chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, July 10, 2017

Antarctica: South Poleympics Post Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Antarctica : South Pole : Poleympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time...

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