Greetings Unfrozen North Americans,
My flight out of McMurdo station on Ross Island Antarctica was actually on time, unlike most of the US air carriers, and 5 hours later I got to hug Pat for a long time at the Christchurch, New Zealand airport. We spent the next month together touring the South Island and all of it’s amazing sights, and finished up getting a tan on the Cook Islands in the south pacific while snorkeling with the fish and watching the sunsets through the emerald waves of the coast. Next stop was Florida to see Lauren and her adorable puppies, and then make the rounds of other family and friends while Pat flew off to London to attend to business. I then spent 10 days in South Padre Island, Texas flying across the bay with my windsurfer and getting frustrated with my kiting skills, or lack thereof, before heading home to Colorado.
I was really living the dream of working in Antarctica, but I’m glad to be home and ready to go back to work next week. It seems like half of my wardrobe has penguins emblazoned on it from the swag I picked up along the way, and I got to relive a little taste of the continent when a strong cold front moved in to Colorado last night and the temperature dropped to 8º degrees this morning. It’s not much compared to -85º at the South Pole right now, so I bundled up and went for a walk to the post office just like old times on the ice.
The more shocking news is that I joined the 21st century and with advice from Pat and Lauren got an I-phone and a new number to replace my old land line. You can delete 593-2020 and 201-7163 and my new number is 719 494-7703, and I even leave it on most of the time! I’m still adjusting to what I call the “tameness” of life back home, but am enjoying the pleasure of buying bananas, avocados and other“freshies” whenever the mood strikes. So, write a note or give a call and let me know what’s going on in your life these days!
Good to be back Bob
Greetings warm friends,
I’m writing this note from the comfort of the station at the South Pole, where it’s been sunny and a steady wind chilled -74F for the past few days. I originally was supposed to fly out on Wednesday as the sole passenger on a fuel delivery, so I put my cold weather jacket, bibs and bunny boots on and schlepped up to the transport building for my ride to the glacier runway. After 10 minutes of hanging around, I finally asked a desk jockey whose job is to plan flights in and out of McMurdo and he flippantly told me that I probably wouldn’t be flying because they didn’t have a plane to make that run. I exercised unusual restraint by not shaking him like a bobble head and asking him the rhetorical question of “Did it just occur to you NOW that you didn’t have a plane, or is that usually an afterthought for a flight to the South Pole?” I ended up with a day off to hang around and try again the following day, where miraculously a plane was provided in advance for the 2 ½ hour flight south.
I’ve seen and treated 25 dental patients, or Polies in the last two days, and was due to return to the big city of McMurdo this afternoon, but the weather gods caused that flight to cancel, so I’m here for at least another two days. There’s ping pong, pool, Scrabble, movies and dish washing to fill the time, plus over 100 interesting people who have either been here for 3 months or are planning to spend the next 9 months in the cold and dark once the sun goes down for good in April. When the plane is finally cleared to fly north I’ll be joined by 2 Polies that need root canals as soon as we land so I can put them back on the next flight to return to the Pole, since the designers of the dental clinic here didn’t bother to consult with a dentist to make it work for most dental procedures.
Once I’m back in McMurdo I’ll have 5 days to departure to the sweet embrace of Pat and the green warmth of New Zealand for the next 2½ weeks before returning to the US. Hope your winter is helping to keep the oil and gas industry running.
Pole basking Bob
Hi cargo lovers,
The big news is that someone spotted the Russian icebreaker on the edge of the sea ice, so it may break its way here in a matter of a few days and open up water for the cargo ship, a cruise ship or two, and most importantly some whales that we can spot from the shoreline. We had a final party at Hut 10, the house that used to be the home for the Navy commander, and I manned the grill for steaks while my medical brethren made pizza, chips and guacamole and some pretty tasty green beans. We’re under two weeks until redeployment, which is the local term for flying back to the unfrozen world of New Zealand and beyond. Pat’s got her ticket to arrive in Christchurch on February 15th and I hope to be there the same day for a long hug and hit the road with her for a few weeks of R & R.
My buddies and I hiked Castle Rock for the last time this morning, and it was sunny, clear and almost windless as we climbed to the top to take in the view of the glacier and the blue sea beyond with some impressive icebergs off in the distance. I’ve got a few days of work, and then off to the South Pole to treat a few patients before coming back for the final run at McMurdo medical. I’ve made a lot of neat friends here that I expect to keep in touch with and relive the tales over time, and will leave the clinic in better condition than I found it for the next dental adventurer.
Hope your winter is going as well as our summer, and enjoy some strawberries, bananas, apples and any other fresh fruits that we could only dream about for the last 2 months!
Hi summer snow worshippers,
Looks like our 3 weeks of warm weather in the 30’s is over, since a nice blizzard moved in this morning. January 19 here would be the equivalent of July 19 in North America, except that there’s about 6 inches of the white stuff on the ground and more coming down every hour. The timing is perfect for the summer marathon tomorrow morning, which is run on a glacier for 26 miles and no doubt there will be plenty of hard core runners and skiers ready to go when I pull up in a Delta to take them to the start of the course. I’m planning to take my skis along to get some exercise while I wait 3 hours for the finishers and maybe sing some camp songs while we drive back to the town. We may have to slow down as we pass by the New Zealand base since the prime minister is visiting this weekend and no doubt they will be on high alert for rogue penguins or seals.
We’ve had some more penguin visits lately as the sea ice is melting and there are pockets of open water for them to pop up for a rest. Hopefully the Russian icebreaker will make it to our ice pier in two weeks time, and I’m told to expect to treat some of them in my dental chair, which will allow me to resurrect my rusty 16 year old Russian dental vocabulary. Since the average Russian only needs a months worth of dental care it will be interesting to see what they want me to do for them.
Last weekend the fire department hosted an open house, and I went by for a visit and got a chance to don a full suit with an air tank and handheld infrared sensor. Next task was to enter a visually impairing smoke filled building to find the warm body and drag it out, all the while sweating and there wasn’t even a fire to really warm things up. It all gave me a new appreciation for the madness of running into a burning building and realize how nice it is to make a living by grinding teeth to dust.
I’m told my plans to return to the South Pole have come together and I’ll travel 800 miles south again in a few weeks with the new doctor who is hired to spend the winter there. I’ll teach the doc about handling dental emergencies as well as clean the teeth of other workers who have signed up to winter over in the 8 months of cold and darkness, which by itself should be enough to commit them to a place for the mentally insane. After that I’ll be on the one week countdown to meet Pat in New Zealand, which she’ll enjoy even more since as I type this she is sitting out a snow storm outside of London on her latest assignment with her job at Bosch.
Hope your new year is starting off well and the snow isn’t too deep to get out and have some fun.
Ax brandishing Bob
Greetings Apocalypse survivors of 2013,
The year ending with a bang as I was summoned to the South Pole to see a few dental patients and check out the facilities for a future visit. The administrators of the research station were as welcoming as a wounded wolverine and wanted me to sleep in a Quonset hut away from the main building with an outhouse and to leave on the next flight home, but my medical buddies told me to ignore them and stay in the medical suite with a cozy hospital bed and bathroom with running water a few feet away. I was more than happy to stick it to ‘the man” and make myself at home for 3 days and managed to see some dental patients, play a little ping pong and ski around the base, especially enjoying the loop around the 24 hours of time zones when you circle the marker for the geographic south pole at the bottom of the rotating planet. Another highlight was touring the underground ice tunnels for water and waste that were dug 10 years ago with walls and the ceiling that are slowly closing in, so claustrophobics need not apply. It’s a steady 60 below zero down there, which is cooler than the summer temp of -35 but warmer than the minus 80 to 100 in the dark winter months. The 9300 foot elevation is mostly the thickness of ice at the Pole, so the ski report would read something like a few inches of powder on top of a base of a mile and a half of ice, which beats out the best conditions in Colorado for a solid base. I actually missed my little bed at McMurdo, so I returned in time for the annual New Year’s Ice Stock Music festival and listened to 11 bands play until 1:00 AM last night. The party included great music, a Chili cook-off, some Frisbee fun and hanging out in the sunlit, cold climate for 9 hours with a little drinking and socializing going on all night. Today I woke up to sunny, clear skies for the first day of 2013, so I found a bike and did some touring to see friends at the New Zealand base a few miles down the road. It was a great way to start the new year, but tomorrow it’s back to work with a root canal to start the day and a fairly busy dental schedule the rest of the week to keep me out of trouble. Hope your year ended well and the new one brings some good times too.
To the Pole and Back Bob
Hi Ice road warriors,
I made some new friends at LDB recently, which is the long distance balloon project where they send up a 6000-8000 lb. payload attached to a helium filled balloon the size of the Houston Astrodome once it reaches it’s maximum altitude and expansion. I drove out with Lisa from the galley to help with lunch preparation, but once we arrived at the LDB base on the ice shelf, we had frozen and then burst pipes to deal with in between peeling, cooking and serving a delicious lunch for the 50 folks who work out there. I got the VIP tour of the facility to ooh and ahh over the logistics of the payload that was a telescope and instruments that could record atmospheric conditions in sub zero temps at 120,000 feet, circle the continent a few times, explosively detach from the balloon and land with a parachute on the ice for recovery.
The afternoon was reserved for playtime, and I drove a Challenger bulldozer pulling a grooming blade for the roads, and finished the day in a Stretch 8 dozer custom built by Caterpillar in 1955 for the newly formed U.S. Antarctic program. It’s one of only 3 left in the world, which are all down here, and is used to pull the heaviest loads around the ice shelf. Driving the Stretch 8 is like a full body shakedown with the noise level approaching a charging locomotive, so I was ready to say adios to my instructor after an hour and a half to allow my bones and hearing to realign. Back in town, I’m now known as one of the Delta instructors, having put a few months of driving the beasts to the happy camper survival program and back without running off the cliffs or sinking into the frozen depths of McMurdo sound. I still get to play with my drills and dental tools back in the office, but it’s a great break to sit behind the wheel of an 80,000 lb diesel machine with a view out the windshield of endless ice vistas.
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
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.
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