chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, August 7, 2017

Antarctic Christmas in July: How the South Pole Do

Christmas in JULY.  Why? Because it's cold you twit and it's fun to celebrate Christmas whenever you can to enjoy it more (sorry, pathetic attempt to take a quote from Alan Rickman and use it for Christmas joy of movie viewers everywhere. We are all less off for him having passed away. This is from him playing the Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Ya that was bad, but Christmas in July was not. Most people like Christmas and when it is frigidly cold outside it feels like it is time for Christmas. So Kim, my supervisor down here for the materials department and a lady who loves Christmas, planned an entire event for us to celebrate. As you can see from the picture, this of course included as much decorating as possible. In a good way, if that is possible, the galley looked as though our Christmas decoration boxes projectile vomited their contents onto the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was beautiful and I can say with pride my hands were a big part of making sure it was as classy as described.

Well you know how Christmas goes, especially when it is celebrated at the wrong time of the year - amazing!! Once our decorating was done, we started off our celebrations by decorating tons of cookies that Kim, Sarah and Catherine shaped and cooked up for us all. Sugar Bear, one of our beloved cooks (and yes we call him Sugar Bear), had prepared all the dough to make this cookie experience possible. Thanks Sugar Bear and cookie makers! As you will see from the pictures below, these lovely folks made so many cookies that our cookie decorating party was really quite fun. People brought their creative skills to life in the form of sugar cookie art. You might think I am just making this up or being polite, but when you look down to some of the cookies these people brought to life you will see what I am talking about. Michelangelo? Maybe not, but certainly art. Penguins with backpacks. Polar bears eating penguins. A distant relative of the octopus I made in an attempt to make Steve uncomfortable (he's not a fan of the octopus as he appropriately fears their brain capacity and ability to track one down far from the ocean). I should have added more photos of the cookies but you'll get the idea.

With cookies done and eager to taste what Kim was preparing for our Christmas day feast, some of us gathered in the galley to watch Christmas movies. Choices ranged from A Christmas Story to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Elf to various other titles that were watched that day. People were celebrating through the kind disposition Christmas beverages offer in times like these, and mostly there was just holiday relaxation. Dinner was served and was scrumptiously wonderful. It is odd how a few movies, a little bit of music, the right food, and some lights can make a place feel so much like Christmas right smack in the middle of July. Having celebrated Christmas in July twice now, once before in New Zealand, I am a fan. Why only have Christmas once a year when one can easily have it twice?

What else goes along with Christmas in July - gift exchange (as seen in pictures)! We all worked hard on scrounging up the most desirable of gifts and wrapped them for a good ole' fashioned White Elephant style gift swap. Gifts ranged from calendars to bottles of wine to handcrafted replicas of this years pole marker (smaller in scale of course). There was excitement as people opened gifts. There was despair as others then came and ruthlessly stole their prized gift. There was amusement and laughter as others watched people lose their newest joy in life. And then there was a type of revenge, not directed at the person who had stolen their gift because that is impossible according to the rules, as those deprived of their gifts went searching to steal from some other person admiring the gift they had just opened. It was as any white elephant gift exchange should be.

And then there was our Ham Radio class. Dr. James Casey (pictured all the way to the left in the group photo) was generous enough to offer a station wide class on Ham radio. To operate these amateur radios one needs one or all of three license available, all giving slightly different privileges on the Ham. There is the Technician, the General, and the Extra. I put off my studies a little bit and only had time to really go over the Technician well enough to pass, but Sarah was able to wrangle in the Technician and the General! So one more thing that happened while we were at the South Pole that one time - we earned our amateur radio licenses. Not a bad deal at all. And special thanks to James for putting on the class and for putting up with all of our ridiculous shenanigans in those class sessions.  

That is all for this post. We have had a lot of other things happen but now is not the right time to talk about any of them. For instance, we took our group winter photo and yet it will not be ready to view for some undisclosed amount of time. I also ran a marathon (on the treadmill) this past weekend. However, not only do I not feel like talking about it yet, but I will most likely write a post about it at a later time. There have also been studies of wine, which again I will most likely post about all on its own in the future.

For now please feel free to scroll down through the few extra photos I've added. The aurora shot is by Hunter Davis (yes you have seen a few of his photos now) and sadly is not mine. He really knows what he's doing with his camera. Click here to check out more of his photos.
(This wooden reindeer explodes when touched - so be careful and no touching!)

(It was a cookie making extravaganza)

(That's my two eyed creation. Inspired by an extreme hatred of Steve, based on his hatred for the octopus, this little guy ventured all the way from the depths of the ocean to the South Pole in search of justice. Unfortunately he was eaten and Steve is still safe and sound)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Antarctica: South Poleympics Post Two

We finished up our Poleympic Games this weekend and the competition lived up to the rigorous training the athletes put their bodies through each year just for this event (which is mostly little to none).

Our final events were: Team Sled Pull, Supreme Commander (a video game), Settlers of Catan (a board game), Three on Three Volleyball, Rubik's Cube Speed Challenge, Best Photo from the entire competition, and the Closing Ceremonies. The first photo (has been changed for various reasons so just imagine) I have shared in this post encapsulates everything the Poleympic Games are about - tenacity, creativity, a willingness to do anything to win, a bending of the rules and nature's design, complete willingness to sacrifice the body for the team, wardrobe changes for specific events, and finally peace, hope, and love. I think you'll see all that if you ruminate on this picture long enough.

(Sarah roles for Catan. Notice you can see the number four)
Before volleyball, however, there was Settlers of Catan. This is a board game Sarah and I first encountered in New Zealand. Some friends brought the game over to our home and described it. "You collect sheep, ore, brick, and wheat. You then use those resources to trade with one another or the bank to build settlements." I had questions. Can you attack other settlements? No. Can you destroy other settlements or take over their roads? No. How am I to annihilate my opponents? You don't do that.

Well, in this game there is usually a good amount of cooperation. Great, why would I want to play this stupid game was my exact though. I might have even said that last sentence out loud as we could never get these friend to come over again. Whoops! As it turns out I was doing that whole judge the book by its cover thing. Not only is the game fun but we have played it a ton since first being introduced to it. We own our own copy. We played it in Memphis with our friends and we were delighted to discover there is a community here at the Pole that loves to play Catan as well. Catan is actually played enough that the Commissioner of the Games, Peter, added the game as an event. We had nine competitors and thus our set up was three preliminary games from which the winners would all go to the final game.   

Sarah and I started in the same preliminary game, which means only one of us could advance to the sought after finals and a medal in this event. We knew this going in and both played to put ourselves in the best position to win the game. Sarah beat me to it and won a spot in the finals. She then went on to win the whole dang deal, earning a gold medal and making the family quite proud (we would have been proud with any result but we do love gold). Some say this victory was so swiftly achieved due to the abnormal amount of fours that were being rolled that game. Sarah happened to benefit from fours and I did watch as four players in a row all rolled fours at one point during the game.  Well no matter what the circumstances, Sarah won this particular game. Another night it might have gone completely differently.

Supreme Commander. This is a game I know nothing about but I have watched as the guys all gather in large conference room to play on their laptops. I am told it's fun. Maybe one day I will try. This game was worked into the Poleympics and there were teams of two set up to pit their skills against one another. As I do not know anything else about this particular game that is about all I can say. I know each game took about two hours of game play and the guys were really into it.

The next photo was taken by Hunter Davidson, one of the best photographers of the night sky I have been privileged to meet. We have a few folks down here who can really work their cameras and do some magical stuff, but so far Hunter has really been putting in the work to produce some amazing shots. This one was taken during our individual sled pull. I'm out there at the ceremonial pole where you can see a strange amount of light bursting forth from seemingly nothing. Those are toy light sabers (mentioned in last post as I took a shot of them from my angle) all stuck into the ground (and one in my hand) lighting the way for the finish for the sled pullers. They really produced a lot of light! But just look at Hunter's photo. The Milky Way is streaming down through the night sky as a faint aurora is dancing above us, all the meanwhile there are thousands of stars shinning down. When I try my best to take a picture like this it comes out almost entirely black. I might capture a little bit of the aurora but it is grainy and sad. Definitely check out some of Hunter's photos on his website. He's really got some good stuff on there and more is being added as he takes more wonderful pics of auroras down here.

(Volleyball - the name of the game was to set Gavin)
The next morning, bright and early for a day off, was the team sled pull at nine o' clock. It was fun to look around and see how everyone had their own innovative ways of setting up a team to pull their sled across the ice and drifts. Some clearly had function in mind while others were going for more of a fun approach. While the individual sled pull was one of our events with the least amount of contenders, the team sled pull was maybe the event the most people participated in during the games. With four people on each team I believe we had at least twenty-four people (out of forty-six on station) and maybe more.

On a really cold and windy morning around about six teams gathered at the geographic South Pole in preparation for one of the most grueling events in the 2017 Poleympics. Only the individual sled pullers from the week before really had any notion of what to expect. And what was to be expected? Pain, anabolic threshold met in about thirty seconds but then the event holds you on the anaerobic side making you wish you were dead, lack of oxygen and coughing fits, the bodies overall rejection of the event, and extreme cold. It was NOT fun. It was challenging and I am glad that I participated, that is for certain, but it has now been twenty-four hours since the event and my raspy cough has me thinking it was not the best of ideas. Our team was made of an electrician (Peter, our commissioner), a doctor (yes Sarah), and two materials guys (Steve and me). We were pulling Sarah and we had one goal - beat the Michigan team.

(Our silver medal team - good job guys. Silver is good) 
And everything started off well enough. Then we hit the wall, a tangible force of physical exhaustion punched our team right in the face. Peter said what we were all thinking (except Sarah as she was in the sled getting pulled - you had to pull one person), "Guys, I can't go any further." Steve almost reflexively started saying things like, "Let's just keep moving" and "We can do this," as he just kept pulling us all forward through sheer will power. I looked over my shoulder and saw most other teams were experiencing the same dilemma we were. I looked forward and the mental game became a lot more difficult. Just past the mounds of snow drifts and hard formed ice that I could almost feel wereleering at me with a look of "I dare you," there was the Michigan team. We had been gaining, or so I thought. They seemed to be having no moment of crisis as they just continued on their damned steady pace. We recovered. We kept in motion (thanks Steve). We gained. But it was too late. It would have to be the silver medal for us. It was hard earned but all I could think about was getting back to warmth and sitting down on the floor to breathe as much air as possible. We had lost but we had also done well, I guess. You can read Eileen's post and see what she thinks about it. She was not impressed.

(Viktor makes a set to Gavin and he prepares to bump it up for one of us to
spike. Note Viktor is wearing one of the shirts we brought down for every-
one. Amundsen's mustache!)
Oh, then came the heart wrenching volleyball. It was fun but just like team sled pull it did not go as we had hoped it might. The way the brackets ended up getting shaped, we had some tough games just to reach the finals.

Our first set of games went well but certainly were taxing to our team. The team we played is really good and yet during this competition we were just more in the zone than they were. Sometimes the ball bounces off your arm wrong and getting back on target is tough. We made it through our first set of three games only having to play two games, which was nice because we needed the rest. It was a solid first game and we came through it feeling good as we looked forward to our next match. We knew our first two games would be the most difficult by far, which is a little strange in a tournament, but that's how the brackets fell out. Either of the first two teams had the potential of knocking us out. We had to keep our game on track and not leave much to chance.

(Some net play vs Tyler. These were some intense games)
We took our rest in between matches and we discussed what we thought we needed to change, which at that point was really not much. We had played extremely well together during our first set and all we had to do was keep it up. As we prepared for the next set of games we did so as though it was the gold medal match. If we won this set we would go on to the finals and if we lost we would be playing for bronze. The stakes were pretty high for our second game but when you only have six teams this is the kind of thing that happens.

We warmed up and started our first game. Everything went according to plan and we made it through our first of three games just as we wanted it done. A decisive win, good communication, and all was well. The second game started in kind and we had a little bit of a lead going. Then the invisible monkey, or whatever it is in volleyball terminology, jumped on our backs. Now it is quite obvious that our morning of sled pulling and our first set of games had taken its toll, but at the time we were not perceiving the real enemy. We started missing some easy shots, especially serves. Our lead dwindled and we lost the second game. No big deal. Time to regroup and get things done in game three. This was not to be our day.

(I like to think I'm just tired here but maybe I am a little disappointed too.
Photo credit to Adam West)
As game three began all of the weariness we had been feeling in game two seeped its slippery way into our minds as well. The all to present reality of watching the other team snatch away the momentum of the game was frustrating. A few more missed hits and a few more serves into the net, we found ourselves staring what we had hoped to be an unlikely elimination right in the face. It might seem silly to talk so intensely about some ridiculously fun Poleympic games everyone was just participating in for the joy of playing. And yet there I was quite frustrated at the turn of events. Our team was frustrated. There was a gold medal on the line and I found myself really wanting our team to take it home. We made a small comeback on a few decent serves and then I watched in shock as a ball I thought was going out hit the dang line. At least I could look at the last moment of the game and know exactly who was to blame - damn. Oh well, it is just a game right? We had played well but not at our best. I had a little melt down when a spectator interfered in a minor way. I hate it when I lose my cool during sports. It has happened infrequently over the years and it always galls me. A low growl rumbles inside of me. Let it go man.

(Andrew soars! Taken by Viktor Barricklow)
Sarah's team did well in the tournament and had tons of fun. They were on the other side of the bracket and while our games reeked of an over seriousness, her matches had the normal fun loving nature of our weekly volleyball games. There was some great volleyball being played, and as anyone can see from the pictures I've posted, these players bring everything they've got into the games. This shot of Andrew Nadolski flying in a graceful formation as he hits the ball over the net is a prime example of the sort of games we were enjoying this past Sunday.  There were a few great shots of him captured during gameplay that actually made their way into the photo competition to win a medal! It was a fun day and though Sarah's team did not make it into the medal rounds, they represented well and had a lot of good play. 

(Volleyball medal ceremony. Photo by Robert Schwartz)
Our team ended up going on to win the bronze medal matches. The team we lost to soared on through easily for the gold. Overall we had tons of fun and though our team was not happy with the results of our performances, there were definite moments of play we can all be proud of for sure. Hopefully one result of this tournament will be some more three on three volleyball. It was too fun not to play some more. The winning team was Robert Schwartz, Tyler Butler, and Josh Neff. A good team I look forward to playing fifty more times. Predictions? Naw. We will just have to wait and see how it goes.

With volleyball done we only had Rubik's Cube contest, a sheer test of mental speed, our photo competition voting, and the closing ceremonies.

(Team sled pull medal ceremony)
In order to decide who's mind was the greatest, three contestants stood upon the gold medal stand (one at a time) in the gym and were heckled while they attempted to complete the Rubik's Cube puzzle as quickly as possible. James Casey won the day with a completion time of just barely over a minute. It was fun to watch and definitely fun to encourage them as they moved their hands at lightning speed. With only three active participants the competition was over quickly and as they all finished the task at hand each one of them medaled. I've never been able to solve the Rubik's Cube's dastardly design, and so I am always impressed to see others do it. I've known a few people who simply memorized the pattern to completing it. This is impressive enough I guess, though I think our guys just know how to do it.       

(Sarah claims her gold medal for Settlers of Catan. Way to go!)
The photos that took the day in our games have all been posted already. Though they were entered in groups of three, it was clearly the individual shots I have shared that won the hearts of those voting in the gym as the closing ceremonies were in preparation. You can choose the ones you would have voted for had you been a winter-over at the South Pole during the Poleympics games this year.

Our closing ceremonies were festive. They included a playing of the National Anthem on the electric guitar by Ryan Clifford, the handing out of medals to all participants who managed to earn a medal during the games, photos of said winners, and many shenanigans as is natural for our station. It was a great two weekends of events and was a unique way to reign in the Fourth of July South Pole style. Monday was ushered in sore and tired.... next big event on station to look forward to is Christmas in July. We have only celebrated this once before while living in New Zealand. More on that in a future post, but I am sure it will be a memorable event as well.

(I had to share this last photo of Sarah and Dave in a moment of confusion. Sarah set the ball back to Dave and Dave was running forward towards the net for a forward set. This resulted in a Dave moment of trying get the ball and his body saying, "No." It was some funny. Not sure why the quality is so low - lo siento)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Antarctica : South Pole : Poleympics

This past weekend, as we celebrated the Fourth of July, the South Pole had opening ceremonies for the first annual (or possibly fifty-first annual depending on who you talk to) Poleympic Games. Peter, our station electrician and local man of intrigue, told the station a few months ago he would be hosting these games and has set up a wide range of events for the entire community to compete in by department and state. For example, Sarah and I are competing for the Medical and Materials departments and the state of Tennessee. As you can see in the picture, Peter created a torch (or one of the fanciest lights you will ever see in your entire life, bested maybe only by the fragile leg lamp displayed in the movie A Christmas Story - quite a fitting prize for an electrician to make wouldn't you say?) as the overall prize for the department with the most points. He has also had medals made for individuals who win each event.

What events? Glad you asked. The weekend kicked off with the Beer Can Sprint. We have a tower on station encapsulating a stair case to connect the station proper (where we live and eat) with the underground part of our station (the area with our power plant, storage arches for food, fuel, vehicles, etc). Underground is maybe not the best description as it is mostly an area under arches that have been covered by ice and snow. Anyway, this beer can, as it is called because it resemble a giant metallic beer can, houses a ninety-two stair climb. As a person who works down in the arches this is a climb I make at least twice a day. Even after all this time I am slightly winded by the slow process of walking up each day.  Two main factors: the beer can is not heated and the South Pole is at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. As I have describe before, the feel of this elevation changes vastly depending on the barometric pressure, allowing our bodies to perceive a greater or lesser elevation depending on the day.

The Beer Can Sprint. An individual time trial straight up the ninety-two steps in a pursuit to defeat all other challengers in full ECW gear. This means all contestants had to wear their cold weather gear issued in Christchurch, New Zealand. Heavy boots, big coats, and Carhartt pants. As a long distance runner I am fully aware of a few personal shortcomings. One, I have never possessed what some people refer to as speed. Two, any speed I may have been able to muster once upon a time has mostly been driven out of my legs by the sheer amount of long distance miles I have accumulated over the years (I also cannot jump anymore). Three, my inner-self cannot tell the difference and always thinks I can win a race out of sheer will power. So, yes, I signed up for this particular race and did my very best to bring home the gold. And, yes, I was soundly defeated and placed fifth, I think, out of the ten or so guys who competed in the beer can sprint. The winning time, by Gavin Chensue, was around about 20.8 seconds, besting me by around just over two seconds. It was a fun event and the guys who competed in it seemed to enjoy themselves.

Our next event was the Individual Sled Pull. Though I may have been deluded enough into thinking I had a chance in the beer can sprint, I was wise enough to know this was an event I should simply watch. Instead of agreeing to drag a sled carrying forty-five pounds from the geographic pole to the ceremonial pole (a distance of around 150 meters give or take - it's dark and hard to tell these days), I agreed to time the event. We only had four brave folks compete in this event. It is outside. It's cold. You have to drag weight. Two people mysteriously forgot they had signed up. I agreed to help time the event and determine a winner, which still meant going outside but got me out of having to drag anything around. Just prior to heading out into the cold Peter whipped out some light up toy light sabers (see picture - I stuck them in the snow around the ceremonial pole so the sled pullers would see where to go) for us to use outside. Yes, I was super excited to have them with me. This event was a grueling man crusher. Our four guys finished and the top three could not move for a while. When we finally made our way inside our top two guys just laid on the floor for about ten minutes before they were willing to go anywhere else. Coughing, with mostly likely slightly burned lungs from the frigid air, and moaning, I was glad I had left this event to others. I have signed up for the team sled pull but that will not take place until next weekend. Hopefully it is not quite as bad.

The next day at noon we had an event in which I was much more comfortable competing. The Poleympics 10k. I have been doing some running since arriving in preparation to try and run a marathon while I am here. This 10k actually fell quite nicely during a time when I needed to try and get a workout in anyway. It is difficult to make myself do too much on these treadmills. The pace is off on the machines making it quite difficult to keep my running self-esteem as I feel I'm running way too slow all the time. Factor in the altitude and the dry climate, and I just feel like crap most of the time while running. The race was fun though. It is a quite different when you are not gaining or losing ground on your competition. The best you can do is set your pace as fast as you think you can handle it and just run. I started by setting my pace at just under seven minutes per mile. Back home I can run this pace all day long and when in the kind of shape I am in now can put in ten to twenty miles feeling quite well. Here this pace is the best I can do just short of dry heaving, being too cotton mouthed to run, and feeling like junk. I slowed the pace down a little for mile four and five and then sped back up for mile six when I was sure I could keep going.

The best part of the run for me was watching a VHS version of the movie Prefontaine as we ran. Not only a great movie about one of America's best distance runners, but a nicely motivating flick to watch while running. I did manage to take home a gold medal in this particular Poleympics event. We only had six runners total and each person really put in some good effort. We were at about 11,000 feet for the day and the six miles were not forgiving. With only three treadmills we divided ourselves into two heats. Sarah ran in heat two and completed her first 10k of running the whole way since college! Her feet betrayed her slightly and she ended up with some really nasty blisters. She ran through them and finished anyway. Way to go Sarah! And then there was the guy who ran a 10k in firefighter gear and on air. Yes, he did. He went through five bottles of air and sweat a ton in all of his gear but he did finish the run. Why? Who knows. Why do we run without the gear? I guess we all have our reasons.

Then we played ping pong. Having rolled the die for the worst spot in the tournament, one of only two non-bi spots, I played Hunter in the first set. No excuses. I am not the ping pong player I should be and I paid the price. I have not put in the hard work to hone the skills I know I have for this particular miniature versions of a real sport. We did not even need to go to our third game as Hunter beat me in the first two games. Head down, I Charlie Browned it right out of the gym in utter disgrace. The one saving point of this whole deal is that later on in the night Hunter, the guy who so soundly dispatched of me, beat the number one seed for the tournament, or the guy everyone is afraid to play. I am now hoping Hunter wins the tournament. It is easier to lose to the best than to some guy who just got beat by another guy later down the road. This is how I'm seeing it anyway. The picture is of Martin and Peter playing the game directly after mine. Martin did not have what it took on this particular day either. When the tournament is over I will write an update.

Those are the only Poleympic events completed/half completed so far. There has been some eight ball games played but no results yet. It was a really fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend down here. We also had some delicious BBQ the cooks whipped up for us and it was super tasty. Oh and you might be wondering about my new haircut. Yes, I currently have a mohawk. Our Materials team decided we would show some real team spirit in preparation for the games and the 4th (well most of our team), and we shaved our hair into some sweet mohawks. Just look at the awesome team pic. 

Till next time...

(Prepared to climb the beer can)
(And I'm a flash)
(working it and watching Pre show me how to run)
(Sarah trucking on through)
(Sarah and Daniel rolling on)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

South Pole Update: Anarctic Winter

(Our mid-winter team photo. Good group and prior to facial hair subtractions. Go Winter-Over Team 2017)
Well it is a bitterly cold negative eighty-seven degrees outside right now. The wind chill is not helping at all and whips around at a brisk negative 130. It has been a bit frigid down here now and again, but at this moment all I can think about is how cold my face is when I’m out in the elements.

How much can one mustache protect a man’s face?

The answer is more than I would have wagered prior to shaving it off immediately after our facial hair contest last weekend. Yes, it is gone and this week has been a long acquaintance with a stranger in the mirror. This is not the case for Sarah. She responded as she usually does after months of glorious facial effort is suddenly stripped from my face, “Oh there you are!” We have a tense agreement when it comes facial hair growth and have come up with a pretty decent time-share. I try to stay clean shaven for about the same amount of time in the course of a year during which time I sport a beard or a mustache. For now I walk around as man who has lost something, a loss that cannot be put into words.

Enough of that talk. This blog, contrary to the last post, is not only about facial hair. Though I am certain to leap at any opportunity to make it a bigger part of what I write about, for now we must move on.


Sarah has still been keeping us all alive. Though I hear nothing in the way of the details, Sarah is above reproach when it comes to patient privacy, and it seems everyone is doing well, only requiring very little help from our medical staff. Our safety reports do let us know when there have been injuries, anonymously of course, so that the rest of us know to take more care around whatever caused the previous incident. To this extent I know Sarah does see the occasional patient, but beyond that I base my medical assessment of the station off of what I see in the hallways. All forty-six people are still alive – go Sarah!

In the materials department we have still been doing lots of inventory. Currently we have been working in the garage arch. This area is inside of the arch but the arch is unheated and covered by snow and ice. The usual temperature of the arches is around sixty degrees below zero. Due to this our inventory is done in about one hour bursts. Go get as much inventory done as possible and then head back to our office to thaw out and warm up. This obviously inhibits the process and prolongs how long it takes us to finish tasks in the cold. Today, however, a victory! We finished the garage arch inventory and will be moving on to a new project tomorrow.

Comment on instant ramen noodles.

“So you see what had happened was” (reference to a Christopher Guest movie, my best guest being Waiting For Guffman though I am not sure), there has been a lack of this delicious snack of instantaneous joy on the weekends when leftovers is the only option. Some of our crew have been somewhat aggravated by this and one of these peoples left an angry message on our dry erase board in the galley. Something along the lines of, “There better be more ramen, or else.” Ha! As the winter’s grip on us becomes more firm and refuses to let go, people tend to find themselves being irritated by things that otherwise would not bother them at all. I think the ramen incident is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It’s just ramen folks. I can say this because I myself have felt a strange a deep-seated feeling of inexplicable burning confusion when I look for the ramen and find instead an empty shelf. As it turns out there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of this tasty and overly high-in-sodium food. One of the major projects this winter was cleaning out the grease ducts in the galley. During this time we had “high class” microwave meals and on the whole the station found these meals to be quite distasteful. By now you’ve guessed it haven’t you? The ramen was being eaten by the bulk during this particular project and now we have much less than usual at this point in the winter. Thus our galley staff has started bringing up less in an effort to stretch it throughout the rest of our time. I think we will make it through the ramen incident, but only time will tell how our psyches will deal with the lack of this wonderful noodle option.

Pastime update.

One of the games we play on station with friends is called Carcassonne. I believe I have mentioned it before and have likened it to Risk mixed with Settlers of Catan. We have been having fun playing it on most Sundays while we have been here, sitting down to see who will take home the big victory this week. The board changes drastically with each gameplay and, depending on how people choose to play, so does the strategy. This is part of what makes the game so fun. Players can be ruthless with a few different tactics, or they can nicely ignore one another as they build their kingdoms, even working together. Naturally, we are often accused of working together (sometimes we are but never as overtly as assumed) and some natural alliances can tend to form up during the game. Usually our Carcassonne crowd is Robert, Martin, Sarah, and myself (toss in a Zak or Daniel sometimes too). It is a fun way we have found to get some good ole’ face-to-face interaction and spend a Sunday afternoon down here at the Pole. It would be nice if a few of you learned how to play so we can play it when we get back home! Oh and in case you were wondering, as I know you are, I won this past weekend. I would not mention the outcome otherwise.  


Sundays has been plugging along. It has been a strange deal to try and facilitate a church service without much of the normal things a person comes to expect from most churches. There is no sacred space that has been set aside or in any way even halfway shared. By this I mean there is no chapel, or as I have seen in some places like this, a multi-purpose room with religious paraphernalia in the closet that can be pulled out for religious purposes. There is a really nice chapel in McMurdo, the US station we flew threw down on the coast, and I find myself missing the natural help a designated holy space lends to the preparation and experience one can derive from a Sunday service. With no worship team and only five people almost anyone in the world would suggest leaving out this element of the service. I, however, have come too hardily from the Brett Spiegelman-school-of, “Well, we are going to do it anyway.” So we watch short video clips downloaded from the all wonderful internet and spend a few awkward moments together listening to songs I hope will speak to the group who gathers with us on Sundays. To this end I try to have fun and choose songs from all sorts of traditions. We have listened to spirituals, old hymns, new praise songs, secular songs, and everything in between. At the very least I enjoy the songs. No one even pretends to sing along, though I will hum along with them or sing lowly to myself. I do miss corporate worship as I suspect one or two other people do as well. We have been reading through Acts and diligently working through a chapter per week, discussing briefly the chapter after I attempt to say a short word or two about the weekend’s chapter. It might be a shadow of what one would find almost anywhere else in the world, but I believe it serves a few spiritual purposes for those of us who gather.


(We have been working on a calendar most of you will never want to
see. Here is a blog post friendly pic I took during the process)
And a fire alarm.

A little tired this morning as I finish this post. A fire alarm went off this morning at one o’ clock in the morning. A fan in one of our electrical rooms was having some issues and was overheating, as I understand it (something along those lines – nothing serious). There was, however, as is common with overheating electrical items, some smoke. So for the first time all of our ERT teams mustered for an alarm that was going off for a legitimate reason. I say this as just yesterday, though it is thankfully not common, we had a false alarm earlier in the afternoon as a sensor went bad for some reason. For the first time since fire training school in Colorado I stood preparing to enter a room with the smell of smoke trailing out into the hallway. It is a weird feeling standing in firefighter gear, which I clearly have no right to be wearing, as people are trying to figure out what is going on in a remote station where fires are simply unacceptable. Let me clarify. I am confident we could figure out most situations that would occur down here when it comes to a fire as we have just enough training to do so. We are, however, not firefighters and there is a huge difference! It just seems this distinction should be made anytime I bring up the ERT2 team, or fire team. In most cases our fire suppression systems would take care of any major issue before we even arrive on scene, so we have that going for us. The training is fun and if there were open flames anywhere we would most likely be able to put them out, especially in the main station area, but we are not the real deal.


Ok. Enough for now from the South Pole. I am going to try and add a video here at the end. A friend of mine sent me a message asking a question from his daughter. “Can a match be lit outside in such cold temperatures?” Great question. The video shows the answer. Sorry it’s dark as, well, it is really dark right now. But this question got me thinking. I have received a lot of questions like this and would love to answer any of them any of you might have. Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I’ll do my best to find the answer for you. I’ll try to start posting a short answer, like this video, on the blog so other folks can see too.  

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)