Tuesday, January 1
Some sort of record was set yesterday. The package containing my XBox formula one racing game and color ink w/ photo paper arrived in only 10 days. The normal transit time is 3 weeks. Since Amazon, for whatever reason, couldn't mail the ink and paper outside the US, I had it sent to Ella who in turn repackaged it in a padded envelope and forwarded it to me. Since envelopes don't take up as much space as boxes, they get priority in Chch. Anyway, she sent it out on the 21st of December and it arrived here yesterday. According to the package folks, it definitely was one of the quickest turn arounds that they had seen especially given that a holiday was part of the shipping equation.
Needless to say, I popped the game in the machine and connected it to the big screen TV. I didn't play for too long, but long enough to get a taste for what to look forward to this winter.
There was a call for line handlers to assist with mooring the ships that will be coming in over the next few weeks. I was a line handler for a time in the Navy, so I thought that I would volunteer to help. I suspect that those who help out will get preferential treatment with regard to going on any morale cruise that may be had. We can expect both ice breakers (Polar Star and Polar Sea) to pull up to the pier to take one fuel, a supply ship, and a fueling tanker, so there will lots of opportunities to get out there and take pictures...and get aboard for a sail.
There's really nothing to distinguish this day from any other. It's still New Year's Eve at home and there's nothing good on TV, although I expect to catch a bowl game or two tomorrow. So, I ended up playing Civ 3 for most of the day. I took a break at 6 (midnight EST) to wish Ella a happy new year, but she wasn't home. She had mentioned that she may go out with co-workers to ring in the new year. Bully for her. I don't want her to spend all of her time alone at home.
Wednesday, January 2
Called Ella the first thing this morning and spoke for about 30 minutes. All is well.
Sherry sent an email letting me know that she's going to the Pole for a few days. Since I saw an opportunity to get some pics for the site, I let her borrow my camera to take with her. It's small and easy to use so I'm sure that there will be some good pictures to post when she gets back. It also means that "track the iceberg" page will not get updated for a while. But that's superfluous as it's already in the sound, anyway.
Had an interesting memory today. Ella and I once drove through Utah and Arizona a few years ago and were heading down a two lane road with the sunset at our backs. We hadn't seen a car in nearly an hour and the shadows of buttes and mesas blended with the vivid gold of the desert to create a vista that not even a Remington painting could do justice to. Adding to the Zen of the moment was a classic country station from OK, and way left on the AM dial, strumming Roy Clark's "Yesterday." The experience was so inviting that I wanted to drive forever. It was one of life's eureka moments where you realize that life can get no better than it is at the present. Such events are rare for me, and when they occur it's often after the event that triggered it has passed and you're only left with a romanticized memory. It would be foolish to try and recapture that moment, that je ne sais quois can never be recaptured. But maybe Ella and I can try to create fresh magical moments when we get off the ice. I'm looking forward to it.
But back to daily affairs. The wind is picking up, the barometer is dropping, and the helicopters have been anchored. The Katabatic winds don't acknowledge that it's summer.
Thursday, January 3
The icebreaker was slated to pull into the sound at 3:00 this afternoon but it didn't come to pass. The had some sort of problems with one of the shafts and they had to send divers over the side. It would be a good guess that they ice made contact with the propeller and they wanted to check it out. The latest ETA is now tomorrow morning at 8:00.
Icebreaking is an interesting evolution to watch. In ice this thick (over 8 ft), they need to get momentum in order to push the bow on top of the ice and then allow the weight of the ship to crush it. So, they back up several hundred feet, put the spurs to the engines, and then accelerate forward until the boat loses inertia. By the time their forward progress has stopped, the boat will calve about 50 feet or so. They have to continue running the engines in the forward direction to "blow" the ice out of their wake so that the propellers won't come in contact with any chunks when they back up. They also have to allow time for the shaft to quit turning before reversing them. The entire evolution takes about 5 minutes. At that rate, it doesn't take much to imagine why it took so long for them this year.
Sherry's flight to the Pole was pushed back, so she gave me my camera back. I suppose that she was anxious about having to keep watch over it. I can't say that I blame her. If someone let me borrow an expensive piece of hardware I'd be nervous about having it around.
Friday, January 4
I suppose that today marks my 25% finished day. I left home just over 3 months ago, and since I can realistically expect to get off the ice in mid-October I'll have 9 months and 12 days, or 75% to go. Time is going by much faster now than it previously did.
The Polar Star didn't pull in at the appointed time. They had an engine problem that had to be taken care of which set them back a few hours. AT about 11:30 they came back into the sound and commence their turn towards the ice pier. At 12:30, Jordan took over at the plant to let me assume my line handling role to help moor it (I volunteered last week).
Since the icebreaker couldn't just turn around, it had to create a swath in the ice large enough to enable it to get to the pier (an 8 foot thick slab of ice permanently anchored to the shore to prevent it from floating away each year). And once it was turned around and headed toward the pier, it had to remove some ice in the vicinity of the area were it would be moored. The whole process took about 90 minutes to make it a distance of only a 1/4 mile. I was able to get some nifty footage of the breaker (right click and "save as") busting some ice only a few hundred feet away. Once the boat was alongside the pier, it took only about 15 minutes for the 20 or so volunteers to secure the 5 lines that they threw over. So, I went back to the plant to finish out my shift.
The smell of grilled steaks wafted through town all afternoon. Even though the galley is several hundred yards away and I was indoors, the wonderful smell of charbroiled steak drifted into the plant. I suppose that my nose is getting super sensitive. But I was powerfully hungry the rest of the shift.
I did have one other highlight today, if I want to call it that.
We have a phone line in the plant that can be dialed into from the outside world (can't dial out on it though...have to compete for the 4 available public lines) . The point of origin for such a call would be in Washington state (where I assume our telecom satellite downlinks to) and someone dialing a "wrong" number in that exchange is capable of giving us a ring. Well, sure enough someone thought that they were calling some parts store in this undisclosed town and Jordan picked up (all of the calls coming in are usually for him as it is set aside for strictly business use). When they asked who they had dialed instead, Jordan told them. I suppose that this was ok provided that the caller got their chuckle and went on their merry way. About an hour later, though, the same guy calls back and I picked up the phone. This time he had a group of people on a party line and I heard them breathing and giggling on the other end. When he asked where he was calling, I told him the power plant. But he was pushy and wanted to know specifically where he was calling so I relented and told him McMurdo Station, Antarctica. With that, the lot of them laughed and he hang up. OK...it's kewl to call Antarctica once by mistake and then move on. Taking up one of only a handful of phone lines just to entertain your friends isn't. Besides, I have other things to do than to deal with everyone and their brother calling me up for shits and giggles. At the end of the day, though, it's no better than a crank caller. Given this guy's attitude, our number will probably be passed along to every drinking buddy in WA state.
Saturday, January 5
The midnight operator on my rotation, Pat, said that the didn't get any calls from stateside when I relieved him this morning. I didn't get any either. So perhaps Mr. Kewl has gotten his kicks. More likely still, I took it too seriously and there was nothing to it to begin with.
I'm really debating whether or not to sell my Land Cruiser. A month and 1/2 ago I would have sold it without any qualms. But since Ella is becoming more independent, we may need to have two cars. We only have one in CT, which is nice because we spend more time together that way. But at the same time, when she and I want to go to different places at the same time, it can be a headache. If I want to get into an electrician's apprenticeship somewhere I will likely have to travel a bit. Perhaps far enough away to prohibit that Ella and I carpool as we did in the past.
So, I've been looking into finishing up the resto project and making it road ready. And I came into a bit of luck today. In my quest for a decent cylinder head I came across someone with not only the head, but a fairly low mileage engine, a transmission, and a transfer case. I can have the whole lot for $400 plus freight. It's already on a pallet and I just need to arrange for a trucking company to drop by and pick it up. If you know anything about FJ40 Land Cruisers you'll understand that this is a once in a lifetime bargain. A rebuilt engine alone runs just shy of $3,000 from any of the wholesale engine builders on the 'Net. But my sister said that she can accept it at her factory and unload it from the truck. I might also inquire about using her company's account in order to pay a reduced shipping rate. At the end of the day, I may get the whole kit and caboodle for a hair over $600.
I figure that for $2500 I can finish it up and get it in a condition that I wouldn't hesitate to get in and drive it anywhere. That's much better than chucking out $15,000 for a decent used car or work truck. Hopefully I can help Ella see the light and get her blessing.
The ice breaker pulled out this afternoon to go back into the Ross Sea to continue its ice busting. But it will return either late tomorrow or early Monday. It's supposed to provide two morale cruises that day to us poor inhabitants of McMurdo. The power and water team is slated to go out in the morning (self included), except for those on duty. But they will get relieved and go out for the afternoon run. Anyway, I expect to go out past Cape Royds to the edge of the ice sheet. With luck we'll spot some whales, which I hear isn't outside the realm of possibility.
But before I get my hopes up, the power plant has to get through some choppy water itself. Some of the problems that I've alluded to previously have flared up to the extent that management intervention is required..
Sunday, January 6
Power plant mutiny being worked out. I'm pretty much out of the loop since I'm not a party to it. And even if I did know all of the details it would irresponsible to share it.
It was a pretty slow day at work. Perhaps the slowest Sunday ever. Not much was happening on the internet. There was even much in the way of news updates to keep me entertained. Getting bored was my only worry, though. Power usage was low, the engines were stayed cool, and aside from a few oil leaks there wasn't whole lot to be concerned with. I still can't help but marvel at how those Caterpillars keep on running without a hitch. It's a shame that one can't find many diesel powered passenger vehicles in the states. I'm convinced that everyone should have one.
I dropped by the burger bar after dinner for "death by cholesterol" double bacon cheeseburger and a few Guinesses. But I didn't tool around too long. I had to get up at 7:00 in the morning to assist the Polar Star with mooring. After that it was off for a "3 hour tour" of the Ross Sea.
Monday, January 7
I woke up before 6 and tried to give Ella a call, but she was out. So, I played a few minutes of Civ 3 until I had to get to the ice pier. I'm coming along so well with this game that I may even win it.
The line handling evolution went fairly smooth and the boat was docked a few minutes later than the 8:00 goal. Soon after that was over, all of the people invited for this cruise made it aboard where we were ushered to the helicopter hangar for a briefing.
The Polar Star is one of 3 polar class ice cruisers that the Coast Guard operates. It is over 400 feet long and has a keel that extends for 36 feet below the waterline. Propulsion wise, it is a 3 shafted vessel with Pratt-Whitney turbine engines (the same ones used in a Boeing 727) that can deliver up a combined total of 60,000 shaft horsepower. With all of these engines online it will go through about 45,000 gallons a day. And it order for it to cut through the ice to McMurdo, it required all 3. So there were in much need of fuel when they pulled in a few days ago. It also has 5 Alco 16 cylinder diesels for electric generation or they can be used to drive DC motors to turn the shaft when there aren't any ice breaking evolutions to perform. It only consumes about 15,000 gallons of fuel per day with these engines online.
After the briefing, I headed up to the bridge to catch some of the "getting underway" evolution. It was much more casual that what I remember from the Navy, but interesting nonetheless. There was a tour of the engineering spaces being offered so I didn't hang around for too long. So, I made my way aft to the hangar to get up with a guide and took about a half hour tour of the various engineering spaces where I learned some of the info that I mentioned above.
We were informed that we wouldn't make it to the ice edge because the trip would take too long and they would burn up too much fuel. So, we went half way out, turned around and came back. But the scenery was still nice enough. I grabbed a few pictures and even captured some footage of ice being crushed. Of course, I also had to get the obligatory hero pose so that I could print a few copies and send them home.
Icebreakers are truly hardy vessels. Not only do they need to be solid enough to ram through ice, but sturdy enough to run over it as well. Passing over those large chunks of ice plays havoc with the ship. The entire shift vibrates and jumps around as the ice passes beneath and gets caught in the propellers. A large enough piece of ice and even stall the shaft. There wasn't more than a few seconds the entire trip that I would consider to be smoothly sailing. We were always passing through ice large enough to make you think twice about drinking a hot cup of coffee.
As soon as we returned I called Ella and was able to get an open line the very first try. The satellite guy showed up yesterday and spent half the day installing the satellite dish. We can only get limited broadcasting, though as we don't have full "exposure" to both of their satellites, only one. The condo complex blocks the line of sight from the other satellite meaning that Ella can't get Polish TV and, I suspect, HDTV broadcasts as well. But I have another year before I'll have to concern myself with that. And in the mean time my wife has television again.
She wasn't too terribly upset with the idea of spending more money on the Toyota. I think that she came around after I explained to her that this was no longer a hobby but repairing our second vehicle. And there's no arguing with the economics. It should only be about 1/5 the price of a good used vehicle. Sure, I'd rather have the money and pursue my pilot's license later on. But it's time that we joined the rest of the two vehicle family world.
On a lighter note, though, she informed me that I received a jury summons letter. I'm to appear in court next month for jury selection. It appears that I've finally caught the eye of the local judicial system. I hate to disappoint them but it will be interesting to see how they will react to my wife informing them that I'm just slightly inaccessible for the next nine months.
I returned to the pier at 4:00 to help moor the ship as it returned from it's second cruise. I was told when I arrived that it would be delayed because a shaft seal had broken and they needed to inflated an emergency boot to prevent water from seeping past. I can imagine that all of the strain and vibration on those shafts eventually took their toll. But it must have been an almost routine operation because it only delayed them 15 minutes or so. But it took nearly forever to tie it to the pier. The crew who had moored the first cruise had allowed the lines to get wet. So, when we tried to tie it up the lines weigh two or three times as much. They were incredibly heavy to drag around. And given that there only 3 of us per line there was lot of effort involved.
I bumped into Sherry when I was checking my email. She's returned from the Pole and has a few pictures to share. I'll try to post them when she sends them my way.
Tuesday, January 8
Another perfect, unproductive day. The way all days off should be.
I did swing by the power plant for a few hours, but it was to surf the internet and check email more so than to find busy work.
Aside from the "coasties" there was a Russian ice breaker turned cruise ship in the Ross Sea. The helicopter contracting company must have been hired by the cruise agency for the day because helicopters where taking off every few minutes to go and fetch tourists so that they could spend a few minutes wandering around town. Although I didn't see any, I heard from others that there were a few walking around town. I went to Hut Point to see if I could see the boat and found it to be just a few miles out to sea in the channel cut by the Star. Not too far away was the Star's sister ship, the Polar Sea. I tired to grab a picture or two but I had left the memory card in my laptop back in my room. No pictures today :(
Before dinner I thought that I'd go out to the ice breaker to see if I could raid their coke machine. I noticed on the morale cruise that there was one on board where I could buy them for 50 cents each. That's half the price of soda on base and it's probably much fresher. They let me aboard, but the only selection left was Sprite. The people on the second cruise must have cleaned them out and they didn't bother to restock it. I didn't leave empty handed though. I filled all of the pockets in my parka with cans of Sprite.
On the way back to my room I overhead some coasties talking about how the Russian boat was blocking the progress of the Sea. Which I suppose the maritime equivalent of someone parking in your assigned spot, but much more disrespectful. I can see why. The Coast Guard made the channel in the ice by burning close to a million gallons of fuel. Its relief ship is prohibited from coming in to assist by a civilian vessel that's getting a free ride. The only way for the two vessels to work out their differences is for them both to back up the 20 miles or so to open water and the allow for the Sea to come in first, or for the Sea to bust a channel in the ice around it. Either one burns up fuel unnecessarily and eats into the Coast Guard's schedule. There are probably other considerations as well, so I'm curious to talk with folks on the Polar Sea when they pull in just to see what the deal was.
There is fog that occasionally rolls in now. The open water is getting closer and the wind carries the moisture with it. It's so thick that a couple of Herc flights have been cancelled because of it. With the fog comes more humidity and a clingy feel to the air. Where it was once dry and the cold temperatures were bearable, there's a bone chilling freeze to the air now. Rather than taking my time between buildings to enjoy the sun, I just increase my pace to minimize the time that I'm outside.
There was an interesting email sent by the station manager. We are no longer to keep a vehicle's keys in the ignition switch. Sounds obvious if I were back home, but here there's no concern for such things. It's not like anyone's going to to take off in the thing, right? Wrong. Rumor has it that some drunken Kiwis stumbled across a pick-up this last weekend and took it for a spin. I don't know what, if anything, came of it as there was nothing specific in the email. Instead, the rumor mill has to supply all of the details, which are speculative at best.
I heard back from the gentleman in AR with the engine and tranny for sale. $135 to ship the whole lot. That is one seriously sweet deal. Now if only it's in good enough shape to do something with...
Wednesday, January 9
Back to work for a two day rotation. Not much happening other than me taking down the Christmas decorations that the ladies had up. I simply got tired of them as it was well past the holiday season, anyway. I suppose that they will think that I'm a scrooge, though.
While making my internet rounds today I found that the BBC online picked up on IceStock. There is a story about our little music festival and its origins. We're international! I actually learned more from the article than I did by seeing it firsthand. Of course, only being able to see 15 minutes of it can do that to you. Anyway, the link can be found here. The Antarctic Sun page with more info about IceStock as well as MP3s is also online here.
In the same section, I learned that we are to visited by royalty next month. Princess Anne of the British royal family (daughter to the queen, brother to Prince Charles) is to be on hand to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Robert Scott's Discovery expedition. This means that she will be visiting the Discovery Hut and spend some time here in McMurdo drawing attention to its historical significance as well as attracting donations for the Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Kiwi organization that maintains and restores the historic huts on Ross Island. We've gotten Senators (Al Gore) before but there's not collective memory of royalty visiting us, so this should be a first. Wow! I had to come all this way to meet royalty. There's been no general announcement around town so far, so I wonder if they are trying to keep it low key.
I took another constitutional to Hut Point after work to look at the Russian cruise ship, but it has already departed. There were two ships out there, but they were most likely the Polar Star and Polar Sea carving the channel to make it wider for the tanker that's due next week. I don't know how the "parking" situation was fixed, but it will still be intriguing to learn more about it.
Thursday, January 10
Pat was a few minutes later relieving me today, but no big deal. I'm sure that I'll be late once or twice myself. And it's not a habitual thing, he's usually 15 minutes early. So, there's no historical justification for the start of a trend.
I hopped a shuttle to Scott Base after dinner for some souvenirs and a Guiness. But since they were out of it, I had a local brew and skimmed through a recent copy Time that featured Rudy Giouliani as man of the year. Somehow, a copy had ended up at Scott Base only 2 weeks after it hit the shelves.
Since I would be going to "Happy Camper School", or snow survival training Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of the evening getting my gear together and trying to get some sleep. Since I'm not good at sleeping outside in the cold, I tried to get all of the sleep that I could.
Friday, January 11
Everyone met at the Search and Rescue headquarters at 9:00 for the start of Happy Camper School. There were about 20 of us who would be going out to the ice shelf to learn how to make snow shelters, set up tents, and how to keep warm in really low temperatures. The group included 2 Coast Guard Pilots and 4 Polies up from Admundsen-Scott on R&R. I brought along lots of spare clothing plus an expedition down parka that I had brought from home. But although the winds made the temperature drop slightly on the ice, it was never really cold enough to be concerned about frostbite or hypothermia.
We went through some classroom training for about 2 and 1/2 hours and then we loaded up into a large tracked vehicle called a Nodwell and headed past the Kiwi base out towards Williams Field. About a half hour later, we arrived at our camp site situated on a 200 foot thick slab of ice on the Ross Ice Shelf.
We broke for a lunch of sandwiches and gorp and then proceeded to made an ice dome by shoveling a pile of snow some 8 feet high. We sort of cheated, though. Instead of simply piling the snow from scratch, we piled up our gear, covered it with a tarp and then covered that with snow. When we were finished, we dug an access hatch in the side and removed the gear. That way, there wouldn't be as much shoveling needed from the inside and reducing the amount of work being done.
At some point into the snow mound, we heard a helicopter in the distance. It was flying low to the ground and headed straight for us. Since he had flown out of his way to come in our direction, it was pretty obvious that it was going to buzz us. Sure enough, the pilot flew about 30 feet above us at maximum speed. It was loud but interesting none the less.
Once the excitement was over, we proceeded to lay out our tents and learn how to tie truckers' hitches and made dead man's anchors to keep the tents fixed in high winds. And in order to keep the tents out of the wind, we used saws to cut into the ice and created ice blocks used to create walls around the tents.
Lastly, the instructors showed us how to dig a trench in the snow and use the saw to create domino-like blocks of ice to put over the top to create another type of ice shelter. Unfortunately, I missed most of this part as I was inside the snow mound helping the Coasties remove snow.
After dinner, I began working on my own shelter. There was space inside the tents, but I preferred the satisfaction of making my very own shelter. But missing part of the training came back to haunt me. Instead of cutting the blocks the way everyone else was shown, I ended up cutting blocks that were too thick and unusable or so thin that they crumbled when I picked them up. In the end, I had a coffin sized hole. Since I was too tired to start anew, I piled up snow around the edge to keep the wind and blowing snow out and blessed it as a "shelter." It wouldn't be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but it would serve to keep the wind off of me and perhaps keep me alive in storm.
Several of us hung around until midnight or so. I wasn't too anxious to climb out of my clothes into a cold sleeping bag. I also suspected that I wouldn't get any sleep and wasn't looking forward to spending 8 hours bored out of my wits. And I was right. I only got about 2 hours of off and on sleep the entire night.
Saturday, January 12
At 8:00 everyone was up and having breakfast and by 9:00 we were loaded up ready for more classroom training. The hard part of class was over and we all survived intact, although I suspect more people didn't have as good a night sleep as they let on. To add to my misery I was suffering from sunburn. Even though I had kept my face covered the entire time I was outside, the sun was low enough on the horizon to get beneath the brim of my cap. I knew that this would haunt me for some time as I don't deal with sunburn that well.
We learned about the portable high frequency radios that every field group has. They depend upon the propagation of radio waves through the ionosphere and, under the right atmospheric conditions can be used to communicate worldwide. The instructor even shared a story about how someone here was trying to call the Russian Vostock base and instead was answered by the Russian Navy's ship by the same name in the Black Sea.
We were once again buzzed by a helicopter. This time, it was a Coast Guard Dauphin (or as they call them, dolphin). Since the two coasties in our group were pilots from the same boat were in our course, I suppose that they were just saying hello to them. It was traveling way to fast for me to get my camera out in time, but it was flying much faster than the NSF Huey that buzzed us the day before.
After lunch we packed up and started began the highlight of our trip...a walk in crevasse country complete with ice axes and ropes. We would ascend the glacier near Scott Base and get lowered into a crevasse that had opened up. It was rather neat to be roped up and pressing cross country in a single file. It was truly one of those Antarctic experiences that is difficult to convey in words. A picture can probably sum it up better than I. But we each descended about 30 feet into the crevasse. And although I wasn't overly anxious for my turn, I eventually went down too in order to grab some pictures.
Another Dolphin buzzed us as we were going into the crevasse. This one was much lower and followed the contour of the hill towards us sending up small particles of ice as it passed over. It continued down the hill and banked steeply when it reached the ice shelf. Hollywood would have been hard pressed to pull of a more visually perfect maneuver. But it happened so fast that I was once again unable to get my camera out in time. So, I watched in amazement instead.
The base had changed since we left the day before. There had been quite a few flights into the field and to the Pole bringing people into Mactown. The population was near 1,300 people and was as the most crowded that I had ever seen it. The Polar Sea had also came in earlier adding its crew to the mix.
I grabbed some Coasties and asked them about the deal with the Russian ice breaker that was blocking their way. I was told that it pulled onto the ice giving the Sea enough berth to maneuver around it. But then, the Russian ship had problems backing off the ice and was stuck for some time before it managed to free itself. I suspect that it wasn't a polar class icebreaker and had never been in ice conditions this bad.
I also became aware of another incident involving the Russians. A Russian tour operator had landed a privately owned wheeled plane at the Pole saying that it was a scientific mission. Well, who got off but some very important Russian dignitaries including the a Deputy Director of the Duma, or their equivalent of Congress. Anyway, this plane either got stuck in the ice or broke down (the details are still sketchy up here) at the end of the runway and these VIPs had to be brought back to McMurdo in Hercs. The NSF is apparently livid over these events but will not issue a statement for fear of offending them. For starters, it was supposed to be a scientific mission, not a joy ride for Russian bureaucrats. Secondly, they used a wheeled aircraft instead of something that was equipped with skis and it is blocking part of the Admundsen-Scott runway. It will probably remain there until next year unless they return with the equipment to fix it and get it out before the base closes the middle of next month. I am told that the Polies already have party house designs for it... And lastly, the NSF had to find emergency accommodations for the lot of them as well as give up a resupply flight to get them out of there. I will try to follow up with a web search, but I highly doubt finding much about it. I don't even think that a press release was issued so there will unlikely be any news networks picking up on it.
When I got back to my room, I checked my face in the mirror. Yep. There's some sunburn. Although it wasn't as red as I though it might be, I still had some serious raccoon eyes and had I not grown a beard I would have been in serious trouble. My skin was feeling tight and my nose had started to ooze. If it keeps up I'll have to make a stop by the clinic, although I don't want to. I'd feel stupid about going in for a sunburn when a little sunscreen could have prevented it had I applied some.
Sunday, January 13
Didn't sleep that well last night because my nose was oozing fluid to the extent that I had to wipe it with a towel every minute or so. And instead of laying in bed all morning, I got up at around 8 and began working on getting the site updated. I was several days behind in journal entries and spent the next 3 hours catching up as well as making web pages for the pictures that I had taken at snow school. At some point into my updates my nose stopped oozing, so that was a good thing. By the time I went to bed, my face was pretty much feeling back to normal. Good thing, that.
More info is becoming available about the Russian plane. It was ski equipped and not a wheeled vehicle as I had first heard. Secondly, it wasn't stuck on the runway and was towed out of the way, as evidenced by this picture. Word is now that it had a mechanical problem and then the JP3 fuel that they were using gelled in the cold temps. You would think that the Russians, with all of their cold weather experience would know better than to use that particular fuel as opposed the much colder freezing JP8. There was supposed to be mention of it in the Sun but it must have been retracted. Instead, the "Quote of the Week" was by an anonymous tourist who happened to be trapped at the Pole saying something to the effect "When you're trapped here you don't have much room for negotiation." Since there's not much happening here that's newsworthy, the whole town is talking about it. Obviously, even I am caught up in it.
Brunch and dinner were pretty bland. It was even more so now that the galley only has two flavors of juice: orange and grapefruit. Whereas we once had a plethora of juices to pick from, the stores have dwindled. Looking on the bright side, though, I'll not have to worry about scurvy.
Monday, January 14
Really hard pressed to think about what I did that was noteworthy aside from talking to Ella on the phone for over an hour. We got caught up on a lot of stuff.
I started playing Baldur's Gate 2, a role playing game that should take me several weeks to go through. After that, I have the expansion to install and play. But the time I get through with both I can start over with a different group of characters. Once that's done it will be winter and time to break out the XBox. So it looks as if my amusements are working themselves out.
The sun burn is healing nicely and starting to peel. I might even have a tan after it's all said and done. As if this is the place for one. It occurred to me that the reason I was burned was not because of direct exposure to the sun, rather it was from the UV rays being reflected from the snow and ice back onto my face. I had my yazoo cap's brim pulled down at all times and I kept my back to the sun whenever possible. But if the sun was being reflected back at me, then there was little that I could do other than use sunscreen. Doh!
Tuesday, January 15
Another unproductive day at work.
Ella and I exchanged a few emails. She learned that the DSL won't be connected until next month, so she'll order dial-up access for the meantime. With luck, we'll be chatting away tomorrow after she gets the account configured.
Compared to last week, this week is a let down. There's not much going on either at work or in the evenings when I'm off. I told Jordan that I would do the PMs on the generators on my days off later this week. So that seems like it will be as close to exciting as anything that I'll be doing for a while.
I should be getting the engine for my Toyota soon, though. I've committed to the seller, I just need to get in touch with him to verify his contact info. He's out of town for another few days, but it should be resolved before the weekend. Another project to manage this winter will be a good thing.
Wednesday, January 16
Last day of my three day rotation, and aside from a few computer glitches with some our monitoring equipment, all went well.
Got up with some MMI folks at the galley and they needed help backing some of their digital pictures up, so I volunteered the use of my laptop. As long as they have the disks, I don't mind helping out. But my stash of CD-Rs and CD-RWs is running low. I only brought enough to back up data in the event that I have to reinstall the OS, not so many as to help out the town. But since the store sells CD-Rs, people at least have local access to them.
Sherry wanted to walk down to Hut Point, and since I hadn't been down there in a week or so I went with her. It looked like the the Polar Sea was dead in the water off the Point and Sherry was commenting on how she had heard about it having some mechanical problems. I don't know how long it had been in the same place and don't know how much longer it will be out of commission, but it's not good. There's still plenty of ice breaking to do before the oiler and supply ship have enough space to maneuver.
I also paid the seller for the engine and tranny for my Land Cruiser. I should expect it to be at my sister's factory in a week or so. He seemed to think that after a little honing to get rid of some flash rust, the only parts I would need would be an engine gasket set and new rings. All of the bearings and such looked like new. Of course all sellers would tell you that, but since the Land Cruiser community is to small to tolerate fraudulent dealers, it wouldn't be in his best interest to pull a fast one. So I suspect everything's legit. So, I might be able to get this engine rebuilt and installed for under $700. There might be some money left in the budget to rebuild the transmission and transfer case now, too. I'll need to make some phone calls first, though.
Thursday, January 17
Hurt my back this morning. I went down to the plant at 8:00 to help Jimmie swap radiators on #4 engine before we fire it up. The old one was leaking and he wanted to replace it with a new one. These radiators are about 8 feet long and 3 feet wide and probably weigh 150-175 pounds. And they are more bulky than heavy, especially when you have to lift them above your head to mount them in their horizontal position.
Anyway, Jimmie was up on the fork truck trying to slide it in while I was beneath trying to lift it in order to free it from an obstruction. After holding it for about 10 seconds by back just give out a sickly popping sound. My arms collapsed and my back started hurting immediately.
I toughed it out until the radiator was in place and then told Jordan what was up, who recommended that I immediately report to the clinic. I was hesitant at first, as I figured it to be a strained muscle. But I decided to be sure that there wasn't any long term damage just in case.
The clinic was very efficient and the USAF flight surgeon on hand also happened to be an orthopedic specialist in the real world, so I was in luck. He suspected a torn muscle and "repositioned" my back by popping it in several positions. The rationale was that it would heal faster if all of the bones and muscles were in their usual positions. Whatever. The end result was that I left in more pain that when I walked in. He also prescribed some anti-inflammatory pills that I doubt will be used. I tend to be bad about following doctors' advice.
I started working on the generator PMs after my clinic visit, but when I returned to the plant to get some distilled water for the batteries, Jordan told me to postpone it until next week. No arguments from me. So I surfed the web for a while and found an interesting article in the Moscow Times about the bureaucrat who's party was stranded at the Pole.
The story hints at how this was to be a demonstration of Russia's logistical abilities after the end of the Cold War. It was also undertaken without support from the Russian government and was the idea of this gentleman alone. But he convinced the State Department (he didn't contact the NSF as he should have) that this was official government business. Of course, the tensions mounted when off step 7 paying tourists and it became clear that this was personal junket. When the plane's fuel became frozen and the plane wouldn't take off again, they were in a bind. The tourists had to fend for themselves and were evacuated by a high priced adventure company (don't even want to know the price of that ticket home) while the politicians and staff got a ride on a Herc. When the NSF (or Raytheon?) presented the Russians with the $80,000 bill, they didn't seem keen on paying it. It also appears as though they have no immediate plans to recover the plane. My guess is that it will be more expensive to come down and repair than what the plane cost.
There is a reciprocal agreement between governments to help each other out at no cost in the event of an emergency. But since this wasn't an official government mission, then there is no such immunity. Since the US has the largest presence in Antarctica, we are the de facto Search and Rescue team. It's expensive to operate down here and it takes a lot of man hours to track down anyone who has gotten themselves into trouble. This is a dangerous environment that doesn't suffer fools lightly. But almost every year it seems like some group of adventurers find themselves in a bind and call upon the NSF for help. So, people risk their lives to go out and get them . Since valuable re-supply flight time is lost as well as entire groups of people re-tasked to this new mission, I think that it's totally fair make them pay for it.
All of these things seem trivial, though, compared to what happened in Grundy, VA, a town about 20 miles from my own hometown. An unstable student at the Appalachian School of Law killed three people, including the Dean, and wounded 3 students. I had worked in Grundy at a mine while attending Cornell and had stopped by the Law School one morning after work while they were still forming up. I spoke for about 30 minutes with the Dean about potential plans for attending after Cornell. The years have made the faces blurry, so I don't know if it was the same person I spoke to or not. But if he was the one killed then it was a tragedy indeed. He was a nice guy.
I suppose that I would be more shaken up if the student had be local. Instead, he was a foreign student who didn't know the culture. It also seems to be the case that he suffered from some mental illness. I don't think that I would be able to accept it if a native Appalachian had been the culprit.
I gave Ella a call a little later in the evening. She had been having dinner in NYC and wouldn't be home at her usual time. She had gotten the dial-up account information but was too tired to get it configured. So, we'll try again tomorrow.
I went to bed with a sore back, but it's feeling better. There should be noticeable improvement tomorrow.
Friday, January 18
Back a little better today, but not much.
Spent most of the morning lounging around and then had my teeth cleaned at 10:00. Since the dentist is leaving before the station closed, I wouldn't have another opportunity until October. No cavities and no fillings coming apart.
Ella was again too tired to do get involved with the computer, so I'll leave it up to her to call tech support when she's ready. Calling everyday will get expensive in short order.
I received an all hands email today informing us that both ice breakers were dead in the water and awaiting parts. Not good. It went on to say that the oiler is waiting at the ice edge until the channel is wide enough to pass through. I suppose that the boats will get their parts flown in from Chch and then heloed out when they arrive.
The fog is thick again today and preventing any planes from coming in. I'd hate to have a job planning logistics for this place.
Saturday, January 19
Saw one of the icebreakers moving in the sound today, so at least one of them is back underway. At least for the time being. I also saw some patches of open water for the first time. The channel is getting wide enough now for the ice to have a place to be blown to.
Although there was a party in Kiwi Cargo after work, I was more inclined to go home and play Baldur's Gate for a few hours and got in bed at 9:30. My back was sore and I was just too tired to stay up any longer.
Sunday, January 20
Last day at work before 3 days off. Weather is getting colder and the winds are picking up again. My guess is that what few weeks of summer we experience are now behind us. The eternal presence of the sun serves only to create an illusion of warmth. But it too, shall pass. It will dip below the horizon the last week of February and will disappear entirely just over a month later.
Ella and I spoke for nearly a half hour today. She had some car problems last week and depended too much on the "advice" of the AAA tow truck driver. The battery was dead (clickity click sound when starting and dim lights) yet the driver convinced her that the starter was bad. So, she ended up paying $120 for a 540 amp battery and was without a car for a day. I've paid half that for 1200 amp batteries from parts stores and know that she was taken for a ride. But I'm at fault, as well. I knew that the battery was over 7 years old and should have been replaced. But since I had never let the cells run dry and it hadn't given me a problem before, I incorrectly assumed that it would last until I got back. It's still odd that it went dead for no apparent reason, though. I wonder if after a boost it would have held a charge...
My mom and I chatted for much of the day, as well. But I'm really anxious to get my wife connected to the internet at home. She's having problems with the phone lines. So, she'll have to wait until she can get one of her IT savvy friends to drop by and take a look at it. At this stage in the game, though, she might as well wait until the DSL kit arrives.
Despite my best efforts to stay out of the interpersonal fray that we've seen at the power plant, I've become involved, at least in the eyes of the participants. Don't know how this will play out over the winter, but these sorts of things aren't forgotten.
Dropped by the burger bar for a "death by cholesterol" double bacon cheeseburger and washed it down with several beers. I'd have to read through my journal to find when I last had one, so that's a good thing. If I have to think hard to remember when I last drank, it means that I'm not doing it frequently enough to be concerned about it. Turning up bottles is the last habit I need to develop here.
Monday, January 21
Got some South Pole pictures from Sherry recently but I can't quite get up the motivation to edit, crop, and upload them. There's probably about 2 hours of work involved when you factor in the description pages for them. Kinda like a cardinal sin to do that on my day off, so I'll probably get started on it when I get back to work on Thursday.
I'm coming along quite nicely with Baldur's Gate, but there is an XP related glitch that prevents me from interacting with certain characters in the game. I'll need to check on a patch in order to progress any more.
I can't recall the last time that I mentioned anything about world affairs or post 9/11 events in the States. I suppose that it's because I haven't given them any thought. Strange how 10,000 miles can do that to you.
Not much happening here in the way of newsworthy events. People are just winding down their season and getting ready to head home. My roommate, John, takes off on the 18th of next month while my boss, Jordan, leaves on the 13th and will be replaced soon by the winter over supervisor. The new guy is a retired submariner, so we'll have something in common. Good thing for the manager/employee relationship, that.
Tuesday, January 22
The tanker pulled into today, but not without cycling us line handlers several times. We went down at noon to only stand around with nothing to do. The ice was accumulating around the bow of the ship forcing it to come to a stop, back up, and attain some momentum and try again. The Gus W. Darnell, as it is known, is an ice capable vessel meaning that it can travel in loose ice but can't bust any up. It's simply to thin hulled and lacks the horse power to break through. So, they had to call upon one of the icebreakers to assist. I went back to doing nothing around the plant.
Ella and I spoke for about a half hour. I can really get used to the chats that we have. Anyway, it seems that the folks in the jury selection department won't take no for an answer. I'm not quite sure what part of "Antarctica" they don't understand. I'll have to give them a call tomorrow and try to straighten it out. Ella gave me a number in Hartford. Hopefully it will be the connect me to someone important and not some main desk that I have to jump through hoops in order to get to someone who can rectify the situation.
My sister informed me that she received my Land Cruiser engine and tranny today. It shipped on Thursday and arrived the next Monday. That is some serious turnaround. 1000 pound to iron and steel shipped halfway across the country for only $135. So how does Dell get off by shipping a monitor and computer for $100? Ok, I know that overcharging for shipping and "handling" is part of their business model, but still...there must be some serious profit margin there.
It seemed to my sister to be in fairly good shape, so I called an uncle in VA to find out if he knew of anyone who could take a look at the pieces and perhaps rebuild everything. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all will be well. Ella will only let me have $3000 to finish the body work and rebuild not only the drive train but the brakes as well.
I walked out to Hut Point and took a look at the Darnell, but it was still far enough out in the sound to lead me to think that it wouldn't be in for a while. So, I went home to play a freshly patched Baldur's Gate. Not soon into it Jimmie come rapping on the door telling me that the ship was getting ready to moor and that all line handlers needed to report to the pier.
There were more than enough people on hand, but I helped anyway. The Darnell would need more lines than either icebreaker because it is over 650 feet long. So long in fact, that the aft section extends over 100 feet past the end of the pier. It will transfer near 7,000,000 gallons of fuel to our facilities before heading to Marble Point on the continent and offloading more fuel at the helicopter way station for the Dry Valley trips.
It took about 90 minutes to secure everything and afterwards I went home and returned to the game I'd left earlier.
Wednesday, January 23
Finally got around to finishing the monthly generator PMs, but not before making a call to clear up the jury duty mess. They'd never dealt with anything like it before, but saw to it that I was removed from the system. As an added bonus, the number was a direct line to someone who actually had the authority to make these types of command decisions, so no waiting to be transferred from desk to desk.
Perhaps I spoke a bit too soon about winter setting in. It was actually sort of nice today. I even walked to the galley in just a T-shirt and jeans for dinner.
On the way back from the galley, I stopped by the recreation department and checked out 5 CDs from the *modest* CD library. My intention was to rip a few songs with the new MP3 software that I downloaded today. I had been using Real Jukebox to listen to music, but the freeware version doesn't encode at high enough encryption rates to make quality music, so I bought and downloaded the full version of MusicMatch. Ripping seems easy enough, but I spent the next 3 hours importing my old MP3s and getting the titled and indexed under the MusicMatch cataloguing system. A real pain. But it's over and done with. All 700 some odd tunes that I recorded before I left are compatible with MusicMatch and all is well in the world. Not much time left for anything else, though....journal entries included.
Thursday, January 24
First day of the work rotation and it was fairly slow. Not even surfing the web made time go by any quicker. But I made my mid-week call to my wife to make things a little smoother. She has a friend visiting from Boston this weekend, so I'm happy that she'll have something to do.
I had problems sleeping last night. I kept waking up each hour after midnight thinking that I was late for work. Each time I'd wake up and put an article of clothing on until I realized that I still had several hours to spare. And since I didn't remove the clothes, I was dressed for work when my alarm clock went off at 5. I suppose that no matter how long I'm here, I can't get used to the fact that the sun is still shining at 3:00 AM. I'll be going to night shift next week, so maybe the lack of sleep now will be a benefit when I make the transition.
I heard today that both icebreakers will need to pull in after the tanker leaves so that they can onboard divers make repairs. There must be some serious problems with both of them for this step to be taken. But then, busting up all that ice can take a toll on a lot of the ship's systems. And if the ice doesn't get blown out this year, it will only be thicker come the next.
While making my internet rounds I visited my Russian professor's site. He's put a lot of effort into getting course material online including a dictionary and an audio recordings and transcripts of the the department's dialogue book. So, whenever I get bored I can brush up on my Russian (I brought my text books along for this purpose, but the website will be a nice supplement). I sent him an email of appreciation for the work that he's put into it and was surprised that he remembered me when he responded. I was at best a mediocre student. Russian was never easy and my grades reflected that. So I don't know if it was infamy that cause him to remember me or what. But since Cornell had a very traditional undergraduate student body it wasn't every day that an older, married student enrolled in a class.
Friday, January 25
Scored another boondoggle!! Jordan came into the control room today and asked if I wanted to go to A Room With a View on Monday. ARWAV is on the Erebus Ice Tongue on the slope of Mt. Erebus. It is one of the more scenic places on the island, or so I'm told. It'll take several hours of snowmobiling to get there and there may be an opportunity to descend into another crevasse depending upon who leads the trip. If the weather holds, we should have clear skies and excellent close-up panoramas of the volcano.
I've been pretty lucky this year when it comes to morale trips. About the only thing that I haven't done is travel by helicopter to the Dry Valleys, which is usually awarded to people with lots of ice time anyway. That being said, so is Cape Royds. Diane, another operator has been down for almost 10 years and never got a chance to go there. I made it my first year. But I suppose that making the power plant my home, even on my days off, is paying dividends. And who knows, there's still a few weeks left in the season. A helicopter trip may not be to unreasonable...
The blasting crew is removing some rock on the hill just below the power plant to make way for a water treatment plant that is being build this winter. So at 5:00 they secured the area around the plant and set off on of the largest detonations I have ever witnessed. I had a good view, too. Although it probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, Jimmie and went to the parts room on the second floor and peered out the window to get a better view. We were only 100 ft away and were looking almost directly on top of the site. When the blasting powder light off, a 50 ft section of the ledge lifted 3 feet into the air and huge chucks of rock simultaneously got ejected outwards. I regret not having my camera with me as it was really something to see from such close range.
Saturday, January 26
Another blast at work today, and it looks as if this will be the last one as there is no rock left to remove. But the highlight of the day was watching the Polar Sea towed the tanker away from the pier and out into open water. I was surprised to see that they were only using one line for the operation, figuring that the weight of the tanker would be too much for a single line to hold. But the Captain knows more than I and everything went off without a problem.
The Darnell offloaded slightly less than 7 million gallons of fuel during the 4 days that it was here. Some people got on board to see it, but since I was working when the tour hours I missed out. No biggie.
No sooner than did the tanker leave than did preparations begin for repairing the Sea, which pulled in during the afternoon. Both ice breakers are having problems with the starboard propeller backing off. So a team of divers from stateside have been flown down to make repairs so that they both can return to ice bustin'.
Although there were several parties to attend, I wasn't in the mood. Instead, I turned in just after 9. Slept pretty good too.
Sunday, January 27
Woke up early and tried to give Ella a call but she must have been out with her guest. So, I played with my 'puter until 10 and then dropped by the galley for brunch.
Jimmie dropped by around noon and we went to the Polar Sea to try and get on board to raid the soda and candy machines. I had ten singles and $3 in quarters just in case. Turns out that there was no problem getting on board. I managed to fill up all by parka pockets with Mr. Pibb and 7 Up and managed to squeeze 4 more cans into the pockets of my cargo pants. Also picked up some fresh Rolos and Milk Duds. My sweet tooth has been denied for too long.
Didn't do much else for the rest of the day but play Baldur's Gate. Giving Ella a call would have meant spending 45 minutes competing with everyone else trying to get an open line. I'll give her a call in the morning before I take off on to A Room With A View.
Monday, January 28
What a day! Perhaps the best morale trip to date, a phone call home, and back into positive territory with regard to our condo's resell value.
I gave my wife a call as soon as I got out of bed at 7:00. She finally got her dial-up account going. It's kind of a shame that I was gone most of the day or we could have chatted and got her computer updated. After 3 months of collecting dust the virus definitions and any security fixes are woefully out of date. Take care of it later, though.
Anyway, after a shower and washing a load of clothes, it was time to get bundled up and proceed to the Search and Rescue office. This is where the morale trip was originating as the S & R guys lead these types of trips onto the glacier or deep out onto the ice. It was 20 degrees today, but that wasn't warm enough to skimp on the clothes, so I donned my full compliment of ECW and stuffed a change of socks in my pocket before I took off.
There were about 10 of us who would be going on the trip plus 2 guides. The lead, Thai, was an experienced guide from Alaska who organizes trips to Denali National Park, the Andes, and has been to the Himalayas several times. So I felt like I was in good hands. I paired up with an Air Guardsman and we chatted it up in the Hagglund on the way out to the ice where the snowmobiles are kept. Since the snow is mostly melted around McMurdo proper, the Ski-Doos are kept away from town on the road to Williams Field.
After a brief course on snow mobile operation, we headed out to "A Room With a View". I left my new bud drive out. Given my previous experience to Cape Royds, I was in no hurry to manhandle a Ski-Doo, especially over rough cross country terrain. And after a rest break or two, we arrive to ARWAV about an hour later. Which is good. Riding on the back of a snowmobile on the bumpy trail was probably worse than trying to fight it as the driver.
A Room With a View is a 1,400 ft high dome on the Hut Peninsula between McMurdo and Mt. Erebus. On a clear day, there are excellent views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, and the Ross Sea. But today we had to settle for just some open water in the Sea as the cloud cover prevented us from seeing the cone of Erebus. Just seeing water was exciting enough, though. We could even make out the Polar Star in the distance breaking up some ice, which has now receded to Cape Evans or about 10 miles from McMurdo.
After a brief lunch, which was ate while wearing mittens. And, as if on cue, our after lunch performance was put on my a Coastie who was having too much fun with his toy. Yet another buzz while on the ice. This one was a bit more discrete, but one can never get used to seeing a helicopter maneuvering as if a madman were at the controls. We got into some harnesses and roped up to take a walk through crevasse country and perhaps into a cave. We skirted around some seriously bridged crevasses, so much so that there was no way to know that you were on them until you fell through.
The guide saved the best cave for last and we spent the better part of an hour wandering through its cathedral like halls. It was over 100 feet in height with spectacular ice formations on the walls and ceilings. Thinking that it was too dark to not use my flash, I got some really horrible pictures of reflected light that severely distorted the beauty of the place. But there are a few pictures that are worth posting. The view looking back at the entrance is worth a thousand words.
At 3:00, it was time to mount up and head back to McMurdo. I wasn't looking forward to driving but brought up the rear so that I could travel at a more leisurely pace and to protect the back side of my passenger. This worked fine until I lost sight of everyone. They were driving too fast and had left us. I was trying to be overly considerate, but ended up making him suffer more than I did on the way out. In order to catch up to the group, I had to travel twice as fast as before, often topping 50 miles an hour in order to make up the lost ground. Although I thought it was great fun to run for minutes on end full throttle with the occasional bunny hop across bumps, I could tell my the way my passenger was holding on to me that he wasn't enjoying himself as much. I later told him what the deal was, and he appreciated the intent I'm sure. But making up the lost time probably more than made up for it, though.
On the way back home we stopped by the Kiwi ski slope, a neat little place not too far from their base. They have salvaged an old International truck from our skua yard many years ago and use it to power an ingenious "lift" up the side of the hill. We can ski there, but by invitation only. And I don't recall anyone being invited to go over and ski. It could be a winter over thing only, though. So that could be something to look forward to.
The mail flag was flying when I got back. It was the first time that we had received mail in over two weeks, so I thought that I'd have a few things waiting for me, my XBox football game among them. But only twenty people got mail, and me and over a thousand other people weren't so lucky. A C-141 is supposed to fly in soon, so maybe they will be bringing some with them.
I was too tired to do much except eat dinner and catch a movie. "Rock Star" was playing on the local broadcast channel. I could only sort of get into the movie, but the good thing is that this is a fairly recent flick. Probably just released on video. Ergo, the base has new movies in its collection. Something to look forward to.
Tuesday, January 29
Back at work for my last day shift rotation. After tomorrow, I'll be off until Sunday evening. Then I return to work the 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM shift. Three and 1/2 days should be enough time to get adjusted to the change.
Ella came online later in the evening and we spent about 2 hours updating the computer and anti-virus. But I guess that my priorities were misplaced. I should have just chatted with her instead of devoting most of our time to something that could have been put off for a while.
After work I spent about 3 hours making site updates. I had all of the pictures from yesterday's trip that needed to be edited and uploaded as well as the web pages to create. I didn't get everything done, but I can finish up later in the week when I'm up in the middle of the night getting adjusted to the night shift.
Wednesday, January 30
3 Russians dropped by the plant today. They had a few hour layover before they flew off to the Russian Vostok station, about 3 hours away by Herc. They didn't speak any English, so it was fortunate that I had studied Russian. Although my vocabulary has gotten limited with time I was still able to tell them a little about how we generated electricity. Jordan was generous enough to sit in the control room for me so I took them over to the water plant and gave them a quick tour there as well.
Those guys are insane as they serve 18 month rotations. And their base is incredibly small (about 20 year round inhabitants) with limited recreational opportunities. I hope to catch some of the outgoing crew as they fly through McMurdo on their way back to the world. I'm fascinated to learn how it is that they deal with that kind of hardship.
I didn't tell anyone around base, but today is my birthday. I could do without the fanfare and " Happy Birthdays". I've never been comfortable being the center of attention, so I'd rather just celebrate it myself by having a few beers.
Ella, my mom, and my sister sent me e-birthday cards and Ella came online towards the end of my shift. We chatted for a bit and after I was relieved I showered and went to the burger bar for some Guinness. I lost count of how many I had, but when I went to bed at 11:00, I had no problems getting to sleep. I'd also have no problems waking up in the morning...
Thursday, January 31
Cold sweats, cotton mouth, pounding headache...why is there such a price to pay for drinking too much? It's mornings after like this that make one want to swear off drinking for good. I can't remember drinking that much in years. A good thing if your a square like me, I guess. But I couldn't sleep past 7:00. I was just too miserable.
Found out that I merit the larger than average bonus today. Another good thing. It goes to show that my extra time at the plant and the added responsibilities that I assumed are appreciated. I've never been one for awards or commendations. Paper certificates and medals do nothing for me. If someone really appreciates my work, then extra cash is the best way to show it. The other things only attempt to make you feel better. A larger pay check will actually do so.
A tourist ship pulled into the sound today. There was the usual compliment of starry eyed tourists, mostly older Americans, wandering about taking photos and getting in the way. But it's a free continent, they are more than welcome to come and go as they please. Although some will argue that they are endangering the environment here, I see them as being hypocritical. They can't possibly do any more harm than we are.
The C141s are flying again and one landed last night with over 6,000 pounds of package mail, including something for yours truly. My Madden 2002 football game made it, and at first glance it looks every bit as complicated as I expected it to be. The instruction booklet was rather thick with several pages of nothing but control usage and button combinations. But it should be fun once I spend a few weeks getting the hang of it.
I also found out my winter dorm assignment. I'm going to one of the high rise dorms closer to the power plant and will have a room to myself. I will also no longer have to use the community showers and bathroom. There is one bathroom shared between two dorm rooms in this building, so my suite mate and I will have one to ourselves. I don't yet know who will have the room next to mine, but I hope that they are quite and don't like leaving their towels on the floor.
I went to the power plant to learn a few things from the other operator. There are reports that need to be completed based upon the days data and those get done by the night time operator. So, aside from having something to do while making the transition to the other shift, there's actually something beneficial to come of it.
No sleep for me this day.
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