It's the first Thursday of the month, the traditional day for the SSEC folks to gather after work... we met at the Rathskeller at the Memorial Union. Darryn and Albrecht gave Jeff and me some last minute advice over a beer, I gave Darryn a ride home, and now I'm in the throes of packing to return to Columbus for a few days before deploying.
The past few weeks have gone by incredibly quickly. I expect the next couple will be even worse as I scramble to get last-minute stuff done.
Packing is always one of the hardest parts about deploying. Deciding what to take, what to ship, and what to completely forget about. Clothing is the easy part - it's the technology that is tough. I usually take several cameras, a computer and portable music. All that stuff needs batteries, cables, storage devices, etc. What's even harder is planning for the leg from N.Z. to the Ice - winter-overs get 140 lbs of baggage, but that _includes_ a whole lot of ECW gear. More or less, that means that I have room for the contents of one checked bag from the northern part of the trip. The rest, I'll have to mail myself from the CDC and wait who knows how long for there to be room for it to get to Pole.
Given that I'm taking supplies and entertainment to last the next year, I wasn't suprised at all that security wanted to look in each of my checked bags. The DVD player, my laptop docking station and a box of miscellaneous CMOS ICs must have all looked interesting on the X-ray. I said goodbye to Erin at the metal detector and breezed through with my checked bags. Mike got the random special attention, but no problems there, naturally. A quick $6 roast beef sandwich at the cafe at the gate, and it was time to board.
The first leg was on an Embrair regional jet, so as expected, we had to turn over our large carry-on for "valet" stowage during the flight to Chicago. Departure wasn't precisely on-time, which was a bit of a concern - we only had 35 scheduled minutes on the ground to the next flight, and it was from the far end of a different concourse. Fortunately, the carry-on retrieval process was quick, then Mike and I moved smartly to the next gate, since boarding had begun before we'd even arrived. With a few minutes to spare, we grabbed our snack sack and found our seats.
We're somewhere west of the Rockies at the moment. Due at LAX in less than 90 minutes, I think. The layover to the next leg is over four hours, then the 12+ hour flight to Auckland. The usual schedule is to depart the U.S. in the evening, and arrive shortly after dawn two days later (after crossing the International Date Line). After arrival in Auckland goes N.Z. Immigration and Customs, then a nice walk to the domestic terminal, and a short-ish flight to Christchurch, baggage fun, the walk to the CDC, an orientation film, and gear check-out, then, finally off to our lodgings and the chance to wander around Christchurch.
That's what I'm expecting, based on my previous deployments, but some things have been different than previous trips, and I'm sure there'll be some more changes ahead. One difference already: before, when I deployed through ASA, we would go to Denver one evening, spend the entire next day in orientation sessions at DHQ, then continue our travel from there, as a semi-cohesive group of co-workers, with a group leader, etc. If I hadn't met Mike earlier this year, we would probably have been two solo travellers to LAX, or, at best, fellow members of the USAP coincidentally on the same itinerary, meeting for the first time. I suppose there will be plenty of Polies on the flight to Auckland (at least those who are going in on on the 23rd), but it just feels different to "bump into" them at the airport instead of spending a day at the office after the evening before at the hotel together. From what I understand, this convergence isn't just because I'm going down as a grantee - Raytheon apparently does the Human Resources stuff in N.Z. rather than add a day to the travel on the front end. I'm sure it saves money, and it's certainly easier on the travellers.
(later that night...)
At LAX, Mike and I met up with Bob Glover, a USGS employee who is working for Mike's Project (G-079). We figured that it would be hours until we would be fed on the flight to Auckland, so we stopped for sushi. One of the more interesting selections was the "Crunchy Eel Roll" - barbequed Anago in the middle, wrapped in seaweed and rice (in the style of a California Roll), and dipped in crunch bits of fried tempura batter. Very tasty. After a couple of rounds of rolls, we left the sushi bar in search of a beer. Bob wanted to catch the ballgame, so while we waited for some service, I ducked out to make a few phone calls with what was left of my battery. Eventually, we decided it was time to brave the security gauntlet, and head for the gate. Once we got there, we started seeing more USAP folks - Jeff, Kyros and several others. We waited around, tried to stay cool in the absence of air conditioning, and boarded as soon as we could.
On the plane, Jeff was a few rows in front of me, Kyros a few rows in front of him, and Mike was behind me. We spent so much of the ride asleep, but every once in a while, when I was up and walking around, I'd talk with one of them. Mostly, I tried to sleep when I could, and stay entertained when I couldn't. This particular plane has the in-seat personal entertainment system - we can pick one of several movies (I watched "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" and "T3"), play games, and watch the airplane track across the Pacific. The music system was a bit messed up - the channel I wanted to listen to had the right stuff on the left side, but the next channel up on the right side. I tried to listen to it in mono, but I gave up and listened to my mp3 player to drown out the engines and the squalling infant a few rows back.
I'm staying at the Camelot on the Square - pretty nice digs, and right on the square. I can just see the edge of the oversized chessboard in front of the cathedral. We showed up too early for our rooms, so while we waited, I left my luggage in the lobby and took a spin around the square. I took a few photos and gave myself a little time to get re-oriented. After about an hour, I moved my gear up to my room, and went out in search of food.
I ran into Billy, one of the W-O carpenters, minutes after I started my wander. We headed over to the Arts Center and the Dux Deluxe. We ran into Mike, Bob and Carrie. After a round or two, Mike and I made a run to a camera shop near the square. I didn't see anything for myself, but Mike found a camera bag. That being accomplished, we went back to the Dux where we ran into lots more USAP folks. Mike departed first, off to a barbeque with a recent winter-over, leaving Kerry, Bob and I to find dinner for ourselves. We wandered around the side of downtown Christchurch nearest the Arts Centre and settled on the Mytai Monkey Thai restaurant. It was as good as I remember it.
After dinner, we wandered in the direction of the Camelot, where I intercepted Bel who had just left me a message about the evening's festivities. We took a cab to Meredith's place for a bit of a barbeque - pork kebabs and hamburgers. We sat around chatting for a little while, catching up on the past six and a half years, then Bel, Phil and I walked to the bus stop. The wait was longer than I expected, but we eventually made our way around the edge of town. Turns out Bel was going home, not to the party, but Phil was going and he got me there. It was a usual KAOS party - a dance room, and plenty of places to congregate and chat. There are lots of new members, but I did recongnize Simeon, Robert, Gary and plenty of others. After a little while, I couldn't help it - I dropped off to sleep in a soft chair in the back yard. It had been such a long day and it was well past midnight local time. I felt much better after a bit of a catnap, and rejoined the land of the living to continue socializing. Phil secured a ride for us, sparing us the taxi ride back to the central part of town. It was way late and I fell to sleep almost immediately after getting to my room.
(later in the day...)
Just got back from the afternoon at the CDC - the only hiccup was that someone has me (and Jeff as well) listed as Summer folks, with the attendant two-bag summer issue. Marlene fixed things in a jiffy and we had three bags to try on - being a grantee at Pole instead of a support worker at McMurdo means that my complement of ECW gear is a little different than before - I swapped my second pair of bunny boots for a pair of Blue Frankensteiners (FDX boots). Much more comfy, and a full pound lighter (but I hear that wearing them is forbidden in the new station, as they mar the floors). I also turned in my mittens in favor of my favorite gloves - thinsulate fleece lined elk skin - comfy, warm and useful. Other than that, I think I more or less took the standard issue.
While we were getting our gear on, they told us that today's flight had just boomeranged. That means that we won't be on a C-17 tomorrow, but on the C-141 that's due in to sub for the one here that's broken. It also means that we don't have to be at the CDC at 05:45 - we get to sleep late and report in at a more civilized hour - 08:15. That means that we probably won't get to McMurdo until late afternoon (if we do get there on the first go).
After ECW checkout, several of us stopped by the travel office to check e-mail, then Mike, Bob, Kerry and I nosed around the gift shop at the Antarctic Centre before taking the shuttle back to town. We're off for Indian food for our last official night in town.
The Indian place last night was fabulous. Bob, Kerry and I had the Vegetarian Banquet - a little bit of everything. We did what damage we could, but it was too much. The others were all staying at the Windsor, and we went our separate ways near the square. It was early, so I walked by Dux de Lux, looking for other Ice folks. Nobody. I tried the other hangout - Bailies, Nobody. I suppose with yesterday's C-17 lot bag dragging at 05:45, and us following a couple of hours later, nobody felt like going out. I wandered around for a little while longer, walking off dinner, and crashed out well before midnight.
Morning came early. I was a couple of minutes late for the 07:30 shuttle, but we were at the airport well before our check-in time of 08:15. We threw on our ECW gear, reported to the departure lounge and were cleared to walk across the way to the Antarctic Centre for breakfast. I had the "cooked Kiwi breakfast" - eggs, sausage, hash browns, toast, grilled tomato (uggh) and coffee.
The sausages were just like I remember them - nothing like American breakfast meat - these are ground finer, spiced differently, and, I think, lamb-based, not pork-based. Jeff sat down across from me as I was finishing up. We had to hurry to make it back by 09:15, but we made it on time.
Back in the lounge, we turned in our boarding tags, and sat through the emergency equipment briefing and the first of many video presentation on safety and ecology. It was recently produced and one I hadn't seen before, but the content was familiar. Shortly after that, we boarded buses and drove to the C-141.
I was in the back of the first bus with Mike and Bob and Jan, one of the other geologists. We sat there long enough that we started to wonder if were were going to board or go back to the lounge. The two crewmen standing in the nose gear wheelwell weren't reassuring, neither was the bicycle pump one of them was holding. We never did find out what was up, but there were lots of people milling around the nose gear with toolboxes. Eventually, though, we grabbed our skua sacks (lunches) and boarded the plane. Most of the back is filled with cargo. There's about 40 of us wedged in at the usual density in the front part of the plane (between stations D and H).
(later in the day...)
We made it! I kept myself busy for most of the five hour flight listening to music on my mp3 player and on my laptop, and nibbling on my skua sack. In the foreground, I recompiled jzip for Linux and played a little Spider and Web. Many of us nervously discussed the possibility of a boomerang, so we were all relieved when the NYANG guys threw on their ECW gear, and we began our descent. A landing and a long taxi later, and we arrived at the Ice Runway. There were two airporters to jump into. I choose poorly - ours developed a flat. We hung out between the galley and the head module until the first airporter could come back for us. Once it got back, it was a short ride to town, and to the chalet for our in-brief.
All of us got the general in-brief from the folks in the chalet about general orientation issues, and from the NSF station manager about general Antarctic rules and regs. After that, they asked the grantees to meet in a separate room to fill out return travel paperwork (even though three of us aren't returning for over a year). By the time we were done, the RPSC folks were long gone, and the main part of the chalet was empty.
We tried to go to the MCC for our bags, but they hadn't been depalletized yet. Jeff and I headed over to dinner with Mike, Bob and Kerry. We were joined by Angie, one of the Pole W-O Science Carpenters. As an aside, I was warned about how much the galley has changed, but I can't believe it was the same place. They turned the old hallway outside the seating area into seating with windows, they replaced the segregated E-side and O-side serving lines with several serving islands, and broke up the seating area into a multi-level affair. They also added a handwashing station where there used to be either storage or the barber shop. I can't be sure because there are no landmarks left to try to align the layouts in my head. Back to dinner itself, I didn't feel like Turkey Tetrazzini, so I went with the vegetarian couscous and chickpeas. After dinner, we figured our bags were ready, and Jeff and I headed up the hill.
Unfortunately, just as we got to the MCC, they were evacuating the building because of a fire alarm. Moments later, the Fire Department showed up, searched the building and determined that whatever set off the thermal sensor, it wasn't an actual fire, and we were allowed inside to grab our bags. I ditched my gear in my room, changed out of my ECW gear, and went for a wander.
I discovered to my chagrin that the coffee house, Gallagher's and the Southern Exposure are closed on Mondays. I wandered back to B-155 and spent some time catching up with random passers-by that I recognized from my first three trips down. I can't even begin to list all the names of the people I ran into - some from my previous winter, lots more from the successive summers. That's been one of the best parts of this trip - catching up with old friends.
Tammy and Sean just wandered by the computer lab doing their laundry across the hall. I'm going to go grab photos of Fire School and socialize with the other Polies.
I have been spending the day over in Crary. Karen Joyce pointed me in the right direction to pick up my access card, so I can come in after hours and use the library. With no job duties on station, and no meetings until Thursday, I've been working on my laptop, getting things set for when I'll have no spare time.
Tonight is the only safety lecture I'll be in town for. Everyone who wants to go out of town for recreation has to attend this presentation to get a card that must be presented when checking- out at the Fire House. It's affectionately referred to as your "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Helps stave off cabin fever. After that, I'll probably drop by the coffee house which is open tonight. They used to have LAN drops on the walls. They probably still do. Dunno how much competition there is for them, but I think Tuesday nights are one the two times people can get their laptop cleared to connect to the network (like most job sites, they are being very strict here because of recent viral outbreaks with Windows machines all over world). Fortunately for me, I'm not running a Windows box, so such things are not directly hazardous.
We departed a few minutes after I returned. It's a long way to Cape Evans in a Delta. They don't go very fast, and especially not over this road. I have not been on a trip where it was this bumpy. More than once, we were launched into the air over an especially good bump. Fortunately, nobody smacked their head on anything, and we eventually made it to our destination.
I think this was the first trip of the year. I don't remember things being this snowy on other trips. The hut itself was completely dark inside - snow was piled up on all the windows. They handed us some flashlights. Mine was quite useful to spotlight items to photograph. There was so little light, my auto-focus frequently had nothing to latch onto. I did what I could, but I have no way of knowing if the 35mm pictures will come out. Ah, the joy of film... better picture quality than digital (for now), but at the risk of not knowing if a tricky shot is going to work.
I left the hut to give others a chance to go in and look around, too. I saw some of us up by the cross and took a hike up to the top of the ridge. It was a somewhat windy evening (not as bad as some previous trips). Troy and Eyvind were up there, soaking in the view and snapping pictures. We took some hero shots right before they waved us back down the hill.
The ride back began much as the ride up, except we seemed to be slipping more. The winds had blown over our tracks, and the Delta seemed to be having traction problems. When we came to a complete stop, we didn't know what to think. Someone said they saw penguins through the frosted-over windows, and the rest of us were sceptical at first. When the door to the other Delta opened and people started piling out, we started to think it was real.
It was. About 400 yards in the distance, we could see a cluster of about a dozen emperors, plodding along towards the road a little in front of us. I had used up my last 35mm frame back at Cape Evans, but Eyvind came to my rescue with a spare roll of 400-speed film. I had been debating about the utility of a 70-300mm zoom at Pole. I see now that I made the right choice. I blew that entire roll by the time we left.
We had to wait for the penguins to cross the road (there's a bad joke in there somewhere), then we were back in the Deltas and bouncing down the snow road to McMurdo. The road kept getting worse. At one point, we really did get stuck. Some of us were shovels-in-hand and ready to get out and dig when the driver pulled us out on about the fourth back-and-forth pass. On top of the ride being slippery and bumpy, weather was rolling in. We could see plenty of flags, but we couldn't see Ross Island off the left of the vehicle. Kris, Angela and Dehlia started singing camp songs to distract us from the possibility that we might get stuck and not able to free ourselves. I don't know who the joker was who started in on "Kumbaya", but it got more of a laugh than anything else, until Don belted out the "Love Boat" theme.
By the time we'd sunk so low, Arrival Heights was off our left side, and town was around the corner. We bounced the rest of the way down the snow road, up the transition, and back to B-155, just in time for midrats. After a quick plate of manicotti and made-from-scratch meatballs, I grabbed my laptop to digest digital pictures before I could even think about any sleep. It was such a long day that I face-planted on the keyboard right after I backed up the images to my hard drive. Once the pictures were saved, sleep was inevitable.
It was a usual Hut-10 party - full of people, and lots of little conversations. I stayed for a while, then a large group of the winter-overs headed out for Gallagher's. I threw my boots back on and walked over with Aaron. Strangely enough, even though we weren't the first ones out the door of Hut-10, we were the first in our group over at the bar.
Moments after walking in, I spotted, of all people, Mike Mahon, one of my Kiwi buddies from Summer 1996/1997. He's been with the N.Z. Antarctic Programme continuously for the past seven years (since the last time I was down), working as the station manager, the science tech, and a variety of other jobs. We caught up over a game of shuffleboard. He introduced me to a few of this summer's Scott Base folks who had just come in. A short while later, more of his people came in to Gallagher's, and the Polies I was with had moved on to the Southern Exposure, so we merged back into our respective groups, and I went next door.
The last time I was here, the Southern Exposure was the non-smoking bar, and the Erebus was the smoking bar. I think they swapped when they changed the Erebus to Gallagher's. I sat with Sean, Brandon and Byron until closing (which was only a few minutes), then we all wandered off to our rooms after a long day.
The weather overnight was more Antarctic than the past few days have been - visibilty was under three miles (I could see Ob Hill, but not the Ice Runway), the wind picked up, and there was a bit of snow. The ambient temperature wasn't all that low - around +05°F (-15°C), but the 21 knot wind brought the wind chill down to -20°F (-29°C). Not unusual for summer, but having just arrived, it's colder than I'm used to (of course, it's going to get a lot colder for me in the next 24-72 hours). Here in town, there's some weather blowing in tonight - decreased visibility, and temps going from to -01°F(-18°C) accompianied by wind chills going from -08°F (-22°C) down to -34°F (-37°C).
The morning was filled with a briefing in the Galley for all Polies. Pete Kosen and BK Grant spoke the longest, but we heard from Comms, Medical, FEMC, Waste Management, the Galley, Science and more. There were two halves to the presentation, kind of an "all hands" and a "new person" portion. The first part had to do with bag drag, and basic station rules. Even though I've been down once, I stayed for the second half, because so many things are new. It was this part that each of the departments ran through the basics we'll need to get where we're going and merge into the existing society.
The other important thing at the meeting was when someone from McMurdo Medical handed out diamox - something to help us with the altitude. I need to keep extra hydrated tonight - it's apparently a good diuretic, but at least it will help our respiration while we sleep - a bit deeper and a bit faster than normal. I've been over 8,000 feet (m) a few times with no ill effects, but I really don't want this time to be different. Minor altitude sickness is one thing (headaches, fatigue, etc), but I really don't want to develop pulmonary, or especially not, cerebral edema. During Fire School, some of the previous winter-overs were telling us about a guy who had to leave his second night because he couldn't take the altitude. I do not want that to be me.
Pete and BK told us that there will be two flights tomorrow morning, of 42 PAX each. We won't find out which flight we are on until the manifests posted on the bulletin board in B-155. Once we know, we'll also know which of four bag drags to go to, based on our last names. Apparently, baggage and cargo work a little different going from here to Pole. We have to tag one bag as our "Go" bag, to be loaded on the plane with us, and the rest of our stuff gets tagged "Hold". We probably won't see our hold bags until Monday at the earliest, so between our Go bag and our handcarry, we'd better have enough clothes and gear to last a week, just in case.
As of 13:30, they have only posted the manifest for P002, the second flight. I don't see my name on the list, nor Pete's (Jeff is on it, though), so I don't know when to bag drag, but if I had to guess, it'll be 19:00 (an hour earlier than the A-K folks from the second flight). I still have to sort my stuff into Hold and Go. The hand-carry is obvious - all the ECW gear I'll need for the flight (but this time we'll need it), my cameras, and my laptop. What's hard to decide on is what I need right away and what I can send down as hold bags.
(later in the evening...)
Back from bag drag. I need to learn to show up early. I was hauling my bags out the door right at the stroke of 19:00, and the shuttle came back for another pass a couple of minutes later. I think I was up at the MCC just a few minutes into the process, and it was so crowded that I couldn't get my bags into the doorway at first. Pete, Billy and Angie were great - they jumped right in and helped me get my bags inside. I got my housing assignment while I completed labelling my bags - Upper Berthing (under the Dome), room 1. I don't know one room from another there, but I'm happy I got my choice of buildings. I suspect that there weren't that many people who asked to stay under the Dome, plus, for my job, I have to live somewhere that I can hear the all call when AMANDA needs some attention. Being in upper berthing is doubly convenient for my job because I can run downstairs to Science to check on the detector remotely. I'll still have to trek out there every day, but I can also check on it at weird hours, or when a flight is due in and we are not permitted to cross the skiway.
Despite the appearances of the sea of bags, they were quite organized. They moved the line faster than I could keep up with. I finally had to sit in the gap between my bags and Don's bags and pass them across myself, moving up about six feet at a time. When my turn came, they weighed all my hold bags plus my go bag, they weighed my carry-on and laptop, then they weighed me. I don't think the entire process took two minutes. It left me plenty of time to come back to my room, strip down, get back into civvies, and get ready to take the 20:00 shuttle to Scott Base to see Mike. I don't expect to make a late night of it - we report for transportation at 08:00, and I'd like to get something to eat first.
In addition to hanging out with Mike over at Scott Base last night, I ran in to another familiar face from days gone by. Standing near the pool table, right where you come in, this one fellow was studying me. He mentioned that I looked familiar, and I agreed likewise. Peering at his face trying to place it, I asked if he used to have a beard. He came back in the affirmative. After staring him in the face for a few more seconds, I coughed up the name "Dave". I got it in one. He was the small engine guy in 1995, wintering along with Scotty, Sean, Jim, Warren and the rest. I think I was as surprised as he was that I remembered his name after so many years.
Mike came down after a bit, then took me on a quick tour of his part of the station. It's changed a little from the last time I've seen it - I recognized some of the equipment and I noticed that they opened up the area a bit. On our way out, we stopped by his office to give me Chris Liljenstolpe's work e-mail so I can drop him a line and catch up on things (Chris was my roommate in 1996/1997). We re-joined the festivities in the bar, and, after watching the tail end of a dart game, I inherited the board, but I couldn't get anyone to play. Kevin almost let me talk him into it, but he decided against it after I threw two double bulls on a warm-up round.
I'd just put the darts away when I saw some other Polies with Scott Base Store bags. Guessing that they'd re-opened the store, I quickly headed down the hall. I was right. I picked up some patches and a baseball cap, and looked at some of the books. I'm interested especially in the book on aircraft and aircraft incidents, but at $40 N.Z., it's somewhat pricey (as are most books in N.Z.) What I found really stunning were some of the nicer jackets as expensive as $175 N.Z. There were bargains, to be sure, but some of the finer goods were priced to match. Maybe I'll see what's left on the shelves when I'm on R&R in January.
After raiding the store, I grabbed my camera bag and headed for the exit. It was about time for one of the shuttles to depart, and I wanted a chance to finish the evening at Gallagher's. We made it back in plenty of time for a round. I ran into Mike, Bob and Jan, winding down after what looked on their faces was a long day. I don't even think we stayed until closing time. Close, but certainly not so late that we were there when they turned up the lights to clear the house.
It's snowing now. Looking at the vehicles, it appears to have amounted to 1/2" (1.2cm), but it doesn't look like it's going to let up soon. I can see part of Hut Point between D-206 and D-207, but it's quite faint. The local weather channel has it listed as 3/4 mile visibilty with temps around +09°F (-13°C) with light and variable winds. Except for the lowered visibility, it's a fine day. I called Weather to see what the forecast was for the time during our flight, and they said that the flight out was going to be fine; it was the return of the flights (7 hours later) that looked less than good. I'll be checking the board on the way to breakfast to see where things are right before tranportation time.
(later in the day...)
No go today. I kept checking the transportation channel through the early morning - first we were delayed until 11:00, then CNXed altogether. It's not just us; all flights today are delayed. There were two due in from ChCh, and an outbound science trip to the Beardmore Glacier that were also affected. With no need to report this morning, I slept in past breakfast, emerging before lunch to hang out on Highway 1, talking to Polies who were in the public computer area and who were passing by. I ran into yet another person I knew from a previous season, Dave Weber. He's a fuelie now, but I think he used to be a shuttle driver.
(still later...) Mike Blachut's lecture on working in Afghanistan is tonight. I hadn't expected to be here for it, but here we are. They posted the new tranportation manfest after dinner, same times as today: 08:00 for P001, and 09:00 for P002, but nobody expects the weather to clear in time. I wish I'd had my camera with me in Crary today - while I was fiddling with an Iridium modem for Mike, the wind picked up and started blowing snow around town. It was still Condition 3, but it looked nasty outside.
(later in the evening...)
We made it! Ivan the Terrabus left the MCC on time, and cruised smoothly to the Ice Runway. We pulled up a couple of hundred yards from the plane and waited. From what chatter I could hear over the radio, they were having some issue with the VORs (navigation radios). We were shooed off the bus into the PAX Terminal, but before we could to little more than remove our coats, they'd fixed the problem, and we were back on the Terrabus.
As we pulled closer to the plane, I could see the markings on the nose - it was 1096, "The City of Christchurch" the same plane that we toured in Denver for Fire School. Since I was the last on the bus, I was one of the first ones off. That put me near the back of the plane, across from some cargo (not someone's knees), and nearly across from Al Sutherland, the NSF Rep.
I spent most of the three hour flight reading the book I brought, Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters". I've read it before, but what was interesting was that I hadn't remembered that one of the main characters spent time in Antarctica as a child (it was at Little America, but seeing as the book was written before the IGY, that was the settled part of the Ice; McMurdo, Pole and the rest came along a few years later.
About two-thirds of the way through the flight, I got up to stretch my legs and shot a few pictures of mountains and glacial flows out the window in one of the rearward doors. Minutes after that, we were over the Polar Plateau, and there was nothing to take pictures of - it was all white and flat. We were getting close.
Less than an hour later, we started descending, which was the cue to begin donning the ECW gear that we'd been too warm to wear on the flight down. I had on thermax long underwear, polar fleece, top and bottom, FDX boots, insulated wind overalls, a neck gaiter, and my everpresent Mongolian felt hat. I even threw on my goggles to protect my face from the -100°F (-73°C) wind chills. We touched town, taxied for just a little bit, then the loadmaster opened the cargo door and pushed out the pallet with our hold bags on it. If I'd known he was going to do that, I wouldn't have put my camera away. A short taxi later, we came to a stop and deplaned.
It sounds obvious, but it was cold. I was more-or-less used to McMurdo temperatures, but in late October, it's routinely colder than -55°F (-48°C) before the wind. I had so many layers on that the cold wasn't a bother. What was a bother was the altitude. It's much higher here than at McMurdo, that carrying a laptop and an orange bag full of gear, I was somewhat winded by the time I made my way into one of the arches that leads to the dome. I would have liked to have taken a picture or two, but in the time it would have taken to dig my cameras out, I was worried about what the cold would do to them. There'll be plenty of time for pictures on upcoming flights where I can have stuff right under my coat, ready to go.
The first stop was my room to drop off the gear I was carrying. My room is "Upper Berthing, room 1", across the hall from the bathroom, and next to the mechanicals. Still, it's a nice room. One of the former residents had built corner shelves in the far corners, and some kind of shelf/bin thing at the foot of the bed. The bed is high enough off the ground to store some large items. I even have some strings running from front to back for a clothesline (to humidify my room rather than chewing up power to dry them the hard way).
They hadn't brought the hold bags in yet, and I suspected it would be a little while. I showed Kevin and a couple others where the new tunnel was that connects the beercan with the arches in front of the dome. We slogged up the 92 stairs in the beercan, then into the new station right where the galley is. We rehydrated ourselves and waited for the winter-over award ceremony to begin. While we were there, we heard that the third flight, the one with liquid helium and freshies never launched. It probably won't move until Monday.
While we were waiting, I met Steffen and Robert, the current AMANDA operators. It was just a quick introduction. They will still be here for nearly three weeks.
The awards themselves were much like ours were at the close of Winter in 1995 - certificates and medals for everyone, as well as the rare and hard to earn winter-over clasp. They ran down the roster - one season, two seasons, three, etc., up to eight seasons for one person. After all the medals were given out, it wasn't time for dinner yet, so I walked down the beercan to the dome, just as a load of baggage was arriving. It's really hard to haul bags up one flight of stairs when you aren't used to the altitude. After several trips up and down the stairs, I left my bags in my room to thaw, and went back to the new galley for dinner.
The first dinner of the new season was a real treat. Cookie Jon brought down with him an unfrozen antarctic cod from Crary (we are allowed to eat the fish after those studying it have exhausted its usefulness for science). They let the winter-overs get food first, to ensure there would be enough fish to go around. While standing in line, they called for volunteers to make a chain to get bags into the new station. I trotted on downstairs and got in the line. There were lots of us and not so many bags; we were done in a couple of minutes. Back in the chow line, the second batch of fish was just coming off the grill. It was as good as I remember it from my last trip down. For sides, I had some veggies and a slice of tofu-dill loaf (I passed on the ham and the sweet potato casserole). I sat down with Slay, Troy and a few others who had just arrived. We were joined shortly by Jason, Angie and Pete. Pete mentioned a meeting tomorrow for the Fire Team at 13:30, and a time for the Trauma Team to be decided. After dinner, I didn't hang around long; I went back down the beercan, to my room.
The rest of the baggage had been delivered to the Old Galley (now a weight room). I lugged the rest of my bags upstairs to my room and started to unpack. On my various trips through, I ran into a few of the other residents of upper berthing - Sarah, Dana, Slay and Don. As I was unpacking, someone whacked into their fire detector, setting off the fire alarm. Pretty quickly we ascertained that it wasn't a real fire, and we all went about our business. I finished unpacking and hit the sack early.
Tomorrow is Sunday Brunch. It's hard to believe that I haven't even been on the Ice an entire week yet. Each day has been so full, the previous one seems like weeks in the past.
(later in the day...)
Comms have been spotty today. Not sure why. It was a frequent topic of discussion in the galley.
It being Sunday, there were only two scheduled meals - brunch and dinner. I heard the announcement for brunch over the all call from my room. I got suited up (less so than yesterday), and made the trek down the tunnel, up the beercan and into the new station. I'm not a big ham fan, so I went with scrambled eggs and hash browns. After brunch, I stopped at Comms to pick up my RPSC account credentials, then went back to my room since I'm not on Fire Team (they had a meeting at 13:30). Jeff came by at 15:30 to tell me that we were having an AMANDA meeting downstairs in the back of Science. I threw on a little bit of warm stuff (it's only just one flight of stairs outside, then back inside), and made my way there.
The first order of business was setting up our AMANDA accounts. After that, Steffen took Jeff and me on a tour of the AMANDA hardware in the back of Science. We spent the rest of the time with generalities about the set up. Tomorrow, we'll head out to MAPO to look at the DAQs and the hardware that collect the data.
Just as we were discussing when dinner started (it's different in the winter and in the summer), we heard the call to dinner over the all call. I fiddled around in Science for just a little bit longer, trying to get my RPSC Outlook mail to forward to my AMANDA mail so I don't have to use Windows for anything. I was only partially successful (apparently, it's not something that happens entirely at a user level), but I'll try tomorrow to get things piped to the right place. On the way out, I saw Paul working in the Met Office. We talked for a bit, and I showed him the sun charts they've been using for years came from my web page. After not too much longer we left for dinner.
The selection wasn't bad tonight - black bean soup (left over from brunch), turkey, mashed potatoes, some kind of casserole with broccoli and cheese, and more. I sat with a bunch of the new crew, trying to give the outgoing winter-overs some space and not intrude on their well-established interactions. After dinner, Jeff invited me by his room to see the digs in the new station. Wow! My room in Upper Berthing (under the dome) is apparently smaller than most due to a cut-out for the water fountain, but none of them are very large. Mine is a shade under 6'x10', deeper than it is wide. Jeff's room is a full 8'x10', wider than it is deep. The one thing that he has that I do not that I miss is a desk. I have a TV shelf (and no TV), but no good place to set my laptop. Maybe I can find a way to build a drop-down desk or find some way to convert the bed to a desk during the day.
After leaving the new station, I headed next to the library over Comms, scanned a few book titles, and settled in for the movie that Paul picked - Cheech and Chong's "Up In Smoke" It's been a long time since I've seen that one. It's not all that late, but after the movie, I called it a night. Breakfast starts early, and I need to be up, dressed warmly, fed and ready to go to MAPO for the next part of our AMANDA OJT.
Robert showed up, fully dressed, at the appointed hour of 08:00 to make the 1 kilometer (.6 mile) walk with Jeff and me out to the dark sector. The first part of the trip was hard because we took the most direct route from the new station to the road across the skiway. It wasn't smoothed. The sastrugi were high enough that as short as I am, I had problems stepping over a few. Once we were on the "road", we paused at the beacon and the warning sign. If the beacon is on, a flight is imminent. Even if you can't see the plane, they have to have the skiway clear for so many minutes before touchdown, or they have to loiter, or worse yet, abort the landing (they are serious about this - they don't want to peel a beaker off the bottom of the skis). The first flight (of five) today wasn't due in until 11:00, giving us plenty of time to visit MAPO and get back across before lunch.
After we crossed the skiway, Robert stopped at various points on our walk to indicate where various experiments were, AASTO and DASI, as well as the new Dark Sector Lab (DSL), and the pole that marks the top of "String 17", part of AMANDA. We then went into MAPO and Robert gave us a tour, top and bottom. In the AMANDA space he went over the racks of SWAMPs, ADCs, the TWRs, the Trigger, etc. It's all stuff we went over in Madison, but this time, it was right in front of us.
During our tour around MAPO, we heard over the all call that the first LC-130 flight today had boomeranged for mechanical reasons shortly after takeoff. They are going to try to re-launch it later today. I think that's the one that has the Liquid Helium and the freshies onboard.
As we were winding up our tour, Pete and Lisa came by for their own tour. Robert showed them the AMANDA hardware, gave them a quick lecture about OMs and showed them a movie that explains in big broad terms what AMANDA does and how it works. I had not seen this movie before, although Robert had mentioned it on our initial tour. It's quite well done.
With all the show-and-tell done for the day, we headed back to the dome. I managed to keep my sunglasses frost free until I crossed the skiway. After that, it was hard to see, and even harder to step over the sastrugi. I fell down twice, but landed softly both times. Back under the dome, they were shooting the new orientation video. If I'm in it, I'll be the one surfing to the local South Pole information web page, checking satellite times and looking at the weather.
Lunch today was cold-cut sandwiches and potato soup. Right before lunch, we heard the other LC-130 was also boomeranging. They are planning to re-launch flight P003 with the same PAX and cargo, but on a different airplane. It's due in around 20:00 tonight. Pete let Jeff and me know that the Trama Team meeting was today at 17:00, in Bio-Med. Steffen and Robert are busy this afternoon, so it works out perfectly. We'll be getting back to AMANDA training after dinner.
(later in the evening...)
I walked around the corner from Science to Bio-Med for our Trauma Team meeting. It was my first time in there. There are only a few of us, so we discussed how best to concentrate the resources we have for tomorrow's emergency drill.
The meeting ran into dinnertime, and I slogged up the beercan to the new galley. When I saw Steffen and Robert start to move from the galley, I went back down to Science for the next part of the AMANDA handover - Daily Run Reports. Robert walked us through the log sheets and through the web pages containing all the answers. I took copious notes, complete with graphs because I know how soon this duty will fall on us. Steffen started to go over Polechomper, but he was called away by the all call to all outgoing winter-overs to report to the galley for a special freshie feed. There being no further science to accomplish for the moment, Jeff and I departed Science for the dome.
I wandered around the dome a bit to help Jeff look for a missing orange ECW bag, when I heard a lot of noise and music coming from upstairs, from the old bar. When I walked in, I was one of two people there who was not a departing winter-over. I spent most of my time there talking with Larry, a Carpenter who will be coming back for another year right before I leave. I also found Brad there, an eight-time winter-over that was with me at McMurdo when I wintered in 1995. I was on the receiving end of a warm reception from all I talked to. Apparently, beakers are a rare sight up there. I left while things were still in full swing. I'm still acclimating to the alititude and didn't want to push things on my third night above 10,000'.
Around 09:30, the alarm went off for the fourth or fifth time since 06:45. We did not hear "disregard" over the all call, we heard a repeat of the location of the alarm, the new station. It was the emergency response drill we'd been waiting for. I moved deliberately from my bench in the back of Science to my in-dome muster point: Bio-Med. Two of the Trauma Team grabbed jump bags and went to the scene. I stayed behind to montor the radios for the Trauma Team as "Bio-Med Comms" (communication for the entire event is run out of Comms as one might expect). It was hard monitoring two radios, the telephone and taking notes about who was going where and who had been told what. We did OK. Nobody became a real victim assisting the pretend victim, and our biggest problems was lack of comfortability with our roles and the speed of our reponse, two things that will improve with practice. We had a de-brief of Fire and Trauma at the new Carp Shop, then it was time for lunch.
Near the end of lunch, another LC-130 landed, with 17 PAX. Many of the wandered into the Galley before lunch was done. I saw Aaron, a fellow winter-over, helping to unload Coke at the Freshie Shack, as I walked back to work.
Steffen resumed our tutorials on Polechomper, the crux of the mass of data that AMANDA produces. It cuts tapes, it queues up files to go back to the States on TDRSS, it does things I'm sure I have yet to learn. It's also a large Perl script, one whose maintenance will surely befall me in the winter. Steffen also went over the DAQ control and monitoring software that we'll need to use to check the health of the detector before we get mail messages telling us the run was no good. We'll be able to spot problems, stop the run, fix the problems, and get back to collecting data.
While all of this learning was going on, we heard the all call telling the outgoing winter-overs who are leaving tomorrow that their bag drag is tonight. Many of the winter-overs are leaving this week. A few are staying into November, but only a few. Also, about this time, a buddy of mine from my days in Crary came by the back of Science - Paul Sullivan. He's moved up over the years to South Pole Science Director, overseeing all South Pole Science. He'll be here all Summer in that role. I saw him briefly in Denver; it'll be good to have some time to catch up.
Before Jeff and I headed to Bio-Med for our Trauma Team de-brief, we planned tomorrow with Steffen and Robert - out to SPASE in the morning, with a focus on the SN DAQ, and back out to MAPO in the afternoon to cover the Muon DAQ in detail.
The de-brief went well. We discussed some communication issues that could have gone smoother, but we also made some plans for how to run things next time. We'll be having emergency preparedness drills every month, all year long. We'll just make them tougher as we get better at them, with the hope that it will all be practice. This year's winter crew made it through with no real emergencies. A stunning achievement.
After the de-brief, they were serving dinner (including fresh salad!) I didn't hang around the galley much; I went back to my room to read before I went up to the Skylab Lounge (the band room) for a jam session. Cookie Jon was working his way out and turned the bass over to me before he left. I haven't played much bass since my Winter at McMurdo in 1995 (where I played it every day for two months straight). I'm quite rusty. One of the outgoing winter-overs I recognized from 1996 in McMurdo, Fredrick, was there with his fiddle, and we had someone on lead guitar and on drums. Fredrick and the guitarist knew a couple of tunes; I did my best to follow along. After a couple of numbers, I descended back down to the dome, and walked out to the Summer Camp lounge to say goodbye to some of the winter-overs who are leaving tomorrow.
It was an early night for all... I arrived at the Summer Camp lounge (after a bit of a wander around Summer Camp looking for the lounge) late enough that what was left of the party broke up shortly after I arrived - easily by 22:30. I walked back to the dome with Kyros, another incoming winter-over, and am calling it a night.
It's smaller than I imagined it from the pictures we saw back in Madison. Three people was definitely two too many. I'm sure it's packed in the Summer - there were three chairs, after all. During the Winter, it'll be Jeff or I out there fixing things, but probably not both of us at the same time. Just as Robert was beginning to dig into details on SPASE, we heard the AMANDA alarm over Robert's radio. We grabbed our stuff and headed down the flagged route, straight to MAPO.
Over at MAPO, we restarted the detector, then Robert showed us how to submit log entries when we manually start and stop things. After that, we spent some time debugging a spare high voltage controller. While we were using a terminal program to ramp voltages up and down, we heard over the all call that some of today's flights had been cancelled. Once we determined there was nothing more we could do with the HV controller, we headed back in for lunch.
We spent the afternoon in the back of Science, changing tapes, learning how to create accounts and how to maintain the account databases. In the middle of creating and deleting practice accounts for "Joe Beaker" and "Elvis Presley", the all call announced that all flights today were cancelled. We haven't had a flight make it in since we've arrived. There are several flights scheduled for tomorrow, with a couple dozen northbound PAX, and several dozen southbound PAX. Once the floodgates open and they start daily flights later this week, things will start to change rapidly. We've been in a bit of a lull before the storm. By this time next week, there should be several dozen grantees on station, including a bunch from our project.
I happened to be sitting across from Mary and Al Baker at lunch. Mary runs the store and the Post Office, and recently placed an order for new DVDs to come down this summer. She ordered several dramatic and comedic series, plus fair amount of science fiction. I specifically asked about Babylon 5; She ordered everything she could - the first three seasons (the fourth season won't be released until the first part of next year). While we were discussing a variety of titles, there was an all call that the earlier PAX flight was rescheduled to after the cargo flight. Some of the winter-overs might leave today after all.
After lunch, it was my turn to run out to MAPO because of power issues. It was a long walk, but not as cold as it's been - it's been around -40°F (-40°C) or even a little warmer. I reset things, learning a few tips on how to do it more efficiently. Once the new run was going well, I went back to Science and continued to work with Jeff to get more of his (and my) authorizations working on the various project servers.
Over at the galley, I heard the all call that the cargo flight was a few minutes away; I set up my digital camera on a mini-tripod to capture it just after it landed, but it was never visible from that side of the station. I waited long enough that I did snap a few pictures of it taking off. I think I've found a good window in the new station to spot planes coming it, but depending on the wind, the power plant exhaust blows right across my line of sight.
On my way back to my room after dinner, I ran into Frederick in the tunnel between the beercan and the dome, and said my goodbyes. It was fun to jam with him the other night, even if I do need to get my chops up. I decided to divert by the library and see what was showing. I'm not a fan of "West Wing", but several of the 2004 winter-overs were playing pool. Jason, one of the NOAA guys, won his game, and I rotated in. At least he didn't skunk me. A couple of games later, Jason left the table open, and Kevin and I took a turn. He won with an amazing high-power bankshot to drop the 8-ball in the pocket it was right next to. The 2003 winter-overs had just started National Lampoon's "Vacation" in the viewing room, but I didn't feel like spending another couple of hours there, so I went home to read. From my room, I heard the all call that the PAX flight was on-deck, and a few minutes later, I could hear the rumble as it took off for McMurdo.
The morning's PAX flight arrived before lunch, on schedule. Jules, one of the AST/RO grantees, dropped by the back of Science on her way around the dome. She arrived last night. Nick, the other AST/RO winter-over was due in on this morning's flight.
(... later in the day)
Over at the new galley, I grabbed some black bean & chicken soup and some jambalaya, and sat next to Nick, who had just arrived a few minutes earlier. Jules was there, as well as another member of AST/RO whose name escapes me. The third AST/RO person is here for the summer this year, and should be wintering next year.
Some folks came to lunch in costume - James, one of the cooks, had a cape and a rubber devil mask; Sarah had an orange mohawk; and someone else had a giant felt chicken hat. Halloween is a big deal in Antarctica. There should be some good costumes at the party tomorrow night.
With all the new arrivals the past couple of days, there was an endless parade of folks through the back of Science, looking for where to get their laptops scanned and approved to attach to the network. We have to direct all of them to the next room over, where RPSC IT people work. Nick stopped by for that reason, as did Peter, one of the winter-over carpenter helpers I met at Trauma Team training in Denver. I couldn't help either one of them with their computer problems, but it was nice to see they both made here with minimal hassle.
Even before I grabbed some dinner, I had heard that the store was going to be open briefly while Mary was finishing her inventory. I popped by on my way back to my room, bought a few things, and checked out David Lynch's "Dune" to watch on my DVD player (I've been reading the Dune prequels by Brian Herbert, and I wanted to refresh some of the visual imagery as I read the pre-history of those characters).
It being a Friday night, I walked out to ARO, for slushies. The Clean Air Sector is upwind of the station, and so is one of the most remote places in the world from biological and industrial processes. The air is as clean as it gets, as is the snow. Slushies are south pole snow, packed in a glass, with some sort of liquid refreshment poured over the top. It's nothing like the coarse and wet snows of Ohio. This stuff is fine, powdery, and very dry. When you pour your beverage of choice over it and give it a little stir, you get a nice, sweet, slushie mix, like an Icee or a Slurpee. When I arrived, I was the first one there (besides the guys that work at ARO). By the time I left, there were plenty of people. I should have brought my camera; the view from a couple of windows is just staggering - nothing but sastrugi as far as the eye can see, and on the polar plateau, on a clear day, the eye can see pretty far.
The walk back was much easier than the walk out - since ARO is upwind of the station, the wind was at my back the entire way home. Gorgeous evening - clear as a bell, but a bit colder than the past few days - I think it was around -53°F (-47°C) with a spot of wind (around 8 to 16 knots).
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