chilling feet

chilling feet

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.


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.  


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.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Antarctica: Mid-Winter Celebrations at the South Pole

(Gathered in the gym to watch the movie)
Mid-winter is here!

One of the wonderful traditions at the South Pole is the celebration of mid-winter. Like the explorers of old who found ways to commemorate their mid-winter as a way to stave off cabin fever, while at the same time exuberantly finding a way to note a halfway point, Amundsen-Scott Station has a history of finding interesting ways to ensure our mid-winter does not pass unnoticed.

One of the first ways we brought in the mid-winter this year was by sticking to the tradition of gathering to watch the movie The Shining. It might at first seem an odd choice to watch a movie about a character who is driven insane by the isolation of spending an entire winter at a hotel cut off from civilization by distance and snow - sounds somewhat familiar. There is a distinct difference in our circumstances versus the family in the movie in that the family has to deal with the hotels other
(Not a bad set up)
guests, or spirits of people who had either met or delivered untimely deaths in the hotel. Though I have heard some people make claims to the South Pole having at least one of our own wandering spirits, every account is at the worst mischievous and to my knowledge there are no claims of malicious intervention as in The Shining. 

It is a funny thing to lean into the possible issues and struggles an isolated group of people may or may not end up dealing with through a winter at the South Pole. My gut instinct is usually to avoid talking about or referencing in any way the possible side effects of the long winter, but I was talking to a friend here who had a different perspective. In his experience with military he said they were taught to use humor as a way to disarm possibly situations that could prove to be quite debilitating both mentally and physically. I've thought about that comment a few times as that is the general rule of thumb here at the South Pole. We watch horror movies in moments when a person might be doubting their decision to stay for the entire winter. We laugh and make jokes about how particular people might lose their minds at any moment and go on killing sprees. And generally I would have to say it does seem to be a good way to deal with issues head on, leaving little or no room to brood internally and let things fester.

(Working on my creepy Jack Nicholson face?)
So we watched Jack Nicholson slowly lose his mind and become a demented monster of isolated paranormal influences. Sarah had never seen the movie before and was in for a good many surprises. I had thought I had watched this particular flick, though I quickly realized this was only because I had seen so many of the famous scenes before. I had never sat down and watched the movie all the way through. What a good movie! Kubrick delivers masterful scenes mixed with an overly eerie combination of music and piercingly horrific noises that really make The Shining a psychologically horrific film. Even some of the shots and how the actors are portrayed on screen in relation to their surroundings give the viewer particular feelings that I feel the director must have agonized over in trying to bring his intentions to life. Well done Mr. Kubrick, and a huge nod of appreciation to whoever first thought this would be a good movie to watch during mid-winter. It really does work.

(The champions all together. Based on the descriptions you should be able
to pick out each person based on their category)
Another mid-winter event I had been looking forward to for quite some time was the Mid-Winter Beard and Mustache Competition. Though a few of us would like to think we invented this sort of sport and it was the inaugural facial hair competition during a South Pole winter, we also acknowledge wherever men have existed with facial hair there has always been a need to have it officially judged and weighed. I am sure it was probably around the forty-fifth South Pole facial hair contest.  I for one have always noticed the feeling of supremacy or inadequacy when passing a fellow bearded or mustached man. Some of my most cherished compliments have been offered in respect to a particular facial adornment of hairy manliness. My favorite? While attending a traditional Indian wedding, which means plenty of men with nice thick beards, a man stopped to talk to me. He himself had a beard of noteworthy significance and it went well with his traditional Indian garb. This bearded man looked me in the eyes and he said, "You have a fantastic beard. I wish my beard was as thick." Flabbergasted. Taken aback. Over the moon! I assured him I thought his beard was quite nice and then like a ten year old boy I turned to Sarah and said, "Did you hear that?"

(Judges working hard to tally up scores)
It is obvious I love facial hair. I love to grow it on my own face, to the chagrin of my wife, and I quite enjoy observing it on the faces of those around me. So it made perfect sense to host a facial hair competition. And let me tell you, we have some men down here who can grow some mean facial hair. We compiled some excellent judges, Sarah made some spectacularly appropriate prizes (cozies with mustaches on them - we also added some drinks to the mix to fill the cozies), and we gathered all the men who wanted to put their facial hair to the test. It was an event I will not soon forget. The men were encouraged to be creative, though I am not sure they needed such suggestion, and they used every tool at their disposal to earn points with the judges.

(We lined up all the beards for the judges to get one last look)
Posturing. Bribing. Swagger. In depth stories of how or why their face grows a beard or a mustache. Grooming. Jokes. Liquid courage. Costumes. And more.

The judges worked within two main categories - the beard and the mustache. Within those categories they had other factors they used to score each facial sculpture. From maturity to grooming to how it personally moved them, each contestant was stringently judged as unbiased as possible according to ten different standards. When the judging was done our officiates would huddle together to ensure their decisions were good and just. While there was of course difference of opinion, facial hair brings out a lot of heated debate, the honorable judges finally deliberated to find certain beards and mustaches as more worthy than others. They delivered their findings.  There was intense celebrating and overjoyed shouting and simultaneous weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mostly celebrating as we have a good crew.  
(In case you didn't click on the last one, everyone needed to see the winners a little more close-up)

This photo of the facial hair competition winners displays just a little bit of what we encountered this past Sunday. There will be more photos to follow at the bottom of this post, but for now just scroll back up and look at them each one more time. Just imagine these bearded and mustached men in action. It was something to behold.

(Was the Beast excited? You decide)

Stephen Ashton won the overall prize in the beard category. Labeled as The Beast, this specification was meant to capture the South Pole's overall fiercest beard. The beard that all other beards bow down to and strive to consider when thinking of their own futures. This beard knows its purpose and could live in a forest by itself. Steve's beard is certainly all of those things and then a little bit more, depending on who you ask. Of all the categories this was the most debated and even caused a rift amongst the judges. In the end though, Steve's beard, which I will call Raygar because I like it and I'm writing this post, trounced the competition and took home the big prize.

(The Loki with a prop - ice cream)

Josh Neff stunned the South Pole this past Sunday morning when he sauntered into the galley having shaved his beard into a carefully crafted work of art. As a man of his own he soundly encapsulated the second category in the beard competition known as The Loki. Known for being especially crafty, Loki was the trickster among the Norse gods. Just look at Josh's face and tell me this was not the perfect name for a person who is going to make his face into a hairy work of art. Give the man a little bit of pomade and he will make you a masterpiece. 

(The Dinovo shuffle)
John Dinovo not only shocked the judges with his distinguished beard of excellence, but in the midst of competition he inspired an entirely new category. In an abundance of beards his snow white and silvery beard shone a magnificent light and would not be denied. The judges used their almost unlimited power that had been bestowed upon them for this event and they created an entirely unsanctioned new slot - The Most Fatherly. While John acted the tall and sexy Santa Clause during his performance (look below for a pic of Sarah sitting on his lap), the judges saw beyond this trite act and into the soul of his beard. There they saw something that demanded recognition, something beyond both words and understanding. In their infinite wisdom the judges felt more than saw this staggering truth. In short, they saw the father figure. And so the birth of a facial hair star was born. 

(The celebration one does for the Basement Dweller)
Andrew Nadolski took home the last prize in the beard category. It is not a prize always sought after and in most circumstances is completely misunderstood. This is the honorable mention category and for this contest was aptly named The Basement Dweller. Andrew's facial hair simply took the cake, so to speak, and much is expected of his beard in the future. This category is the opposite of the beast and yet at the same time it does demand some respect of its own, after all it is a beard, technically speaking. There is often conflict and struggle depicted in this facial expression of attempted grandeur. One can see the potential for true valor and yet mourn at the unrealized beauty of what could be. As the tragic hero, this beard wanders the earth with every expectation of saving the world from some unforeseen evil, only to become the very evil it was created to oppose. Oddly enough Andrew shaved his beard into a goatee later in the day for another event, or perhaps because he could not bear the weight of his victory. His goatee, by all standards, was amazing. 

(The Mustache - classic rep and classic celebration)
Peter Bammes was the overall champion in the mustache category. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "Brett, you lost. You suck." And you are correct but look at Peter! He soundly took home the category called simply The Mustache. Not only does he have a magnificent beard that was in contention for The Beast, but his mustache somehow overshadows the glory of his beard and is its very own thing. This is difficult to achieve for certain but Peter's mustache has achieved that and much more. Every other mustache on station looks to his for approval and offers slight bow of its whiskers, knowing that if we lived in medieval times it would owe fealty to Peter's mustache and plenty of taxes. People have wondered if Peter's gregarious personality exudes from him or his stache. As a person who recognizes firsthand the effects facial hair can have on a person, I myself must pause to reflect on this question myself. It is entirely possible Peter might be an introverted person who likes to keep to himself, that is, until he grew a mustache of epic proportions that Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliot, and Tom Selleck would all be proud to know, wear, or just converse with on occasion. 

(I didn't have a good shot of the walrus as I was taking shots
so here is my mustache from later that night - no longer a
walrus but twirled a little bit. Photo by Gavin Chensue)
There can only be one Mustache. Our second category was entitled the Duke. This category was meant to honor a man who could not be the king, but who still rightly deserves a place amongst the royal court of facial hair. Humbly I admit, head bowed and flushed cheeks, the judges honored me this day and I took home the Duke. I had been growing my mustache since arriving at the South Pole. A few of our ERT 2 team guys had discussed growing staches at our fire training many months ago, and we thought it best each person had to grow their mustache from scratch once at the pole. None of this "I had an excellent beard and then shaved it into a stache" nonsense. And so the rough journey of working from the ground up began back in February and this past Sunday I can thankfully say my facial growing skills did not disappoint me. I had the ever classic walrus mustache, allowing my mustache free reign over my lips and even at times the inside of my mouth (though I discouraged my stache from going there). I promptly shaved my mustache as soon as the evening was over. It was hard enough dealing with the stache's influence in my life. Imagine what an award winning mustache would be like!

(Probable Cause - that a boy)
Our final and last award for the day went to the mustache best described, as my co-worker coined it, Probable Cause. You can probably glean from the name everything that needs to be said, but Adam West was able to woo the judges beyond their own expectations. While his mustache has recently come into its own, there have been mutterings on station about this category of the competition being Adam's from the get go. Like the Basement Dweller in the beard category, this mustache simply leaves people feeling a little uncomfortable. Mothers turn their children away and grown men will at times grow angry around it for no apparent reason. There is, however, always the chance this stache will transition into something great. Like the wild caterpillar every mustache, no matter how probable, has the chance for miraculous transformation. The one amazing thing that can be said for every face of a man with a probable stache - they are still persevering. Fight the good fight Adam. Congrats.

(Even the ladies were wearing facial hair. How can you judge otherwise?)
We really did have some truly fantastic competitors in this years South Pole Facial Hair Competition. James Casey has an animal growing on his face and it was a blessing having the presence of such stout beard with us. Mike Rice's mustache is older than most, if not all, the other competitors and has seen things most of us probably hope to avoid. Martin Wolf has grown his first ever beard into something to be proud of for certain. James McMichael, or JP, crafted his mustache into a Magnum PI lookalike and it was a thing to behold. Gavin Reynold's rustic wandering-man-in-the-wilderness-beard captured a few imaginations and transported us to Minnesota forests.  Jason Spann's photo of the beard he wishes he was allowed to grow but cannot because of ERT brought a few tears to the eye. Emotions ran deep.

Many thanks go out to all our contestants and judges. What a fun way to celebrate mid-winter. And as always, when there is any discussion of facial hair on our station, this blog makes a nod to Wayne White's all-powerful mustache. It is the inspiration for a shirt, it has experienced more in its life than this man can contemplate, and it is my hope I will never have to follow it from danger to safety - but I will if necessary. (More pics from the contest below)

(Dinner. We always set up a table with the people who have
passed away at the Pole. Four to date. Photo by Gavin C)
The staple of mid-winter celebrations, above even the facial hair contest, is of course the dinner. Our cooks take their gloves off (well they actually are wearing them) and go all out to prepare a fabulous meal. They work all day while we mostly take it easy. Volunteers chip in to make sure the galley gets decorated, the cooking dishes get washed, and all of the other odds and ends that need to happen for our galley to transition into a fancy dinning establishment can take place. It is definitely a highlight of the year and somehow the cooks take our frozen food, with a little bit of greens from the greenhouse, and cook up a culinary storm. This years menu was a greenhouse salad, steak (so good), grilled asparagus, swirly mashed potatoes, and delicious bread. Our dessert was a chocolate lava cake with homemade vanilla ice cream (so so good). And all of this came after a cocktail hour with scrumptious appetizers.

(Appetizers from dinner - so good)
Only so much can be said of dinner as I was too preoccupied eating to notice much else. Sarah and I both had fun attempting to eat as much of the wonderful food as possible, while enjoying the nice atmosphere of the galley turned fancy. Another aspect of our night was a Murder Mystery that began as we sat down to eat. Josh, the guy who won The Loki, spent hours upon hours creating a murder mystery game for any who were interested to play. We were able to create our own characters, which added a lot of personal touch to the fun, and Josh then crafted an entire evening of suspense and whodunit to our mid-winter night.

(My costume for Houston Mangrove)
I was a failing movie star, due to refusing to shave my mustache, with a sordid past named Houston Mangrove. When I met Melanie (played by Sarah) I left my past behind and straightened out. Sarah's character was a retired doctor, too fed up with the ickys and germs, turned mostly medical drama actor playing roles in both television and movies. The story demanded each of us having been to the South Pole before in 2007, now returning for a reunion and the possibility of buying the South Pole station. Sarah had been here before as the doctor, of course, and I had been here to film the prequel to the movie Cowboys and Aliens - makes total sense if you think about it. Every other character had different motives for wanting to purchase the South Pole from Josh, the mysterious benefactor, and naturally the plot of the evening involved intrigue, murder, deception, aliens, fortune tellers, sneaking, lying, forced truth telling, and all other sorts of murder mystery type deals. We had fun. Sarah was killed, as her former medical training was helping to discover a killer, and I was disqualified as I witnessed the murder but in the darkness could not make out who it was I grappled with and such. Eventually we learned the truth - Andrew, or the man who won the Basement Dweller, was a religious cult leader and he was on a killing spree.

(The mustache that did  not have to compete. Wayne gives a
short speech before dinner. Photo courtesy of Gavin C)
Our mid-winter celebration was quite memorable. To top it all off we had two other significant things happen. The first occurred during our final preparation for the meal while we were all eating appetizers. Someone noticed the temperature was dropping outside and for the first time since we have been at the South Pole we hit -100 degrees Fahrenheit! A landmark we were all hoping would happen while we are here and one that usually occurs earlier than mid-winter. After a lot of hoorays and hollering, a few people went outside to feel what -100 feels like.  Our group decided we would put off trying to join the 300 club until later (more on that later if you do not know what it is) as we were preoccupied. Then as we were finishing up the murder mystery we glanced up at the aurora cameras to notice they were showing tons of auroras all over the sky. Sarah and I geared up in our ECW and went outside to enjoy the show. We just lied down on the ground to watch. Sarah was able to snap a few decent shots of the southern lights dancing all across the sky and over the station, and we were both excited the auroras visited to make the end to our mid-winter evening even better.

We went off to bed and enjoyed sleeping in on our extra day off.

(Hide your intentions, bet your caravan)
Our mid-winter Monday, or extra day off, was spent lazing around the station. We went into the galley around 11am to grab some food and settled down with left-over crab and artichoke dip from the appetizers the night before (did I mention how good the food was yet?). Sarah went off to do some quilting while I watched a show, did some reading, and stretched my legs out a little bit. We then met up with some friends at 3pm to play a game called Carcassonne, a game that is a mix between Settlers of Cataan and Risk. It's a fun game and, though we have not played in a few weeks, we have been in the habit of playing this game every Sunday afternoon with a small crew of folks. Sarah was the victor this time around, go wife, and we finished up just in time for poker.

(Sarah looking for the win, Viktor wearing his Hope shirt)
JP, honorable mention from the facial hair contest, has hosted a poker game every two day weekend. It is an ongoing contest that combines the points scored from each game to a total tally for the winter. JP cooks up some appetizers, like mozzarella sticks, and we all sit down to see who will come out on top this time around. It's a fun way to kill a few hours while hobnobbing with some of the folks down here. Sarah actually won the last game, though this time around she went out a little bit earlier. I made it into the final six only to lose to a man with some wild luck. Oh to the well. JP had our machinist on station make up some really cool card holders for each of us playing. What a cool gift.

All in all we had a great mid-winter weekend. There were plenty of activities and super good food. I think we will remember this one for a while.
(And Happy Bday to Aunt Cynthia!!)

(JP sports the Magnum PI)
(James talks about his beard to the judges)

(One of the judges decides to take advantage of the Santa Clause looking John. But then forgets what she wants for Christmas. Hey, it even happened to Ralphie)
(Our Murder Mystery Costumes. Oh no, Sarah is dead!)
(And Jason explains why his amazing beard, that he is not currently allowed to grow, should still win)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Running at the South Pole During Winter

(Photo courtesy of Hunter Davis. I can't run outside but that doesn't mean
it isn't pretty. Can't see this with the naked eye as we cannot detect it.
But we can see some pretty nice greens sometimes)
I've been a runner now since seventh grade, putting me at around twenty-five years in the business. I did not actually really enjoy running, not truly, until the summer after my senior year of high school though. That puts me at the end of my teenage years as a person who chooses to run because I love it.

I have discovered, sometimes multiples times a day, since the moment I started running this is an activity most people do not understand. "You run for fun?" How many times have I heard that? "But running is what other sports do for punishment. Why would you voluntarily run?" And I understand. I completely get it. If you do the math from above, I ran for around six years before I fell in love with the...activity...pastime...obsession...way to stay, the day I fell for running it became something more to me.

I found I loved running during a grueling summer of training for my first year of college. I was preparing to run cross-country and track against some of the best collegiate athletes in the world and I was terrified about not being ready. To do enough mileage for our weekly workouts everyone on our team was running twice a day except for on Saturday and Sunday. So I found myself on an abandoned street at 4:15 am on a dark and humid morning on the streets of Memphis. Something inside of me considered the decisions I had made, the courses I had taken to end up at that exact moment. How can I explain the part of me that suddenly realized running was so much more for me than a way to get attention? What words can I use to show how it had transcended being a mere tool to help me deal with the financial burden of paying for college through a scholarship? A part of me shifted and like a young man seeing his good friend as a beautiful woman for the first time, I realized I was in love.

Nineteen years. Such a relationship is not without its ups and downs, its squabbles and moments of doubt. Within a few months of my initial pledges of devotion to running I went through a severe IT band injury and spent almost a year apart from my new love. Miraculously, after a surgery and a lot of rehab, we made our way back to each other, but nothing would ever be the same. It would take me time to realize this was not necessarily a bad thing. We spent so much time together during those college years that when I went to graduate school I spent some time away from running. I could not stay away for long.

Then came the post-collegiate running. Running only because you want to do so. With a renewed relationship running took on a wholly new life and there have been some truly great years. This is where my running story connects to Antarctica. I have not run many marathons but have enjoyed the experiences of training for them - not always the day of running the race, depending on multiple marathon factors. I think anyone who has run a single marathon knows exactly what I am talking about on this one. Training for three marathons with my brother and few friends brought wonderful long runs and forged lasting relationships. When I was living in New Zealand running was again a wonderful common ground that brought my good friend Ben into my life. He convinced me to run a mountain marathon and, though I sustained an injury I'm still nursing, I was amazed by the experience of running over ridgelines in some truly amazing mountains.

I have read about some runners who attempt to complete a marathon on each continent. I was never much intrigued by this feat myself but after completing one on two different continents I find myself oddly motivated. Not too many people find themselves with the chance to complete a marathon on the six major continents, and even less find the opportunity to visit the seventh, let alone run a marathon there. And, believe it or not, there are a number of marathons that take place down here. Most are done around the stations and are put on by people who love to run, or for the sake of runners on the station. There is also at least one put one for the whole purpose of flying to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. Depending on the route you take, getting to the starting line of one of these marathons is quite difficult and can be extremely expensive. None of these marathons will be happening while I am here. Why? It is too cold. The ones that do happen are in the summer and our time here does not overlap.

So do I give up on the chance? Or do I like some bumbling idiot decide there is still a way to get this done? We have three treadmills, yes I cringe just writing this, and I made the decision to train for and run a marathon on these machines of stationary monotony. This is one of the weirdest decisions I have made in the world of running and there have been many moments so far to make me doubt the sanity of such a choice. I know almost any runner who has run a marathon in Antarctica will question the validity of this quest on the grounds that it is simply not the same as running out on the unforgiving ice and snow in extremely cold temperatures. And a big part of me agrees. I will, however, not allow a small matter like timing to rob me of this goal. I could argue that the many shortcomings of running long distances on a treadmill come with their own obstacles, which in my opinion truly make running more difficult. Having done a few runs outside before the weather became too difficult, I can say it was actually quite enjoyable. At the time I was not ready for 26.2 miles. For now I will forget such objections could exist and will simply plod forward on the treadmill towards the finish line and hope it does not drive me to insanity.

At this point the longest run I have successfully completed is sixteen miles. Yesterday I hopped on the stationary running machine and hoped for eighteen miles. Four episodes of The West Wing Season two later, I was struggling to keep my body going and I was running short on my time goal. During my run I had to back off my pace and thus was only nearing sixteen when I needed to finish up and head to a meeting. I was not too disappointed as I had still beaten my longest run on the treadmill by a full mile and I had just gotten another good long run in the bank. Today's run will be a nice short recovery run.

Will I make it to a full marathon distance? I hope. My legs have been hesitantly accepting the new routine and if I can keep putting in enough time on my strengthening exercises and stretching they should continue to be fine. The hardest part for me has been dealing with the acclimation to altitude in combination with the treadmill. I have still not become accustomed to running the pace on the treadmill I usually run back home on the roads. The mental aspect to continuing to run in an unchanging environment, even with the help of television shows, has been trying to say the least. And yet, very slowly, progress has been made. I've decided pace might just have to suffer.

It is my hope I will leave here having added one more continent to my marathon belt, even if folks will add an asterisk to it. It is really something I am doing for me anyway. As I run the dark winter months away down here at the South Pole I hope the rest of you are not taking your wonderful outdoor and ever changing runs for granted. Enjoy them! Get on the trails for me. Go for a few runs in the rain. Run with some friends. For goodness sake, just enjoy it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

South Pole Happenings: Lebowski in Antarctica

(The only character I could even attempt dressing up as was
of course the Mysterious Stranger. Even with my mustache
and its fabulous growth, I still felt like a child when Sam
Eliot displayed his magnificent facial hair sculpture)
South Pole Update.

Sarah and I celebrated our tenth anniversary and it was a memorable way to do so down here at the Pole. Some amazing friends set up a scavenger hunt with hints and prizes, which was really fun and even included needing to use Voltron (our electric fork lift) to take a crate down from the high storage area. The galley crew made a super delicious chocolate cake, probably the best I've had since I've been here and I think that is without the bias of knowing it was made in honor of our anniversary. We went out to dinner, at the galley of course, and ate some scrumptious mahi and wonderful fresh kale salad (thank you hydroponic greenhouse). And of course after going out for dinner we followed it up by going to watch a movie. JP has been hosting new movie night and we watched the movie Sing. We laughed pretty hard and went to bed having enjoyed a wonderful anniversary.

(Eric dressed as the Dude. Not bad, not bad. He was
our best dressed costume by far in my opinion)

The South Pole is a place of continuous activity. One super fun way to spend your time is by hosting or going to parties or gatherings of different types. This blog has already described Yuri's night, St. Patrick's Day, and a few other such fun events. As most sane people love the movie The Big Lebowski, it was not a stretch to consider hosting an event surrounded by this movie - mostly watching it, but a movie like this demands further respect as well.

We rolled out the necessary ingredients for making white Russians - huge thanks to the galley for providing us with milk and cream as that made all the difference in the world - and everything else one might need for watching such a glorious movie. Popcorn was popped. Some bowling implements were brought out for use and for display, though the displays were used too. People did what they could to scrounge together outfits fashioned after various characters. We moved all the couches into the gym and we prepared everything to watch the movie in style.

But something was missing. Something of substantial import. The rug! Sarah came through on this one as it is one of the only things she knows for certain about The Big Lebowski. There is a rug and it really ties the room together. We have a tiny rug in our room and per her suggestion we took it down the gym. The enormity of the size of the room compared to the rug made it even better.

That rug really tied the whole room together, did it not? Rug pictured with the Mysterious Stranger and the Dude above.

So we successfully enjoyed a fun night at the South Pole and we watched a good film.

Work has been good. In the materials department we keep moving things around and doing more inventory. I really like our group as we often volunteer to help with random jobs around station, which is both fun and a big part of what I am used to doing in previous jobs. It is nice to continue is the same vein.

(Sarah went dressed as the female nihilist from the movie.
The highlight of her outfit was of course the missing toe!
No toes were harmed in the making of this costume but it
sure does look like it doesn't it?)
Just today we helped the galley staff take their trash out, which is not quite as easy as it is back home. Their trash needs to be lowered from the station by a crane down to the ice below, and this can only be done when it is warmer than negative seventy-five degrees F outside - otherwise bad news for the machinery. They lower it down and we help take it to the proper bins on a giant waste sled and then our wastie guy moves it all to a waste berm until summer when it is flown off the continent. This past Saturday we jumped in the kitchen for an hour or so to help Zak, our chef, make some pizzas for dinner. We have cooked pizzas for dinner a few times for the station as a department, a task we find to be really fun.

Food push. Two tasks we do every week is food pull and food push. The first is when we gather all of the foods the galley orders and the second is when we negotiate getting said food up to the station. I'll probably have an entire post about this at some point and add some fun pictures of the process. We were fortunate today as the temperature was just warm enough for us to use the freight elevator as opposed to having the entire station create a daisy chain to pass the food up one item at a time up ninety-two steps.

(Filling out our daily JSA - Job Safety
Assessment Form. A daily task for me I didn't
know Kim was taking a pic of it. Mustache
in deep thought) 
Sarah is still keeping people alive and healthy. One of her weekly tasks is leading training sessions for the ERT 3 team - the medical response team. Of all the teams it sounds like their training is the most fun. Catherine and Sarah come up with various skills that need to be either practiced or learned by their team should an emergency ever occur. This past week their "victim" was supposed to be spurting blood. Instead of agreeing to saying, "I'm spurting blood from my arm," they negotiated and ended up using syringes to shoot water out to represent the blood. A fun way to not only catch an unsuspecting ERT person off guard in an exercise, but just plain good ingenuity on taking a routine exercise and making it memorable. I bet most of them will remember what to do now should the real situation ever occur!

I wanted to mention a particular website in this post. It is put together by Bill Spindler, a man who has been to Antarctica a number of times. He describes the program in detail on his site and keeps immaculate records of winter-over details. The link I'm leaving here is a compilation of sites he has put together from people this year, and in the past, who blog about their experiences here. It is fun to read their posts and see their perspective on things. Take a gander and look through it. Make sure to wander through Bill's site as he has some really interesting information it. Click here!

That is all for now folks. I am sure we will have some posts in the next few weeks as there are some big events scheduled around Mid-Winter. Sarah and I have been here almost half of our time so far. Oh and I will need to talk about this further too, but one of our guys is showing new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had never seen an episode before coming down and after two of them I am becoming quite taken by it as it is hilarious.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

10 Year Anniversary at the South Pole

(A long way back. A day to remember. June 2, 2007)
Today Sarah and I celebrate ten years since that wonderful day back in 2007 when we married at Germantown Methodist Church. I am not sure either of us knew the adventures we would go on at the time - well maybe I had no idea. It is entirely possible Sarah has had all of this planned out ahead of time. She is crafty like that. Please apologize an entire post where I gush over my wonderful wife.

Sarah. She is indeed crafty.

She is also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. It does get old when your best friend and constant companion is always more than a few steps ahead of you, but let's not get caught up on that little fact. She is our focus and she is impressive.

I knew she was special when I first saw her.

I was a freshman in college when I became aware of her as a person. My mother called me in my dorm room, remember those days when no one had cell phones really, and she said, "This girl just broke your girlfriend's school record." Mothers certainly have a way of getting a son's attention. After some meandering about how I dated the girl who previously held the school record but she was never officially a girlfriend, I said, "What's her name?"

Surely this is a strange way to hear about your future wife for the first time, but that was still years off.

I saw Sarah at the TSAA State cross-country meet. I had driven to the Nashville area to see my younger brother Bryan and my previous team run. Naturally I cheered on the girls Houston High School team while I was at the meet. Sarah went running by and I probably shouted some generic cheer like, "Go Houston! Ya!" And then I thought something along the lines of, "Wow, she can run. She's cute too."

Cute. Cute was the right word at the time. She was a freshman in high school and I was in college.

The next time I remember seeing Sarah was at a running camp we put on for a while. It was a fun way to use the gifts of running to give back to others. We did our best to provide an atmosphere where local runners could come and learn how to become better runners, with the ultimate goal of giving some tips on how to get a collegiate scholarship from running. Sarah did not attend the camp as a regular but would show up randomly for certain days. During one of our sessions where we asked the runners a bunch of questions about running and other such related topics. Sarah was present and left an indelible mark on me.

(One from the honeymoon in St. Lucia)
She runs fast, she's cute, and she's obviously smart. What would you do?

I told my younger brother he should ask her out. Seriously. He did not ask her out. 

After another year or so I saw Sarah again, most likely in similar circumstances as before. Since Bryan had ignored my earlier brotherly advice I told him he should really ask her out this time. Thank goodness he never did! That would just be weird.

Both of us continued our separate lives for a few more years. Running stayed a major part of each of our separate lives and it was again the common factor that drew us together again. This time I was in seminary and she was preparing to enter her junior year of college.  As runners sometimes do, we both signed up to run the Firecracker 5k for St. Jude. When the race was over I was walking around with my younger brother and his friend Ricky. Sarah was walking in the opposite direction and everyone started talking. I still did not really know her too well but came away thinking similar thoughts to every other time I had seen her. There is something special about this girl.

Not long after, thanks to the continuation of our running camp and a collegiate Bible study I was helping lead through Hope Church (long story but both factors I used to ask her out), Sarah and I went on our first official date. Our story as a couple was beginning and the girl who had always impressed me became more and more amazing as I learned more about her.

There were trips to go visit her in Lexington, VA where she attended Washington and Lee University.  There were trips where she would come down to visit me in Atlanta, GA where I was attending seminary at Mercer University. We were busy falling in love with one another.  Those were some good days. I am still convinced these must have been among my most impressive moments to have caught and held the attention of Sarah.

And then at Jordan's Point park, on November 7th 2005, she agreed to marry me.

(Now look at our silly selves. We were made for each other)
The rest has been the greatest adventure of my life. My love and admiration of her as a person has only grown exponentially as I watched her work her way through medical school and an emergency medicine residency program. We have both worked hard to stay in love through such a trying process. Sarah has had to delve deeper than me, reaching into inner reserves of strength, kindness, and love that most of us just don't ever need to tap.

She is still impressing me. When we talk about our dreams hers include the South Pole, getting back into Nepal to volunteer at camps for climbers, pushing her talents to take her wherever we might want to go, visiting more of the Arctic, and seeing as much of this world as we can together.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, Sarah is the woman of my dreams and I am blessed to live my life with her. She challenges me, keeps me honest, and takes me places I never imagined were possible to go. I am in love with her and am looking forward to the next ten years.

Running introduced us and I've been running after her ever since.

PS - We just finished an anniversary scavenger hunt Catherine, Josh, and the Materials department put together for us. Fun clues, prizes, and such a fun time scurrying around the entire station to find prizes! What a fun lunch time adventure! Thanks!!