only the individual sled pullers from the week before really had any notion of what to expect. And what was to be expected? Pain, anabolic threshold met in about thirty seconds but then the event holds you on the anaerobic side making you wish you were dead, lack of oxygen and coughing fits, the bodies overall rejection of the event, and extreme cold. It was NOT fun. It was challenging and I am glad that I participated, that is for certain, but it has now been twenty-four hours since the event and my raspy cough has me thinking it was not the best of ideas. Our team was made of an electrician (Peter, our commissioner), a doctor (yes Sarah), and two materials guys (Steve and me). We were pulling Sarah and we had one goal - beat the Michigan team.

(Our silver medal team - good job guys. Silver is good) 
And everything started off well enough. Then we hit the wall, a tangible force of physical exhaustion punched our team right in the face. Peter said what we were all thinking (except Sarah as she was in the sled getting pulled - you had to pull one person), "Guys, I can't go any further." Steve almost reflexively started saying things like, "Let's just keep moving" and "We can do this," as he just kept pulling us all forward through sheer will power. I looked over my shoulder and saw most other teams were experiencing the same dilemma we were. I looked forward and the mental game became a lot more difficult. Just past the mounds of snow drifts and hard formed ice that I could almost feel wereleering at me with a look of "I dare you," there was the Michigan team. We had been gaining, or so I thought. They seemed to be having no moment of crisis as they just continued on their damned steady pace. We recovered. We kept in motion (thanks Steve). We gained. But it was too late. It would have to be the silver medal for us. It was hard earned but all I could think about was getting back to warmth and sitting down on the floor to breathe as much air as possible. We had lost but we had also done well, I guess. You can read Eileen's post and see what she thinks about it. She was not impressed.

(Viktor makes a set to Gavin and he prepares to bump it up for one of us to
spike. Note Viktor is wearing one of the shirts we brought down for every-
one. Amundsen's mustache!)
Oh, then came the heart wrenching volleyball. It was fun but just like team sled pull it did not go as we had hoped it might. The way the brackets ended up getting shaped, we had some tough games just to reach the finals.

Our first set of games went well but certainly were taxing to our team. The team we played is really good and yet during this competition we were just more in the zone than they were. Sometimes the ball bounces off your arm wrong and getting back on target is tough. We made it through our first set of three games only having to play two games, which was nice because we needed the rest. It was a solid first game and we came through it feeling good as we looked forward to our next match. We knew our first two games would be the most difficult by far, which is a little strange in a tournament, but that's how the brackets fell out. Either of the first two teams had the potential of knocking us out. We had to keep our game on track and not leave much to chance.

(Some net play vs Tyler. These were some intense games)
We took our rest in between matches and we discussed what we thought we needed to change, which at that point was really not much. We had played extremely well together during our first set and all we had to do was keep it up. As we prepared for the next set of games we did so as though it was the gold medal match. If we won this set we would go on to the finals and if we lost we would be playing for bronze. The stakes were pretty high for our second game but when you only have six teams this is the kind of thing that happens.

We warmed up and started our first game. Everything went according to plan and we made it through our first of three games just as we wanted it done. A decisive win, good communication, and all was well. The second game started in kind and we had a little bit of a lead going. Then the invisible monkey, or whatever it is in volleyball terminology, jumped on our backs. Now it is quite obvious that our morning of sled pulling and our first set of games had taken its toll, but at the time we were not perceiving the real enemy. We started missing some easy shots, especially serves. Our lead dwindled and we lost the second game. No big deal. Time to regroup and get things done in game three. This was not to be our day.

(I like to think I'm just tired here but maybe I am a little disappointed too.
Photo credit to Daniel Michalik)
As game three began all of the weariness we had been feeling in game two seeped its slippery way into our minds as well. The all to present reality of watching the other team snatch away the momentum of the game was frustrating. A few more missed hits and a few more serves into the net, we found ourselves staring what we had hoped to be an unlikely elimination right in the face. It might seem silly to talk so intensely about some ridiculously fun Poleympic games everyone was just participating in for the joy of playing. And yet there I was quite frustrated at the turn of events. Our team was frustrated. There was a gold medal on the line and I found myself really wanting our team to take it home. We made a small comeback on a few decent serves and then I watched in shock as a ball I thought was going out hit the dang line. At least I could look at the last moment of the game and know exactly who was to blame - damn. Oh well, it is just a game right? We had played well but not at our best. I had a little melt down when a spectator interfered in a minor way. I hate it when I lose my cool during sports. It has happened infrequently over the years and it always galls me. A low growl rumbles inside of me. Let it go man.

(Andrew soars! Taken by Viktor Barricklow)
Sarah's team did well in the tournament and had tons of fun. They were on the other side of the bracket and while our games reeked of an over seriousness, her matches had the normal fun loving nature of our weekly volleyball games. There was some great volleyball being played, and as anyone can see from the pictures I've posted, these players bring everything they've got into the games. This shot of Andrew Nadolski flying in a graceful formation as he hits the ball over the net is a prime example of the sort of games we were enjoying this past Sunday.  There were a few great shots of him captured during gameplay that actually made their way into the photo competition to win a medal! It was a fun day and though Sarah's team did not make it into the medal rounds, they represented well and had a lot of good play. 

(Volleyball medal ceremony. Photo by Robert Schwartz)
Our team ended up going on to win the bronze medal matches. The team we lost to soared on through easily for the gold. Overall we had tons of fun and though our team was not happy with the results of our performances, there were definite moments of play we can all be proud of for sure. Hopefully one result of this tournament will be some more three on three volleyball. It was too fun not to play some more. The winning team was Robert Schwartz, Tyler Butler, and Josh Neff. A good team I look forward to playing fifty more times. Predictions? Naw. We will just have to wait and see how it goes.

With volleyball done we only had Rubik's Cube contest, a sheer test of mental speed, our photo competition voting, and the closing ceremonies.

(Team sled pull medal ceremony)
In order to decide who's mind was the greatest, three contestants stood upon the gold medal stand (one at a time) in the gym and were heckled while they attempted to complete the Rubik's Cube puzzle as quickly as possible. James Casey won the day with a completion time of just barely over a minute. It was fun to watch and definitely fun to encourage them as they moved their hands at lightning speed. With only three active participants the competition was over quickly and as they all finished the task at hand each one of them medaled. I've never been able to solve the Rubik's Cube's dastardly design, and so I am always impressed to see others do it. I've known a few people who simply memorized the pattern to completing it. This is impressive enough I guess, though I think our guys just know how to do it.       

(Sarah claims her gold medal for Settlers of Catan. Way to go!)
The photos that took the day in our games have all been posted already. Though they were entered in groups of three, it was clearly the individual shots I have shared that won the hearts of those voting in the gym as the closing ceremonies were in preparation. You can choose the ones you would have voted for had you been a winter-over at the South Pole during the Poleympics games this year.

Our closing ceremonies were festive. They included a playing of the National Anthem on the electric guitar by Ryan Clifford, the handing out of medals to all participants who managed to earn a medal during the games, photos of said winners, and many shenanigans as is natural for our station. It was a great two weekends of events and was a unique way to reign in the Fourth of July South Pole style. Monday was ushered in sore and tired.... next big event on station to look forward to is Christmas in July. We have only celebrated this once before while living in New Zealand. More on that in a future post, but I am sure it will be a memorable event as well.














(I had to share this last photo of Sarah and Dave in a moment of confusion. Sarah set the ball back to Dave and Dave was running forward towards the net for a forward set. This resulted in a Dave moment of trying get the ball and his body saying, "No." It was some funny. Not sure why the quality is so low - lo siento)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Antarctica : South Pole : Poleympics

This past weekend, as we celebrated the Fourth of July, the South Pole had opening ceremonies for the first annual (or possibly fifty-first annual depending on who you talk to) Poleympic Games. Peter, our station electrician and local man of intrigue, told the station a few months ago he would be hosting these games and has set up a wide range of events for the entire community to compete in by department and state. For example, Sarah and I are competing for the Medical and Materials departments and the state of Tennessee. As you can see in the picture, Peter created a torch (or one of the fanciest lights you will ever see in your entire life, bested maybe only by the fragile leg lamp displayed in the movie A Christmas Story - quite a fitting prize for an electrician to make wouldn't you say?) as the overall prize for the department with the most points. He has also had medals made for individuals who win each event.

What events? Glad you asked. The weekend kicked off with the Beer Can Sprint. We have a tower on station encapsulating a stair case to connect the station proper (where we live and eat) with the underground part of our station (the area with our power plant, storage arches for food, fuel, vehicles, etc). Underground is maybe not the best description as it is mostly an area under arches that have been covered by ice and snow. Anyway, this beer can, as it is called because it resemble a giant metallic beer can, houses a ninety-two stair climb. As a person who works down in the arches this is a climb I make at least twice a day. Even after all this time I am slightly winded by the slow process of walking up each day.  Two main factors: the beer can is not heated and the South Pole is at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. As I have describe before, the feel of this elevation changes vastly depending on the barometric pressure, allowing our bodies to perceive a greater or lesser elevation depending on the day.

The Beer Can Sprint. An individual time trial straight up the ninety-two steps in a pursuit to defeat all other challengers in full ECW gear. This means all contestants had to wear their cold weather gear issued in Christchurch, New Zealand. Heavy boots, big coats, and Carhartt pants. As a long distance runner I am fully aware of a few personal shortcomings. One, I have never possessed what some people refer to as speed. Two, any speed I may have been able to muster once upon a time has mostly been driven out of my legs by the sheer amount of long distance miles I have accumulated over the years (I also cannot jump anymore). Three, my inner-self cannot tell the difference and always thinks I can win a race out of sheer will power. So, yes, I signed up for this particular race and did my very best to bring home the gold. And, yes, I was soundly defeated and placed fifth, I think, out of the ten or so guys who competed in the beer can sprint. The winning time, by Gavin Chensue, was around about 20.8 seconds, besting me by around just over two seconds. It was a fun event and the guys who competed in it seemed to enjoy themselves.

Our next event was the Individual Sled Pull. Though I may have been deluded enough into thinking I had a chance in the beer can sprint, I was wise enough to know this was an event I should simply watch. Instead of agreeing to drag a sled carrying forty-five pounds from the geographic pole to the ceremonial pole (a distance of around 150 meters give or take - it's dark and hard to tell these days), I agreed to time the event. We only had four brave folks compete in this event. It is outside. It's cold. You have to drag weight. Two people mysteriously forgot they had signed up. I agreed to help time the event and determine a winner, which still meant going outside but got me out of having to drag anything around. Just prior to heading out into the cold Peter whipped out some light up toy light sabers (see picture - I stuck them in the snow around the ceremonial pole so the sled pullers would see where to go) for us to use outside. Yes, I was super excited to have them with me. This event was a grueling man crusher. Our four guys finished and the top three could not move for a while. When we finally made our way inside our top two guys just laid on the floor for about ten minutes before they were willing to go anywhere else. Coughing, with mostly likely slightly burned lungs from the frigid air, and moaning, I was glad I had left this event to others. I have signed up for the team sled pull but that will not take place until next weekend. Hopefully it is not quite as bad.

The next day at noon we had an event in which I was much more comfortable competing. The Poleympics 10k. I have been doing some running since arriving in preparation to try and run a marathon while I am here. This 10k actually fell quite nicely during a time when I needed to try and get a workout in anyway. It is difficult to make myself do too much on these treadmills. The pace is off on the machines making it quite difficult to keep my running self-esteem as I feel I'm running way too slow all the time. Factor in the altitude and the dry climate, and I just feel like crap most of the time while running. The race was fun though. It is a quite different when you are not gaining or losing ground on your competition. The best you can do is set your pace as fast as you think you can handle it and just run. I started by setting my pace at just under seven minutes per mile. Back home I can run this pace all day long and when in the kind of shape I am in now can put in ten to twenty miles feeling quite well. Here this pace is the best I can do just short of dry heaving, being too cotton mouthed to run, and feeling like junk. I slowed the pace down a little for mile four and five and then sped back up for mile six when I was sure I could keep going.

The best part of the run for me was watching a VHS version of the movie Prefontaine as we ran. Not only a great movie about one of America's best distance runners, but a nicely motivating flick to watch while running. I did manage to take home a gold medal in this particular Poleympics event. We only had six runners total and each person really put in some good effort. We were at about 11,000 feet for the day and the six miles were not forgiving. With only three treadmills we divided ourselves into two heats. Sarah ran in heat two and completed her first 10k of running the whole way since college! Her feet betrayed her slightly and she ended up with some really nasty blisters. She ran through them and finished anyway. Way to go Sarah! And then there was the guy who ran a 10k in firefighter gear and on air. Yes, he did. He went through five bottles of air and sweat a ton in all of his gear but he did finish the run. Why? Who knows. Why do we run without the gear? I guess we all have our reasons.

Then we played ping pong. Having rolled the die for the worst spot in the tournament, one of only two non-bi spots, I played Hunter in the first set. No excuses. I am not the ping pong player I should be and I paid the price. I have not put in the hard work to hone the skills I know I have for this particular miniature versions of a real sport. We did not even need to go to our third game as Hunter beat me in the first two games. Head down, I Charlie Browned it right out of the gym in utter disgrace. The one saving point of this whole deal is that later on in the night Hunter, the guy who so soundly dispatched of me, beat the number one seed for the tournament, or the guy everyone is afraid to play. I am now hoping Hunter wins the tournament. It is easier to lose to the best than to some guy who just got beat by another guy later down the road. This is how I'm seeing it anyway. The picture is of Martin and Peter playing the game directly after mine. Martin did not have what it took on this particular day either. When the tournament is over I will write an update.

Those are the only Poleympic events completed/half completed so far. There has been some eight ball games played but no results yet. It was a really fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend down here. We also had some delicious BBQ the cooks whipped up for us and it was super tasty. Oh and you might be wondering about my new haircut. Yes, I currently have a mohawk. Our Materials team decided we would show some real team spirit in preparation for the games and the 4th (well most of our team), and we shaved our hair into some sweet mohawks. Just look at the awesome team pic. 

Till next time...





(Prepared to climb the beer can)
(And I'm a flash)
 
(working it and watching Pre show me how to run)
(Sarah trucking on through)
(Sarah and Daniel rolling on)




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

South Pole Update: Anarctic Winter


(Our mid-winter team photo. Good group and prior to facial hair subtractions. Go Winter-Over Team 2017)
Well it is a bitterly cold negative eighty-seven degrees outside right now. The wind chill is not helping at all and whips around at a brisk negative 130. It has been a bit frigid down here now and again, but at this moment all I can think about is how cold my face is when I’m out in the elements.

How much can one mustache protect a man’s face?

The answer is more than I would have wagered prior to shaving it off immediately after our facial hair contest last weekend. Yes, it is gone and this week has been a long acquaintance with a stranger in the mirror. This is not the case for Sarah. She responded as she usually does after months of glorious facial effort is suddenly stripped from my face, “Oh there you are!” We have a tense agreement when it comes facial hair growth and have come up with a pretty decent time-share. I try to stay clean shaven for about the same amount of time in the course of a year during which time I sport a beard or a mustache. For now I walk around as man who has lost something, a loss that cannot be put into words.

Enough of that talk. This blog, contrary to the last post, is not only about facial hair. Though I am certain to leap at any opportunity to make it a bigger part of what I write about, for now we must move on.

Work.

Sarah has still been keeping us all alive. Though I hear nothing in the way of the details, Sarah is above reproach when it comes to patient privacy, and it seems everyone is doing well, only requiring very little help from our medical staff. Our safety reports do let us know when there have been injuries, anonymously of course, so that the rest of us know to take more care around whatever caused the previous incident. To this extent I know Sarah does see the occasional patient, but beyond that I base my medical assessment of the station off of what I see in the hallways. All forty-six people are still alive – go Sarah!

In the materials department we have still been doing lots of inventory. Currently we have been working in the garage arch. This area is inside of the arch but the arch is unheated and covered by snow and ice. The usual temperature of the arches is around sixty degrees below zero. Due to this our inventory is done in about one hour bursts. Go get as much inventory done as possible and then head back to our office to thaw out and warm up. This obviously inhibits the process and prolongs how long it takes us to finish tasks in the cold. Today, however, a victory! We finished the garage arch inventory and will be moving on to a new project tomorrow.

Comment on instant ramen noodles.

“So you see what had happened was” (reference to a Christopher Guest movie, my best guest being Waiting For Guffman though I am not sure), there has been a lack of this delicious snack of instantaneous joy on the weekends when leftovers is the only option. Some of our crew have been somewhat aggravated by this and one of these peoples left an angry message on our dry erase board in the galley. Something along the lines of, “There better be more ramen, or else.” Ha! As the winter’s grip on us becomes more firm and refuses to let go, people tend to find themselves being irritated by things that otherwise would not bother them at all. I think the ramen incident is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It’s just ramen folks. I can say this because I myself have felt a strange a deep-seated feeling of inexplicable burning confusion when I look for the ramen and find instead an empty shelf. As it turns out there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of this tasty and overly high-in-sodium food. One of the major projects this winter was cleaning out the grease ducts in the galley. During this time we had “high class” microwave meals and on the whole the station found these meals to be quite distasteful. By now you’ve guessed it haven’t you? The ramen was being eaten by the bulk during this particular project and now we have much less than usual at this point in the winter. Thus our galley staff has started bringing up less in an effort to stretch it throughout the rest of our time. I think we will make it through the ramen incident, but only time will tell how our psyches will deal with the lack of this wonderful noodle option.

Pastime update.

One of the games we play on station with friends is called Carcassonne. I believe I have mentioned it before and have likened it to Risk mixed with Settlers of Catan. We have been having fun playing it on most Sundays while we have been here, sitting down to see who will take home the big victory this week. The board changes drastically with each gameplay and, depending on how people choose to play, so does the strategy. This is part of what makes the game so fun. Players can be ruthless with a few different tactics, or they can nicely ignore one another as they build their kingdoms, even working together. Naturally, we are often accused of working together (sometimes we are but never as overtly as assumed) and some natural alliances can tend to form up during the game. Usually our Carcassonne crowd is Robert, Martin, Sarah, and myself (toss in a Zak or Daniel sometimes too). It is a fun way we have found to get some good ole’ face-to-face interaction and spend a Sunday afternoon down here at the Pole. It would be nice if a few of you learned how to play so we can play it when we get back home! Oh and in case you were wondering, as I know you are, I won this past weekend. I would not mention the outcome otherwise.  

Church

Sundays has been plugging along. It has been a strange deal to try and facilitate a church service without much of the normal things a person comes to expect from most churches. There is no sacred space that has been set aside or in any way even halfway shared. By this I mean there is no chapel, or as I have seen in some places like this, a multi-purpose room with religious paraphernalia in the closet that can be pulled out for religious purposes. There is a really nice chapel in McMurdo, the US station we flew threw down on the coast, and I find myself missing the natural help a designated holy space lends to the preparation and experience one can derive from a Sunday service. With no worship team and only five people almost anyone in the world would suggest leaving out this element of the service. I, however, have come too hardily from the Brett Spiegelman-school-of, “Well, we are going to do it anyway.” So we watch short video clips downloaded from the all wonderful internet and spend a few awkward moments together listening to songs I hope will speak to the group who gathers with us on Sundays. To this end I try to have fun and choose songs from all sorts of traditions. We have listened to spirituals, old hymns, new praise songs, secular songs, and everything in between. At the very least I enjoy the songs. No one even pretends to sing along, though I will hum along with them or sing lowly to myself. I do miss corporate worship as I suspect one or two other people do as well. We have been reading through Acts and diligently working through a chapter per week, discussing briefly the chapter after I attempt to say a short word or two about the weekend’s chapter. It might be a shadow of what one would find almost anywhere else in the world, but I believe it serves a few spiritual purposes for those of us who gather.

 


(We have been working on a calendar most of you will never want to
see. Here is a blog post friendly pic I took during the process)
And a fire alarm.

A little tired this morning as I finish this post. A fire alarm went off this morning at one o’ clock in the morning. A fan in one of our electrical rooms was having some issues and was overheating, as I understand it (something along those lines – nothing serious). There was, however, as is common with overheating electrical items, some smoke. So for the first time all of our ERT teams mustered for an alarm that was going off for a legitimate reason. I say this as just yesterday, though it is thankfully not common, we had a false alarm earlier in the afternoon as a sensor went bad for some reason. For the first time since fire training school in Colorado I stood preparing to enter a room with the smell of smoke trailing out into the hallway. It is a weird feeling standing in firefighter gear, which I clearly have no right to be wearing, as people are trying to figure out what is going on in a remote station where fires are simply unacceptable. Let me clarify. I am confident we could figure out most situations that would occur down here when it comes to a fire as we have just enough training to do so. We are, however, not firefighters and there is a huge difference! It just seems this distinction should be made anytime I bring up the ERT2 team, or fire team. In most cases our fire suppression systems would take care of any major issue before we even arrive on scene, so we have that going for us. The training is fun and if there were open flames anywhere we would most likely be able to put them out, especially in the main station area, but we are not the real deal.

 

Ok. Enough for now from the South Pole. I am going to try and add a video here at the end. A friend of mine sent me a message asking a question from his daughter. “Can a match be lit outside in such cold temperatures?” Great question. The video shows the answer. Sorry it’s dark as, well, it is really dark right now. But this question got me thinking. I have received a lot of questions like this and would love to answer any of them any of you might have. Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I’ll do my best to find the answer for you. I’ll try to start posting a short answer, like this video, on the blog so other folks can see too.