chilling feet

chilling feet

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)

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)