Monday, March 06, 2006
posted 3/06/2006 08:56:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

What a long, strange trip it's been!

My C-17 out taxing around before unloading the last people and cargo of mainbody

So, I suppose this will be my closing post to this journal. I'm now traveling around New Zealand with my one of my friends from another adventure, Clair. We've been having a great time over the last few days, and it's looking like it'll only be getting better once we actually can get out backpacking (been on the road mostly thus far.) I've been off the ice for a week today, really hard to explain how it feels so I'm not going to try. The adventure in Antarctica was a good one, it definitely taught me a lot of new things and changed my outlook on others. I've been asked a few times already whether I'd do it again, the short answer is 'probably' although it's quite a bit more complex if you want more than a single word answer.

A lot has happened since October that never made it into this journal, and isn't going to. Some of that stuff is related to personal relationships and the like that I wouldn't want to post to everyone online, other bits of it are things that wouldn't exactly be appropriate for the likes of management or children (the line between between the two is sometimes a bit blurry eh?.) Regretfully, in the act of measuring my words here, I know that I've leaned towards being a bit dry at times. Regardless, its been fun to keep up with posting the news, pictures, random thoughts and then getting feedback from friends, family, and even occasionally people I've never met. Thanks for following along!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006
posted 3/01/2006 12:06:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

I'm in Christchurch! More later.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
posted 2/28/2006 10:51:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

How to get a room full of weather delayed ice people all excited:

Unless this flight boomerangs, this will be my last post from the ice this season. Will put up an update from chch!

Still in McMurdo! The flight yesterday was put on 24 hour weather delay because of some funky weather that drifted over the roads and runway. Would have written a post sooner, but incidentally the IT people were working on the bandwidth upgrade project and all our off-continent comms stuff was down for most of the day. Think I watched more TV/movies yesterday than I had all season previous to that. Hopefully, we'll be taking off from Pegasus in about 5 hours from now and getting to CHCH in about 11...

Sunday, February 26, 2006
posted 2/26/2006 02:24:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

My last day in Mactown, and likely the last posting from the ice

Mixed emotions about leaving, the possibility of coming back someday, getting ready to go traveling with friends, and leaving other friends behind. The station feels really quiet to me today, although there's a lot happening on an individual level for most of us here. It's a Sunday with a bit of a storm going on outside. Everyone within thousands of miles except for the 85 of us who will be leaving on the C-17 tomorrow is wintering over, and many of the winterovers are busy getting settled into their new rooms. Those of us who are leaving are getting our last packing done, trickling through the MCC (Movement Control Center) doing bag drag, and saying generally quiet goodbyes to our winterover friends who we won't be seeing until August at the very earliest, or never again at the latest.

Practically speaking, the redeployment process begins with your last day of work. Depending on what your job is down here, you will have to return some tools, make some notes for your replacement, or take care of special tasks possibly. Generally speaking, the last day of work will be a couple days before your flight back to New Zealand, but in some cases (as in cargo, where the last people out sometimes load their own plane) you can actually end up working to get your own flight home back to where it's going. Next, you'll usually have at least one day off to pack up your stuff and get ready to go. First, you'll have to "bag drag," which is a process where you gather all your stuff that you'll be taking back, put it on your body or into baggage, and haul everything up to MCC to get it weighed and checked in. We're required to wear ECW (extreme cold weather - basically the red parka, some warm pants, and our issue (bunny or FDX) boots) gear on the flight home, so you've got to have that on for bag drag, and you're allowed a carryon (and additional laptop bag if you've got a lappy,) and checked baggage totaling no more than 75 pounds (more for winterovers.) At bag drag, you will be weighed in along with all your gear, which is necessary for calculating fuel loads and such for the airplane. Checked bags will be left at MCC, where the cargo folks will put them on pallets and net them down, then transport the pallet(s) of baggage out to the airstrip and load it into the plane before it leaves. It's important to remember to keep a change of regular clothes and anything else that you'll need in your carryon bag because if the flight is delayed for whatever reason, you won't get your checked bags back unless the delay will be a couple days! Around the same time that bag drag is going on, the housing department will send a person around who inspects your room to verify that it's clean and ready for a new occupant. On the same day as bag drag, you head over to the finance office (in building 155, where the galley is) and pick up your travel fund, which is $200 USD in either cash or traveler's checks. Once all this stuff is done, you take care of any little errands and spend your last evening in McMurdo! The next morning, you keep an eye on "the scroll," which is a closed circuit TV channel with important information, including when "transport time" (the time to show up at MCC for the shuttle to the airfield) for your flight is. You get to MCC before your transport time wearing ECW gear and carrying your carryon bag, wait around for a while, then head out of the building through a crowd of people saying goodbye, climb into a vehicle (Ivan the terrabus, a PAX delta, an airporter, or a van most likely,) ride out to the airfield (Pegasus for C17s,) load into the plane, and you're off! In Christchurch you'll go through NZ customs as usual, get a ride from the airport to the CDC (clothing distribution center - epicenter of the USAP in chch) where you'll return all your issue clothing (except for my 5 pairs of totally worn out gloves that I threw out instead of carrying them back;) ,) maybe pick up any items you left for safekeeping, catch a shuttle to your room for the night, drop off your stuff, then head out for a made-to-order meal and some fresh smells and faces!

So, at this point I've packed up all my stuff that's leaving, and put a few other things into skua (take a penny/leave a penny, but for general stuff) and left a few items in the fuels barn in case I end up back down here at some point, with instructions to put them in skua at a certain date if they're still around. I've made some phone calls home to talk with family, written some emails, picked up my travel fund, written this post, and cleaned up my room. My bag drag time is in 45 minutes or so, then I'll be hanging out with friends, heading off to dinner, then to a (raging, most likely) going away party at Hotel California. It's storming a little bit outside, I suppose there's a chance that the flight will be delayed tomorrow, so we might all be spending anything between a few more hours to a few more days in McMurdo, we'll see what happens!

Friday, February 24, 2006
posted 2/24/2006 07:33:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Winding down

The last few days have been really busy as usual, but lots of fun and we've completed an amazing amount of work!

The hose reeling crews yesterday ended up getting just about all of the Willy hose rolled up last night, and the morning crew had the rest done well before lunch today so essentially the project took a day and a half - super fast! At one point Doc even had the evening reeling hose onto two different trailers simultaneously, which I don't think we had ever done before. Instead of working on the hose rolling, I spent yesterday morning running Scharen out to Pegasus to fuel up some things out there, then the evening was dedicated to breaking down the fuel pits. We made a bunch of progress with shutting down the fuel pits in the evening, then finished it up today. Both Bodie and Patrick had their birthdays yesterday, so we had a fun party at Bodie's place to finish the evening! Think tonight I'll go visit with my friend Cindy at the coffee house to chat about Mongolia, where she spent several years teaching for the Peace Corps. Might wander over to "Hut 10" (something approximating a normal house that we have here for special DV [distinguished visitors] or to check out for parties and get-togethers) after that for another going-away party too. We'll see!

Had a really random small-world sort of experience the other day that I forgot to mention on here. A few days ago one of my DA (diningroom assistant) friends mentioned to me that there was a new winterover DA who had heard about my AT talk and wanted to track me down to say hey. Turns out it was Streetrod (real name Rachael I think,) who is a 2004 AT backpacker that I did a 'shakedown' with when I was working at Neels Gap! At Neels Gap we would, for free, go through a new hikers backpack with them to talk about gear stuff, backpacking techniques, logistical stuff, and whatever randomly came up. So, it's a fun, informative, and relatively unique service where we (the staff) often end up getting to know customers a little bit, and it turns out one of those backpackers I worked with ended up finding a job down here and remembered who I was! Really weird to randomly bump into someone you know from a totally different time and place without having a clue that it was going to happen. Nice surprise!

Finally, my redeployment date has moved semi-officially to the 27th, so I need to get rolling and pack up all my stuff! (not too much, we've got a 75 pound checked baggage weight limit to adhere to. Fortunately, your carryon doesn't count towards that weight ;)

The crew has been in really good spirits lately too, which is especially nice when we're all working very hard and things are already going smoothly. Lots of good humor, friendly jokes, silly pranks, etc. going around. For instance, a funny conversation blip:

Setting the stage:Scott is congratulating the crew for our fantastic job pigging the Willy line. Seth is in the meeting with everyone else, but was one of two or three fuelies who was working on normal town duties instead of pigging.
Seth:I'd like you all to know that I'll gladly take credit for the success with the hose rollup, thank you Scott.
Scott:No, thank you Seth, we couldn't have done it without you.
Scott:Couldn't have done it without you being far, far away [grin].
Applause, laughter

Wednesday, February 22, 2006
posted 2/22/2006 07:27:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

So I've been a bit too busy and distracted lately to post any updates, will try and get you guys caught up on the big stuff with this post!

The last week has mostly blended together into one long stretch of working and going away parties. Nothing too remarkable happened at work; basically the usual town crew tasks, a little post-boat cleanup stuff, and a bit of preparation for the end of the season. Our two winterover fuelies, Jennifer and Eric, have arrived (actually about two weeks ago, but think I forgot to mention that here,) which has added some fun new conversation and fresh humor to the crew. Matt and Wendy have left for New Zealand, which is kind of a bummer, but it definitely did help me realize just how close the end of the season is getting! There was a fair amount of speculation and anticipation going around last week regarding when the weather at pole would turn cold and keep the LC-130s from flying - and starting the pole winter season. The last pole flight finally left Willy field for Pole early yesterday (Tuesday) morning and returned later in the day, so we've shifted into high gear closing down the airfield end of fuels. The pole closing has pretty much set the date of the last flight out of McMurdo to February 28th, although it's sounding increasingly like that date's going to be moved uop to the 27th. So, if all goes as it's sounding like it will, I might be spending Monday evening at the Dux De Lux in Christchurch!

This week has been pretty busy so far. I've been a little under the weather with general exhaustion and a lingering throat bug that hasn't been bad, but not too fun either. Didn't end up staying up to watch the first sunset Sunday night, probably a good thing! The sun has actually been setting behind some of the bigger mountains for several days anyhow, which looks much the same.

Spent the better part of Monday getting two Challenger trailers (think semi trailers, but with rubber tracks instead of wheels) loaded up with four reels and bases on each. Basically the same process as what Matt and I went through to get the reels loaded up for laying out the Willy hose, except this time we loaded empty reels and installed electric drive motors on some of the bases for rolling up the hose. We had a forklift and operator on loan to do the lifting, then Brian, Chris, and I gathered up a whole bunch of chains and binders to secure the bases to the trailers. Fun stuff! In the evening I started gathering up parts for a new tool that Bodie waned me to build for the Willy hose rollup.

Yesterday (Tuesday) mostly went towards the hose roller project - it's basically a big roller mounted on a pedestal that's attached to a wooden pallet. The idea is that this device will allow us to drag a mostly empty hose across something with a slightly higher elevation than the surrounding snowfield to consolidate any remaining fuel all into one end where it's easier to drain out. I built the roller out of a plastic hose spool that's about 18" wide, made a flange from some scrap plate steel, and an axle from extra steel pipe we had lying around. Reinforced the spool with strategically located screws and plywood, and David helped by building the base with an old pallet and some scrap lumber. It's pretty neat what you can build with an industrial camp's waste stuff at your fingertips! Tuesday evening was my friend Hilary's birthday, and a bunch of people's last day at work (including hers,) so of course we all ended up at Gallagher's socializing as has been usual for the last week or two. What was unusual was that this time my friend Mike found a gingerbread house kit, so a few of us ended up building a gingerbread house in the bar - quite a funny experience! Unfortunately nobody involved had a camera, so you guys will just have to take my word for it :/.

Today we pigged the Willy hose, started rolling it up, then some of us got started with breaking down the Willy fuel pits. There are only two LC130s left on the continent and they will be leaving for the season tomorrow morning, so we won't be fueling any more planes out at Willy until well into the next Summer season here! The pigging operation - where we shoot a foam bullet through the hose with a gigantic air compressor - went super smoothly and apparently left us with a very dry line (good thing.) My job was to drive the chaser vehicle (the Pisten Bully) and try to keep up with the pig so that we would know where it was and be able to keep track of how the operation was going. Fun stuff! In case you haven't been following along for the last few months, Pisten Bullys are one of my favorite vehicles down here - they're nifty tracked vehicles that are intended to be used for things like grooming ski trails, but end up getting used as versatile utility vehicles when it's necessary to drive over completely ungroomed or mushy surfaces. Managed to keep up with the pig all the way to the 48th connection on the hose (out of roughly 60,) which is a lot farther than we usually manage to keep up ;) You can tell where the pig (the foam rubber bullet) is because it gets momentarially stuck in each connection before the compressor builds up enough pressure to squeeze it through. When the pig pops through a connection, the hose in that area recoils, or on occasion even jumps several feet into the air! Today it didn't go airborne, but it was pretty impressive to see some of the connections violently wiggling around on the ground for a second as the ~150psi air forced a bunch of fuel and foam rubber to move around really quickly! The drive was fun, a neat blend of making up a strategy on the fly and spending as much time focused on the hose as possible while still driving in a sane manner over sometimes rough snow. We were done with the pigging by lunchtime, and from what we can tell at this point, we did an exceptionally good job overall and there is very very little fuel left in the hose. Sometimes things don't go so well and the pig disentegrates or doesn't always make a good seal so some fuel gets left in the hose, which is a pain during the rolling process. After lunch I helped get things setup for the hose rolling, then went out to the fuel pits to start taking them apart for the winter. By the time we quit, the hose reeling crew had gotten two full reels of hose done and had only draned a gallon or two of fuel out of the ~1 mile of hose involved - other times that would be more on the order of a couple hundred gallons!

Tomorrow I'm not sure exactly what I'll end up doing - I'm not on one of the hose rolling crews, so it could be anything between working in the lab or working on breaking down the pits, we'll see!

Polar Star in the turning basinPolar Star in the turning basinMy friends Kish, Cheri, and Sky at their last band practiceJah Chant's last practice
A nice example of Fata Morgana distorting a small island on the horizon. Willy hose is in the foregroundNeat fata morganaHope (fuels GA and fellow MMI resident) photographing one of our first sunsetsHope taking a picture of one of our first sunsets
The last LC-130 of the season flying northThe last LC-130 leaving for the winterThe pig we launched through the willy hose - after traveling through about 5 miles of hoseThe pig we used for the Willy hose

Sunday, February 19, 2006
posted 2/19/2006 03:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Q:Subject: No Blog Postings
Body: My God Skittles, did the talk about the AT go really really badly? Are you OK? -Morph

A:Hey Morph! Nope, the AT talk actually went really well, just been busy and too worn out to put together any new blog posts. Ended up talking about the trail for over two hours, had lots of questions and good crowd interaction, very good time! Several people down here have plans to hike the AT within the next year or two, so they had some very insightful questions and observations that made things stay interesting.

There's been a string of going away parties down here for the last week or so, which has left me pretty wiped out. Station is getting pretty quiet, think we're going to be under the 500 people mark after tomorrow's flight leaves. Winterovers are getting moved into their new rooms (they get a whole room to themselves over the winter, but have to share during summer,) and those of us who are leaving are working on travel plans. I have today off, so it'll be good for getting some recovery time in.

About to go visit with some friends who are leaving tomorrow, might get around to taking care of laundry and getting my things packed up in preperation for leaving in a week or less. The first sunset of the year will happen tonight (technically early tomorrow morning,) so I'm very tempted to stay up for that, which will inevitably lead to a groggy Ian at work tomoorrow, but that's nothing new (for me or most of the station) over the last couple weeks ;).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
posted 2/15/2006 08:05:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Yesterday we did fuel the icebreaker Polar Star, which ended up going really quick and smoothly. After some negotiations (which started after we started pumping,) it was decided that the boat would only be taking on 200,000 gallons of fuel, so the transfer ran quite a lot faster than we had anticipated it would. Had super nice weather too! At one point I was stationed up in the pass to keep an eye on the pump we were using (a three cylinder Deutz - small version of what we use at the runways,) and monitor the fuel level in the bulk tank. Rather than just sitting on the pipeline staring at the pump I ended up just laying on top of the tank in the warm sun staring at the horizon and watching the happenings in town.

Once the transfer was done, we got things shut down and cleaned up, then got to go on a tour of the icebreaker! Unfortunately, my camera ended up staying in the barn all day so I don't have any pictures of the boat. The Polar Star has a little store/gift shop, so I did manage to pick up some souvenir type items and a few candy bars that we don't generally have on station. As we were leaving for the day, Bodie told me I could take tomorrow (now today) off work as a comp day, so I naturally ended up staying out a bit late visiting with friends, some of whom will be leaving today (then tomorrow.)

The plan for today is to put together an alcohol stove to show to some people, make some phone calls, and work on getting the AT presentation that I'll finally be giving tomorrow! More later? We'll see!

Monday, February 13, 2006
posted 2/13/2006 11:36:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Monday night update

Busy day for me - not exactly breakneck pace, but I was busy working on one thing or another from walking in the door until an hour and a half afer we're supposed to get done. Big change from sitting around at Willy waiting for airplanes to stop by and take fuel! Started out the morning with a transfer to fuel the powerplant with Seth, which involved a little standing scree/rock glissade where I accidentally smashed my radio (we all carry handheld VHF walkie talkies on the job - handy and tough little buggers!) Fortunately, it turned out that we had a couple broken ones back in the barn, including one that had gotten dropped in salt water - the electronics were fried but the plastic shell was good! Put together a working radio from the good parts, then fixed some other little tools and things around the barn while waiting for the powerplant transfer to get done.

We're anticipating the Polar Star will arrive late tonight and take on fuel tomorrow - 500,000 gallons of fuel to one boat! Doc and I spent a fair amount of the day getting setup for that operation, did several little things that would be hard to explain quickly. Then this afternoon we had some weather blow in which resulted in a couple LC130s being diverted to Pegasus, where for whatever reason the visibility was much better than at Willy. Usually the LC130s stay at Willy, it's a little bit of a hassel to deal with them out at Pegasus. Not that big of a deal, but we had did have to quickly shuffle a couple people from Willy out to Pegasus and replace the missing Willy people with town crew, so although I was on town crew I spent the last few hours of the day out at Willy. The Twin Otters have now all left, so we'll only be dealing with LC130s and C17s from now on! For the first time in a few weeks, I managed to have a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner - and all at the same place!

The lighting is getting all pretty again!