Prepping 2 turkeys
Cornucopia made of bread
MCI Holleywood wounds
Greetings holiday slackers,
It’s that time again when I’m writing to those of you are willing to shop till you drop, eat enough food to slip into a tryptophan induced holiday coma, pass out in front of endless football games, or watch your favorite movie for the 275th time and complain that I haven’t written anything witty and entertaining for almost 10 days now. You know who you are and yet you fail to write me anything of substance about the traditional family dysfunction that is sure to be a part of the holidays as people get all stressed out over the overwhelming expectations of the commercially hyped retail season of brotherhood and cheer. You leave me no choice but to once again threaten to drop you from my email list and banish you to spam hell where you’ll only receive countless messages about Nigerian windfalls, cheap pharmaceuticals and organ enhancement promotions. In other words, please send some news from home about life above the freezing point.
We’ve been busy here with Thanksgiving feasting, first with a private party for the medical folks last week where I cooked 2 turkeys and everyone else pitched in cooking enough food for a pod of orcas. The second round came this evening with the galley putting out a buffet that would rival any cruise ship extravaganza, so I had to hike this morning and ski this afternoon to prepare for the digestive onslaught. I also had a slice of one of the 60 pecan pies the bakery turned out which was heavenly and am trying to make it up past 9:30PM before dozing off to slumberland.
Earlier in the week our medical team participated in a mass causality incident, or MCI for short, to see how prepared we are for a good old fashioned disaster, complete with folks from the make-up department festooned with realistic wounds. It all went pretty well and everyone celebrated with cookies and high fives in the end with hopes of never having to experience the real thing. In the dental department, I had a real case of a patient needing a root canal who was flown up from the south pole for my services, and she was treated and released back to the wilds of the pole with a smile and a hug.
I guided 2 more pressure ridge tours this week and haven’t lost anyone to the melt pools yet, so I may do a few more before retiring with an unblemished record. It actually got up to 32 today and with the sun shining felt like a warm, Antarctic summer day. We still have another day off, which means 2 days in a row to celebrate the start of the holiday season, but without the stores opening at midnight since there are no stores and weeks go by without ever spending any money on anything. Hope your credit cards aren’t maxed and your fridge is full of tasty leftovers.
Turkey basting Bob
Ice sculptures in the pressure ridge
Pressure ridge ice blocks and melt pool
An Adelie penguin out for a walk on the sea ice
Sun bathing Weddell seal on the ice
C-130 on skis for the ice runway
Hi wildlife fans,
To help pad my resume with extracurricular activities beyond polar fillings and root canals, I signed up last Friday night to be a guide for the pressure ridges that form when glaciers and wind push the frozen ocean into sculptured towers of ice next to the shoreline. After some classroom briefing and discussion our group headed out to walk the flagged path that was carefully chosen by the Kiwis to marvel at the ice formations without falling into a crack or melt pool and becoming part of the permanent exhibit. We spent 2 hours browsing leisurely though the waves that are suspended in time and space and were rewarded with images of blue ice jumbled like kid’s blocks on a playground of a cryogenically preserved ocean. The next challenge will be to take groups of others out on the same walk and share the wonder without losing anyone in the gaps that form between ridges and creating an embarrassing blemish on the tour log book.
Today I enlisted to help teach some McMurdo residents how to cross country ski, and shortly after heading out on the sea ice we encountered not one, but two adorable Adelie penguins that waddled over to us as we stopped to gaze at their comical wanderings, and they no doubt were amused by our piles of wind pants, jackets, goggles and gloves compared to their sleek tuxedo suit of feathers that keep them warm and toasty in sub zero temps. To top off the afternoon a plump, blubbery Weddell seal undulated over to the path we were skiing on and appeared to be a contented sunbather on the ice as the wind kept us flapping our arms and moving around like hyperactive toddlers in an attempt to keep warm. Shortly before our amazing wildlife encounters we had spent time touring the ice runway and the flying machines that traverse to and from McMurdo, taking advantage of an open house to see the planes inside and out and chatting with the crews that gladly soar and land on runways of glaciers and solid seas. I found it to be a great way to spend a Sunday and finished up with some impressive ping pong scores against some of the toughest players on the polar circuit. Dinner was a treat of prime rib and lamb chops, and finished with a modest cone of Frosty Boy vanilla ice cream to celebrate the end of another magical week in this frozen wonderland. Hope your pressure ridges are static and your penguins are photogenic.
Water boiling detail in the ice trench
Camping on the Ross Ice Shelf
Aloha winter campers,
In the be careful what you wish for category I expressed interest in participating in the local “Happy Camper” program, which is overnight survival training while camping on the ice with 15 of your soon to be close friends. I got the call last Thursday afternoon that I was one of the lucky ones picked for the next class starting Friday morning, and given 15 minutes to agree to the terms of canceling the rest of my schedule and getting my affairs in order. Naturally I said YES and by 10 am the next day I was huddled in the back of a rumbling Delta, the same machine I have been driving the past 2 weeks, with the rest of the group heading out to the ice shelf. We met our instructors and following a cozy indoor orientation we walked our gear to our camp site where we were to spend the next 24 hours outside concentrating on staying warm, hydrating and daydreaming about a warm beach with a margarita in hand. First we built a wall to shelter the tents against the wind, and cutting blocks of snow with a saw and shovel was fun. I originally had delusions of building an igloo but the 20 below wind chill made it easy to decide to work around the pots of boiling snow into water and take my chances in a tent for the night. The Scott tent, named after the famous explorer, Robert Scott has remained unchanged for over 100 years. As crazy as it sounds, I thought about putting in a suggestion to the manufacturer of a floor in the tent so you’re not sleeping on the bare ice, but would probably be called everything from a lightweight to a killjoy, so I sucked it up and slept on a few pads under my sleeping bag, coat, wool liner, duffle bag, heated water bottles and everything else I could pile on before drifting off to sleep. To no one’s surprise, it was still sunny, cold and windy when we emerged from our frozen cocoons in the morning, and you realize very quickly that standards of hygiene, food preparation and even tooth brushing take a nosedive when your sole purpose in life is to keep from turning into a frozen block of protoplasm. We ate a hearty breakfast of instant oatmeal and enough cups of hot cocoa and tea to float a battleship before returning to some more indoor presentations from our smirky instructors who had slept inside a heated building. Our welcome pick-up at 2PM was followed by a little debriefing and soon we were living the dream of a hot shower and a warm bed for a luxurious nap back in the dorms. It was a challenging and invigorating experience overall, right up there with prolonged rope burn, but gave all of us bragging rights the next time someone in the real world asks if we’ve ever done any winter camping. Hope your floors are unfrozen and your snow walls are sturdy.
Ever Boiling Bob
Tooth Devil outfit
The Hulk and his sidekick
Brian the Nerd and I
Shiney DC-3 and Mt. Erebus, the volcano, in the background
Last Saturday night was our Halloween celebration at the bottom of the world, billed as one of the big parties of the season. I went as the tooth devil who steals your money and pulls your teeth, and the real teeth and rusty pliers in the necklace I wore got the biggest response. Some of the other costumes were far more imaginative and everyone enjoyed the chance to act weirder than normal, which is the status quo for most of the folks here anyway.
My first solo run to pick up Happy Campers from their overnight survival course took a little longer than expected since I was enjoying the sunshine and scenery along the frozen sea that I missed the turnoff and drove a mile and a half beyond the pick-up point. It wasn’t a secret for long since my radio call in and response to turn around was broadcast on the vehicle radio network, but they booked me to drive two more runs this week so that’s proof of how desperate they are for drivers. You might think it’s hard to miss a group of 20 half frozen souls standing on the ice in hopes of getting out of the cold and wind but the mind can play tricks on you when looking out on the great void of endless frozen ocean.
Yesterday I skied to the ice runway and visited one of the air traffic guys for a bit before turning around and making it back in time for brunch and an afternoon nap. It was a great day off from the medical building and now I’m ready to face another week of dental, cooking and driving tasks. Hope your Halloween is freak-free and your driving is flawless.
Ice driving Bob
Night ski to Scott Base on the frozen Ross Sea
One of the last sunsets a few weeks ago
Hi frozen ski fans,
The powers that control our fate in the frozen south determined recently that if the sea ice was thick enough to land a 600,000 pound plane that maybe it would be OK to allow people to ski on it. I met with my reliable hiking buddies, Mike and Paul after dinner a few nights ago, and we set off on the frozen Ross Sea for Scott Base, the New Zealand Station located 3 miles around the corner. Technically of course we were skiing on water that is about 1000 feet deep, but 6 feet of ice on the surface was covered with a nice layer of snow to make it a wonderful cross country jaunt for an hour and a half. Upon our arrival, we bellied up to the bar for a Kiwi beer, then retired to the ping pong table to have some fun before catching the late shuttle back to home base and bed.
The weather weenies down here that fill the TV channels with all sorts of predictions of cold and snow, which is a pretty safe bet year round, have noted on their corner of the web site that the next sunset is Feb 20th at 12:22 AM. That means “no more dark” as Lauren used to say when she was a little nipper and would wake up with a smile on her face. It’s nice not having to deal with issues of nighttime, and sleeping is easy with a double plywood window insert modified by my old carpenter roommate that allows light or dark in the room with a custom removable wooden framed plug.
I’m scheduled to drive the temperamental Delta truck this afternoon to pick up Happy Campers who have spent the night out, and plan to hand out cookies to soothe their frostbite and hunger pains as well as drum up a little business for the dental clinic. The first extraction on the ice for the season was performed on a lucky patient yesterday, and despite the physicians here itching to get their hands on some dental forceps I told them they could pull a tooth as soon as they let me get some appendectomy experience under my belt. Friends from Colorado have written that they looked out on the first snow of the season since it dropped down into the lower 30’s, which would be a new high for our neck of the woods.
Send some news from home and enjoy your sunsets.
Ready to drive the Piston Bully back from Castle Rock on the glacier
Navy Delta sitting on the sea ice
Ivan the Terra bus may be in my future!
You could take a nap in the wheel of the Kress
Tractors for snow removal
A get around town Ford Pick-up for the Search and Rescue Team
In my ever expanding efforts to diversify my driving skills I’ve offered to be a driver for a variety of the unusual vehicles here in hopes of visiting some of the outlying areas and fill in the gaps of time between the recent meager dental patients. My networking skills paid off a few days ago when my buddy, Jeff, who runs the Vehicle Maintenance Facility, aka VMF, asked me to join him on a test run for a repaired Piston Bully. It’s a “Lost in Space” type of tracked vehicle used for all sorts of snow and ice travel, so I joined him after dinner and we took an evening road trip out to Castle Rock to see how the repairs would hold up. It was a beautiful time to be out on the glacier without any traffic in sight, and when it was time to turn around and head for home, I jumped at the chance when Jeff asked if I would like to drive, like a teenager who is offered the keys to a muscle car. The Piston Bully bumps and grinds it’s way across the ice and snow, and the engineers had comfort in mind as much as the designers of women’s high heels. You can’t get in too much trouble cruising at 10 mph and back in town I pulled it in to it’s parking spot on the ice next to the VMF without running any lights or through any walls.
The very next morning I got a call to learn how to drive a Delta, which is a late 1970’s Navy half truck, half personnel carrier used for taking people out on the sea ice for a variety of reasons. Almost a third of the gauges still have some life to them, although it’s anyone’s guess if what they show is at all accurate, so driving a Delta is a combination of intuition and luck. My instructor and I made it out and back, so now it’s a matter of time before I’ll get a call as a shuttle driver to take some happy campers out for a two day survival course on the sea ice. I get to return home to a warm room and hot shower while they learn how to spend the night out in the elements, and then I’ll pick them up the next day with a new appreciation or all things indoor and unfrozen. I’ve also continued working in the galley and am sporting a white chef’s jacket under my apron which is the kitchen equivalent of earning a few stripes and bars, so there’s no telling how much value that adds to my resume. Hope your roads are clear and your tracks are unclogged.
Double fisted spatulas on the grill in the galley
Ping pong in the gym with Weichun, my Chinese competition
Recently I rehabbed a beaten but not broken ping pong table located in a condemned building (no joke) called the paint barn, where it had sat for a number of years, neglected and forgotten. A vigilant ping pong scout located it and notified me, since I’ve become the POC, locally known as point of contact, and I went up to have a look and assess the condition of the table and decide of I should fill out a work order and wait until the polar ice melts or just fix it myself. I borrowed drills and hammers from the materials office, got screws, washers, nuts and bolts from the carpenter shop via my connections with my ex-roommate, and had some new angle iron cut and drilled by my buddy Harry from the metal shop, and within a few hours the table was resurrected to McMurdo standards, which is just a notch above scrap heap. The next day my friends at the recreation office secured a pick-up truck and four of us wrestled the new table into the truck and drove it down to the gym to join it’s sister table. The Air Force medic and I stayed behind to rig a new net and get the table in working order, and naturally had to play a little to make sure it was in proper tune like a baby grand.
Within a few minutes I suddenly started seeing double, as in 2 balls, 2 paddles, 2 of my opponent and just when I thought it might be time to take a break to decide if my brain was going to mush the world came back into normal focus and we finished our exercise and walked back to work. I casually mentioned my minor vision short circuit episode to the three doctors that were hanging around with nothing to do at the moment, and they decided it was a good excuse to swing into action and subjected me to a neurological and eye exam, EKG, glucose stick and blood draw plus an international consult back to the University in Texas to rule out everything from stroke to the Hanta virus strain found in young male lemurs in Madagascar. They lamented the fact that we don’t have an MRI machine here to allow them to scan my head and really see what’s going on in there, but wanted to once again blame my 9 lb peanut butter tub as the cause of the double vision. I sensed their disappointment when they couldn’t find a reason to pull out the gigli saw for a craniotomy to allow the demons to escape from my skull, but mentioned if I had a recurrence that I should let them do a spinal tap and some exploratory surgery so they could handle and visually confirm that all my vital organs were in their proper place, which I plan to schedule as soon as the sun burns out.
All the proof I needed that I was mentally healthy was that I won in Scrabble last night against the 2 friends who have been beating me like a dusty carpet, and I slept with a clear conscience until the alarm went off for another day at the rock pile. Hope your vision is clear and your eye on the ball.
I’ve had a number of requests for what our luxurious living arrangements look like which led to a photo shoot this afternoon of our humble surroundings. Pictured below are the dorm buildings, entrance, hallway and the room I share with my new roommate, who is a great guy from Michigan who only snores a little. It’s pretty spartan for a guy who’s used to five star hotels, concierges and assistants to pour his Perrier and Moet, so he sent me in his place. Note how the bathroom shower and toilet have that Feng Shui cell block C aura which I think was borrowed from the Russian gulag design of the Stalin era. But it’s clean, safe, might be warm by December, and if you look close at the picture of me on the bed you’ll see not one, but two desk lamps, thanks to my adding an unused lamp from work for our bedside reading pleasure. This is a huge upgrade and would classify our room as a platinum suite if the hotel grading system folks came though with a blindfold and were high on meth. We’re used to it by now, like you get used to the monkey house smell at the zoo and if I’m honest is really is more comfortable than an infected knife wound. It’s a place to call home and lay my head to sleep each night as the snow drifts through the window and the wind howls like a mortally wounded coyote.
My hopes for skiing this morning were quashed by weather condition two, which meant cold, blowing snow and visibility as far as an advanced cataract eye could see. Undeterred, my buddy and I went for an hour long hike in 60 mph winds and drifting snow, and it really felt invigorating to be in the great outdoors with the seals and penguins, who we never saw because they were probably holed up in ice caves to get out of the tornado like conditions. We made it back in time to feast on brunch and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the station. Hope your weekend is pleasant and you appreciate your spacious living.
Bedside reading Bob
Soviet style inspired architecture for the dorm buildings
Sparkling dorm entrance with fake thermostat mounted on the wall
Dorm hallway with our suite 109 just off the sunroom for the pool and spa
My bed with NASA engineered sealed window (aluminum foil) and TWO desk lamps
Custom sink with spring loaded faucets and wardrobes complete the ensemble
Versace shower with curtain upgrade
Lid free toilet doubles as a humidifier
Enjoying the 9 lb bucket of crunchy peanut butter from Skua
Taking recycling to the next level
I discovered the true meaning of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” when our medical staff did a field trip to Skua, the used goods building on the edge of town. Often when people are leaving Antarctica they jettison unwanted clothes, personal items and even food that just won’t fit in the suitcase home, and it gets sorted and shelved in a place named after a rather aggressive scavenger bird called a skua. I hit the jackpot when I came across an unopened 9 pound tub of crunchy peanut butter and claimed it before anyone else spotted it. It was only 5 months out of date, which is way more current than most of the medications in our pharmacy, and I dispelled any concerns our physician expressed about aflatoxin by eating a few spoonfuls and showing up to work still breathing the next day. It’s like town sanctioned dumpster diving, and some folks even come down with very little and plan to outfit themselves from the treasures of skua. I decided to draw the line at used piercings though, unlike the posting below that was offering top dollar for a resale on a nose ring.
The local culture here has some interesting sayings, and my favorite so far is from a woman’s perspective. There are far more men than women, and perhaps some of the women come down hoping to find a mate among the pickings, similar to the penguins who pair up by the millions. However since this place tends to attact an unusual breed of folks, the women have a saying that the odds are good, but the goods are odd. At the same time since there are so few women, I’ve heard some guys talk about how a woman who might rank a 4 out of 10 in the real world could be scored as a 7 at McMurdo, and probably a 9 at the South Pole where it’s even more isolated. I’m off the market of course and love talking to Pat every day who ranks a 10 globally in my book but it’s fun to watch it all like a fly on the wall.
Off to cook up some chicken for a birthday party at “Hut 10” that we’ve reserved for the evening. Hope your peanut butter is fresh and your ranking is high.
How about a nice 8 inch orange sea spider?
The control tower on the left next to the ice runway
Hi time travelers,
Now that we’re at 18 hours of daylight, and will be at 24 within a few weeks, the idea of changing the clocks to have the sun up longer in the day makes as much sense as an ice cream bar in Antarctica, which we had last night to compliment the usual 6000 calorie meal. We officially went on daylight savings time and moved the clock forward an hour because it’s spring down here and we stay in sync with New Zealand. In reality our darkness is disappearing at the rate of 20 minutes/day, so soon it will be sunglasses weather 24/7 and any reference to nighttime will seem out of place. It’s Sunday here, which means a well deserved day off for most of us, and I did a great hike with a few buddies before coming back for the gorge fest known as brunch. Today some fresh cinnamon buns and a cheese and mushroom omelet really hit the spot before I went to a science presentation at one of the research labs in town. We finished the tour at the touch tank and the orange sea spider that lives in the near frozen sea out the back door caught my attention, so I gave him a look at our world before setting him back in the tank before he had any thoughts of biting me with a yet to be discovered ice venom.
We toured the completed 10,000 foot ice runway earlier in the week and were told it is ready for the first flights we have seen in a month which are due to arrive tomorrow. They’ll bring new researchers and support personnel, but more importantly “freshies”, which are fruits and vegetables that have been sorely missed among the food choices. Within the next two weeks McMurdo will grow to nearly 1000 people and it marks the official start of summer, so we’ll be breaking out the shorts and Mai-Tais in no time, or not. The pasty skin toned winter folks will be departing as well, but many will return in February to start another winter season. Some even head north to work in the northern polar regions once they leave here, since apparently 8 months of cold and darkness just wasn’t enough to get them labeled as completely insane. Hope your sunshine is warm and enjoy the sunsets while you can.