Thursday November 1, 2001
Third and final day of my watch rotation. Three days off coming up. Maybe I can get some overdo web site updating done.
Watch was uneventful, and in order to fight off the blues I called Ella at about 9:30 PM her time. She wasn't yet unpacked, but had made some headway into getting some of the home repairs done and, most importantly, had finalized her travel plans to Poland. She'll be flying in the middle of the month and will return in early December. Although I'm sad that I won't be able to call her for a few weeks, I'm also happy for her. She'll get to see her parents for the first time in over a year and will be among friends to help her adjust to my absence.
A few procedures were changed at work in light of some mechanical problems that we've been having. A diesel tripped offline due to a faulty temperature sensor on the midnight shift the previous night. Two generators were able to carry the load, but just barely. So, we're now to trip the breaker for the town's largest load center : the galley, heavy vehicle maintenance shop, and some of the dormitories. The rationale is that it's better to lose part of the town than to lose the whole thing. Based upon what's happened with the aging diesels lately, I'm sure that we'll be under a lot of scrutiny this year.
Dinner was actually good for a change. I ate some meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and carrots...things that I would have if I would be dining at my mom's house. And the combination of the phone call home and the warm food did wonders for improving my spirits. The things that I would take for granted back in the States mean a lot here. Perhaps once Ella returns from Poland and gets our home computer connected to the Internet, we can do a lot more instant messaging and I can avoid the blahs in the future.
Since it was Kiwi night, I showered after dinner and caught a bus to Scott Base. I was there early enough to catch the Kiwi store while it was still open. So, I managed to buy a hat and some souvenirs before they closed. My mom had already given out the last batch that I had sent home, so I needed to send out more to the people whom I had forgotten the first time around. Folks at home are getting expensive...
After shopping, I dropped by the bar. It wasn't overly crowded and I managed to drink several Guinesses while maintaining some elbow room. It was also quiet enough to have a conversation with the bar tender. So, I asked him a few questions about the Kiwi Antarctic program and how one gets hired in New Zealand. I was surprised to find out that the process isn't much different than for the USAP (United States Antarctic Program): they just apply. If they are qualified then they are hired. Once they're here once and do good work, then they can continue to keep coming down until they get tired of it.
I returned to the dorm early and played some pool. I seemed to play better while full of alcohol than sober. Strange... There was also an interesting movie that I watched on AFN. It was hilarious, but probably only because of the beer.
Friday November 2, 2001
Slept in late. No reason to get up early as I'm off for the next 3 days.
Ken, my roommate, was leaving today. He had told me in passing that he had to return to his job in New Mexico a week or so ago, but it had slipped my mind. So, I helped him pack as best I could. He gave me some of the stuff that he had accumulated while here: a hammer, some drinking glasses, paper towels and the like. Trivial stuff, perhaps, but having them around might make your life easier.
He had also signed over his assigned TV to me. Since their weren't enough TVs to go around, they were awarded lottery style. Ken was one of the lucky ones. Although it wasn't much by home standards, the little 13" TV/VCR combo came in handy as you don't always get TV rights in the lounge (not that there is a wide variety of programs to choose from, anyway).
I went to MMI and made my internet rounds and then off to lunch around 1:00. After lunch it was off the post office to mail out the stuff I had bought the night before. I also happened to have checked the incoming mail list and found my name on it. So, I picked up my package.
My copy of Windows XP had arrived. Ella had sent it about a week and 1/2 previous, so the time it takes to get mail is decreasing. I had her send this in a bubble pack making it both safer on the CD and smaller, so that it would get here sooner. Since this was much quicker than my bulky printer, I'll have everything sent to me from home come to me in unboxed and in padded envelopes.
Since I was anxious to upgrade my laptop (Windows Me causing all sorts of weird crashes...), I did some additional research (having looked into it previously) and found that Toshiba will have be releasing XP drivers for my laptop by the end of the month. There will also be a problem with my CDRW/DVD drive. I will need to purchase some XP compatible DVD software and CDRW burning utlility...setting me back about $150. I shouldn't expect my copy of Norton Antivirus to work either (another $30). But the ticker is the fact that Toshiba recommends a clean install of the the operating system as opposed to an upgrade. I did bring all of the original software CDs with me save my copy of Frontpage 2000, which I use to make the web site. I even had the foresight to backup my 4 odd GB of MP3s. Since a clean install would entail the need to reinstall stuff, I can't rightly do so without my copy of FrontPage around. And since that is buried somewhere in the boxes of stuff that Ella has yet to unpack, I don't think that an upgrade will be happening anytime soon. I suppose that I could always try to burn my existing set-up files to CD and then install it, but since my CD Key is packed away, I'm still in the same predicament.
After spending a few hours doing the research and watching the Yankees pull off a 9th inning miracle, I had dinner and checked out a copy of "Empire of the Sun" from the movie library. I had seen it before, but I remember liking this underrated Speilberg gem. I went to the lounge and watched "The Red Planet" with someone who was already there...first come, first serve. But I was able to watch it after his film done. If nothing else, I'll be seeing my share of movies this year.
Once the movie was done, it was back to my room. Now that I had the place to myself, I put my stuff in Ken's half of the room giving me a little more space as well as the window. It took me about an hour to re-stow everything and get my computer stuff reconnected, and I got in bed just after midnight.
Saturday November 3, 2001
Damn did it get cold last night. The wind picked up and came howling through the window. I was beginning to regret moving to that side of the room. I pulled my bed covers around me as tightly as I could but it didn't help any.
To make matters worse, I locked myself out of my room when I went to the bathroom (fortunately I was fully clothed). Well, I didn't exactly lock myself out so much as the draft coming through the window blew the half open door shut. The building janitor, who was nearby, took pity on me and called the housing office. Someone was here within 5 minutes to let me in. I apologized profusely and felt quite embarrassed. I was supposed to take my key with me everywhere, but just forgot in this case.
Once back in the room, I thought that I'd take a look at the window and see what was wrong with it. The top section was slid down an inch. Twice and idiot today. Apparently, Ken had left it cracked before he left and forgot to shut it. That was a quick fix. But just to be sure, I stuff a GI issue wool blanket over the window blinds. No more freezing at night, I hope. I managed to do some some laundry and then it was off to my usual day off routine: not too much.
I managed to get to MMI around noon and plugged my laptop into the network. I spent most of the day working on the web site and not stopping until around dinner time. Then, it was back to my dorm for pool and Max Payne. I finished it for the second time. At the rate I am going, I will be out of games soon, so I may need to start reading some reviews and ordering some interesting games before the station shuts down.
At about 9:00 I started working on the web site again and not quitting until just after midnight. I really need to make some long overdue updates.
Sunday November 4, 2001
Last night was considerably warmer than the night before, but not by much. Even with the window shut the wind finds a way through the cracks. Turning the thermostat up doesn't help as it appears to be broken. I'll need to put a work order in to have someone take a look at it.
I called Ella to see how she was doing and how things went with the plumbers who were supposed to be there today. The had came to install the faucets but would drop by again later to put in the bathroom cabinet. Although I've mentioned it before, home owning is getting to be an expensive proposition. I think that we are out over $700 just in plumbing work. I'm really beginning to dread seeing the electricians drop by...
I'm really surprised at how well she is handling things. She had to close on the house, handle the moving, clean the old rental unit, get all the utilities connected, and take care of all of the contracting. And she only took one day off from work to handle it all. Incredible, especially given the fact that she is not a native English speaker. I think that I did alright in picking a wife :) However, I feel so removed from the situation that it's almost like I don't exist. She's exerting so much independence that I'll feel like an unneeded appendage when I get back. We'll have to discuss this in detail and gradually get readjusted to each other once the year is up and I'm back home.
Someone had given me a phone number that was somehow supposed to connect the caller directly to a dorm room. It was a "my friend's friend gave him this number to pass on to me" affair. Since there is supposedly no way for people to call here directly (but we have phones in our rooms so that we can call out), I was suspicious. But apparently, there is indeed a way as this number worked. I altered the number to dial into my room and gave it to her over the phone. She then called back. Viola! Although it was an international number and I don't want to think of the rates, she can now call me in my room if need be. I'll pass it around to my family for use in an emergency. Another worry off my chest as I can now find out about emergencies in almost real time instead of having to depend upon the NSF/PRSC bureaucracy.
I needed to finish the web page, so I started working on it as soon as I hang up. After about 2 hours, I had done enough to feel content that it was ready for upload. So, it was off to brunch (blue berry pancakes with whipped cream). Then it was off to MMI and onto the network.
Even though I haven't lived there in almost 3 weeks, the folks who are still there don't seem to mind that I come around. But to ensure that the welcome mat is still extended, I let them use my laptop from time to time and help them out with their computer problems when needed. Anyway, after waiting 30 minutes for my new photos and pages to upload, I was able to test the new content. I had a few links not working, but it was easily repaired and the new photos section is a qualified success given my relative lack of skills.
After dinner it was back to the dorm for a shower, game of pool, and some MP3s in my room. Caught up with my journal and off to bed. Gotta work tomorrow.
Monday November 5, 2001
Call me Mr. Negative Equity.
Out of curiosity, I checked the value of condos similar to the one that we just purchased on realtor.com while at work today. Not only did I find similar ones in the same price range, but also found them in the same complex...and selling from between 5-10% less than what we paid just going on 3 weeks ago.
What's happening back there? The situation in Afghanistan have people rattled? Recession? Both?
In late August and early September, it was crazy trying to find a place to live. And forget using the internet as a tool. By the time a listing made it to realtor.com, it was already gone before you could get a showing. The same with the newspapers. As a matter of fact, our place was on the market for just a day before it received a bid, and we won it after slight bidding war that weekend. The bid was accepted on September 10.
Of course, the events the next day forced Ella and I to seriously reconsider going through with the deal. But it was a matter of practicality over optimism that convinced us to go ahead with the sale. If we failed to buy a place we'd have to renew our lease and pay $15,000 in rent over the next year. Given the choice, we decided that we'd rather pay the same for a mortgage and at least own something at the end of it.
I know that real estate is the investment for the long term, but still I'm not feeling too good about being in the hole so soon out of the gate. I suppose that there is some consolation to be gained by the fact that there are others in our situation. And at least we didn't take all of the money that the bank gave us. Instead, we opted for something on the very low end of the real estate market, so it won't be devastating to our long term financial plan if the market never recovers. Humbling yes, but not catastrophic.
In other news...
I chatted with my mom and sister via Microsoft Messenger around noonish and was pleased to find out that all is well on their end. My mom wants to send me pajamas for Xmas. It will probably be the most useful thing that I've ever received. I also tried to sneak in a pair of loafers in the conversation. I hope that she took the hint. My tennis shoes are falling apart and steel toed boots aren't voguish to parade around the lounge in.
The plant electrician, who will be departing this week, informed me of a stash of old computer parts in the bins at skua central. Skuas are scavenger like seagulls that are just now starting to arrive at McMurdo. So, when people leave behind stuff that they no longer use, anyone who wants can hunt search through it and take items they need...just like the skua birds. Anyway, Jimmy and I went to the bins after dinner in hopes of finding enough parts to build a frankenbox or something to give us something to do.
There were enough parts to build several computers had they not been busted up. The IT staff here had intentionally broken some of the parts, cut cords, and severed IDE ribbons. Also, some of the cards and motherboards had broken pins or severely scratched foil runs. I don't know if they did so to prevent others from making use of them or if it was something they did to as a way to let themselves know that it was broken and not to use. But after 15 minutes of dumpster diving, the only thing that we found that might even be usable was a 16 MB stick of old RAM. There were a few CD-ROM drives that looked to be ok, but given that they had been left in the elements for who knows how long, we decided to leave them too.
I came back to the dorm and thought that I would try connecting my laptop to the big screen TV in the lounge and watch "Conan the Barbarian" on DVD. But when everything was connected, I found that the batteries were missing in the remote. Without it, there was no way to tell the TV to look for a signal on the RCA jacks in back.. I looked through the TV's menus using the buttons on the front, but to no avail. Then, in one of my "eureka!" moments I went to the battery recycling bin in the building's foyer and found some old (and dead) AAA batteries there. But they were well past the point of holding any charge. I contemplated going to another lounge and trying to watch on their TV, but I didn't want to have to get back into my ECW for a 25 second walk outside. I'm getting lazy.
Oh yeah, the Yankees lost. Other than an occasional visit to CNN.com to follow the latest developments on the war against terrorism, the Yanks were the only news item that I've taken an interest in.. Looks like I'll have to look at what Michael Jordan is into these days to fill the void.
Aside from chatting with my mom, there was one other bright spot today. I received an email from my Polish brother-in-law telling me that I was a "prawdziwi polnik", or a real polar person, because of my beard. Since that was my reason for growing it, I suppose that I'm finally doing something right.
Tuesday November 6, 2001
Second day into the three day rotation.
I tried to get an entry level turn over from Kirk, the plant electrician. Since I do have a modest amount of electrical training, I thought that I would become a better power plant operator by learning more about the switchgear and controllers. Maybe I'll have to assume some of his responsibility (scary thought) as they are having a problem stateside finding an electrician who has experience with power plant switchgear. This would be right up the alley of a Navy nuclear electrical operator, however, as this was their bread and butter.
A Weddell seal showed up outside the power plant during mid-afternoon. I didn't have my camera on me, but even if I did I would have been unable to grab a good picture. He was too far away for that, only being just close enough to make out. I can imagine that all sorts of critters will start showing up once the ice melts.
After work I went to the galley and couldn't believe how crowded McMurdo is getting. It seems like we picked up 200-300 people over the past week. It now takes much longer to get something from the buffet bars and even finding a seat is a problem. There also seems to be a shortage of bowls. Sensing that this was a problem, a mass email was sent to everyone by the station manager asking everyone to return any containers and dinnerware that they had in their rooms. People like to take their dinner "to go" sometimes and eat in their rooms. Now that there are about 1,200 people here, this practice is restricting everyone else's chance to get something to eat.
When I got back to my room, I found that someone was moving in. So, I only managed to have the place to myself for only 4 days. But no worries, my new roommate, John, seems to be a decent fellow. He's from Colorado and works in the cargo department and loads/unloads the planes.
I didn't stay up too late socializing though as I had to get to work on Wednesday.
Wednesday November 7, 2001
Finished the three day today.
Chatted with my mom while at work and pretty much didn't do anything other than what normally happens during the course of my work day: make rounds, take logs, and wipe up oil and other fluids from on and around the engines.
Since Kirk was leaving on Friday, we met at the Burger Bar to drink beer and ate hamburgers and fries in his honor. I had never ate there before and didn't quite know what to expect.
The Burger Bar is on one side of the non-smoking bar, Galahgers, and is only open for a few hours each week. Unlike the galley, you must pay for the food, which seems strange to me. There was a pretty good sized line and I waited about 15 minutes to get to the front. After I placed my order, it took about 25 minutes to get it. The wait was due to no fault of the folks behind the counter. The grill just isn't larger enough to cook more than 3-4 burgers at once. But I had a few old, stale Guinesses and socialized with the other folks in my department while I waited. The burger and fries were good, considering that I hadn't had any in over a month. But the fact that I had to pay for it didn't sit too well with me.
I am told by different people that it is Raytheon's goal to only pay $4 per day in food costs to feed each of us. At first thought I didn't see how that was possible. But once I started to consider the quality of food, the lack of variety, and the bulk quantities that the food was bought in, it might not be such a stretch. This paltry food allowance is absurd. We are underpaid to begin with, and they can't cough up a little more dough to give us decent food? Jesus.
I returned to my room just after 9:00 and called it a night.
Thursday November 8, 2001
Started out my first day off by sleeping in. John was off too, although I woke him up early as I thought that he had overslept. Just trying to be courteous and wake him, and he appreciated the effort.
I stopped by the clinic and weighed myself and found that my weight has leveled off. I haven't lost any for two weeks, so it looks like my body has found an equilibrium. Sherry, who normally works as a lab technician, was working the receptionist desk and we chatted for a few minutes.
Lunch was a burrito bar and I couldn't help but to load up. It's not every day that they actually fix something that I like in the galley, so I really had to take it in. I met Jimmie at a table and we started discussing an upcoming engine rebuild for #4 diesel. The game plan is to completely swap it out with a new one, block and all. Considering that an engine weighs close to 4 tons, it will be feat to move the old one out of the way and put the new one in its place. It will be made even more so by the lack of equipment that we have here. Anyway, Jimmie wants me to help with the assembly of the new engine. Since it will be an interesting experience, I help out as much as I can.
I got back to my room at 1:00 and chatted with Ella for a good half-hour. It took me 25 minutes of continuous dialing to get an open line out, though. There are so few phone lines to the outside world that a wait is almost a given. But everything seems to be going well and she's looking forward to her upcoming trip to Poland.
After I got off the phone, chatted with John a bit and then it was off to the heavy shop to help Jimmie put the crank into the diesel block. But when I got there, I found that he wasn't. He was off looking for a crank. Someone had told him that it was at the heavy shop with the block and he had just found that not to be the case. So, we agreed to give it another go tomorrow.
I went to MMI to surf the internet a bit and watch a movie or two. Someone borrowed "Jerry McGuire" from the library and I spend until after 6:00 watching it with them. Normally at about this time I head to the galley for dinner, but since I wanted to head to Scott Base to buy some stuff and take in some fresh beer, I went back to the dorm and showered. Before I caught a shuttle over, Kirk dropped by to give me a 15" computer monitor. Sweet! It was missing a power cord, but other than that he said that it worked fine. Now, my next little project will be to acquire a cord so that I can put it to use.
At about 7:00 I caught the bus to the Kiwi base. Kirk and Jimmie dropped by a little later and we chatted more and played some pool. I spent the last of my Kiwi money on three Guinesses and left shortly after I finished my last beer. It's no fun to stand around talking without a drink in your hand, so I went outside to grab a few pictures of Scott Base while I waited for the shuttle back to McMurdo.
I got back to my room at 9:30 and started working on my site. Since I hadn't done anything to it for a few days, I was overdue for an update. I climbed into bed just after midnight.
Friday November 9, 2001
One month on the ice. Chch seems like it was a million years ago and a million miles away. Paradoxically, the time seems to have went by fairly quickly though. Routines tend to do that you. They certainly made all of my patrols on the submarine seem to whiz by. So getting into a grove is working out for me here, too.
I'm starting to come to a few realizations now that Antarctica is losing its romantic luster. There are three things, specifically, that I need to comment on.
1. Alcohol is a friend to many.
2. Raytheon is pissing a lot of people off.
3. I really miss my wife.
No social event here isn't an "event" without beer and wine. And there are no dorm rooms that I have visited where beer hasn't been stashed under someone's bed. John has four six packs under his as I type.
This may may seem trivial to the rest of the world. Everyone drinks at parties. But the attitude that I'm starting to sense is that people come together just for the alcohol. Everyone spends long hours at work and have little time to relax. So it's a work hard, play hard mentality. For some, though, these "play" sessions last until all hours of the morning and every day of the week. And they don't always need to have company, which makes me concerned.
I've even found myself drinking a more than I did at home. Just this week, for instance, I went drinking on two occasions. No matter what else happens over the next year, I need to keep one thing foremost in my thoughts: I will not find resolution in the bottom of a beer bottle. Good thing that I'm running low on spending money.
I need to ponder this more as the year goes on. I think that I'm just starting to catch a glimpse of something that I can't quite put into words just yet.
I attended a slide show presentation by one of the ladies on base. She had spent previous off seasons mountain climbing throughout Denali National Park in Alaska. One trip lasted over a month and a half. I had an epiphany of sorts on the way back to my room. Like this lady, most of the people working here are of a different breed. The sort of people who can't be tamed. They like living and working on their own terms and are perhaps a bit out of step with the mainstream of society.
Raytheon is a large and, I can probably safe with a degree of safety, a conservative company. Now that they have the USAP contract, they are trying to use their big business approach to bring efficiency and order to this program. I've already spoken about the $4 food allowance per head per day. There are also mandatory all hands sessions, weekly safety meetings, and managers have little time to manage as they are always in meetings that have no relevance to them whatsoever.
Of course RPS' attempts to instill some discipline into us contractors runs counter to our way of thinking. We aren't the sort of people to have our hands tied with bureaucracies and mandatory meetings. By and large, most everyone comes from the western states of Montana, Colorado, and Alaska. These folks have only worked in small firms where you were expected to perform a job on your own and have little oversight or interference with how you go about doing it. And people are starting to complain: safety meetings are a total waste of time and are intended to satisfy the lawyers more than anything else; we're grossly underpaid; bonus plans cut back; winter over perks significantly diminished; HR not up to speed on important issues such as benefits, etc. I dare say many of the people down this year won't be back for a second year and creating a situation like we have in the power plant: no replacement for the departing electrician. Word gets around in employment circles...
This will be an interesting set of dynamics to follow.
And what I can I say about Ella? Well, let's just say that its tougher than I imagined to be without her.
As soon as she returns from Poland and gets an ISP, we can start instant messaging in lieu of exchanging emails 3-4 times per day during her working hours. Maybe then I'll be in better spirits.
What else happened today?
I tracked down a power chord for the monitor that Kirk gave me. It works and I now have a dual monitor set-up for my laptop. The nVidia graphics card in the Toshiba supports both the display and the 15"er without any difficulties.
I also stopped by the NASA office and spoke with someone about what they do. Nick, a contractor with Honeywell, told me that they track every satellite with a polar orbit and sometimes provide an uplink/downlink for information. He also told me about the 10 meter dish that's on top of the hill overlooking McMurdo. If I drop back by in a few weeks when things are less hectic, I could probably get a tour. This is a must see and I'll be sure to follow up on it.
Lastly, I encountered a guy in my dorm with also has a DVD player in his laptop and he brought about 50 DVDs with him. But most importantly, he has connections and got his hands on a remote for the big screen TV in the lounge. Now, whenever I want to see a DVD, I can just get the remote from him (and a choice movie as well), connect my laptop, and away I go. Sweet.
Saturday November 10, 2001
Back to work today. But since it's only a two day work rotation followed by three off, it should go by quickly.
I woke up and found that it had snowed a couple of inches last night. It's been doing that off and on for the past few days. But it still comes as a surprise to me since Antarctica is technically a desert. It gets very little precipitation and the humidity hovers in the 40 percent range (or so I'm told), making it the driest continent on the planet. About the only time that we get a fresh accumulation of snow is during the summer months when it's warm. The rest of the time what snow we see is just powder that gets caught up in a windstorm and blows around.
Snow can be problem for the power plant. We have radiators outside that cool the diesels. When then melting snowing drips off the radiators it flows onto the fans and forms ice. If this ice gets thick enough, it can cause the fans to bog down and quit working. This would be bad as it may cause a diesel to trip off line due to high temperatures and cause a black out.
Speaking of work, I sometimes regret that I'm not able to work in some of the field camps. Those hardy souls are perhaps the only true lords of the continent. Whereas I work in a relatively warm environment baby sitting Caterpillar engines, they are out experiencing the elements. I have a nice room with lots of amenities to go home to. In the field, they stay in tents and some times sleep in shifts because there's no room for everyone to sleep at once. I suppose that it's just some residual romanticism making me want to go out there, but at the end of the day I'm probably better off here in town.
I've begun to notice a change in my journal entries over the past few days. Instead of concentrating on documenting the events, I'm beginning to describe my reactions to them. Is this a good thing? I don't want to bore my readers with subjective impressions, but at the same time I feel better after getting them out. Perhaps I can accomplish both.
Details for today: work, eat, sleep. Played some pool...getting better, if I must say so. One game, I sunk 5 balls consecutively including two banked shots. I still won't advance in any tournaments or anything, but I'm not embarrassing myself in the lounge anymore. Oh yeah, spent over 2 hours piecing together my last journal entry for yesterday. It still reads like crap.
Sunday November 11, 2001
Did the work thing again and had a harebrained idea. If I download demo replacement software for stuff that I'm waiting to have sent, then I can upgrade to Windows XP in the meantime. So, I went to it. I downloaded generic CD-RW software, Macromedia Dreamweaver (to stand in for FrontPage), a trial version of Win DVD, and found some miscellaneous drivers in the event that Win XP didn't have them preloaded. Downloading the software that I anticipated that I would need took most of the day, so it was a fairly quick shift. It went quicker by chatting with my mom and trying to unsuccessfully phone Ella.
Now why would installing an operating system be the focus of a day's journal entries? Well, after work it would consume the next 8 hours. I spent from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM installing, reinstalling, reinstalling, and installing once more. It all comes down to the simple things. Boot from the CD and everything will be fine. Instead, I complicated matters by installing through the existing Windows Me OS and then trying to install from the freshly created Win XP boot disk. Nothing doing. I still retained the 10 gigabytes of junk that I had previously backed up and had wanted to overwrite and then reinstall with the new operating system. To do otherwise would have been nothing more than an upgrade, and Microsoft hasn't demonstrated enough reliability to convince me that a direct upgrade is the wise thing to do. Reformat and reinstall is therefore the only safe way to go.
But to make a long story short, I set my laptop to boot the MSDN (Microsoft Developer's Network) disk. Lo and behold, it did. I never knew that they were bootable. Viola! One hour later, Windows XP was installed and I was in bed by two. Good thing I didn't have to work on Monday...well, not at the power plant, anyway.
Monday November 12, 2001
I didn't wake up until 9:00. But I couldn't afford to sleep in as I had an obiligation to help Jimmie with a new engine that he's building to replace one at the power plant. Engine #4 is one its last leg and he's building a new one from the block up. And building a 5ton V16 diesel engine is a job that can't be done alone.
Anyway, I got dressed and made it to the heavy shop by 9:30. Most of the morning was devoted to cleaning the block and main bearing caps. It was interesting as I had never helped rebuild an engine, let alone something to this scale: the block alone weighs 3,800 pounds.
But after checking some bearing clearances it was off to lunch, where I noticed, or rather tasted, something peculiar. The food was being served in more varities and it tasted better. Actually, I had suspected that something was different for a few days, but this was the first time that I actually realized it.
Word had gotten out that the head chef had gotten fired. I don't know the details and I'm not a liberty to speculate, but he was put on a plane Saturday for some reason and the food has been better and more plentiful since. I'm not complaining. Perhaps the people in Denver have realized that $4/day in food costs isn't the way to build morale. Let's hope so.
In the afternoon I went back to the heavy shop to help install and check the rod bearings on some 80 pound pistons and connecting rods. Once that was done, it was time to check the clearance between the block and cylinder sleeves that we would be installing (this block is not solid as a normal car engine, instead sleeves are installed to seperate pistons and combustion chambers from each other). We found a problem with 3 of the bores. They were too narrow for the cylinder sleeves and the sleeve would not slip into place. This wasn't anticipated and brought work to a halt for the day. Since machining would probably be required, it would be best to see what our options were by running things past Jordan and a machinist. Given that the clearances for all of the components is so tight (on the order of a few thousanths of an inch) despite being so large, it was better to be cautious than risk damaging anything by forcing them into place.
After dinner is was over to MMI to test the new XP install by connecting to the internet, configuring Outlook, and downloading patches and software that I hadn't got the day before. All went well.
It was good to be back in MMI with the people that I had spent some time with in Chch. All of us had came in on the same plane and moved into that dorm together. But since I had moved a few weeks into my stay, I didn't get to see them as much as I had wanted to. And the sense of community that the stay in Chch fostered is still evident. It seems as though they are all part of an extended family and happy to sit in the lounge and talk. In my dorm, people rarely sit in the lounge in groups and often leave when someone else comes in. People where I live, by and large, don't know each other well as they came in at various times and never had the chance to aquaint themselves with one another. It's a shame, but the situation is much like it is back home...you never get to know your neighbors. Perhaps Raytheon could create better the work environment here by letting workers spend more time in Chch getting to know each other and then trying to place them all in the same building. Once you start working, there isn't really many opportunities to meet new people and the ones that you end up spending your free time with are those from your job...just like home, too.
Tuesday November 13, 2001
I spent the morning in the heavy shop helping Jimmie, but there wasn't whole lot given that several of the cylinder sleeves weren't going to slide in. But he made the command decision to have the machinists trim off a few thousandths of an inch. Since this wasn't going to happen anytime today, I thought that I would be my leave and leave town for a bit.
So, after lunch I took a shuttle bus to the ice runway a few miles away in the hopes of grabbing a few pictures. But on the way out I could tell that luck probably wasn't going to be on my side. It was too windy and all flights in and out had been canceled. Exploring the encampment out there would still be a good way to kill and afternoon, so I got off the van when it stopped in "Icetown" as it's called.
It was obvious the instant that I stepped off the van why the runway was closed. The winds were blowing at a constant 30 knots and gusted up to 50, I later learned. But it created near white out conditions at times and was strong enough to keep me off balance. Being in a hurry to get out of the wind and find out a little more about the place, I snapped a picture or two and made my way to the portable control tower at one end of town.
The ATC (air traffic control) tower is an interesting feature that, like all of the buildings out there, on sleds. It is a temporary camp that is hauled out onto McMurdo sound in August and then to the Ross Ice Shelf in December when the Ross Sea starts to melt. This is ensure that we have a runway year round in the event that it's needed. The runway at Icetown is the only one on the continent where C141s and the newer C17 transport planes can land. This is due to the fact that is essentially a runway carved into the ice so that these wheeled planes and taxi and behave much in the same way that they would on a normal runway. Everywhere else in Antarctica, including William's Field on the Ice Shelf, is open only to ski equipped the C130 Hercules, or LC130s.
I made my way into the ATC and to the top into the control room. Since there was nothing going on, they were happy to answer my questions and tell me a little bit about what they did and about the "portable airport." As I said above, the entire town is towed from place to place several times a year: generators, maintenance shacks, galley, and offices. Everything is attached to bulldozers, Snow Cats, and other heavy haulers and simply dragged the few miles onto the Ross Ice Shelf. The impressive thing is that it can moved and rewired in under two days if nothing goes awry. A small town pulled up and relocated in just a weekend...incredible. But I didn't intrude into their space any longer than I had to. Once I had their permission to roam around the camp, I took my leave and started making my way to the other end of town to the office where the NY Air National Guard staff hangs out.
On the way, I took some more pictures and stopped by the galley to see what it was all about and warmed my camera up. It was so cold that the LCD screen had quit working. Not wanting to jeopardize my camera, I spent a few minutes eating some pretzels and talking to the cook while my camera was warming up. The galley on the runway is open 24/7 and unlike our galley here in Mactown, there is always snack foods laying around. After a few minutes, I put my parka back on and prepared to be buffeted by the winds.
When I say office, I mean oversized cargo container. Each being roughly 10 feet wide by 30 feet long. But they are insulated, have heaters, and electrical power. The galley is the exception, being 4 of these "Milvans" seamlessly connected to create one large building. It too is on skis.
Anyway, the military guys had nothing to do as the weather warranted that no flights depart that day. However, I convinced one sergeant, Mike, to take me out to the flightline and take a gander at one of the LC130s. And I'm really grateful that he did. Climbing around a C-130 is an experience that will probably stick with me for a long time. They are amazing, yet underrated pieces of military hardware. They can land in almost any environment, lift an impressive amount of cargo, and do it again and again as they are almost indestructible. These "Hercs", as their affectionately called, are still mission capable despite some of them being in service for almost 40 years. They won't be retired anytime in the near future, only continually upgraded.
These C130s are different from the most in that they are ski equipped. They have a hydraulic system that can force a set of skis to be positioned beneath the landing gear for ice operations. They can also be left up and only the wheels used so that they can land on a normal runway as well. Mike was telling me that they have a very rugged suspension that enables the plane to land on a very rough runway. Combine that with the skis and they can land on almost any glacier here provided that it's reasonably level and isn't saturated with crevasses.
Mike was incredibly proud of the plane and of the NYAG's mission here. They are providing a valuable service transporting us around the continent and ensuring that we have fresh food, and most importantly, mail. But he took me aboard a plane and showed me around the cockpit and the cargo bay. And although the cargo bay and carrying capacity of the Herc aren't as large as the C141 that brought us here, their ability to operate in more hostile environments gives the 5 stars in my book. But Mike showed me around for over a half and hour and even took a few pictures of me in front of the plane. To top it off, he gave me a lift back to the shuttle van stop when the next bus arrived. I need to buy him a beer if I catch him around...
It was about dinner time when I returned to McMurdo, so I made my way to the galley. Afterwards it was over to MMI to chat. Over the course of the evening, I read the latest copy of the Antarctic Sun. One article mentioned that this year the ice extended out 70 miles from Ross Island and is over 9 feet thick. So thick, in fact, that there NSF has commissioned two Coast Guard icebreakers to come down and clear a channel into McMurdo so that we can be resupplied in January. This is the first time that the two breakers have worked together in ten years.
The reason that the ice is so thick and extends so far is that there is a gigantic iceberg, B-15, that is lodged between the eastern side of Ross Island and the continent. B-15 is roughly the size of Delaware and is the largest iceberg ever recorded. It broke loose from the Ross Ice Shelf last year and floated around the Ross Sea. However, it got lodged and didn't move this year. As a result, the normal currents in the Ross Sea aren't flowing creating a backlog of ice that keeps accumulating. Rumor has it that if the resupply ships can't make it, they will have to close the base down early this year. We normally try to keep two years of fuel on hand for such occasions, but I don't think that it has every been tested. We may be in for a first...
Wednesday November 14, 2001
I made it to the heavy shop just after nine. Jimmie was already there cleaning up some of the pistons and what not. If all went well, we'd have the crank, main bearings, cam bearings and cam shaft in by the end of the day. The sleeves weren't yet machined so putting in the pistons and rods would have to wait for another day.
By and large, we spent most of the day waiting for our work bay to be cleared out. Since we were sharing a bay in the heavy shop, we needed to be courteous and let them have priority when it came to fixing vehicles (they maintain a fleet of several hundred wheeled vehicles). But we had the block washed down by lunch.
When we came back we did some more waiting and finally got to put in the cam bearings. But we were missing a proper sized cam bearing puller. So, I drove down to the power plant to pick up ours. I hadn't driven in over a month and was excited to get behind the wheel of the monster sized Ford pick-ups that we have. I almost wanted to cruise around the station all day. Instead, I took the cam tools back to the heavy shop and we put the cam bearings in with no problem.
Next cam the 9 ft long cam shaft. It wieghed well in excess of 100 pounds and Jimmie and I had to be quite careful about manipulating it around the heavy shop until we got it into the block. It fit like a glove. After that, we used a monster sized garage crane to put the 1200 pound crankshaft into the block and bolted on the 8 bearing caps.
Finally, we flipped the almost assembled engine over to make it ready for the sleeves and pistons. With any luck, Jimmie would get the three sleeves back from the machinists and have it ready to transport to the power plant by the end of the week.
After dinner, I didn't bother going to MMI as I had been doing. Since I'd be returning to the power plant to work Thursday, I could check my email and such then. I did get around to getting some of the runway pictures ready to upload and worked on my journal. I was tempted to make some of the html pages for the site, but Dreamweaver looked a little intimidating. I didn't really have the energy to sort through the menus to figure out what to do. Instead I just made my journal entries using Notepad and saved it as html. Probably the long way to do an easy task, but at least I know how to do it and won't risk spending half the night undoing erroneous formatting changes and such because I don't know Dreamweaver.
I went to sleep knowing that Ella would be traveling to Poland Thursday, her time, and wondered what I would do for 2 and 1/2 weeks with my best friend out of immediate reach. I could always try to reach her at her parents' house, assuming that she was there, but it is an extra hurdle that I'll need to cross. Although I won't don't like the idea of having her just a phone call away, it will be good for her to get out and spend time with friends and family while I'm away. So she'll get some time to relax and have fun. And in a larger sense, when she's happy I can be happy.
Thursday November 15, 2001
I had a rough time waking up this morning. After sleeping in for 3 days it was kind of tough to get up at 5:00. But I found some a surprise waiting for me in the galley: Cocoa Puffs. I found it slightly amusing that we had name brand chocolately breakfast cereal here in Antarctica, but I was glad to help myself to two bowls. Not quite the breakfast of champions, but good for the soul when you're looking for something close to the outside world.
Not much happened at work, so I was able to get a call off to Ella. We spent a half hour on the phone talking about small things and how the diminishing homeowner's to do list kept shrinking. Along with the dimenishing list came a shrinking checking account balance. Locksmiths, plumbers, condo community charges...when does it end? On the balance things were good and she was packing up getting ready to leave for Poland the next day (Thursday for her). So, we said our goodbyes and she will try to email when she can and I will try to reach her at her mother's house in a few days.
My mom and sister logged into chat with me and tried to make me feel better about her leaving, which I appreciated. And I hadn't chatted with my sister in a week or so, so it was nice. I'll try to call them this weekend.
I managed to get the webcam up and running again and played around some with Dreamweaver. It's not as tough as I initially expected so I would spent the evening making pages for the pictures section. It took about 3 hours to create 14 pages. Effecient web designer I'm not. Of course it could also be reated to the copy of Office Space that my roommate John had borrowed. I had seen it several times but enjoyed it again, nonetheless. Since prior to coming here I worked in an office cubicle, I can relate to the Dilbert like sketches.
We're not a month into the work year and a little animosity is starting to show up in the department. People are beginning to make known their likes and dislikes about people we work with. It's nothing serious, but it can only get worse. I suppose that I was being naive when I wrote that I hoped it wouldn't happen.
Friday November 16, 2001
Second day into my rotation. Woke up, got dressed, had breakfast, and went to the power plant.
Ella would be traveling today, so I can rule out any emails from her. But my mom and sister logged into messenger for a bit. And since the billing address to my credit card had yet to get changed, I thought that I would contact the credit union to have that done. When I explained to the credit card rep about my situation, I got a few seconds of silence on the other end. Then she asked me to repeat where I was. I suppose that she didn't believe me the first time.
Although it was normal bank policy to require a written notification of an address change, she told me that I could do it via fax as long as I explained my situation and signed it given my unique situation. Cool. After that, I spent the rest of the shift looking through Amazon.com's DVD section and at a few games. I added the new Civilization 3 game and the movies Momento and Full Metal Jacket to my cart. I also opted for the new Rush DVD, Chronicles. With luck, I'd be able go through with the order as soon as the change of address was processed, hopefully on Saturday my time.
After work it was dinner and back to the room. I showered and then started working on my journal. I was able to get the previous two days hacked out amist chatting with John about this and that: backgrounds, family, and the like. He offered a beer and I accepted. It was only polite to lounge around and shoot the breeze. And it was cool as we usually don't spend a lot of time in the room together. He has an active social life and I tend to play with my laptop.
It's pretty obvious that I don't keep my journal updated everyday. Some days I don't feel like doing anything except laying around watching TV or chatting in the galley for a while. But I usually don't get more than 3 days behind and am able to catch up during my days off. This week was a bit odd in that I really didn't have entire days off due to the engine rebuild. But I was able to avoid getting so far behind that I forgot what I did.
Saturday November 17, 2001
Final day on during this rotation and the only thing noteworthy about work is the fact that we took an engine offline for an oil change and brought another one, number five, online in its place. I don't particularly care for this one as it tends to run a little hot. Under high load conditions, it will even set off a high temperature alarm. So more baby sitting is required and I have to always keep an an eye out for a surge in power demand.
But I was able to take a indulge in a little relaxing as my credit card address change went through and I was able to complete the order for the DVDs. While I was on a shopping spree, I also bought a license for the latest version of Win DVD. My OEM copy was an older version that wouldn't run on Windows XP, so I had to shell out $50 for the upgrade. So much for saving money while here...
To kill time for the rest of the shift I investigated the possibility of getting my private pilot's license when I got back to CT. It's probably just a passing hare brained idea, but it will be something to think about and maybe even give more consideration to as the next year goes on.
I ate dinner with Sherry, Dave and Doug, two guys that I had met in Chch.. Doug had just spent 2 weeks at Byrd Surface Camp some 800 miles northeast. It is a small seasonal ice camp where scientists conduct field research. He got caught up in an intense storm that lasted for 3 days and destroyed 5 of their 7 tents. Had it not been for a permanent hangar-like structure called a Jamesway, they would have been in serious trouble. But they were able to all cram into the Jamesway and sleep in shifts until the weather cleared and a C130 could fly in to pick them up. Classic field camp story. But we sat around until 7:30 or so, well after the galley had closed for dinner.
Dinner conversations are something that I find passes a lot of time here, or at least they do for me. At home, I would eat quickly and get back to doing whatever. Here, though, I actually take my time and chat with the person/people that I'm sitting with. For that matter, almost everything I do here is in slow motion. Have I already subconciously begun to meter myself in an attempt to keep occupied? Regardless, I could never get away with working and living at such a pace in CT. It'll be another thing to readjust to when I get back to the world.
It also occurred to me that it might be time to shave. I'm getting food caught in my beard and the only way that I can drink something without getting it wet is by sipping from a bottle. I'll stop by the barber/hair stylist on Monday to see if she can either trim it or shave it off. I'm too cheap to buy a razor from the store.
Sunday November 18, 2001
I didn't have to help Jimmie today because it was his day off, so I was able to sleep in until 9:00 or so. John and I got up about the same time and chatted until the galley opened at 10:00.
On Sundays, the galley doesn't serve breakfast as it does during the week, but they do offer brunch from 10 to 12. Provided that you have Sunday off, it's a good deal. But half the time, I'm working and swing by at just after 5:00 AM to grab a bowl of cold cereal and juice. Otherwise, It's the most anticipated meal of the week and there's usually a line waiting outside for them to open up. Sure enough, it was no different this day. But since everyone else was beelined to the waffle and egg line, I was able to scoot on through the buffet line, grab some pancakes and be on my way to a table.
The fire department was having an open house, so I dropped by there just after noon. I took a few pictures, but nothing much for me to see that I hadn't dealt with in the Navy. Just as every Marine is a rifleman in the USMC, every sailor is a firefighter for the USN. Not to not show the fire crew here any disrespect, but it's difficult to get excited about something that I'd spent so much time with before. I would have put some pictures up that I took, but the reflective tape on their gear had a neon hue to it because of the flash. So, all that's postable is a picture taken outside of the station and the base's 3 fire trucks.
The Crary Lab gives tours every Sunday at 2:00. So I spent a few minutes checking my email and ensuring that the message board wasn't vandalized then it was off to take a tour. After all, our main reason for being here is to support the National Science Foundation, not to galavant around the continent with no strings attached. It's easy to lose sight of the big picture when I spend my working hours monitoring gauges and trying to discern the slightest unusual sound coming from the diesels.
The lab houses most of the science being conducted here and contains several small aquariums, a LIDAR laser for atmospheric research, and some seismometers to measure volcanic activity on Mt. Erebus. The tour lasted for the better part of an hour, and me being the difficult sort to impress, and I only a few pictures. Mostly of the fish and sea critters. What I really want to do, though, is come back and meet the NASA folks and take a tour of the satellite tracking facility. Maybe I'll get around to doing that this week.
On the tour, I bumped into the Air National Guard's flight surgeon. I figured that I would ask about the possibility of getting an FAA physical while I was here. They are good for 3 years and would save me a great deal of money later if I wanted to go through with the pilot's license. He politely declined to perform the physical, though. Although he gave me no exact reason as to why, I assume that the FAA sets guidelines as to where the physical must be performed or something. It surely isn't a matter of cost, as basic medical procedures can be performed at no charge to me. I also don't think that it's due to a lack of supplies or to limitations of the equipment that we have here. The NY Air Guard only spend a few weeks here, so when the next crew rotates in I'll hit up the next flight surgeon...and so on and so on until I get a solid answer as to why not.
After dinner I spent most of the evening working on the site. I had about 25 pictures to upload as well as create pages for each one, so I was pretty busy. Even though I have a template that I use, I still have to write the captions as well as edit the html to include the Java pop-up scripts. If it wasn't for the ever increasing web traffic, albeit modest, I would probably take a break from it for a while. I must be spending 10-15 hours weekly on it lately. But emails keep coming from people who want to see more and appreciate what I'm doing. So I can't let down my "fans."
I tried to call Ella at 9:00 and was able to get through. It was 9:00 AM in Poland and Ella's mother, Maria, picked up. As best as I could understand her in my limited Polish, Ella was still in bed as she had not yet adjusted to the time change and mamusia (as I call her) didn't want to wake her. But after 5 minutes of my hinting, she relented and woke her up for me. Ella was doing well and enjoying her visit. But sadly, there was a death in the family recently and her aunt and nieces were still mourning. I told Ella to do anything that she felt necessary for them, including giving them some money to help them out.
I had met Ella's uncle, the man who passed on, several years ago while visiting Ella's village. We went to his house for dinner and he pulled out all the stops to ensure that his American guest was well feed and that Ella and I had a good time. This was no small expense for them to host a dinner party of that magnitude. I understand that he and his family were very happy to throw such a party for a relative and her American husband, but it still cost them half of his monthly pension by my estimate. As far as I understood, his was the only significant income for the family. His daughters had married, divorced, and returned home. And although they were both school teachers, they did not make a lot of money at their jobs. So, I made it a point to tell Ella to give them money if she saw fit. It's the only way I can think of return the honor that they bestowed upon me as well as offset any financial loss.
Ella informed me that both her parents and her brother had received the post cards that I had sent them. That was good considering that Polish mail isn't the most reliable institution in the world. And more than once, packages that Ella and I had sent arrive opened. Nothing was missing, but it seemed as if someone had been curious enough to open the package up and take a look inside. But now that I know that the my Polish script is legible, I may chance sending some Christmas presents to them.
It was after 9:30 when I got back to my room and I resumed working on the site. I kept at it until 11:00 or so and then called it a day.
Monday November 19, 2001
Came to the power plant at 8:00 to help Jimmie but he hadn't arrived yet. He was at the heavy shop wrapping up the newly assembled block and preparing it for transport to the power plant. So, I helped myself to his network connection. Since he has a window looking out to the Ross Sea, I was able to set the web cam up to finally get pictures of Antarctica. Since I don't generally have access to network connections near windows, I've not been able to have the web cam upload pictures of outside, so I hope that the visitors got to see some of the Ice.
While I was waiting for Jimmie, I mentioned that I would like to discuss the opportunity to get to the Pole for a few minutes if a space available flight ever became open. After all, I've traveled this far and I'm only 725 miles away. And since I've been to one end of the world, it would be a shame to not make it to the other. Surprisingly, Jordan said that he would investigate the matter and send an email to the director's staff in the Chalet to see what he could do. But given that fuel and food are in need at Admundsen-Scott and that C130s are flying there with a full load each trip they make, it would be unlikely that it would happen. It's worth a try anyway...
When he came in later in the morning, we commenced tearing apart the old engine. By lunch time, we had the exhaust and the turbochargers removed as well as a few other pieces. Jimmie wants to start at the top and work our way down, which makes sense.
I took an hour and 1/2 off for lunch and to get my hair cut. We have a beautician here for the entire year and there is no charge for us to get our hair taken care of. In my case, she also took off the beard. It had been getting irksome and I really didn't mind parting with it. I figure that I'll let it grow until it gets annoying and have her cut it off with her hair clippers. That way I'm not out any money for razors, no time lost by shaving, and have a warm face until I get tired of it. And it only costs me a few dollars in tips.
After my appointment at the salon it was back to the plant to help Jimmie some more. After busting a few knuckles and getting a few additional cuts, we had most of the top of the engine off, including valve covers and rocker arms. It would take a the installation of heavy lifting gear and the removal of the generator at the end before we could get the rest of the engine apart, so we call it quits in time to get to dinner. But first, I stopped by the clinic to weigh myself and found that my weight hadn't changed any, which is good. No problems to worry about there.
Not much going in the evening...obligatory movie on AFN and working on the journal. Helped John copy some images from his camera to CD using my laptop's burner. At least someone is getting some use from it. I also played some Windows Solitaire and played an Elvis MP3..."Kentucky Rain". Dunno if that was out of a subconscious desire to see rain or what, but it was eating at me all evening until I relented.
I also installed Halflife: Blue Shift on my laptop. I had problems getting it to load and when it finally did, I was a bit disappointed. No matter how I altered the graphics and sound options, it didn't come close to being the kind of game that Max Payne was. Oh well, I should have saved MP for later and played Halflife first.
Tuesday November 20, 2001
Interesting day at work, to say the least.
Jordan got back to me about the trip to the Pole. The NSF forbids people from traveling to the Pole unless it's essential. Currently, the only way to get to Admunsen-Scott Station is to either get a job there (not going to happen this year) or make friends with the NY Guard and get them to give me a lift. The latter option will cost me my job. I was a bit disappointed at first, but then it occurred to me that at least I'm on the continent. Most people can't even say that. And I've also been to one end of the world, and the South Pole will be the same flat, featureless topography. Poor rationalization, I suppose, but better than being bitter the rest of my time here. If I stick with the program long enough I may get to make it down eventually.
At about 2:00 or so the smoke alarm went off in Jordan's office. Jimmie and I investigated, but he had locked his door and we didn't have a key. We didn't smell burning or see any smoke coming from around the door's edge. But to be on the safe side, I called the fire department and informed them of the situation. I told them (after dissuading the operator from putting me on hold) that there was no need for sirens as we didn't believe there to be a fire, but thought that it should be investigated nonetheless. Just after the call, Jimmy and I went outside the building to peer into Jordan's office window too look for anything suspicious, but again nothing.
About 3 minutes later the fire department was on the scene in full gear with air tanks and masks at the ready. I reiterated that the smoke alarm was going off, there was no sign of fire, and that we didn't have the key to open the door. So, two or three of them came into the plant and appeared to have it in mind to break down the door. I reiterated that there didn't seem to be any signs of fire and that it would perhaps be best to use their master key to open the door instead of being overly "proactive." I was trying to save Jordan's door, after all.
They had an incredibly large key ring. And it took them almost 15 minutes to go through them all and at the end they still they had no luck. In the meantime, I paged Jordan (who was helping with a gen-set at the Williams Field runway on the Ross Ice Shelf about 1/2 hour away). But by the time Jordan got back to me over CB radio, someone had pried the window loose and climbed in that way. No sooner than the door was open did someone who come in to disconnect the alarming old smoke detector and replace it with a new one. Problem solved.
The fire department probably don't get many opportunities to respond to anything but drills, and they were probably stoked to actually fight a fire for a change. So I felt a bit bad about letting them down. But going forward I think that we need to have a key to his office laying around just in case something like this arises in the future. We can investigate a problem ourselves before we escalate it to the emergency response level.
I checked online for mail list of packages that I heard had arrived and found my name. It had been almost 2 weeks since we had mail here and we were due for a massive shipment. The mail works like that (which is a bonus compared to the sub, where we received none while we were deployed). You can go for weeks with nothing and then a plane comes in with literally tons of it. Of course, the Air Force guys are heroes and the postal workers can do no wrong on these days. Anyway, I picked my package up after dinner and found it to be the copy of FrontPage that I had asked Ella to send to me earlier. She also included several sticks of licorice...a most excellent surprise. Now if I only get the other dozen or so packages that I'm expecting, I might have a comfortable year.
Everything kind of went downhill after that. I even forgot about the Pole affair. Got off work, came home, saw Predator 2 on the TV, installed FrontPage, removed Dreamweaver (nifty application, but too much functionality for my limited needs) caught up on my journal, and called it a night. One more day of work and then I have a 3 day. Of course I'll be helping Jimmie during that time, but it's still nice to think that I would have had 3 days if I wanted to take them.
Wednesday November 21, 2001
Helped Jimmie change the turbochargers on engine #5. It had been running too hot for years and had gotten to the point to where the turbos had started to glow cherry red when more than 600 kilowatts was placed on it.
Since the right turbo was the one that was the hottest and the cylinder temperatures on that side were in excess of 1300 degrees, we changed that one thinking that it would solve the problem. But when we fired it up, it was no time before it was glowing red again. Given that the turbochargers feed on each other, Jordan decided that Jimmie should replace the left one as well. Which we did. Fired it up and it ran much, much cooler. I'm surprised that the previous year's mechanic didn't correct the situation instead of turning it over. It only took half the day to replace both. But I learned something from it, anyway.
After work Jimmie and John convinced me to go to the burger bar to spend my last $7 on a burger and beer. Since I hadn't had any in a while, I thought that I could drink one. Most impressive, though, is the fact that it took me almost 2 months to spend the $300 that I left home with. And most of the money that I spent was on presents to sent home. Monetary discipline is one of the things that I'm hoping to teach myself while I'm down here. If I can keep it up for the rest of the year I might have a little pile o'cash to return to.
Thursday November 22, 2001
Thanksgiving Day for the normal world, but not here. Nothing can interfere with the short work season, so our festivities won't be held until Saturday. Good for me that it was my regularly scheduled day off...
Woke up at about 8:00 and laid around until John woke up a short while later. Since we were both off work, I thought that it would be good to walk over to Hut Point and take a look at Scott's Discovery Hut that he built in 1902 for one of his early expeditions. It's only a 10 minute walk from our dorm, but we had both been procrastinating about getting over there. But since the light looked favorable, it would be a good chance to finally go over and take a few pictures.
John went to breakfast while I spent about 15 minutes trying to reach Ella on the phone. She must have been talking to someone on her end as I only got a busy signal. Eventually, though, I managed to get through and we spent about 10 minutes catching up. All is well there and she's preparing to see some friends in Opole. She'll be gone for a few days but I might be able to reach her early next week if I need to.
We walked over to the NSF office in the Chalet to grab the key and had to get a quick brief. The gist centered around the fact that this was a protected historical site and that we couldn't take anything nor damage the items there. We also couldn't handle any objects and were to minimize the time that we spent in the hut. We learned that only 2,000 people per year were allowed in the hut. This included the Kiwis, Americans, and tourists who come by boat later in the year.
With the lecture over, we walked back to our dorm where I bundled up in some warmer clothes to make myself look more "heroic" in any photos. It turns out that this wasn't such a bad idea. When we reached Hut Point the wind was blowing much more than we had anticipated, probably making the temperature with wind chill at about -20 F. I wasn't able to take more than one or two pictures with a bare hand before I had to put the camera up and put my mittens back on.
The environment can be misleading like that. All is clear, the sky is blue, the sun in bright., and the temperature is a balmy 15-20 degrees (after you become acclimated, this is actually considered "warm"). But walk over a bluff out of our sheltered grotto and the wind will cut you to shreds. Had I not put on some ECW and my down parka that I brought from home, it would have been a dangerous trip. And it was only 10 minutes away from base.
I was glad to get inside the Discovery Hut and out of the wind. At first glance, though, I was a bit disappointed. After seeing Scott's Cape Evans quarters, this place was cramped, poorly laid out, and hardly had any provisions. Even Scott's crew in 1902 referred to it as the "Royal Terror Theatre". It was too difficult to heat so the men stayed aboard ship and used it as an entertainment center, among other things. But it served as a important forward base and stopover point on later expeditions to provide members with some shelter while sledging supplies to the Ross Ice Shelf from Cape Evans.
There wasn't much in the hut aside from a few crates of provisions, mummified sheep carcasses on the walls, and some leftover dinner in a pot that I assumed to be beef stew. There were also some clothes with signs of obvious repair and an open, brick lined fire pit that looked to be the only source of heat in the place. It had a cold and cramped feel to it and I can't imagine men staying in it for any length of time. Also, the odor of soot and decaying meat was in the air so I was glad to take a few pictures of it, sign the guest book, and go back outside into the fresh air.
John and I then climbed a nearby hill to Vince's Cross, a memorial to one of Scott's 1902 Discovery expedition who fell from an ice cliff to his death. Again, we grabbed a few pictures, but the wind prevented us from taking too many. The wind was much stronger on this exposed hill and it found a way between my mitten and parka sleeve to start making my metal watch extremely cold. On the way back to the dorm, it started burning I thought that it would freeze to my skin had I spent any longer out there.
Since John didn't bring anything to cover his face, I made him turn and look at me on the walk back to the dorm. I wanted to be sure that his nose or cheeks didn't become frostbitten. They were nice and red, but thankfully nothing more than that. But as I said before, had we both walked down there in just "town clothes" we could have gotten ourselves into more than a little bit of trouble.
It was lunch time when we made it back. And after we got out of our ECW and warmed up, it was time to grab something to eat. After lunch, I stopped by the store to see if they had anything new to send home. They did have a few things and I charged about $90 worth of stuff to give my wife for Xmas as well as see to it that I had a good stash of McMurdo T-shirts when I returned home. It's always good to have more than one of the darned things. After all, if you only had one and it got eaten by the dryer monster, how would you get another?
After my shopping excursion, I stopped by the ATM for the first time to take some money out. I planned on going to the Kiwi base later in the evening and needed the cash. I looked at the receipt and saw "Antarctica" in the location field. I'm still having a hard time convincing myself that I'm here, let alone the fact that I can take money out of an ATM machine as well...
I dropped the stuff off at my room and went down to the power plant to see if Jimmie needed any help. Aside from taking a few head bolts out, there was nothing for me to do, so I surfed the web and checked email until dinner. I also managed to get a call out to my mom to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get an open circuit on Friday as everyone here would be trying call their family back home then.
I took the 7:00 shuttle over to Scott Base to see if they had anything new in their store. Since they didn't, I went to their bar for a Guiness and played a few rounds of pool, which is different from the American game. Most noticeably, the balls and table are smaller. Also, the edges are softer and the slate is faster making it more of a finesse game than the power game that I'm used to. It goes without saying that the Kiwis owned me and sent me packing after a few games.
So, I came back to McMurdo on an early shuttle and played a few games of pool on our table in the lounge just to restore some confidence in myself.
Note to self: don't play darts with a Brit and never think that you can teach a Kiwi how to play pool on their table...
Friday November 23, 2001
I headed to the power plant earlier than normal and found there wasn't much going on with the disassembly process. We have to wait until Jordan has the time to disconnect the generator from the engine. So, I checked my email. On a whim, I also checked the package list on the intranet and found that I had something. Two packages in one week...muy excellente.
While waiting for the package office to open up at noon, I shot the breeze with Jordan and got a better understanding of his background. Our semi-philosophical discussion also created a few epiphanies for me about the lifestyle here as well as what might lay in store for me.
Jordan has spent most of his life traveling to various parts of the world doing interesting things. He worked in Venezuela for a few years on an oil rig, served in the Israeli Defense Force for a year, worked as a diesel mechanic and electrician at all three of the American Antarctic stations, and spends his off years traveling around southern Asia and Australia. Given his experience outside the US, he's adopted a lifestyle that is quite out of step with what I'm acquainted with from living on the east coast.
Whereas I'm used to an incredibly fast paced work schedule from my jobs in NY area, Jordan seems to take things in stride. He understands that unless it is extremely urgent, then things can usually wait until manana. His rationale is that we, as Americans, have let our jobs dictate our lives. Not only does it affect how we work but it interferes with our home life as well.
Living and working on "Antarctic time" is what everyone needs in order to get back in touch with the important things. After all, we have a year in which to do things. I can't imagine now how upsetting it was to not be able to find a parking spot close to the mall entrance. I used to be too uptight about such things. This and other everyday sources of stress seem so trivial now. All I need are my wife and a few minutes a day with my laptop and I have everything I need. Aside from getting a few alarms at the power plant, the only worries in my day to day life is making sure that I'm not beneath one of the ever increasing number of skua birds. Of course I'm concerned about Ella, but if she were here things would be about close to perfect as they can get in many senses of the word.
Spending a year living this lifestyle will definitely make it difficult for me to to become readjusted to the world I came from. But who says that I have to go back to it? If this works out, I wouldn't mind coming back (as it stands now). Maybe Ella and I could leave the US and relocate to New Zealand where the pace is more sedate and the quality of life isn't too far removed from what we're used to. I'll have to revisit this thought after I digest it some more...and run it by her, of course.
Before I get too caught in the romantic aspirations of living a carefree life style, let's talk about the stuff Ella sent me. I received my insurance card (not really needed, but Ella was only being her cautious self) as well as 4 DVDs: Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, a special edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and a documentary about Citizen Kane (special price from Amazon when I purchased Citizen Kane. Not something that I would normally get, but I might need every movie that I can come winter). She had also been thoughtful enough to send me what appeared to be candy bars. Somewhere in transit, though, what was once a king sized Milky Way ended up a pancake and the bag of M&Ms were now only barely large enough to make an ice cream topping. But I appreciate the sentiment. However, I do hope that the other dry goods I asked her to send down are in a box. It's quite clear that padded envelopes are not the container for choice for chocolate.
While at the post office, I sent some pictures and a short note to Ella's parents and my brother-in-law. They weren't the best quality photos, but that's about as good as my printer gets. And I hope that my Polish is understandable. I must have spent a half hour going through my slowi (Polish for dictionaries) and my Polish grammar book making sure that I spelled everything correctly. I also sent a butt ton of pictures to my mom for her to give away. At the rate I've been printing out stuff I'm sure that I'll have to order more ink and paper before the station closes for the winter.
One last note: weather getting warmer. Warm enough to not need a parka if the wind wasn't blowing. 25 degrees according to the power plant thermometer. It was nice to feel the sun beat down on my back and not need to zip my parka up to walk around town. There was even running water on the roads from all of the snow melting. Given the ashy nature of the "soil", it has already started to create a small ravine in the center one one of them. I'm sure that melting snow causes a lot of erosion problems around here.
Saturday November 24, 2001
Thanksgiving Day for us on the Ice. And I celebrated it my sleeping in.
To follow up on my laziness, I spent some time in the MMI lounge surfing and watching #1 ranked Nebraska fall to #15 Colorado. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of football, but watching the underdog win caught my interest. During commercial breaks I worked on a few web pages and got those uploaded.
It takes longer and longer to get stuff uploaded to my ftp site. I suppose that the middle of the afternoon when everyone is checking their email isn't the ideal time to do it. But I swear, it's almost worth winter getting here so that I can have more bandwidth. Most everyone will be gone by then and there will be of it to go around.
I think that this notion is an unspoken sentiment among us winterovers. We look forward to February 20 when the base shuts down to the outside world and the summer employees, or tourists, return to the outside world. Everything becomes more tranquil, we have more personal space, the bureaucratic hassles disappear, and the lines in the galley are non-existent. Sure, the social scene suffers but that's not what I (and probably most of the others) came down for.
In order to accommodate everyone for dinner, we had to sign up for one of three time slots. The power and water crew had the 4:30 slot and I arrived at the galley shortly before then. I got up with Jimmie and Pat, the night shift operator on my rotation, and we sat down to a feast of turkey, pot roast, shrimp, cod, and freshies (fresh vegetables) and about 3 or 4 different types of deserts and pastries. Compared to what we had been eating, this was almost on par with anything we'd find in a 5 star restaurant stateside. It was an incredibly well cooked meal that didn't taste like anything they had fixed before. I need to give the galley staff a pat on the back sometime. But I can't help but wonder how different it would have been if the former head cook were still here.
We three, plus Jordan who joined us at the table, sat around and talked for about an hour at which time we had to leave for the staff to prepare for the next influx of people. It wasn't quite the same as sharing Thanksgiving with my family at home, but these people are as close to family as I'll have for the next year.
Even though I knew that I would be jaded of it later, I watched The Shawshank Redemption on my laptop as an after dinner treat. I've been going to great lengths to avoid watching my limited collection of DVDs. I'm afraid that if I watch them all now, I'll be losing out on a rainy day thing this winter. And even though we have a pretty good collection of older VHS movies, it's still nice to experience DVD quality as well as the special features incorporated the movie.
Since I had to work on Sunday, I managed to get in bed my ten. But because I kept wondering how Ella was doing in Poland, I didn't get to sleep until well after eleven.
Sunday November 25, 2001
Relatively low loads today. The town must have not bothered to get out of bed. We usually see a peak of around 2100 kilowatts on normal Sundays, but it rarely broke 1900.
The son of my wife's best friend emailed me from Poland, which was a treat. I enjoy spending time with my wife's friends as they are good folk to be around. But the young lad is trying to learn English and I like to help any way that I can. So, when I responded, I had to choose my words carefully so that he wouldn't get confused or, even worse, frustrated as I do when I try to communicate in Polish.
I also got word that my delving into the detail of engine rebuilding were boring. Fair enough, I suppose. It's as tedious to write about as it must be to read. It's also a rather boring job to perform. Sometimes, it takes hours to get all of the bolts off and a single piece of the engine removed. And when it's the only thing of significance that I did that day, well...there's not much else to write about.
I went to the Burger Bar after work with Jimmie and shelled out $8 for a burger, beer, and 2 year old Sprite. The soda was so flat that there wasn't the first bubble emitted when I poured it. After that, I came back to the room and watched Pleasantville with John.
It was sort of interesting that movie was playing given that I'm starting to forget what green looks like. Like the characters in the movie, my world exists in shades of gray. The ash, snow, and lava rocks all form a monochrome landscape. The paint schemes of the buildings don't add any to the environment, being all some beige derivative inside and out. But "color", as I knew it, is a thing of the past much like it was on the submarine. Like the boat, too, my sense of smell is probably dead from disuse, only I don't know it yet as I've had no aromas to smell in a while.
I called Ella to see how she was coming along in Poland. I also thought that I would beg her permission to buy a new toy...an xbox that I came across on the web at work. Although they are a bit difficult to find in stock this holiday season, I found a place that had some. And with luck, if I ordered now I could get it just after Christmas. If I delayed, then I might not get it before McMurdo closes in February. Ella, being ever so wise in financial matters, balked at the $500 price tag. It'll have to wait until she gets back to the States next week.
Oh well, I'm not going anywhere...
Monday November 26, 2001
Second day into my rotation. Nothing at work notable enough to mention.
I am having thoughts of selling my Toyota Land Cruiser, though. I picked up a '78 FJ40 from a cousin earlier this year and have spent over $4000 restoring it. But it's only half way toward being where I want it. I understand myself enough to know that I'll get tired of it sooner or later and rather than to continue throwing money at it, I'm beginning to think that I should cut my losses and part with it now.
It's really a rugged vehicle with loads of character, but it's just not the kind of ride that I can enjoy in the suburbs of CT.
Tuesday November 27, 2001
I was tasked with giving the first of a series of intra department safety lectures after work today. Raytheon has shifted the safety meetings from larger organized affairs to smaller, compartmentalized lectures given by co-workers. I had suggested to Jordan that we cover electrical safety a few weeks ago, since it is probably the single largest hazard to us at the power plant. What I put out as a topic for a lecture, though, he took as an offer to give it. Maybe I need to be clearer in related matters going forward.
Although I'm not comfortable with public speaking, I put together a quick PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the dos and don'ts of working with electrical gear. I hadn't dealt with the material in a few years and had to really dig deep to remember the Navy training that I had received. But it was only supposed to last 10 minutes so I only had to cover the big picture items.
By all accounts, it was well received. And after it was over, I was glad to have given it. I had felt a sense of professionalism that I had yet to experience here. Also, I haven't played with PowerPoint since my dotcom days. So, it was good to know that I hadn't lost any skills.
I felt too tired in the evening to do anything, so I retired to bed shortly after 8. John had the same idea.
Wednesday November 28, 2001
I didn't feel the need to help Jimmie out at the power plant today, I so took the day off. All that remained to be done was lifting the old engine block and moving it to the side door so that a fork truck could move it out of the building. Since there was heavy lifting rigs in place to manipulate it, there wasn't much assistance that I could offer.
I didn't leave the dorm until after 10:00. I stopped off by the galley and noticed that there was an almost blank sign-up sheet for one of the very last trips out to Cape Evans. Tomorrow and Saturday would be the last runs out there until next year. Since there was much that I overlooked the first time, I signed up to get another chance at pictures. I also signed Jimmie up since he had yet to go. Even though I know that I won't get in bed until late tomorrow night or early Thursday morning, it will be worth it to see something other than McMurdo for a change.
I stopped off at the clinic to check my weight and found it unchanged. Which is good. I at quite a bit at our Thanksgiving dinner and expected to put on a pound or two. Sherry was covering for the receptionist and we chatted for a few minutes. She's already making plans for her next job when she returns to the states in February and made me realize that I needed to start doing the same.
But there's a problem. I don't know what field I want to get into. Looking back, I don't think that I ever did. So, I've always took jobs where I felt comfortable more so than limiting myself to any particular career path. And after a while, the working environment at most of the jobs I've held got the best of me.
From an early age, I knew that the world extended beyond Appalachia. There were new horizons to explore and experiences to be had that rose above the mundane existence of life in a coal mining town. The older I get, the more I feel that this was the chief reason for joining the Navy when I was 17. And while I was there, I felt compelled to volunteer for submarine duty which offered it's own unique existence separate form the normal military way of life.
After the Navy, I returned to my hometown and attended a community college until my father past away. Since there was nothing left for me there, I transferred to a school in upstate New York and finished up my degree. I had initially intended to do a pre-med program. But one day I in organic chemistry class realized the amount of time I was putting into it and couldn't fathom spending next 6 years of my life putting forth that kind of effort. There was also the sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't enjoy being a doctor anyway. So, I walked out during the middle of the lecture and dropped the class the next day.
The expense of attending a private university forced me to work in an underground coal mine between semesters. I would return to Virginia to work summers and winters shoveling coal from beneath conveyor belts to put money in the bank to live from while I was working on my degree. I also met and married my wife while attending university and had her to consider as well.
I had a job offer in Connecticut before I graduated. The day after my final exams, Ella and I packed up an moved. I didn't even bother attending my graduation. We needed to move ASAP and couldn't afford spending the money on any of the accoutrements. Connecticut took some getting used to as the more affluent populace and the higher cost of living were something that I wasn't used to. But the job wasn't underground and didn't require that I go to sea, so I was content with drafting reports and working in a cubicle. At least initially.
Several months after I started working there, I started having the feeling that it wasn't for me. The corporate mindset requires a certain dogmatism. You have to be willing to do the same thing day in and day out while working in a drab office chained to your desk. If you're lucky and do that long enough, you get promoted and gain new responsibilities. This process continues until you you reach a glass ceiling known as the "you don't have an MBA" threshold. Without that additional sheep skin, you're probably not going to get the corner office and 6 digit salary.
One day, I had the aforementioned epiphany and gave my resignation on the spot. Ella was a bit taken aback as I had no job prospects lined up. I had to take a few temporary admin assistant jobs until my next permanent position came along over 6 months later.
This next job was in the dotcom space and promised to be different. I would be on the ground floor of the Internet revolution and would be there for the ride. The job itself, although boring, was enjoyable, the working environment broke the boundaries of the stereotypical white collar job, and there was no glass ceiling. So, it was the sort of place that I could do my 20-30 years in relative comfort. Of course, the meltdown a year and 1/2 later meant that I was left without a job. I had survived the first two rounds of downsizing, but the third round took out the entire department and I was once again left without a job and no prospects.
Trying to recapture the sense of adventure that caused me to leave home, I contacted RPS about coming here. Fortunately, my Navy experience accounted for something (it wasn't worth the space on a resume for white collar jobs) and the rest is history in the making.
Given that Gulf War era veterans can attend any public secondary institution in CT tuition free, conventional wisdom would dictate that I follow up on my Cornell degree with an MBA once I return to the world. But I suspect that I wouldn't like being tied to an office despite being able to pass through any glass ceiling.
By and large, my part of CT isn't a blue collar state. Although I worked in a factory as a temporary employee prior to coming here, such jobs are rare. I have substantial electrical experience and would be interested in working in that field, but it may be difficult to find a job. There is also the matter of becoming licensed and taking the necessary coursework. I don't know if our financial situation would allow me to stay out of the job market for a few years while I got the necessary education.
There is also another matter that needs to be addressed. How does one marry an Ivy League education with a blue collar mentality? I suspect that the reason that I don't really enjoy an office job is because it isn't the sort of paradigm that I'm accustomed too. I am a 5th generation coal miner and affluent, urban values are a foreign concept. At the same time, the reason that I have a Cornell degree is because of my intellectual curiosity. Not to be stereotypical or negative, but I didn't quite fit in with my fellow miners for that reason. So it seems that I am trapped between two different worlds. It's obvious when I'm with either crowd. When my wife and I attend alumni get-to-togethers, I feel like I'm totally unlike them and unwelcome and am therefore a bit standoffish. And while talking to people with less formal education (like my family and friends in Virginia), I have to dumb myself down in order not to seem too aloof or intellectual as I don't want them to feel uncomfortable around me.
I wish that figuring out what to do when I grow up came as easy for me as it seems to for most people.
I'd settle for just finding a place where I belonged.
In other news...
MMI was given a new 36" TV. I went over with a few DVDs and properly inaugurated it with "A Fistful of Dollars". Sherry, Dave, Doug, and a few others watched as well. Another movie was scratched off the list, but it was nice to spend some time with friends.
Thursday November 29, 2001
Made by biweekly call to Ella first thing this morning and caught her at home. She's been having some teeth problems and is seeing a dentist. They are bothering her to the point of not feeling well enough to travel around Poland, so of her time with her parents. It should clear up soon and she hopes to be better by the time she flies back to CT next week. But she's withholding a lot of details. I suppose that she's just not wanting to worry me. But the opposite is true. If I knew the full story, I'd feel better. In the event that this will be an ongoing problem, I enrolled in Raytheon's best dental plan for 2002. Better to be safe than sorry.
I received some PJs and slippers from my mom. Now I'll have something to parade around the dorm in other than my bathrobe and longjohns. She also sent along 2 boxes of Pecan delights, or chocolate covered mixture of pecans and caramel...my favorite. I ate one of the boxes right away. Probably a mistake as I'll want some later on, but I can always beg for more until winter sets in.
I know that I promised Ella that I would wait, but I couldn't help myself. I just happened to gander at Amazon.com's xBox store and see that they had some xBox game bundles in stock. Being weak, I ordered one. Every other time I checked on them, they were sold out and weren't even taking pre-orders. This was the same elsewhere on the web as well. And on the one or two occasions that I did find a place online that carried them, they didn't ship to APO military addresses. I wonder if it would have been easier to get one from a local WalMart at home. But probably not given the limit availability on their release date. The $500 price tag was bit much, but it included 3 of the better games as well as two controllers. The economics were better by going this route than by purchasing just the console and then buying the individual games later. With luck, I'll get it around Christmas. Had I waited the first of the year to buy one, I would have risked not getting it before station close in February.
After dinner, I bundled up into my ECW gear and waited in front of the galley for the trip to Cape Evans. We departed shortly after 6:30 and the guide told us that we would be back around 1:00. This would be an hour later than my first trip there because we were going to visit a glacier that was just past the Cape and it would tack on another hour or so. I had second thoughts about going because I had to be up at 5:00 the next morning. But since the Ross Sea was deteriorating, we'd soon lose our "road" out there. Given that this was one of the last trips to the Cape, I'd most likely miss out if I didn't go.
The first stop was the Barne Glacier about an hour and 15 minutes away from McMurdo and just a few miles north of Cape Evans. On the way out, though, there was a Weddell seal not too far from the flagged route. So, the Delta stopped and we unloaded in time to see it scooting away. It must have been afraid that we were a predator and started making it's way back to a nearby hole. I had never seen a seal travel overland before and found it a bit amusing. It's not really a crawl and neither is it a slither, but something in between. I captured it with my camera's movie recorder but the 10 seconds or so that I filmed created a file over 1.6 MB in size. I may post it to the site once I see how much bandwidth I have left for the month. I'd hate to have a horde of people downloading it and causing the entire site to be taken down by my host because of a film clip.
Shortly after the seal sighting we made it to the glacier. We parked quite far from it making it difficult to get a feel for how high it was as well as how far we had to walk to get there. The only obvious thing about it was that it was riddled with blue sections, which I understand to be a result of the cold temperatures that formed it. We walked about 10 minutes before we got to it's face, and my guess is that it was around 100 feet high at it's tallest point. There are larger glaciers to be found, no doubt, but this was the first that I had seen and couldn't imagine how long it took for a glacier that thick to form.
Although the air temperature was at about freezing, the wind blowing across the ice sheet made it seem much colder. Going to the glacier, this was a blessing. Coming back was another matter though as it was almost strong enough to push you across the ice. Some people even tested this hypothesis by "parka sailing". They unzipped their parkas and held them open to give the wind a larger cross section. If they got a running start, and started sliding, the wind would indeed push them a little further along than if they had just slide by themselves. I tried it myself but never really got anywhere, only giving myself shivers.
The walk back to the Delta seemed much longer than the one to the glacier. Walking into 20 knot winds will do that. I tried to synch my parka around my face but it didn't help. The only thing that I could do was to keep looking directly at my feet, but even then I had to glance up occasionally to watch for cracks in the ice and to keep oriented in the direction of the Delta.
On the route to Cape Evans and Scott's Terra Nova hut, the driver saw a dead Adelie penguin and stopped. Although I didn't particularly want to, I offloaded and got a picture of it figuring that it may be the only penguin I'll see this year. One can only guess why it was so far from the rookery, but the end result was that it became skua food. There were plenty of chest cavity openings to indicate that it was the main course at some lucky bird's feast. Lesson for today: first the environment gets you then the skuas take what remains.
Scott's hut wasn't too far away and we managed to get there at around 9:30. I noticed a lot more this time around as this tour guide was much more familiar with the place that was the previous one. For instance, I can't believe that I missed something as large as the horse stable that was behind the main room. I also saw stacks of seal blubber that served as fuel for the stove, a telegraph machine, and graffiti that some soul had written in remembrance of those who were lost from the Aurora. The place seemed to have more life in it this time around as well. During my first visit, I was so cold that I just wanted out of the wind. But I was able to let things soak in and experience my surroundings this trip.
We loaded up after eleven and headed to the ice caves, our last stop for the night. We had another wildlife encounter on the way to the caves. This time a seal was blocking the route and we had to swerve off the road to avoid him. Unlike the first one, this seal didn't seemed to be too alarmed at our presence and was content to stay put. He even posed for us and rolled onto his back like a dog that wants you to rub their belly. Even though it was only 25 feet away, I couldn't get a good picture because the windows were scratched and frosted over. And since we're not permitted to interact too much with wildlife, we couldn't get out for a better photo op. So we could only observe from the Delta for a few minutes until we moved on.
We arrived there just before midnight and I was starting to get tired. I got out and walked around just to get some fresh air. I went up to the caves and seen that they had melted some since my first trip, but since I had been there before I wasn't particularly interested in seeing them again. So I went back to the Delta and hoped to catch a nap. I tried to sleep for twenty minutes before someone came back to the Delta. Several others, including the tour guide and driver followed shortly after that. In order to meet our 1:00 return time, we had to leave soon. But despite the tour guide informing people of this, 3 or 4 people decided not to listen and didn't return until 1:00. Several people muttered their displeasure to themselves as they had to get up at 5:00, like me. I was tempted to say something snide as well but thought better of it. Had this been my first trip away from McMurdo I may have wanted to stay a while longer, too
We returned to town at 1:45 and I made it to bed just at 2:00. I knew that tomorrow wouldn't be a good day.
Friday November 30, 2001
Too tired to do anything today.
Since I only got 3 hours of sleep last night, I was dragging all day and barely managed to get through 12 hours of work without sleeping on the job.
After I was relieved, I wolfed down some dinner and am now going to bed. It's only 7:00.
xBox shipped today. The email said that it would arrive between the 2nd and the 5th. Right.
Thus ends my second month from home.
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