chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, June 19, 2017

Antarctica: Mid-Winter Celebrations at the South Pole

(Gathered in the gym to watch the movie)
Mid-winter is here!

One of the wonderful traditions at the South Pole is the celebration of mid-winter. Like the explorers of old who found ways to commemorate their mid-winter as a way to stave off cabin fever, while at the same time exuberantly finding a way to note a halfway point, Amundsen-Scott Station has a history of finding interesting ways to ensure our mid-winter does not pass unnoticed.

One of the first ways we brought in the mid-winter this year was by sticking to the tradition of gathering to watch the movie The Shining. It might at first seem an odd choice to watch a movie about a character who is driven insane by the isolation of spending an entire winter at a hotel cut off from civilization by distance and snow - sounds somewhat familiar. There is a distinct difference in our circumstances versus the family in the movie in that the family has to deal with the hotels other
(Not a bad set up)
guests, or spirits of people who had either met or delivered untimely deaths in the hotel. Though I have heard some people make claims to the South Pole having at least one of our own wandering spirits, every account is at the worst mischievous and to my knowledge there are no claims of malicious intervention as in The Shining. 

It is a funny thing to lean into the possible issues and struggles an isolated group of people may or may not end up dealing with through a winter at the South Pole. My gut instinct is usually to avoid talking about or referencing in any way the possible side effects of the long winter, but I was talking to a friend here who had a different perspective. In his experience with military he said they were taught to use humor as a way to disarm possibly situations that could prove to be quite debilitating both mentally and physically. I've thought about that comment a few times as that is the general rule of thumb here at the South Pole. We watch horror movies in moments when a person might be doubting their decision to stay for the entire winter. We laugh and make jokes about how particular people might lose their minds at any moment and go on killing sprees. And generally I would have to say it does seem to be a good way to deal with issues head on, leaving little or no room to brood internally and let things fester.

(Working on my creepy Jack Nicholson face?)
So we watched Jack Nicholson slowly lose his mind and become a demented monster of isolated paranormal influences. Sarah had never seen the movie before and was in for a good many surprises. I had thought I had watched this particular flick, though I quickly realized this was only because I had seen so many of the famous scenes before. I had never sat down and watched the movie all the way through. What a good movie! Kubrick delivers masterful scenes mixed with an overly eerie combination of music and piercingly horrific noises that really make The Shining a psychologically horrific film. Even some of the shots and how the actors are portrayed on screen in relation to their surroundings give the viewer particular feelings that I feel the director must have agonized over in trying to bring his intentions to life. Well done Mr. Kubrick, and a huge nod of appreciation to whoever first thought this would be a good movie to watch during mid-winter. It really does work.

(The champions all together. Based on the descriptions you should be able
to pick out each person based on their category)
Another mid-winter event I had been looking forward to for quite some time was the Mid-Winter Beard and Mustache Competition. Though a few of us would like to think we invented this sort of sport and it was the inaugural facial hair competition during a South Pole winter, we also acknowledge wherever men have existed with facial hair there has always been a need to have it officially judged and weighed. I am sure it was probably around the forty-fifth South Pole facial hair contest.  I for one have always noticed the feeling of supremacy or inadequacy when passing a fellow bearded or mustached man. Some of my most cherished compliments have been offered in respect to a particular facial adornment of hairy manliness. My favorite? While attending a traditional Indian wedding, which means plenty of men with nice thick beards, a man stopped to talk to me. He himself had a beard of noteworthy significance and it went well with his traditional Indian garb. This bearded man looked me in the eyes and he said, "You have a fantastic beard. I wish my beard was as thick." Flabbergasted. Taken aback. Over the moon! I assured him I thought his beard was quite nice and then like a ten year old boy I turned to Sarah and said, "Did you hear that?"

(Judges working hard to tally up scores)
It is obvious I love facial hair. I love to grow it on my own face, to the chagrin of my wife, and I quite enjoy observing it on the faces of those around me. So it made perfect sense to host a facial hair competition. And let me tell you, we have some men down here who can grow some mean facial hair. We compiled some excellent judges, Sarah made some spectacularly appropriate prizes (cozies with mustaches on them - we also added some drinks to the mix to fill the cozies), and we gathered all the men who wanted to put their facial hair to the test. It was an event I will not soon forget. The men were encouraged to be creative, though I am not sure they needed such suggestion, and they used every tool at their disposal to earn points with the judges.

(We lined up all the beards for the judges to get one last look)
Posturing. Bribing. Swagger. In depth stories of how or why their face grows a beard or a mustache. Grooming. Jokes. Liquid courage. Costumes. And more.

The judges worked within two main categories - the beard and the mustache. Within those categories they had other factors they used to score each facial sculpture. From maturity to grooming to how it personally moved them, each contestant was stringently judged as unbiased as possible according to ten different standards. When the judging was done our officiates would huddle together to ensure their decisions were good and just. While there was of course difference of opinion, facial hair brings out a lot of heated debate, the honorable judges finally deliberated to find certain beards and mustaches as more worthy than others. They delivered their findings.  There was intense celebrating and overjoyed shouting and simultaneous weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mostly celebrating as we have a good crew.  
(In case you didn't click on the last one, everyone needed to see the winners a little more close-up)

This photo of the facial hair competition winners displays just a little bit of what we encountered this past Sunday. There will be more photos to follow at the bottom of this post, but for now just scroll back up and look at them each one more time. Just imagine these bearded and mustached men in action. It was something to behold.

(Was the Beast excited? You decide)

Stephen Ashton won the overall prize in the beard category. Labeled as The Beast, this specification was meant to capture the South Pole's overall fiercest beard. The beard that all other beards bow down to and strive to consider when thinking of their own futures. This beard knows its purpose and could live in a forest by itself. Steve's beard is certainly all of those things and then a little bit more, depending on who you ask. Of all the categories this was the most debated and even caused a rift amongst the judges. In the end though, Steve's beard, which I will call Raygar because I like it and I'm writing this post, trounced the competition and took home the big prize.

(The Loki with a prop - ice cream)

Josh Neff stunned the South Pole this past Sunday morning when he sauntered into the galley having shaved his beard into a carefully crafted work of art. As a man of his own he soundly encapsulated the second category in the beard competition known as The Loki. Known for being especially crafty, Loki was the trickster among the Norse gods. Just look at Josh's face and tell me this was not the perfect name for a person who is going to make his face into a hairy work of art. Give the man a little bit of pomade and he will make you a masterpiece. 

(The Dinovo shuffle)
John Dinovo not only shocked the judges with his distinguished beard of excellence, but in the midst of competition he inspired an entirely new category. In an abundance of beards his snow white and silvery beard shone a magnificent light and would not be denied. The judges used their almost unlimited power that had been bestowed upon them for this event and they created an entirely unsanctioned new slot - The Most Fatherly. While John acted the tall and sexy Santa Clause during his performance (look below for a pic of Sarah sitting on his lap), the judges saw beyond this trite act and into the soul of his beard. There they saw something that demanded recognition, something beyond both words and understanding. In their infinite wisdom the judges felt more than saw this staggering truth. In short, they saw the father figure. And so the birth of a facial hair star was born. 

(The celebration one does for the Basement Dweller)
Andrew Nadolski took home the last prize in the beard category. It is not a prize always sought after and in most circumstances is completely misunderstood. This is the honorable mention category and for this contest was aptly named The Basement Dweller. Andrew's facial hair simply took the cake, so to speak, and much is expected of his beard in the future. This category is the opposite of the beast and yet at the same time it does demand some respect of its own, after all it is a beard, technically speaking. There is often conflict and struggle depicted in this facial expression of attempted grandeur. One can see the potential for true valor and yet mourn at the unrealized beauty of what could be. As the tragic hero, this beard wanders the earth with every expectation of saving the world from some unforeseen evil, only to become the very evil it was created to oppose. Oddly enough Andrew shaved his beard into a goatee later in the day for another event, or perhaps because he could not bear the weight of his victory. His goatee, by all standards, was amazing. 

(The Mustache - classic rep and classic celebration)
Peter Bammes was the overall champion in the mustache category. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "Brett, you lost. You suck." And you are correct but look at Peter! He soundly took home the category called simply The Mustache. Not only does he have a magnificent beard that was in contention for The Beast, but his mustache somehow overshadows the glory of his beard and is its very own thing. This is difficult to achieve for certain but Peter's mustache has achieved that and much more. Every other mustache on station looks to his for approval and offers slight bow of its whiskers, knowing that if we lived in medieval times it would owe fealty to Peter's mustache and plenty of taxes. People have wondered if Peter's gregarious personality exudes from him or his stache. As a person who recognizes firsthand the effects facial hair can have on a person, I myself must pause to reflect on this question myself. It is entirely possible Peter might be an introverted person who likes to keep to himself, that is, until he grew a mustache of epic proportions that Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliot, and Tom Selleck would all be proud to know, wear, or just converse with on occasion. 

(I didn't have a good shot of the walrus as I was taking shots
so here is my mustache from later that night - no longer a
walrus but twirled a little bit. Photo by Gavin Chensue)
There can only be one Mustache. Our second category was entitled the Duke. This category was meant to honor a man who could not be the king, but who still rightly deserves a place amongst the royal court of facial hair. Humbly I admit, head bowed and flushed cheeks, the judges honored me this day and I took home the Duke. I had been growing my mustache since arriving at the South Pole. A few of our ERT 2 team guys had discussed growing staches at our fire training many months ago, and we thought it best each person had to grow their mustache from scratch once at the pole. None of this "I had an excellent beard and then shaved it into a stache" nonsense. And so the rough journey of working from the ground up began back in February and this past Sunday I can thankfully say my facial growing skills did not disappoint me. I had the ever classic walrus mustache, allowing my mustache free reign over my lips and even at times the inside of my mouth (though I discouraged my stache from going there). I promptly shaved my mustache as soon as the evening was over. It was hard enough dealing with the stache's influence in my life. Imagine what an award winning mustache would be like!

(Probable Cause - that a boy)
Our final and last award for the day went to the mustache best described, as my co-worker coined it, Probable Cause. You can probably glean from the name everything that needs to be said, but Adam West was able to woo the judges beyond their own expectations. While his mustache has recently come into its own, there have been mutterings on station about this category of the competition being Adam's from the get go. Like the Basement Dweller in the beard category, this mustache simply leaves people feeling a little uncomfortable. Mothers turn their children away and grown men will at times grow angry around it for no apparent reason. There is, however, always the chance this stache will transition into something great. Like the wild caterpillar every mustache, no matter how probable, has the chance for miraculous transformation. The one amazing thing that can be said for every face of a man with a probable stache - they are still persevering. Fight the good fight Adam. Congrats.

(Even the ladies were wearing facial hair. How can you judge otherwise?)
We really did have some truly fantastic competitors in this years South Pole Facial Hair Competition. James Casey has an animal growing on his face and it was a blessing having the presence of such stout beard with us. Mike Rice's mustache is older than most, if not all, the other competitors and has seen things most of us probably hope to avoid. Martin Wolf has grown his first ever beard into something to be proud of for certain. James McMichael, or JP, crafted his mustache into a Magnum PI lookalike and it was a thing to behold. Gavin Reynold's rustic wandering-man-in-the-wilderness-beard captured a few imaginations and transported us to Minnesota forests.  Jason Spann's photo of the beard he wishes he was allowed to grow but cannot because of ERT brought a few tears to the eye. Emotions ran deep.

Many thanks go out to all our contestants and judges. What a fun way to celebrate mid-winter. And as always, when there is any discussion of facial hair on our station, this blog makes a nod to Wayne White's all-powerful mustache. It is the inspiration for a shirt, it has experienced more in its life than this man can contemplate, and it is my hope I will never have to follow it from danger to safety - but I will if necessary. (More pics from the contest below)

(Dinner. We always set up a table with the people who have
passed away at the Pole. Four to date. Photo by Gavin C)
The staple of mid-winter celebrations, above even the facial hair contest, is of course the dinner. Our cooks take their gloves off (well they actually are wearing them) and go all out to prepare a fabulous meal. They work all day while we mostly take it easy. Volunteers chip in to make sure the galley gets decorated, the cooking dishes get washed, and all of the other odds and ends that need to happen for our galley to transition into a fancy dinning establishment can take place. It is definitely a highlight of the year and somehow the cooks take our frozen food, with a little bit of greens from the greenhouse, and cook up a culinary storm. This years menu was a greenhouse salad, steak (so good), grilled asparagus, swirly mashed potatoes, and delicious bread. Our dessert was a chocolate lava cake with homemade vanilla ice cream (so so good). And all of this came after a cocktail hour with scrumptious appetizers.

(Appetizers from dinner - so good)
Only so much can be said of dinner as I was too preoccupied eating to notice much else. Sarah and I both had fun attempting to eat as much of the wonderful food as possible, while enjoying the nice atmosphere of the galley turned fancy. Another aspect of our night was a Murder Mystery that began as we sat down to eat. Josh, the guy who won The Loki, spent hours upon hours creating a murder mystery game for any who were interested to play. We were able to create our own characters, which added a lot of personal touch to the fun, and Josh then crafted an entire evening of suspense and whodunit to our mid-winter night.

(My costume for Houston Mangrove)
I was a failing movie star, due to refusing to shave my mustache, with a sordid past named Houston Mangrove. When I met Melanie (played by Sarah) I left my past behind and straightened out. Sarah's character was a retired doctor, too fed up with the ickys and germs, turned mostly medical drama actor playing roles in both television and movies. The story demanded each of us having been to the South Pole before in 2007, now returning for a reunion and the possibility of buying the South Pole station. Sarah had been here before as the doctor, of course, and I had been here to film the prequel to the movie Cowboys and Aliens - makes total sense if you think about it. Every other character had different motives for wanting to purchase the South Pole from Josh, the mysterious benefactor, and naturally the plot of the evening involved intrigue, murder, deception, aliens, fortune tellers, sneaking, lying, forced truth telling, and all other sorts of murder mystery type deals. We had fun. Sarah was killed, as her former medical training was helping to discover a killer, and I was disqualified as I witnessed the murder but in the darkness could not make out who it was I grappled with and such. Eventually we learned the truth - Andrew, or the man who won the Basement Dweller, was a religious cult leader and he was on a killing spree.

(The mustache that did  not have to compete. Wayne gives a
short speech before dinner. Photo courtesy of Gavin C)
Our mid-winter celebration was quite memorable. To top it all off we had two other significant things happen. The first occurred during our final preparation for the meal while we were all eating appetizers. Someone noticed the temperature was dropping outside and for the first time since we have been at the South Pole we hit -100 degrees Fahrenheit! A landmark we were all hoping would happen while we are here and one that usually occurs earlier than mid-winter. After a lot of hoorays and hollering, a few people went outside to feel what -100 feels like.  Our group decided we would put off trying to join the 300 club until later (more on that later if you do not know what it is) as we were preoccupied. Then as we were finishing up the murder mystery we glanced up at the aurora cameras to notice they were showing tons of auroras all over the sky. Sarah and I geared up in our ECW and went outside to enjoy the show. We just lied down on the ground to watch. Sarah was able to snap a few decent shots of the southern lights dancing all across the sky and over the station, and we were both excited the auroras visited to make the end to our mid-winter evening even better.

We went off to bed and enjoyed sleeping in on our extra day off.

(Hide your intentions, bet your caravan)
Our mid-winter Monday, or extra day off, was spent lazing around the station. We went into the galley around 11am to grab some food and settled down with left-over crab and artichoke dip from the appetizers the night before (did I mention how good the food was yet?). Sarah went off to do some quilting while I watched a show, did some reading, and stretched my legs out a little bit. We then met up with some friends at 3pm to play a game called Carcassonne, a game that is a mix between Settlers of Cataan and Risk. It's a fun game and, though we have not played in a few weeks, we have been in the habit of playing this game every Sunday afternoon with a small crew of folks. Sarah was the victor this time around, go wife, and we finished up just in time for poker.

(Sarah looking for the win, Viktor wearing his Hope shirt)
JP, honorable mention from the facial hair contest, has hosted a poker game every two day weekend. It is an ongoing contest that combines the points scored from each game to a total tally for the winter. JP cooks up some appetizers, like mozzarella sticks, and we all sit down to see who will come out on top this time around. It's a fun way to kill a few hours while hobnobbing with some of the folks down here. Sarah actually won the last game, though this time around she went out a little bit earlier. I made it into the final six only to lose to a man with some wild luck. Oh to the well. JP had our machinist on station make up some really cool card holders for each of us playing. What a cool gift.

All in all we had a great mid-winter weekend. There were plenty of activities and super good food. I think we will remember this one for a while.
(And Happy Bday to Aunt Cynthia!!)

(JP sports the Magnum PI)
(James talks about his beard to the judges)

(One of the judges decides to take advantage of the Santa Clause looking John. But then forgets what she wants for Christmas. Hey, it even happened to Ralphie)
(Our Murder Mystery Costumes. Oh no, Sarah is dead!)
(And Jason explains why his amazing beard, that he is not currently allowed to grow, should still win)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Running at the South Pole During Winter

(Photo courtesy of Hunter Davis. I can't run outside but that doesn't mean
it isn't pretty. Can't see this with the naked eye as we cannot detect it.
But we can see some pretty nice greens sometimes)
I've been a runner now since seventh grade, putting me at around twenty-five years in the business. I did not actually really enjoy running, not truly, until the summer after my senior year of high school though. That puts me at the end of my teenage years as a person who chooses to run because I love it.

I have discovered, sometimes multiples times a day, since the moment I started running this is an activity most people do not understand. "You run for fun?" How many times have I heard that? "But running is what other sports do for punishment. Why would you voluntarily run?" And I understand. I completely get it. If you do the math from above, I ran for around six years before I fell in love with the...activity...pastime...obsession...way to stay, the day I fell for running it became something more to me.

I found I loved running during a grueling summer of training for my first year of college. I was preparing to run cross-country and track against some of the best collegiate athletes in the world and I was terrified about not being ready. To do enough mileage for our weekly workouts everyone on our team was running twice a day except for on Saturday and Sunday. So I found myself on an abandoned street at 4:15 am on a dark and humid morning on the streets of Memphis. Something inside of me considered the decisions I had made, the courses I had taken to end up at that exact moment. How can I explain the part of me that suddenly realized running was so much more for me than a way to get attention? What words can I use to show how it had transcended being a mere tool to help me deal with the financial burden of paying for college through a scholarship? A part of me shifted and like a young man seeing his good friend as a beautiful woman for the first time, I realized I was in love.

Nineteen years. Such a relationship is not without its ups and downs, its squabbles and moments of doubt. Within a few months of my initial pledges of devotion to running I went through a severe IT band injury and spent almost a year apart from my new love. Miraculously, after a surgery and a lot of rehab, we made our way back to each other, but nothing would ever be the same. It would take me time to realize this was not necessarily a bad thing. We spent so much time together during those college years that when I went to graduate school I spent some time away from running. I could not stay away for long.

Then came the post-collegiate running. Running only because you want to do so. With a renewed relationship running took on a wholly new life and there have been some truly great years. This is where my running story connects to Antarctica. I have not run many marathons but have enjoyed the experiences of training for them - not always the day of running the race, depending on multiple marathon factors. I think anyone who has run a single marathon knows exactly what I am talking about on this one. Training for three marathons with my brother and few friends brought wonderful long runs and forged lasting relationships. When I was living in New Zealand running was again a wonderful common ground that brought my good friend Ben into my life. He convinced me to run a mountain marathon and, though I sustained an injury I'm still nursing, I was amazed by the experience of running over ridgelines in some truly amazing mountains.

I have read about some runners who attempt to complete a marathon on each continent. I was never much intrigued by this feat myself but after completing one on two different continents I find myself oddly motivated. Not too many people find themselves with the chance to complete a marathon on the six major continents, and even less find the opportunity to visit the seventh, let alone run a marathon there. And, believe it or not, there are a number of marathons that take place down here. Most are done around the stations and are put on by people who love to run, or for the sake of runners on the station. There is also at least one put one for the whole purpose of flying to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. Depending on the route you take, getting to the starting line of one of these marathons is quite difficult and can be extremely expensive. None of these marathons will be happening while I am here. Why? It is too cold. The ones that do happen are in the summer and our time here does not overlap.

So do I give up on the chance? Or do I like some bumbling idiot decide there is still a way to get this done? We have three treadmills, yes I cringe just writing this, and I made the decision to train for and run a marathon on these machines of stationary monotony. This is one of the weirdest decisions I have made in the world of running and there have been many moments so far to make me doubt the sanity of such a choice. I know almost any runner who has run a marathon in Antarctica will question the validity of this quest on the grounds that it is simply not the same as running out on the unforgiving ice and snow in extremely cold temperatures. And a big part of me agrees. I will, however, not allow a small matter like timing to rob me of this goal. I could argue that the many shortcomings of running long distances on a treadmill come with their own obstacles, which in my opinion truly make running more difficult. Having done a few runs outside before the weather became too difficult, I can say it was actually quite enjoyable. At the time I was not ready for 26.2 miles. For now I will forget such objections could exist and will simply plod forward on the treadmill towards the finish line and hope it does not drive me to insanity.

At this point the longest run I have successfully completed is sixteen miles. Yesterday I hopped on the stationary running machine and hoped for eighteen miles. Four episodes of The West Wing Season two later, I was struggling to keep my body going and I was running short on my time goal. During my run I had to back off my pace and thus was only nearing sixteen when I needed to finish up and head to a meeting. I was not too disappointed as I had still beaten my longest run on the treadmill by a full mile and I had just gotten another good long run in the bank. Today's run will be a nice short recovery run.

Will I make it to a full marathon distance? I hope. My legs have been hesitantly accepting the new routine and if I can keep putting in enough time on my strengthening exercises and stretching they should continue to be fine. The hardest part for me has been dealing with the acclimation to altitude in combination with the treadmill. I have still not become accustomed to running the pace on the treadmill I usually run back home on the roads. The mental aspect to continuing to run in an unchanging environment, even with the help of television shows, has been trying to say the least. And yet, very slowly, progress has been made. I've decided pace might just have to suffer.

It is my hope I will leave here having added one more continent to my marathon belt, even if folks will add an asterisk to it. It is really something I am doing for me anyway. As I run the dark winter months away down here at the South Pole I hope the rest of you are not taking your wonderful outdoor and ever changing runs for granted. Enjoy them! Get on the trails for me. Go for a few runs in the rain. Run with some friends. For goodness sake, just enjoy it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

South Pole Happenings: Lebowski in Antarctica

(The only character I could even attempt dressing up as was
of course the Mysterious Stranger. Even with my mustache
and its fabulous growth, I still felt like a child when Sam
Eliot displayed his magnificent facial hair sculpture)
South Pole Update.

Sarah and I celebrated our tenth anniversary and it was a memorable way to do so down here at the Pole. Some amazing friends set up a scavenger hunt with hints and prizes, which was really fun and even included needing to use Voltron (our electric fork lift) to take a crate down from the high storage area. The galley crew made a super delicious chocolate cake, probably the best I've had since I've been here and I think that is without the bias of knowing it was made in honor of our anniversary. We went out to dinner, at the galley of course, and ate some scrumptious mahi and wonderful fresh kale salad (thank you hydroponic greenhouse). And of course after going out for dinner we followed it up by going to watch a movie. JP has been hosting new movie night and we watched the movie Sing. We laughed pretty hard and went to bed having enjoyed a wonderful anniversary.

(Eric dressed as the Dude. Not bad, not bad. He was
our best dressed costume by far in my opinion)

The South Pole is a place of continuous activity. One super fun way to spend your time is by hosting or going to parties or gatherings of different types. This blog has already described Yuri's night, St. Patrick's Day, and a few other such fun events. As most sane people love the movie The Big Lebowski, it was not a stretch to consider hosting an event surrounded by this movie - mostly watching it, but a movie like this demands further respect as well.

We rolled out the necessary ingredients for making white Russians - huge thanks to the galley for providing us with milk and cream as that made all the difference in the world - and everything else one might need for watching such a glorious movie. Popcorn was popped. Some bowling implements were brought out for use and for display, though the displays were used too. People did what they could to scrounge together outfits fashioned after various characters. We moved all the couches into the gym and we prepared everything to watch the movie in style.

But something was missing. Something of substantial import. The rug! Sarah came through on this one as it is one of the only things she knows for certain about The Big Lebowski. There is a rug and it really ties the room together. We have a tiny rug in our room and per her suggestion we took it down the gym. The enormity of the size of the room compared to the rug made it even better.

That rug really tied the whole room together, did it not? Rug pictured with the Mysterious Stranger and the Dude above.

So we successfully enjoyed a fun night at the South Pole and we watched a good film.

Work has been good. In the materials department we keep moving things around and doing more inventory. I really like our group as we often volunteer to help with random jobs around station, which is both fun and a big part of what I am used to doing in previous jobs. It is nice to continue is the same vein.

(Sarah went dressed as the female nihilist from the movie.
The highlight of her outfit was of course the missing toe!
No toes were harmed in the making of this costume but it
sure does look like it doesn't it?)
Just today we helped the galley staff take their trash out, which is not quite as easy as it is back home. Their trash needs to be lowered from the station by a crane down to the ice below, and this can only be done when it is warmer than negative seventy-five degrees F outside - otherwise bad news for the machinery. They lower it down and we help take it to the proper bins on a giant waste sled and then our wastie guy moves it all to a waste berm until summer when it is flown off the continent. This past Saturday we jumped in the kitchen for an hour or so to help Zak, our chef, make some pizzas for dinner. We have cooked pizzas for dinner a few times for the station as a department, a task we find to be really fun.

Food push. Two tasks we do every week is food pull and food push. The first is when we gather all of the foods the galley orders and the second is when we negotiate getting said food up to the station. I'll probably have an entire post about this at some point and add some fun pictures of the process. We were fortunate today as the temperature was just warm enough for us to use the freight elevator as opposed to having the entire station create a daisy chain to pass the food up one item at a time up ninety-two steps.

(Filling out our daily JSA - Job Safety
Assessment Form. A daily task for me I didn't
know Kim was taking a pic of it. Mustache
in deep thought) 
Sarah is still keeping people alive and healthy. One of her weekly tasks is leading training sessions for the ERT 3 team - the medical response team. Of all the teams it sounds like their training is the most fun. Catherine and Sarah come up with various skills that need to be either practiced or learned by their team should an emergency ever occur. This past week their "victim" was supposed to be spurting blood. Instead of agreeing to saying, "I'm spurting blood from my arm," they negotiated and ended up using syringes to shoot water out to represent the blood. A fun way to not only catch an unsuspecting ERT person off guard in an exercise, but just plain good ingenuity on taking a routine exercise and making it memorable. I bet most of them will remember what to do now should the real situation ever occur!

I wanted to mention a particular website in this post. It is put together by Bill Spindler, a man who has been to Antarctica a number of times. He describes the program in detail on his site and keeps immaculate records of winter-over details. The link I'm leaving here is a compilation of sites he has put together from people this year, and in the past, who blog about their experiences here. It is fun to read their posts and see their perspective on things. Take a gander and look through it. Make sure to wander through Bill's site as he has some really interesting information it. Click here!

That is all for now folks. I am sure we will have some posts in the next few weeks as there are some big events scheduled around Mid-Winter. Sarah and I have been here almost half of our time so far. Oh and I will need to talk about this further too, but one of our guys is showing new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had never seen an episode before coming down and after two of them I am becoming quite taken by it as it is hilarious.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

10 Year Anniversary at the South Pole

(A long way back. A day to remember. June 2, 2007)
Today Sarah and I celebrate ten years since that wonderful day back in 2007 when we married at Germantown Methodist Church. I am not sure either of us knew the adventures we would go on at the time - well maybe I had no idea. It is entirely possible Sarah has had all of this planned out ahead of time. She is crafty like that. Please apologize an entire post where I gush over my wonderful wife.

Sarah. She is indeed crafty.

She is also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. It does get old when your best friend and constant companion is always more than a few steps ahead of you, but let's not get caught up on that little fact. She is our focus and she is impressive.

I knew she was special when I first saw her.

I was a freshman in college when I became aware of her as a person. My mother called me in my dorm room, remember those days when no one had cell phones really, and she said, "This girl just broke your girlfriend's school record." Mothers certainly have a way of getting a son's attention. After some meandering about how I dated the girl who previously held the school record but she was never officially a girlfriend, I said, "What's her name?"

Surely this is a strange way to hear about your future wife for the first time, but that was still years off.

I saw Sarah at the TSAA State cross-country meet. I had driven to the Nashville area to see my younger brother Bryan and my previous team run. Naturally I cheered on the girls Houston High School team while I was at the meet. Sarah went running by and I probably shouted some generic cheer like, "Go Houston! Ya!" And then I thought something along the lines of, "Wow, she can run. She's cute too."

Cute. Cute was the right word at the time. She was a freshman in high school and I was in college.

The next time I remember seeing Sarah was at a running camp we put on for a while. It was a fun way to use the gifts of running to give back to others. We did our best to provide an atmosphere where local runners could come and learn how to become better runners, with the ultimate goal of giving some tips on how to get a collegiate scholarship from running. Sarah did not attend the camp as a regular but would show up randomly for certain days. During one of our sessions where we asked the runners a bunch of questions about running and other such related topics. Sarah was present and left an indelible mark on me.

(One from the honeymoon in St. Lucia)
She runs fast, she's cute, and she's obviously smart. What would you do?

I told my younger brother he should ask her out. Seriously. He did not ask her out. 

After another year or so I saw Sarah again, most likely in similar circumstances as before. Since Bryan had ignored my earlier brotherly advice I told him he should really ask her out this time. Thank goodness he never did! That would just be weird.

Both of us continued our separate lives for a few more years. Running stayed a major part of each of our separate lives and it was again the common factor that drew us together again. This time I was in seminary and she was preparing to enter her junior year of college.  As runners sometimes do, we both signed up to run the Firecracker 5k for St. Jude. When the race was over I was walking around with my younger brother and his friend Ricky. Sarah was walking in the opposite direction and everyone started talking. I still did not really know her too well but came away thinking similar thoughts to every other time I had seen her. There is something special about this girl.

Not long after, thanks to the continuation of our running camp and a collegiate Bible study I was helping lead through Hope Church (long story but both factors I used to ask her out), Sarah and I went on our first official date. Our story as a couple was beginning and the girl who had always impressed me became more and more amazing as I learned more about her.

There were trips to go visit her in Lexington, VA where she attended Washington and Lee University.  There were trips where she would come down to visit me in Atlanta, GA where I was attending seminary at Mercer University. We were busy falling in love with one another.  Those were some good days. I am still convinced these must have been among my most impressive moments to have caught and held the attention of Sarah.

And then at Jordan's Point park, on November 7th 2005, she agreed to marry me.

(Now look at our silly selves. We were made for each other)
The rest has been the greatest adventure of my life. My love and admiration of her as a person has only grown exponentially as I watched her work her way through medical school and an emergency medicine residency program. We have both worked hard to stay in love through such a trying process. Sarah has had to delve deeper than me, reaching into inner reserves of strength, kindness, and love that most of us just don't ever need to tap.

She is still impressing me. When we talk about our dreams hers include the South Pole, getting back into Nepal to volunteer at camps for climbers, pushing her talents to take her wherever we might want to go, visiting more of the Arctic, and seeing as much of this world as we can together.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, Sarah is the woman of my dreams and I am blessed to live my life with her. She challenges me, keeps me honest, and takes me places I never imagined were possible to go. I am in love with her and am looking forward to the next ten years.

Running introduced us and I've been running after her ever since.

PS - We just finished an anniversary scavenger hunt Catherine, Josh, and the Materials department put together for us. Fun clues, prizes, and such a fun time scurrying around the entire station to find prizes! What a fun lunch time adventure! Thanks!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easter at the South Pole: Well and a Bit More Too

There have been a few major events down here at the South Pole since we last posted. With the internet not working too quickly it has been a challenge to try and get anything uploaded; however, with a little bit of persistence and lots of waiting we might have a few photos and stories finally ready. 

(In this first picture you can see Catherine and Sarah posing with their super duper space rover)
Yuri’s night. This is a fun party hosted by a station regular. When I say regular, I mean this is Robert’s thirteenth winter at the South Pole. Wow! Robert loves space. He has in fact been teaching us astronomy every Tuesday night, and it is only natural for him to want to commemorate the first human being who made it into space. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin made it out of Earth’s orbit and over fifty years later we are still celebrating that moment here at the South Pole with Yuri’s night.

(Yes, I'm a polar bear - more coming on that. Some wonderful person made this costume and left it at the South Pole!)

One is encouraged to dress up for this event in a space themed outfit. This normally involves a lot of aluminum foil, super creative costumes, at times planning years in advance, and then some dance music once everyone has congregated. As you most obviously deducted already from the picture, Sarah and Catherine came dressed as Space-women and I am an unfortunate polar bear taken captive from another planet –  obviously a planet where polar bears are the dominate species where they walk upright, speak English (oddly enough), and as of this year have engaged in a bitter war against all Space-women after the uncouth kidnapping of Berangle the IV.

(Our Yuri's Night space group lines up for a photo. There were all sorts of wonderful costumes and overall the spirit of the night was clearly upheld in style)

As shocking as this all might sound to hear of Space-women abducting a noble polar bear, they made up for this atrocious fact by bringing their space rover with them to Yuri’s night. Not only does it explore new planets but it also offers a mini-bar with ice and drinks, even for kidnapped polar bears. So that’s kind of nice though it does not quite balance out their earlier actions.

(I've place an up close pic of these eggs because of the Guam egg I painted for Sarah. Who says while you are stuck at the South Pole you cannot have some palm trees and the ocean?)

Not long after Yuri’s night we celebrated Easter. As a Christian I was pretty excited to be somewhere like the South Pole for Easter. It is actually one time of the year I am excited to be most anywhere, but for some reason the idea of experiencing the joy of the resurrection down here put a slightly different spin on it for me. Perhaps there is a powerfully symbolic act in focusing on redemptive hope and life as the world around us here becomes darker as true winter takes hold. It makes me think of the verse in John 3 where he says that light has come into the world but people loved the darkness instead of the light. The light will not be overcome. Living in perpetual darkness, and knowing the sun is months from returning, lends to many thoughts on how wonderful Easter truly can be for us.

(This is a pic of all the eggs that were painted by our station. Can you pick out Sarah's three? Hint: One of them depicts el mundo in Antarctic style - answers at the bottom)

Hope is always there. God loves us so much that everything was given to show this love. There is nothing God cannot fix. There is a light that cannot be extinguished no matter how dark things seem. So much more!
(This is Sarah's picture of the moon pillar, as described elsewhere in the post. Unfortunately the pictures are ahead of the text - we will all just have to deal with it as it is the best I can do under these internet circumstances. She really got a good shot of this!)

One of our guys went above and beyond all the call of duty in organizing fun events for fellow co-workers at the station by organizing an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt. Yes he hid eggs all around station and even outside. Do not worry, we hardboiled them and decorated them for good measure first. This good man then created thoughtful hints for us to follow and labeled various eggs worth more points depending on location or the decoration of the egg. Sarah and I teamed up and managed to get second overall, being overtaken in the last hour or so by a superb team of South Pole gentlemen. The prizes? Three baskets of delightful goods from the store and even some stuff one cannot get on station. Our second place basket had a bottle of wine, candy, stickers, a sweet NPX (that’s our airport ICAO code which is super cool), and other various goodies. For an event that was free to join the prizes were simply extraordinary. I managed to get a little bit of what could be called frostnip (although I’m calling it wind burn) on my nose while I was outside wandering around looking for the high point eggs. No worries as I am all better now, mostly!
(I rave a little bit about this phenomenon I am describing as the moon cross instead of a simple moon pillar, as you'll read later. This picture was taken my Martin Wolf who has been dazzling the station with his ability to capture auroras and the night sky with his camera. He has graciously agreed for me to post this photo and in the future some of his aurora pics. Please click on his Flickr link to see more of his shots -

Well we have been getting some work done down here too. In materials we have been doing inventory, some more inventory, and when we need a break we do more inventory. Yay! It is not always fun counting for endless portions of time but we have a great team and we find ways to make it enjoyable. When I am feeling especially inventoried out I use the big guns – I tell myself inventory is the key to survival down here. If the counts for the parts to the power plant, or the amount of food we have (which would be really hard to get so far off it’s super detrimental of course), we could find ourselves in an interesting predicament. So I count with more fervor and sharpen my mind against the demons of laziness. Yes Sarah’s job is clearly of a higher import than mine, but that does not mean I cannot tell myself what I need to hear to get the job done right. That last line was said in a sardonic tone and a smile on my face, at least it was in my mind as I typed it out.

(This picture of an aurora over Cryo and the LO Arch was taken on our camera with the use of a friend's tripod we are borrowing. I've been having a hard time capturing great shots in the night and I'm working on it. This is probably one of my best as it shows the aurora decently and some stars too. I'll try better!)


Church services on Sundays have been going well. There are five of us who gather together and we are reading through the book of Acts. We use a lot of videos for worship or even for our lessons if they fit so feel free to comment and offer suggestions if you have any or know of any online. We do not have much internet to download things like this but I’ve managed to get a few that have helped out. It has been fun to use worship songs from Hope Church as they have offered a lot of support to us for this winter over. Not only did they give us shirts for everyone on station but they have also been praying for us while we are here too. Please feel free to think of us often and if you do pray lift up the entire station. As we get further and further into the cold dark months of winter people tend to find more and more faults with one another. We cannot leave and spend all of our time around only forty-six other people. Keep that in mind as we look for patience, kindness, and understanding down here.

(The booze barn explosion! Just look at all of the lost cola. Well if it helps you sleep better at night most of the soda we have on station is well past expiration, and even when it is not it tastes funny at altitude)
Speaking of fun religious stuff, one as day I was walking out to do some inventory of a milvan out by our cargo office with our amazing materials team the moon decided to put on an amazing display. Well technically the ice crystals in the air, as it has been explained to me, decided to put their mysterious effect on the moon beams to create what is known as a moon pillar. We had seen one of those about a month before, as seen in the great pic Sarah took, but this moon pillar was a moon cross! So beautiful and to my knowledge no one was able to take a picture that quite captured just how spectacular it really looked (that comment includes the picture of Martin’s in this post - great pic but still lacking). Naturally I reveled in this moon cross and had my own personal spiritual moment, contemplating the possible meanings of a cross of light hanging in our winter sky. It was a sight to behold.
(We were helping clean up the booze barn explosion and Sarah posed for this picture with the ruined can of diet coke. We thought the two diet coke drinkers on station were going to need to strictly ration themselves to make it through the season after this catastrophe, and yet destiny was kind as there was plenty already in one of the inside storerooms so no need to worry)

It has been interesting learning more about the science done here at the Pole, and even astronomy as mentioned earlier in the post. The more I learn the more magnified the Creator is by it all. I know most of what I am learning is even evidence some people use to discount God, but I have never found science and belief in God to be in conflict. For one of our recent astronomy classes we went outside to learn firsthand. It is amazing to note the differences that exist between the northern and southern hemisphere, and then even more so the strange oddities of being at one of the two poles. Gazing out at the clear strip of the Milky Way stretching all the way across the sky, pondering the significance I see in the Southern Cross, and trying to drink in everything else Robert was saying about the sky above us, I was struck by intimacy.
(On one of our dark walks from the Clean Air Sector I took this pic of my materials team as they were leaving ARO. It's a little bit shoddy but I like it nonetheless. This was when the sun still offered a slice of light when there were no clouds on the horizon. All gone now!)

Standing beside Sarah at the South Pole under the vastness of the southern night sky I was not filled with a vacant feeling of the infinite universe. Instead I was filled with a gracious love and overwhelming thankfulness. The sky was not quietly whispering of my Creator’s love for me but was magnificently shouting of its sound hold on me and those around me. I reached out and put my awkwardly bulky gloved hand on Sarah’s arm, thankful we were sharing this together and for her heart. We just gazed at the beauty of darkness penetrated by light that has traveled thousands of light years to shimmer above us.  Black holes, red giants, white dwarfs, nebulas, galaxies, and all of the other stellar sights to behold. Wow!!  Then we ran inside to warm up.

(Look at her tongue sticking out of her mouth! Concentration is a must when riding the unicycle for certain. This was one of her runs where she made it all the way down the gym, and she started without the help of the wall. She is really getting good)

An update on Sarah’s unicycling – yes I’ve quit at this point not because of the difficulty really, though it is quite that, but in the hopes to stay healthy with no injuries to parts of my body I would rather keep quite well. Sarah on the other hand has been excelling and her one wheeled skills have been rapidly improving. I watched her ride the entire length of the gym with a big smile on her face. She did use the padded wall on the opposite side to come to an abrupt halt, but she successfully is very on her way to joining the circus when we get back. Too bad the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will no longer be around to recruit her. Sometimes you have to put down your stethoscope and seek after your precariously balanced dreams – at least she would get some elephant time if it ever worked out.

(Steve and I pause to look at parts from an electric milvan. Hmm, what parts are these? No idea. Well since posting Mr. Steve has requested for his glorious photo to be taken down as he is shy of internet activity - most of you saw it already anyway as I told him our policy is to give us ten days on any photo)

Outside of those updates, our time here has been going very well. I’ve been enjoying that my job takes me outside quite a bit and have been taking in the beauty of the Antarctic night. Sarah has been enjoying being the doc and to my knowledge has not had many patients.

There are the random incidents that do occur now and then, such as the booze barn heater going off one night. For some reason the alarms did not alert the crew here and you can see from the picture the result of what happens to soda when exposed to the temperatures here. We have also had various other events: a poker tournament one weekend, a spa weekend (one of our guys is a licensed masseuse!), and there is a tiny little lamb that gets hidden around station as a scavenger hunt for prizes every so often. Life at the Pole is a little different but it is definitely life.

(Counting the ever important, though numerous, power plant inventory. I have every ounce of my mustache focused on counting. It's coming in quite nice don't you think?)

If you ever have questions feel free to leave a comment and ask about specific things or topics you would like to hear about.

(During our Spa Day Sarah stops to get a manicure from one of our co-workers - thanks Hunter!)

Were you correct about which eggs Sarah painted? Here they are!