Wednesday, May 1
The snow storm brought in by last weekend's warm air is still with us.
I went out at 2:00 to brush off the engine radiators and was startled to see the bundled apparition of my boss, Don, checking out the condition of the power plant. He was concerned enough to come out in the snow to ensure that the I wasn't having any difficulties keeping ahead of the weather.
He has a valid concern. I think that I've mentioned before that the snow can accumulate to such a depth as to cause the fans to kick off. When this happens, there's no more cooling for the engines and they will overheat, and thus tripping offline leaving McMurdo in the dark. It's happened before and it was impressed upon all of us before the season started that we shouldn't get too confident in a snow storm.
Since it was burger bar night, I slept in until 7:00 PM. On my way there I stopped by the library and interrupted a game of Trivia Pursuit among some of the volunteers. Not wanting to detract from their game I picked up the first readable book I saw, The Cider House Rules, and quickly left. I made it to the store just in time to check out a copy of The Jackal with Bruce Willis. If nothing else, the backlog of movies that I've wanted to watch but never got around to is growing shorter.
Thursday, May 2
There are instances when infinity collapses into singular points of time. This morning was just that. It took me nearly three hours before I could finally sleep. I spent until 11:00 tossing in my bed being disturbed by the wind winds outside and tortured thoughts.
The wind was blowing strong enough to shake the building. Since I'm on the top floor, wind gusts are more noticeable. But it was stronger than I ever recall. I suppose that I could think of the wind in symbolic terms as well. Thoughts of past mistakes and inactuable dreams for the future keep blowing through my mind, forcing me to toss and turn until I drifted off to sleep sometime near midday.
I awoke at 4:30 and showered in order to catch the 5:15 shuttle to Scott Base for dinner. I had signed up early last month to attend the weekly Kiwi dinner that is offered to 10 Yanks. They prepared a meal that is as good as any that is home cooked and the best thing that I've had since Chch. The funny thing was that they didn't bother to separate the various courses of the meal. In the States we would designate a portions of the to plate to for the steak, mashed potatoes and greenery. Here, the greenery was atop the steak with was atop the mashed potatoes. The entire meal was then covered in a spicy gravy. But I'm not complaining. As I said, it was the best meal that I've had in 7 months.
And since today does mark my 7 month anniversary from home, I spent the the remainder of the evening at Scott Base drinking Guiness and observing the behavior of people in various states of sobriety. Not a bad way to pass the time, actually. Especially when one is looking for a laugh.
I caught a ride back at something til 10:00 so that I could chat with Ella.
The day ended on a much better note than it started.
Friday, May 3
Ordered some brake and suspension parts for the Toyota. Got another "uh huh, right" when I asked for a work number. No one wants to believe that I'm down here and can't be reached by phone, at least without a hassle. I don't give our number out for fear that anyone and everyone will start calling just because it would be "cool" to call Antarctica. Ella has it if she needs it, but that's it.
I only logged onto the internet once all night, and that was just to check my email. I spent the rest of the night finishing up "The Cider House Rules", a decent read about a pre-war orphanage and a young man's struggle to come to terms with abortion. It was much better than the movie of the same name and I was kind of sad to reach the end. Although it wasn't the best written novel I've came across, the story was inviting and I actually cared about the characters.
Bumped into Donovan at breakfast, a man whom I attended Happy Camper School with earlier in the year. We talked a few minutes before the conversation turned to him not being able to sleep. A bit timely, I thought. Anyway, he seems to be suffering from T3 just as I do from time to time. It's just now manifesting itself in him, and I suppose others, because they have only been without the sun for a few weeks. It hit me earlier because I've been working "nights" for over 3 months. The good news is that, by and large, I'm getting used to it and try to get in bed earlier to get a good night's sleep. I'm sure that Donovan and everyone else will get adjusted too, even if it means seeing the Doc about
The winds have died down and the snow has left us. So, I was able to get to sleep much more easily that I was yesterday. I slept in until 7 with hopes of going to the burger bar, but was momentarily disappointed that it was closed. But since the station is celebrating Cinco de Mayo a day early, there was ample nachos with cheese and taco beef to go around.
Since this is the first weekend of the month, the station will forego the six day work week and allow everyone (except for me) to have the weekend off. The bar was crowded with people who were drinking like there was no tomorrow. The fact that a live band was playing probably made everyone even more relaxed than they normally would be.
Of course, it's hard to stay sober in such company and I followed suit. I forget how many beers I had, but I walked in with $20 and left with nothing. I bought a few beers for others, but the courtesy was returned. Fortunately, I remembered to stick with one type of drink (pale ale) and to drink other fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. I've yet to see how this plays out, but no headaches so far.
I figured that everyone, including the Kiwis had a good drunk going when the band spent 2 hours or more just improvising. Some of the improv was quite vulgar and with lyrics targeted at the Kiwis (which makes me think that they were drunk for them to go along). But the scene was something like one would find in a college bar, with people drinking and having a good time listening to music. I could almost imagine that this was ten years earlier when I was going to college bars in Norfolk. And after I excused myself to chat with Ella for a few minutes, I went back and had another round.
Saturday, May 4
Another storm, or perhaps the tail end of the previous one, hit sometime during the day causing Condition 1 to be set on the ice and Condition 2 in town. Normal temperatures with good visibility is the criteria for Condition 3. During Condition 1 is a white out is in effect and no one is to go outside except in pairs of two. I figured that the weather in town would deteriorate to Condition 1, but visibility never dropped below 50 feet and the wind, as far as I know, never exceeded 40 knots or so. It was strong enough to push an unwary person off balance, but no so strong as to make them lose control of where they were headed.
I couldn't determine weather the snow was coming from the sky or being blown from the Ross Ice Shelf. It was blowing perfectly parallel to the ground with incredible velocity, thus making it difficult to identify from whence it came. It also seeped through doors and into the radiators making my night pretty busy with shoveling. It was probably the busiest shift since I arrived. Which is a nice change of pace considering that most nights are spent twiddling my thumbs.
Sunday, May 5
Ella's mom is returning to Poland tomorrow, so we didn't have time to chat as much as we usually do. Both she and her mother were busy packing and making last minute arrangements. I'm really grateful that she spent so much time with my wife and gave her some company.
With only 5 months and a week or so, it won't be much longer until I get off the ice and will be back with her. I suppose that Ella is the chapter of my story here that gets overlooked too often. It's so easy to get into the grind that it takes a conscious effort to remember that there is a life across the horizon. There is even pattern to the movies showing on the base's cable network- Groundhog Day usually plays several times a week. Someone in recreation has a twisted sense of humor, methinks.
Monday, May 6
Here in McMurdo, we dig ourselves out of the snow and a couple decides to profess their love and devotion by getting married in the chapel. Elsewhere, anarchists place pipe bombs in mailboxes and assassinate political leaders if their ideas are radically different than their own.
Tuesday, May 7
Ten years ago today, I was at the opposite end of the world - the North Pole. Interesting how things change, yet they remain the same. Just a slight difference, to the addage, though. Then there was sunlight and temperatures above zero.
I took a commemorative picture to mark the occasion. More sedate pose this time. Perhaps it marks some degree of maturation?
Wednesday, May 8
The storm that had been unloading on us for the past few days has seem to have left. However, the warm temperatures are still with us so who knows how long until something else wicked this way will come.
I was never so happy to see quitting time come as I was yesterday. I was unable to sit down for more than a few minutes at a stretch because I was shoveling snow from every recess of the engine room, from around the radiators, and even taking a putty knife and clearing the door jams. For without that kind of detail, the doors wouldn't shut. I can honestly say that I earned my pay.
But my troubles were nothing compared with Jimmies'. He drove out to Pegasus in order to check the generator that's been left running for the season. There was a lull in the storm that wasn't supposed to recommence until 3:00 Monday afternoon and he thought that he'd take advantage of it. He checked out with the firehouse as per procedure and went on his merry way.
Everything went well until the trip back, at which time the storm came on like gangbusters. It reappeared several hours before it should have.The visibility was reduced to the point that he was unable to see past the hood of the truck and was forced to come to a stop. During brief lulls he tried to drive from flag to flag (the road is marked by bamboo flags every 30 feet or so). But when he could no longer see the flags he stopped completely and called the firehouse over the CB and informed them of his predicament.
The Search and Rescue team was activated and tasked with bringing him back to town. Rather than risk him being out in the storm for who knows how long, they went out to fetch him. They took the radar equipped, all terrain Haaglund but still needed two hours to reach him, despite being only 5 miles or so away. As I understand it, their radar returned his truck as just another snow mound among many that exist on the ice. It also didn't help that he had driven off the road a hundred yards in his quest for flags. Instead of heading back west to McMurdo, he was driving south to White Island. Anyway, it was only when the S&R team got to within a couple of hundred feet of this particular "snow mound" that they were able to detect his body signature with an infrared heat sensor.
Jimmie didn't do anything wrong so he's in no trouble as far as I know. Everyone was caught off guard by the sudden re-emergence of the storm and there was no way to see it coming in the dark. But as a result of the difficulty in finding him, everyone driving out of town is now required to carry a GPS receiver.
Anyway, he related all of this to me before we went bowling. And it was good that he was found. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to pick up my slack with all the strikes that he rolled. We're ranked 8th now.
Thursday, May 9
I spent a couple of minutes looking over the content of my hard drive and came across some pictures of Christchurch. I could have never imagine flowers and greenery were so vivid and, well, "green". It had been a while since I'd looked at them, and am now kind of sad that I bothered. I was doing pretty good about forgetting the stuff that I used to take for granted. Now it's all coming back to me.
And speaking of flowers and other wedding decorations, I was mistaken about the McMurdo wedding that I mentioned on Monday. I had seen something on the marquee about it and assumed that they got married here. Since my schedule makes be ignorant of a great many things, I thought that it was another event that no one informed me of. Anyway, there was a wedding, just not here. The couple met during the summer and got married in the States.
This revelation probably diminishes the impact of what I was trying to convey, but hopefully not the message itself.
Friday, May 10
Learned of the iceberg C-18 while on watch this evening. It broke off the ice shelf to the east sometime last week but was discovered by an analyst just a few days ago. Small when compared to B-15, it's still about 10 times the size of Manhattan.
From the photo, it's evident that B-15 has yet to blow out to sea. If you remember, because it is preventing the the seasonal sea ice from being blown away the ice breakers have difficulty in clearing a channel for us. The ice gets thicker and thicker and takes longer for them to make it in. This year, there were two breakers that had to open a channel for our annual re-supply ships. They were pretty beaten up in the process, requiring ship yard divers to be flown down from the States to make some field repairs on one of them.
On a lighter note, my last day at work for three. I have a full weekend off and am entered in the Kiwi pool tournament at Scott Base tomorrow night. Looks like I'll have a taste of social life for a change. Also, Alejandro and I worked out that we would be switching shifts on the 22nd. Only 12 more until I'll have the same schedule as 99% of the continent.
Saturday, May 11
This could be the last winter.
Mcrumours have it that the ice runway is to be used year round now. After spending several years working on the Pegasus runway, it has finally reached a physical state that it is certified for use at any time. There is also a rumor that the NSF has bought two LC-130s for their own use that will be based in Chch for use to
If this is the case and the continent is now open 24/7/365 (barring weather), then this will be the last true winter over. If there are planes coming in on a weekly basis, then the isolation that has punctuated the winter over experience is at an end.
But perhaps more relevant to me is the fact that Raytheon has shifted their contract year from beginning in October to now starting in August at WinFly. This change is retroactive to us, if we choose to accept it. Simply put, I can get off the ice at WinFly almost one and half months earlier than I expected. And so can everyone else. This isn't another rumor. The email came from the station manager and we have until the close of business Tuesday to act on it. RPSC is in the process of making travel plans for our replacements. So, they need to know ASAP whether to get them here in August or to wait until October and mainbody to get them here.
At first I didn't know what to make of it. I had to rub the sand from my eyes several times to make sure what I read was true. It was only after I got a follow up email from Don that I took it seriously.
It was *the* conversation topic at dinner and, later on, at Scott Base. You have never heard excitement in someone's voice until it is inflected with the prospect of leaving Antarctica much sooner than originally planned. The festivities at Scott Base were certainly all the better as a result, I think. The pool tournament wasn't much more than a friendly game that was interrupted by frequent swigs of beer. It should come as no great surprise that the two man team that won was also the only one with a sober player. He was also the driver. The winnings were put back into the tambourine so that the bar could have a free round.
While the party was winding down, one of the Kiwis pointed out that there was an even bigger iceberg that broke free in the same area as C-18 just yesterday. C-19 is the same size as B-15, stretching some 80 miles in length and almost 20 miles across (for reference- Ross Island, where I am, is about 45 miles across at its widest point). Interestingly, I have yet to see a news article about it. Usually these things make the news in short order.
I don't want to think about the implications of what a berg that size, along with nearby B-15, will do if they get in the right spot. It wouldn't be pretty for neither the penguin rookeries or USAP research. If the supply ships can't make it down, then all work would have to be paired back or halted. Perhaps even closing the Pole. And if they penguins have to travel further than what they did this past year, then many of the rookeries will fail.
Sunday, May 12
It looks like I'm down to just about 5 months left on the ice. Six and one half have flown by and I hope that the rest goes just as quickly.
I say five months because Ella and I concluded that it would be best if I stayed and finished the year instead of taking the tempting offer of leaving at WinFly. After all, we'd anticipated that I'd be gone the full year and there's also the 3 paychecks that I'd be missing. It was only a surprise that we'd been given the option to leave early. Once the shock was over I suspect that most people will stay, probably for the money, too.
Monday, May 13
Finished up the book that I brought with me, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean. I'd read it several times but always found his writing to be musical with a poetical flow to the sentences. Sadly, this time through it had lost it's magic. The story was old and there wasn't much more to get from it. Perhaps some things are best left done only once least you find the recreation doesn't live up to your expectations.
Since the store, and thus the video library, was closed, I walked up to the book library and borrowed something to read. After 10 minutes of searching (and it is truly a search. With no card catalogue one has to browse through by author until they find what they want). Anyway, a book with local ties caught my eye. Thunder of Erebus, a pulp bulk by Payne Harrison, is what I walked out. Clancyesque in scope, it's a techno war thriller set here at McMurdo. It's about a war between the US and Russia over a rare resource that gets discovered. Although it makes for some entertaining reading, there's something a bit disheartening about reading of buildings that you know getting blown up. But the author gets an A for research. Although he has no ice time he's got the topography down pat.
Tuesday, May 14
Someone in our department decided to take the opportunity to leave at WinFly.
Alejandro, my dayshift counterpart, will leave in August. I can't say that I fault him (as if there is any shame in leaving). Besides, he came down in October with the intention of working just for the summer. It was only after the personnel problems we had the operator he replaced that he opted to stay through the winter. So, unlike the rest of the crew he didn't have the expectation of staying a year like the rest of the crew.
Finished off Thunder of Erebus after work. The book must have been intended to be a screen play as I've never encountered a book that had so many cut scenes and action packed paragraphs. But I suppose that is a good thing. It kept me entertained and I read it in just two days. On to something else now. I'll try to get to the library the next night I'm off.
Wednesday, May 15
It's getting quite difficult to eat anything without getting a mouthful of mustache and beard. Even when I drink anything a few hairs slip past my mouth and grate against my teeth. There's also the matter of the food that gets lost in the hairs. Because of them I have learned a new appreciation for napkins.
As well, I've learned that it is quite painful to trap part of my beard in my parka's zipper. Definitely something that I wouldn't recommend that people try at home. Once is enough to make you lift your chin and strain your neck far above it's natural degree of "strechiness" when it comes time to zip up.
I've tried to get up early each day and have the station's hair dress give me a trim, but she's always closed up when I make it there. She's probably scaled back her hours during the winter. Can't say that I blame her. I wouldn't want to sit around all day with nothing to do either. Wait a minute...
Thursday, May 16
Too many goodies, not enough money.
I've came to the conclusion that if I'm to get my Land Cruiser back on the road, I'm going to have to skip some of the accoutrements and concentrate on the essentials. There's just not enough money left in my budget.
I had thought about overhauling the spare engine that I bought in January. But, a compression test of the engine currently in my Toyota hints that getting the cylinder head rebuilt might get be enough to keep me on the road for a while. There is some wear in the rings, but the problem is more obvious in #6 cylinder. The compression is down to 90 pounds both wet and dry. Since adding oil to the top of the piston didn't make any significant difference, and since it is 30 pounds below the other cylinders, there's something wrong with a valve. The low compression in the other pistons might come up after I drive it some. After all, it had been sitting for 3 years before I bought it early in 2001. Since then, it's only been started to move it from a garage to the outside a few times. A few miles on the thing might cause some stuck piston rings to expand a little bit and seal better. OK, a guy can hope can't he?
This talk of engines leads into something else. Jimmie was told to start rebuilding another engine in preparation for swapping it out come WinFly. Looks like I'll get the chance to spend my days off in the machine shop again helping out over the next few months.
I've found out that The Who will be playing at Madison Square Garden on August 3. The opening act is Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zepplin. How would I come to know this? My wife won concert tickets. Florida, Poland, and The Who. I think that her year has been much more exciting than mine. It would be tempting to follow the ticket prices on eBay and give some thought to auctioning them off as I'm fairly sure that there will be a large demand. But then, they're hers to experience. I'm just jealous.
Stopped by the clinic to weigh myself this morning. 184 pounds with clothes and just after breakfast. Not too bad. I've only put on 10 pounds since October and that has stayed fairly constant for the past month or two. Once back on days (two more shifts away) I should be more active and burn more calories. It would be good to be back below 180 before I get off the ice.
Friday, May 17
Slept in until about 7:00 and then showered quickly and bought something to eat at the burger bar. I stayed away from a burger and had a chicken breast sandwich instead. For some reason, the greasy hamburgers give me a queasy stomach. They don't make me sick, but they land like a ton of bricks. Perhaps my diet is part of the problem. Ever since I went on a diet and started and exercise program last summer, I've had problems eating greasy foods. Which is a good thing. My body is telling me that it's not healthy for me.
Sherry is now temping in Rhode Island and will be driving down to see Ella this weekend. Sherry and I exchanged emails over the past week and eventually the two got in contact with each other to work out the details.
In a way, it almost completes a circle. I left Ella, met Sherry, Sherry left, and now Sherry meets Ella. I'm confident that the two will hit it off and that Sherry will have a friend on the right coast while she's away from her native Montana.
Saturday, May 18
What a day.
Today is almost the half way point between station close and the first plane arriving at WinFly. To mark the occasion, the fire department held a huge bbq at one of the bars, complete with free drinks until the fund ran out. I managed to get up in time to grab some free chili that had been cooked in a heated milvan outside.
But I didn't have time to socialize. Someone happened across a very recent copy of a movie that everyone was absolutely dieing to see. No titles, but suffice it to say that it was very recent. I went over to grab a good seat as the coffee house has limited seating. Even though the movie wouldn't start for another 45 minutes, it was half full. We take our movie watching very seriously down here.
After the flick, it was back to the bar where I got up with Jimmie and some of the Kiwis. I suppose that if I had any perspective left that I'd swear that fun is hard to come by unless booze is involved. Even I find myself drinking a few more than I intended from time to time. But I have to admit, there's not a whole lot to do besides drinking other than to stay in your room or go to the gym. Thankfully, downloaded bootleg movies make an appearance from time to time to ease the monotony.
Sunday, May 19
I committed the night shift workers unpardonable sin of taking a nap during the night. Even though I slept for just two hours, I'd have a problem getting to sleep later (almost noon before I arrived in the land of Nod). But I didn't get in bed until well after my normal bed time, though.
No sooner than I got back from breakfast than did Ella sign on and want to NetMeet. Once the connections established and we were streaming, my wife had Sherry sitting beside her. She had no problems driving down from Rhode Island and was getting along famously with Ella, just as I predicted. We spent 3 hours catching up and all is well in her world.
Went to work on the night shift for the next to the last time. I'm ecstatic at the prospect of rejoining civilization. Or, civilization as we know it here.
Monday, May 20
Started snowing a bit while I was working in the evening, the initial intensity had me concerned as I thought that I'd be spending my last night alone trying to keep the snow at bay. But it turned out to be more wind than snow and cleared out any areas where snow was likely to build up and cause me any problems.
Entertained someone who was interested in working at the plant next year. He came down and wanted to see what's what. It was good to have company for a change. But I think that I will actually miss the peace and quiet of the the graveyard shift. There is also the matter of adopting a new routine. Now, I know how to keep myself occupied and my circadian rhythms are tweaked to sleeping during the "day" and staying awake at "night." It might actually be a tougher readjustment than I initially thought.
Tuesday, May 21
My mom logged on for a few minutes and we chatted for a while. Her computer is a testament to why you don't need the latest and greatest gizmos to be content (something I keep forgetting to remember). It's a P166 with 64 MB RAM that I brought home for the office to learn Linux on. It also doubled as a router and even personal web server for a while. Surprisingly, it served out 25,000 requests for one of my eBay auctions while it was running Windows 2000. I bought a dual processor workstation early in 2000 and didn't have a need for 3 computers, so I gave it to my mom who is happy to use it for email and web surfing...tasks for which it is well suited. If she ever gets herself a newer computer, I might even ask for it back. It's been working for all these years so I'm sure that I can find some use for it before it's put out to pasture.
For the life of me I couldn't stay awake past noon, so I went to bed. I know that my transition to days will be tougher as a result, but I'll have to try to stay awake tomorrow, I suppose.
Anyway, went bowling after dinner. We couldn't buy a spare. I managed to lead the team with a lousy 118 and we lost to the IT crowd by well over 100 pins. We were once in 8th place, but I'm not sure where we'll stand at the end of the week.
Note: From here on out my entries for the day will end in the evening when I go to bed and begin when I wake up in the morning, as opposed to running from midnight to midnight as they did when I worked nights.
Wednesday, May 22
I managed to get *some* sleep last night, but it ended at midnight. So, I played around with the computer until 5:00 or so and went to the gym to throw free throws. I showered and had breakfast after that, but still wasn't tired enough to go back to bed.
I spent some time at the power plant helping Jimmie to take off some cylinder heads from an engine that is undergoing a 10,000 hour PM.
Got tired around 6:00 and went immediately to bed.
Oh yeah. Vestiges of daylight are barely visible around noon, something that I was totally oblivious to. I'd been under the impression that it has long since departed. Anyway, there is enough pink left on the horizon to mask the stars for almost half the sky. It's not bright enough to read by and it only lasts for a few hours. But it's comforting to know that my friend, the sun, is still around.
Thursday, May 23
Woke up around midnight again and couldn't get back to sleep. So, I spent the next few hours tossing and turning, eventually getting up start a new game of Halo (which I finally beat, btw).
A lot of T3 symptoms going around, I hear. The Kiwis at Scott Base mentioned that they'd heard from that several people were unable to get any sleep when I went over for a few beers later in the evening. Being the responsible employee that I am, of course, I made it home early was in bed by 9:00. For what good it did me.
Friday, May 24
Woke up at just after midnight yet again. And spent another night tossing and turning until I had to get up occupy myself with something productive.
Since it was my first day at work on the new shift, I knew that I'd be in for a rough time. But I managed to stay alert until about 3:00 or so. After that I had a problem staying awake. Unable to stay awake for very long after Alejandro relieved me, I went to bed at 6:30.
I almost wish that I had stayed on the night shift. At least I was getting adequate amounts of sleep. The trade off of roaming an empty town on my nights off were almost worth it for just that.
Saturday, May 25
Slept better last night. I didn't wake up until about 2:30, about two hours later than I have been for the past few days. My slept wasn't broken either. A few more nights like that and I just might get adjusted to my new schedule.
Since I usually don't go back and read my journal, I'm not quite sure what I've said, or even if I've communicated what I intended to say. So, it's probably time that I put together a short summary of my experience in Antarctica since October. I may not have explained the "phases" sufficiently, if at all, as I was experiencing them. But with the benefit of a little hindsight I'll commit to paper how I feel about my stay thus far.
If one were to only use one word to describe my thoughts about coming here, that word would be romantic. I thought that it would be a grand adventure on par with some of my submarine experiences. And the first few days were. The winds were howling, we had a few near white outs, and it was cold.
Once I was settled into a routine, the romanticism was replaced by acceptance. I was here and, aside from the few trips outside of town, there wasn't a whole lot to be excite about.
Come late November and early December, it dawned on me that I was stuck here for another 10 months. Antarctica has lost it's luster and I started having doubts as to whether I had the desire to stay. The summer season was half way over and the people with whom I had become acquainted were already talking of their post season travel plans, making me want to take off with them even more. It took about 2 weeks to regain confidence in myself and get back into the grind. At this point I re-entered the acceptance phase.
As station close started to near, I was excited once again. The continent would be ours and ours alone. We'd truly be isolated from the world for six months and I'd be in for a truly unique experience. And it was, for about 3 weeks. After that the excited dissipated and the world of routine became the only one I knew.
Now, it's like nothing exists past the horizon. I don't even know what's out there for me. Sure, I day dream about vacationing in Hawaii or Australia and maybe taking my Land Cruiser across the States, but those are fleeting. The concepts of warmth, green, and sunlight are foreign to me. So much so that I wonder if they ever existed.
I'm not melancholic or anything, it's just that they are so insignificant to me and my routine that I don't really remember if they are important. I think that the life long prisoners that can't readjust to life outside prison are said to be "institutionalized". I'm beginning to thing that the same term is applicable in my case. I've done without the outside world for so long that it's been replaced by one encased in ice.
Sunday, May 26
The bed kicked me out at 4:00. Which is an improvement. But it's partially due the fact that I got in bed at 10:30 and was insanely tired when I hit the sheets.
Anyway, rather slow day at work. The same as every day since the station closed, really. I just try to find distractions and amusements when and where I can.
Al, the water plant mechanic, spent an hour or so early in the morning surfing the travel sites trying to help me find a good fare to fly Ella over in October. Funny pricing model, this travel business. If I wanted to get a ticket to fly from NYC to Sidney, Australia, then to Auckland, and finally on to Hawaii, it will cost $3300. If I fly first to Auckland and then to Sidney before finishing up in Hawaii, then it only costs $2600. And if I think that I can save money by skipping Hawaii altogether, well then I can expect to pay $2700. By reversing the order of the trip and by actually not skipping a city, I can save money. The itinerary isn't finalized, of course, but making preliminary plans and doing some research is something to keep me occupied for a few hours. Those three places sound good for the time being, but they are subject to change with whatever strikes our fancy between now and the time I leave.
There is supposed to be a lunar eclipse tonight. But it won't reach the apex until just after midnight, and I don't feel like staying up to see it.
Monday, May 27
4:30. Almost there.
The conversation around the breakfast table was commuting. I can be at work inside 2 minutes at a mosey, quicker if I feel like it, and I don't encounter any traffic aside from the odd one or two people I pass in the halls on the way to the galley. This is a far cry from my drive into work in CT. The times varied depending upon when I left our old apartment. It could take as little as 15 minutes or as long as 45. And the trip home wasn't any easier.
Even though my wife and I bought a home closer to her work, I will still have some traveling to do when I get back into the job market. It's another sign that I'm "institutionalized" in that I'm dreading having to spend even as little as 10 minutes trying to get across town. All the stop/go, clutch/brake action will get tiresome in short order.
The world has went gotten itself in a fine mess, with perhaps the greater NYC area being afflicted the worst. The prevailing attitude among the populace is that one must always be a slave to a job in order to continually upgrade to a bigger house and a better car, as if that were all life is about. The process continues until you're either a.) dead or b.) win the lottery and escape from the cycle. The only life people know (and ergo the only topics of conversation) centers around work and home improvements. And if you have children, well, they must attend the very best private schools. Of course, this all comes at a monetary cost that keeps people leveraged out the wazoo, and who knows the immeasurable cost in stress and personal sacrifice.
Anyway, there must be a better way of living and just maybe I'm getting a glimpse of it down here. Since I've lived out of a suitcase for the past eight months I know that I can get by without all of the possessions that are collecting dust at home. Our materialistic pursuit of goodies causes more problems than it solves, I think. There's also the matter of learning to appreciate that which I don't have, like sunlight and the other little things that we take for granted. With a new appreciation for those I shouldn't need a ticket to a Broadway play or an expensive dinner to occupy myself. There's too many good things that can be done for free.
In a nutshell, then, it's about quality of life. And what defines quality in my book is probably not the same as my that of my peers at the Cornell Club. Now I'm starting to see why people keep coming down year after year. It's possible for one to be happy anywhere, even down here in the cold and dark. Without the pressures of life as they knew, they're probably more content here.
Tuesday, May 28
My skin is quite pale, almost napkin white. I held one up at lunch and noticed the similarities. I'd imagine that my legs are whiter still, but since I'm only out of my long johns just long enough to shower I wouldn't know.
Another interesting physical traits that I've acquired is that my beard smells like Corn Flakes cereal. Anti-bacterial soap and shampoo have built up for eight months and created an interesting concoction on my face. I don't overly mind the smell of Corn Flakes, mind you. Sometimes it even gives me cravings. But it's a bit odd, still, and sometimes I get the urge to groom my beard to make certain that I don't have a week's worth of crumbs accumulating.
Anyway, I might be a local celebrity of sorts. A distinguished gentleman made mention of my stay here in a paper close to my hometown. He's an iceman himself, having visited both here and the Pole almost 40 years ago. He covered the Navy beat for the Norfolk paper (where I was stationed) and came down doing a story on Operation Deep Freeze back when the Navy ran it.
There was some more traffic on the site, about 10 times what I normally get on Mondays, but nothing that would put me over my bandwidth limit. I even received a few emails from new readers and one from an old acquaintance with whom I'd lost touch. Emails from home are always nice. It's also nice to see people take an interest. I hope that they take something beneficial from the site.
To accompany the book that I finished a few weeks ago, I watched "The Cider House Rules." As is usually the case, the book was the better of the two. Also caught a film documenting Robert Scott's fateful last expedition to the pole. "90 Degrees South" consists of footage taken during the expedition and was later narrated by the cameraman/photographer some 20 years later. I'd never seen it before and found it fascinating to see Ross Island and the area around Hut Point before McMurdo was built.
Other big event: taco bar at the galley for dinner. This is the first time this season that I left the table with a full stomach. I even went back for a second helping before they closed for the night.
Lastly, I stumbled across a site of a couple skiing to the North Pole. They've already climbed Mt. Everest, skied to the South Pole last season, and are just a few days away from the North Pole. Doing all three would make them "tri-polar" as it's known in adventure circles. It's always good to see people following their dreams.
Wednesday, May 29
Back to work this morning to start my two days on rotation. As always, work was pretty uneventful.
At 7:00 I went to the burger bar in hopes of getting some dinner but found a locked door instead. A sign said that the water pipes were frozen and that it was closed until further notice (I later heard that the pipes for several buildings were frozen solid, including the medical clinic). By this time the galley had closed up and I only had a few minutes to get to the store and grab a candy bar before they, too, closed up for the night.
Like everywhere else, McMurdo operates on schedules. Everything is open for a few hours at a time, and at times that seem most inconvenient to my work schedule. Breakfast isn't served until it's time for me to be at work, dinner is well underway by the time I get off. Lunch is out of the question on the days that I work because I can't leave the confines of the plant. The store is open the longest during the middle of the day and opens again for a few hours in the evening. The bars are the only thing with convenient hours, but I don't go there unless the burger bar is open (only three times per week). So, on nights like this where I'm caught off guard by an anomaly like an interruption in service, I'm forced to eat year old Mars bars and dine on potato chips that are well past their expiration dates.
We have all sorts of sweets and snack foods, but the stuff has been in shipping containers or warehouses for who knows how long. Since departmental budgets are spent long in advance, items are ordered and stockpiled well before the next season gets underway. To further complicate matters there is no way of predicting what people will want to buy or eat from one year to the next. One crew may prefer M&Ms over Milky Way bars and so M&Ms are ordered in over abundance for the next year. When the next crew decides that it likes Milky Ways over anything else, then there is now a glut of M&Ms. Lastly, I suspect the policy is to sell off or prepare the old stuff before the new items get placed on the shelves or thrown into pots. With a supply system like this, it's no wonder that we drink 3 year old beer and why, as I've heard, cooks throw out ten year old food.
Thursday, May 30
Had a problem getting out bed for work this morning, which is a good sign. It means that I'm pretty close to being adjusted to my new work schedule.
Found a half eaten carton of Kiwi ice cream in the freezer at the plant. Someone must have procured it or traded it. Anyway, it was real ice cream and not the soft serve mix that comes from the machine in the galley. Even though it was stale and had lost it's fresh taste, I had no qualms with finishing it off.
There must of been one heck of a drill today. I overheard chatter on the CB between the search and rescue team, the Kiwis, and the fire department for most of the day. One of the Kiwis was away from the base and supposedly had an injury and needed to be evacuated. The S&R team went out to fetch him and encountered several imagined difficulties in getting out there and retrieving him. There was one real semi-serious problem that they encountered, though. One of the Kiwis was later telling me that the Hagglund's radar was almost useless. Every time the S&R team broadcast over the CB, the radio waves would reflect from the ground and ice back onto the radar dish saturating the system and making it useless. For some reason, though, there's no problem using both simultaneously during snowstorms. Even though I trained in both radar and communications gear in the Navy, I can't comment on whether it is a real phenomena or not. Just something that I thought was interesting enough to note.
Anyway, had lasagna for dinner. The first time that they've served it quite a while and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Afterwards it was off to the bowling alley for the weekly game. We did quite well and more than made up for our dismal performance last week. If the other teams only bowled their average we might end up back in 7th or 8th place.
I caught a late shuttle to Scott Base and sipped a Guinness for an hour or so. Guinness, I think, is the perfect beer for someone like me. I don't like to drink too much yet enjoy having a beer in hand. Guinness is well suited to the task of simply sipping and savoring the taste.
Progress being made on the Land Cruiser at last. A mechanic finally picked up the engine and tranny today and should have the engine disassembled for inspection later in the week. The bloke doing the painting and misc. stuff has the winch mounted and half of the suspension work done. He should also be emailing pictures soon. Lastly, I got a bead on an engine builder. The folks dismantling the engine only swap them out, not rebuild them. They are taking it apart as a favor just to give me an idea of what I have. With luck I'll be able to make substantial progress over the next month.
Friday, May 31
Pizza for lunch. Couldn't help to eat my fill and then some. It's been quite a while since they've served pizza at a time that I could have some.
Didn't do much else on my day off except chat with Ella and try to track down parts and such.
The burger bar didn't open until midnight because of a dance party. I dropped by early in the evening but found only 1/2 dozen people there. People were saying that folks were staying in their rooms this weekend, even though it's a two day weekend for the town. Some folks are even talking about town wide T3 as a reason for the blasť attitudes.
What a shame. I finally get back to civilization only to find it dead.
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