Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chillin' in Chile, the Crossing, and Palmer Arrival

On Wednesday, March 19th, I left Portland, Oregon for my new Antarctic home, and after a week of travel, I arrived back in Antarctica. This time, deployment consisted of flying to Punta Arenas, Chile and then catching an icebreaker, the Laurence M. Gould, for a 4 day crossing to take us to Palmer Station on Anvers Island.

Upon arrival in Chile, we were greeted by Jimmy, a long-time liason for Antarctic-bound folks, who took us through immigration and customs without having to wait in line and without any hassle. It was sort of like being a VIP...I'm sure Jimmy was also holding the paparazzi at bay somewhere.

Finally, after over 24 hours of traveling, I was finally settled in my hotel room in Punta Arenas, Chile. Though tired, I joined my fellow Palmerites, coming from their various hotels all over the city, to have dinner, drinks and some pre-season bonding. The next morning, I went to the clothing center to get issued my new Extreme Cold Weather gear which included slickers and then got myself settled on the ship for my first night on the boat. There are three of us that shared and are still sharing a milvan-turned-dorm-room in the bottom of the boat. After our second night in Chile, we set sail! Our course was southbound, past the tip of South America, and into the Drake Passage. This is where the Atlantic and Pacific meet causing some of the roughest seas in the world. It took us a couple of days to get into the Drake. Once we did, the swells got bigger and the boat started rocking more and more! This caused unheld cups to spill over at dinner, a person to gain enough momentum to be practically running down a hallway when you started at a nice, easy walk, and occasionally giving you a sense of weightlessness when climbing stairs. At this point, several people got sick and had to stay horizontal, sleeping or just laying down for the rest of the crossing. To me, however, it was kind of like a mini-roller coaster and I loved it. According to the captain, the crossing was average. We did have some swells up to 40 feet that definitely rocked the boat.

On the boat, there wasn't much to do except read, watch movies, etc, but at least we were getting paid for these days of leisure while traveling. While in transit, I was lucky enough to see dolphins, penguins and various other sea birds, as well as iceburgs and random pieces of floating ice.

On the 5th morning, we finally reached Palmer Station. My first thoughts were how beautiful it is here and that I can't believe this is my new home for the next 7 months. So here I am, ready to begin my winter. What the season has in store for me, we shall see.

Click here for some photos

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Heart Portland

Thanks to all my friends and family for making my short stay in Portland a lot of fun and very special. I had a great place to stay and great people to spend some time with.

I'll never forget skiing, sledding, beach time, chillin' with my niece and nephew and all the great dinners...especially the going away dinner that included monocled unicorn walruses, coffee apparatus descriptions, poopsicles, and Aunt Vera stories.

I'll look forward to seeing everyone again at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. Stay in touch!

Lots of Love,

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fire School

As I return to my hotel room with hands blackened by soot despite the gloves I wear, smelling like smoke through and through, muscles sore and fatigued from a week of strenuous activity, I realize that I have just completed a week of fire school!

During this week of training to be on the emergency response team at Palmer Station, we worked with scba breathing gear, fire extinguishers, fire hoses, communication (super important), and how to search a building for victims or fire.

For me, personally, this is one of the coolest things but also the hardest things I've ever done. It was a very physical week. You spend a lot of time crawling around in the fire house in gear that is heavy and often with a charged hose. Also, one day they sent us through a pretty physical obstacle course to run our tanks out of air.

Fire school also proved to be a mental struggle for me as well. It's just didn't feel natural at first to be sitting right next to a fire or searching a room darkened to the point of blindness by smoke all the while breathing in a and out like Darth Vader in my SCBA gear. I'll admit that at first, I had to bail out of a couple of situations. I think it all came down to trusting my gear. My mask was a little too big for my face and would leak when I got sweaty. Once I understood that this wasn't going to be too detrimental, I just rolled with it. By the end of the week, I was rescuing victims out of smoke filled buildings and on the hose attach team to put out fires.

Click here for some photos

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Search and Rescue Training

As part of my near-future employment at Palmer station, I have agreed to do some extra training to be on one or more of the emergency teams at the station. Because the station is not big enough to have official emergency responders and because scientists don't fill these rolls either, it is up to the support personnel to fill these positions. The first of these trainings was Oceanic Search and Rescue. Since Palmer station is on an island and it's typical of station personnel to take boats out to other islands, an Oceanic Search and Rescue team is necessary.

After flying into Denver last week, I met the rest of my SAR team and we all drove down in two rental vans to Page, AZ with a stopover in Moab, UT. It was a very beautiful drive. On the way down, we visited Arches National Park in Utah for some hiking and amazing vistas.

Once in Page, AZ our SAR training began in earnest. We spent a lot of time doing hands-on activities (such as reading compasses and gps's) and spent a lot of time on Lake Powell. We got into immersion suits and then got into the lake for exercises, we drove zodiac boats around and did man overboard drills, and then on the last day, we did a full-scale search in the desert for a lost person.

After training, we drove back to Denver, again via Moab, UT, but this time with a stop on the way at Monument Valley...quite gorgeous.

I learned a lot during this week, and of course, driving zodiacs around is just plain fun.

Click here for some photos