Monday, November 26, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving! all of you from the Pole. I hope everyone’s holiday was wonderful and that everyone had a lot to be thankful for!

Here at the Pole, Thanksgiving was awesome. We had three seatings of Thanksgiving dinner to accommodate the large population of the station (approximately 250). We had live music, and due to our excellent kitchen staff and some volunteers, the food was excellent.

The galley was given some ambiance for the meal. The sun was blocked out of the galley windows and the tables were set with candles and tablecloths. Everyone got a little dressed up, and people volunteered at different seatings to be wine stewards to serve wine (bought by managers), water, coffee, and dessert. It really was a great night.

Before the feast, BK (the station manager), read a the following, seemingly appropriate quote…

"I used to wonder sometimes whether the people who suffer from hunger in
the big cities of civilization felt as we were feeling, and I arrived at
the conclusion that they did not - for no barrier of law and order would
have been allowed to stand between us and any food that had been
Ernest Shackleton, The Heart of the Antarctic

Click here for some photos

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Living at the End of the Earth...

or call it 90 degrees south, the bottom of the globe or the South Pole. Life is definitely different here. So different in fact, that I thought I'd write a blog to give everyone an idea of the atmosphere and how I've finally settled into my new home.

Current Weather:
-36.6 F Temperature
-55.0 F Windchill
5.0 kts Wind
10,436' Barometric Pressure

To start, I work at the coolest place on Earth even if I do have to put in 54 hours over 6 days a week. When your team is already putting a plan for wireless connectivity together for a building that is 5 miles away and currently connected with a fiber line that is getting stretched and will eventually break because you're living and building on a moving glacier, you know it's a job with different dynamics.

I have hardly no idea what's going on in the "real" world. We have limited satellite time to check the internet for news and we have no tv. I'm usually working, talking to Donald or family, emailing friends, blogging or sleeping when the satellite is up so checking the news is not priority. A lot of people would rather not know what's going on anyway. I would say that I fall into that category most of the time, except when I have to stupidly ask my friends or family what day is Thanksgiving back in the States (we're celebrating on Saturday) or if the current topic at pub trivia is Current Events.

As most of you know, I get two showers a week at two minutes a piece. I thought this might be kind of hard for me but two showers a week is pretty easy. It only takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to get ready in the morning so now I know what it feels like to be a guy. The only bad thing is the bathrooms are cold and feel even more so when you keep turning the water off to soap up. I also feel liberated by the fact that I haven't shaved in weeks.

It's very, very, very dry here. Lotion and chapstick are my new best friends and never ever leave my side. People that work outside often get cracked skin, usually on their fingertips, no matter what they do. Static electricity runs amock here too. Often I will see the hair that has fallen into my chair sticking straight out, and I try to hang wet towels in my room daily to add some moisture to the air.

Going outside is a consious decision. I've found out that if I go a great distance (for instance, the RF building which is 1 km away), it's best to suit up. If it's only for a short time, I can go in jeans and hiking boots, with my parka, gloves, beanie and neck gaiter. I have managed to run from one building to another without any gear whatsoever to use the bathroom before, but regardless the cold air is always a shock to the lungs and I always cough a few times before they adjust. I made the mistake once and only once of closing a metal door when I went outside with my bare hands. It was so cold that it burned like I had touched a hot stove. I always carry hand and foot warmers in the pockets of my parka in case I need them. My gloves, even with liners, suck so this is quite a possibility. A very common affliction down here is frost nip or frost bite, especially for those working outside. Some of my friends already have it. Once I start doing active things outside, like cross-country skiing, I'll have to be careful as well.

We call scientists beakers and I'm a FNG (pronounced fengie and stands for f-ing new guy).

I walk up and down the steps in the silver side of the building (called the beer can) as much as I can since my colleague, Jeri, and I are in a stiff competition to see who can do it the most over the season.

I play Volleyball on Tuesdays, go to Yoga on Wednesdays and Pilates on Thursdays. Saturdays vary from bingo to film festivals to concerts to dancing. Sundays, my days off, are spent sleeping in, hanging out and playing games or watching movies, going to the science lecture and then to pub trivia. Team SPIT (South Pole IT) has won two weeks in a row!

The food here is better than McMurdo, though not always great. We finally got fresh food in on Monday, and after going a few weeks on frozen food only, a nice ripe tomato was pure bliss in my mouth.

I'm super lucky to be living in the station versus the Jamesways. I don't have to walk outside to go to the bathroom or keep a pee can in my room for times I might not feel like it. I can wear pj's and socks up the stairs and down the hall to the galley for tea or snacks. Also, my floors are insulated so if I wanted to, I could leave a water bottle on the ground all night without it freezing, unlike the Jamesways.

Everyone here has an interesting background and interesting stories, and I already feel like I've made some connections with people that could turn into life-long friendships.

I do get homesick from time to time. I miss my friends and family, nighttime, rain, trees, skiing, broccoli dish, sushi, good wine, Thai food, singing at the top of my lungs in the car, and baths. However, this is the greatest adventure of my life so far, and I'm so thankful that I'm here.

South Pole - Not all who wander are lost. J. R. R. Tolkien

Click here for some photos

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Today Show Visits the South Pole

After trying for several days to get here (the planes didn't fly in for over a week due to weather), the Today show was finally able to come down for about an hour visit. They got in really late at 12:45 a.m. and left about 2:00 a.m.

Ann Curry seemed very nice. My friend Jill and I decided to go out and greet the plane. I was holding a sign saying "HI ANN" and Jill was wearing an orange pumpkin outfit over her extreme weather gear. When Ann got off the plane, she came right up to me, said thanks for the sign and that she hoped she didn't keep us waiting too long and gave me a hug.

As exciting as it was to have them visit, more essential was the fact that we got three planes in that night. This allowed the very anxious winterovers that had not gotten out yet to leave. It also allowed for a patient that needed more help than our facilities could provide to be medivaced out, and on a more selfish note, the planes brought our luggage that we had been 3 weeks without, mail, and fresh food (we were out and the greenhouse was fully harvested).

Click here for some photos

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ice Tunnels

I recently had an opportunity to go on a pretty interesting tour of the ice tunnels that run below and out from the station. The tunnels themselves are about 60 feet below the surface, maintain a temperature of around -66 and are just dug out of the ice with no supporting walls. Since the South Pole is an always-moving glacier, the tunnels are not expected to last forever but they’re hoping they’ll be around for a long while before they collapse (though it did look like one wall had started to bow).

The pipes in the tunnels carry sewage outflow and also carry water in from the Rodwells. The Rodwells are the wells that supply water to the station. They are already working on tunnels to the new Rodwells that are going to be built in the future, as they only last 6 or 7 years.

As you look at the pictures, you’ll see some interesting stuff that is a part of the tunnels or has been left behind by past Polies.

For example, one of the side tunnels carries the sewage outtake. The moisture coming off the pipes causes this tunnel to be one of the most moist, albeit smelly, places on station. This effect causes what is fondly referred to as “poopsicles” to form on the ceiling and ice to build up on the pipes.

Also, you’ll see a couple of pictures with a fish (odd, I know). The story behind this is some Russian trawlers traded the fish for alcohol, cigarettes or something they needed in McMurdo. However, an unnamed Polie took the fish on his way down to the Pole by wrapping it up in clothing and stuffing it in his carry-on. It has been here, frozen, ever since. Everyone says that if you go in the tunnels you HAVE to get your picture taken with the legendary fish.

Oh yeah, and the pig head isn’t the only one to be found on station. I’ll snap a picture of the other one sometime and post it.

Click here for some photos