Sunday, May 27, 2007

A non-holiday weekend

While most of the American workforce will be celebrating Memorial Day weekend with an extra day off, it will be just another Monday work day for us on the ice. We don't get any of the standard holidays off but we are treated to a TWO DAY WEEKEND once every month. Normally we work 9 hour days, 6 days a week with only Sunday off, but this last weekend was our magical TWO DAY WEEKEND and that extra day off felt like a having a week of vacation. Almost. OK, not really but two days off feels like you can really relax and recharge.

So how did we celebrate our non-holiday weekend? The heavy shop (garage) held a BBQ and horseshoe tournament on Saturday afternoon and most of the station turned out for the fun.
Here Tim and Dan are tending the BBQ, a homemade grill fashioned from two 55 gallon drums welded together with wrenches for lid handles.
They hooked up an elaborate ventilation system onto the grill but unfortunately, it still got a little smoky in the shop. The solution: open the garage bay doors which dropped the temps inside down to below zero, but then again, we're used to that.

We were treated to hamburgers, brats, pasta salad, chips and a great assortment of beverages.
Here's Neal trying to make up his mind on what to drink. Notice our style of beer cooler - a banana sled full of snow.

Katie, Francie, Liz and Michael enjoying the BBQ and day off.

Just about everyone turned out for the BBQ and the added highlight was a horseshoe tournament. Someone found some homemade horseshoe pits on the berms, some sand used as packing for paint containers or something like that, and a set of horseshoes somewhere else. It never ceases to amaze me what you can find down here.
Here's the arena in the garage bay where usually the loaders are parked. They got moved outside and were kept running the whole time, otherwise, they'd freeze up, never to be started again in the -70F temps.

Brien at the pit winding up for the throw.

There was plenty of spectator and player seating for the tournament which went on into the night long after the brats and burgers were gone. So we may not be heading to the beach or mountains for Memorial Day weekend, but we still had our BBQ and fun and our equivalent of a long holiday weekend...even if it's only two days long.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Antarctic women rock!

The history of human endeavors in Antarctica is very brief compared to other epochs of exploration. Amundsen and Scott led the first men to the South Pole only back in 1911, less than a century ago. Since then, men have been bravely advancing the human presence down at the bottom of the world, making the first flight over the South Pole, building permanent structures allowing them to spend the entire winter in a dark frozen wasteland, carrying on that pioneering spirit inspired by those intrepid early visitors who triumphed and perished.

What about the women? According to Bill Spindler, our Title II inspector in 2005 and the foremost historian of Antarctic history and specifically South Pole lore, tells me that women came down to Pole for the very first time in 1969 when a group of 6 female scientists got to spend a few hours here on a boondoggle trip. It wasn't until 1974 that women actually came down here to work and Elena Marty and Jan Boyd were the first female contract workers at 90 degrees South latitude. And a real trailblazer is Michele Raney, the physician in 1979, who became the first woman ever to spend a winter at the South Pole.

Now, women are part of the fabric of life down here. We have just about every trade represented by the fairer sex. The men still outnumber the women by quite a large margin down here, but no one bats an eye at the sight of a woman slinging a heavy tool belt, driving a loader or sewing up a patient.

This winter, out of the crew of 54, we have 11 women. We are a cook, an Ice Cube scientist, an electrician, a greenhouse technician, three various materials specialists, a safety engineer, a facilities engineer, a work order scheduler and a PA.

Bill Spindler shared some fun stats with us recently. To date, there have been only 152 women to have ever spent a winter at the South Pole.

126 have wintered once
19 have wintered twice
6 have wintered three times
1 has wintered four times

About that last woman who is crazy enough to spend four winters down here…that would be me. It’s a dubious record to have I suppose, and I’m not sure if I should be too proud of it but what can I say except maybe I’ve found my niche. At least for the time being. For a great expose on what it’s like to spend a winter down here, see Neal’s post and then tell me how crazy you think I really am for doing 4 winters here.

So today, I give a cheer to my fellow female crew mates, each one a terrific person and a great addition to the club. We rock!

Ladies Spa Night - on floor L to R: Kari, Katie, Lynette. Standing L to R: Claire, Liz, Dainella, Leah, Terry, me, Laura and Francie.

For more infomation on South Pole history, please see Bill's wonderfully comprehensive website.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Halfway there

To where? For the people who have been here since the beginning of summer, May 1 marked the halfway point through their full year contract. And for me, I’m halfway to McMurdo. That’s figuratively speaking, of course because I’m still stuck at South Pole for another 5 plus more months.

Let me explain. In an effort to provide a motivational tool for people to exercise this winter, I’ve resurrected the Race to McMurdo, something that I organized in winter 2005.

The distance from South Pole to McMurdo is about 840 miles, as the skua flies. I came up with a contest for people to log their workouts over the winter with the goal of running, rowing, biking, skiing or walking a distance of 840 miles before station opening in October. There's an adjustment factor for those riding a bike, since it’s a heck of a lot easier to bike a mile than run it on a treadmill, so the conversion factor is every 3 miles biking equals one mile walking/running.

Jodi, our designer in 2005, helped to create the chart on which people can log their miles. It starts with South Pole on the left side and has a square for each mile all the way down to the right side of the chart where the finish line is McMurdo. Progress points along the way are named after the check points for the LC-130s, Pole 1, 2 and 3. We spaced them evenly along the course although in real life they’re not quite exactly 210 miles apart.

It’s been quite the motivational tool for people to stay in shape over the nine months down here. This year, we have over half of the station population participating and many people have told me that the only thing that keeps them coming to the gym is the desire to mark off more notches to inch their way closer to McMurdo. It’s also brought out a competitive side to a lot of gym rats who are doing longer and more frequent workouts and who take delight in passing up their buddies on the chart.

The front runner is Johan, who is now at about 570 miles. Sven and I had been neck and neck for a long time but he’s now pulled ahead and is at about 470 miles. His trick is to watch several episodes of “24” while cycling, which can keep him going for hours.

I’m in third place and just passed Pole 2 or the 420 mile mark. That’s how many miles I’ve run on the elliptical machine and treadmill since we started the race, on Feb 18, an average of about 5.5 miles a day. As obsessed as I am about working out, I’ll have no problem keeping up this pace, making it to McMurdo well before station opening. Plus I’m doing weight workouts three times a week and Guts and Butts class 1-2 times a week. I figured after all of the previous posts about the food here, I'd better explain how I'm burning off those calories since I don't even attempt to avoid the cookie tray. Running my way to a virtual McMurdo won't get me out of this place any faster, but it will certainly help keep the pounds off.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Third Annual BF5K

One of the biggest events of the winter for the past 3 years has been the annual BF5K.

The starting line. Photo by Emrys Hall.

It's a full 5K race held inside the station, organized by Kevin, whose nickname is BFK, for Big F*****g Kevin. The course starts in the Galley, runs out down the A1 stairs, down the hall to the end of the station, a distance of a football field. Then you go up the stairs in B2 and back up the hallway to the galley. Repeat that 17 more times and you have a distance of 5 kilometers.

The catch is all participants must wear a costume. Here's my team:
Sven, Robert, me, Brien and Bob on Team NASA. Photo by Emrys.
You'll have to think back a couple of months to a news event that was a juicy topic at most water coolers. We got our inspiration from the NASA astronaut who was apprehended on the way to allegedly do bad things to a lover's other flame. She was found wearing an adult diaper so that she wouldn't have to take pee breaks during her cross country drive, so we decided that would be a convenient way to run a race and use time more efficiently. We had a relay team of four, using a hammer as a baton to hand off, and Bob was our "sponsor". His duty was to drink a beer for every 3 laps that we completed. I didn't say that this race was of the conventional type.

There were some great costumes though.
Katie and Francie as Super Girl and Wonder Woman. Photo by Emrys.

Jason and Nick as redneck hunters stalking their prey, Lynette in a penguin costume. Photo by Robert Schwarz.

Neal made a dramatic entry, a la Hannibal Lector, wearing a real staight jacket that is part of our Medical inventory. He actually ran the entire race in that thing.

Nearly the entire crew showed up for the BF5K, either to run, sponsor or just watch the fun. There were no injuries, just some tired and sweaty runners and a few hangovers.