Thursday, March 15, 2007

more updates

Greetings from Queenstown, New Zealand!

I would love to update my blog as I go along with all my NZ adventures (run-ins with possoms, eating worms and friend cow tits at the Wild Foods Fest, and bungee jumping) but it's difficult while traveling. I have to pay for internet services at cafes and time is money. Also, most don't allow me to import my photos to my blog.

I'm writing everything down and will update my blog with all my adventures from NZ with pictures after I return home on April 15. So please check back after that time.



Thursday, March 01, 2007

One adventure ends, another begins.

NZ weather: 60-70 F

Days 1-4
Thursday, Feb 22 - Sunday, Feb 25
NZ road trip

Time is a funny thing. I’m not even 2 weeks off the Ice and being at the South Pole seems as if it happened 4 years ago, a distant memory in which you’re no longer sure if it was dreamt or real. The sunburn I easily got on my pale skin the day after we returned from Pole is still a reminder that it was real.

It took a few days to get my feet under me at Cheech and figure out some semblance of a plan. First, I bought a car. What? BOUGHT a car when you’re only there for 6 weeks? Actually, by my accounts this is the most economical way to see New Zealand. Cheech has a backpackers car lot set up for just this type of transaction. The sellers pay the car lot $20 kiwi (XX USD) per day just to park their car their while they wait for a buyer. The car lot offers help with setting up an independent mechanics inspection, insurance, and title changes for the buyer, hence enticing buyers to stop in. There’s a big chance you’re taking in that the car won’t leave you stranded, but on the other hand, the opportunity to resell the car and get all, or at least some, of your money back (some even make a small profit) was too good to pass up.

I bought a 1990 Nissan Sentra from19 and 21 year old girls from Germany who bought it in Auckland at another backpacker’s lot and had been driving it around for the past 4 months. I paid $900 Kiwi ($632 USD) and the $75 kiwi ($52.60 USD) mechanics inspection said all it needed was an air filter. It has an obscene amount of kilometers on it, which I’m purposefully leaving out as to not worry my family that I’m stuck in the middle of NZ somewhere. The girls from Germany, Victoria and Margaret, named the car Pinky as it has a light pink hue and they had become very attached to her. We simply changed titles at the local post office for $9 kiwi ($6.32 USD) and I was the official proud owner of Pinky.

I was incredibly nervous about driving and didn’t want anyone to watch (or to put any passenger in danger) while I learned how to shift with my left hand (Pinky’s a manual), drive in the left hand lane, make right hand turns, navigate round-a-bouts, and turn on the blinkers with my right hand. I had to go against every driving instinct that I had been learning since I was 14. Fortunately, I ran into Webster earlier in the day at the tourist information center. She was finding out bus information to travel to Takaka to meet other Polies and go climbing. Webster worked as a load master in cargo at the Pole and lived in my Jamesway. I really didn’t know her all that well, but needed the moral support for the beginning of my NZ adventure and offered to drive her at least part way. I also offered for her to take advantage of my camping equipment I just purchased from the second hand sporting goods store and Salvation Army.

Webster and I spent the next day finishing errands in Cheech before we set off going north along the coast. She was very handy to have around by helpfully pointing out when I would walk right past Pinky on the street or when I would get in on the wrong side. Since is always felt as if I were driving directly into a head-on collision, I would overcorrect to the left and Webster let me know when I was close to parked cars or cliff walls. I am told you can always tell an American driver as they have no left side mirror any longer and they always turn on the windshield wipers when they are about to turn. Thankfully, after a few days I began to avoid both of these issues.

Since we got a late start, we only drove about 2-3 hours through beautiful vineyards in rolling hills and gorgeous valleys to Kaikoura. Since this NZ adventure is on a very tight budget (despite the myths, you really don’t get paid very well for working in Antarctica), I had a map of all the free, or nearly free, department of conservation (DOC) campsites. We found a campsite a few kilometers outside of Kaikoura, right along the rocky surf and unfortunately right along the highway, but it was dark and we had new gear to tangle with.

I spent the sleepless night regretting another cost cutting measure of not buying one of the used sleeping bags from the second hand store. I thought I would be warm enough in the tent and with a quilt mom sent me for Christmas. Besides the cold, the semi-trucks sped by what seemed like inches from my head so I probably slept only an hour or so while I stared at Webster jealous of her undisturbed sleep.

The next morning was grey and raining and still beautiful while we both had a lazy morning getting organized and watching the surf. Kaikoura is a small, very touristy, coastal town that only recently gained its touristy status from the whale and seal watching off its shores. We drove to a lookout point and watched the fur seal colonies in the light rain and took a little hike up a hill. Since neither of us care for touristy and prefer solitude we continued on through Blenheim to Picton on the edge of the Marlborough Sounds. This was another beautiful drive along the coastal rocky mountains and through more vineyards and cattle and sheep fields. Picton was beautiful with its harbor full of boats but it was still raining so we only stopped a minute for more camping information. We took the very up and down, wiggly and squiggly, almost-falling-off-the-edge, and picturesque Queen Charlotte Drive to another DOC campsite which was perched in a small area, once again off the road, but more secluded next to a bay of the Sounds. Since it was still overcast, the darkness revealed strange “stars” in the stream bed near our tent. They were the size of a pin point but bright blue and white exactly as if we were looking up at a night sky. They were all over up and down the stream bed and were brilliant. I commented that since everything else on this side of the world is backwards, it goes to figure they decided to put the stars in the ground instead of the sky. When we turned on the flashlight we could only see moss and found out later that what we were seeing were glow worms.

I was determined for some solid sleep and even though I sprung for the cheapest sleeping bag on a quick stop in Blenheim and a pillow from the Salvation Army, I could not get any sleep. The cicadas in the tree overhead were deafening and my cheapest sleeping bag was also the thinnest making me shiver all night. The morning brought beautiful sunshine so how could I be crabby? I had a morning swim while Webster found sea stars, had coffee and then packed and left. I wanted to explore the Sounds more thouroughly and Webster was eager to get climbing. We took the scenic drive to Picton, stayed long enough to get advice from a kiwi, take pictures, and use the bathrooms only to return along the same and only road. The views were breathtaking looking into the azure blue waters among the large green hills. We stopped in Havelock since they are the “green lipped mussel” capital of the world I had to try some. They were delicious! The funny thing about many of these small towns is that they are identical to many of the small towns in North Dakota. We passed through many that go by in a blink of an eye and I imagine them sharing school systems and having long bus rides like those of us in ND.

Nelson was one of the larger towns we had come to, yet. The kiwi in Picton had directed us to a camp site right along the beach in Nelson. At $14 kiwi ($9.83 USD) per person per night, this was the Hilton of campsites and a little out of my budget. It was too urban and modern for both Webster and I, but it did have its advantages, wonderful showers, laundry, internet, and a 5 minute walk to a wonderful beach with the city backdrop on your right and wonderful mountains across the bay to your left. We set up camp and didn’t have any dinner since we were still full from all the green-lipped mussels and turned in. I was again determined to get sleep since it had now been 2 nights without it. I drank wine before bed and then lined my thin, but very portable, sleeping bag with my quilt and wore a sweatshirt and 2 sets of sweat pants. (I really don’t think that the nights get very cold here, it’s just that I seem to be more prone to getting cold easier – at least temporarily after living on the Ice.) After all that work of getting comfortable, the drunk, retired neighbors in the campervan across the road decided to have a very loud conversation. Webster handed me ear plugs (she sure is handy) and I finally got at least 6-7 hours of continuous sleep.

I had the most beautiful morning on Sunday! After getting some sleep, I went for a jog on Tahunanui Beach in my bare feet, did yoga in the sunrise, and then discovered how to use my cell phone in NZ and made phone calls while walking in the surf. So far it has been the best morning, yet!!

Webster bought a bus ticket to head up to Takaka departing on Sunday. She was eager to meet our mutual friends and I had just received word from a B & B in the Marlborough Sounds about woofing for them for the next week beginning on Monday. Since it was just around the corner and I have some time to kill before I’m set to meet friends in Hokitika, I agreed. We drove to Nelson city center and ran a few more errands and said our goodbyes at the bus station. I returned for one more night at the Hilton and enjoyed Sunday afternoon putting color into my pale skin on the beautiful beach.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Off the Ice!

22.7 C (72 F)
Bright and sunny
wind chill: 0

WOW! It seems that I fell into the real world faster than I fell out. It's hard to digest that just a little over 24 hours ago I was still at the South Pole and the weather had dipped to -53 C (-63.4 F) (wind chill: -80 F). I was on the last flight of the season to leave the Pole and it was hard to leave friends behind knowing the 9 months of winter they have in store for themselves. All the winter-overs walked us to the plane to say goodbye and the pilots did a fly-by as we departed. I had an hour lay-over standing on the ice ski-way outside of McMurdo before 140 of us from both the Pole and McMurdo boarded the C-17. We arrived in Cheech at 11 pm but it was 1 am before we were through being processed by customs and returned all our ECW to the CDC.

I've slept in and have spent most of the day in utter confusion from the sensory overload of the real world. I'm convinced the C-17 is a time machine. You hope on and in a few hours you're in a completely different time and different world. I keep walking into people as I can't figure out how to look at everything at once. I was shy at ordering coffee and food at a cafe as everything seems so foreign. It's warm and beautiful! I can't imagine giving this up for an additional 9 months of ice and wind. I feel the confusion of everything beginning to lift as it all is starting to become familar again. I currently don't have any plans figured out, yet, but generally speaking I'm going to try and secure a car and drive around the south island of New Zealand. I depart Christchurch for America on April 4.

I ran out to the Pole and took several pictures in the minutes before I departed (I'm still suffering from frost bite on my ears). I'll try to post those when I can.

Monday, February 12, 2007


-44.6 C (-48.3 F)
wind chill: -58.4 C (-72.8 F)
Wind: 6.9 knots

I’ve said goodbye to my Jamesway and have now transitioned into the main station. Since I’m 1 of 17 people who are “soft closers,” we move into the station now that there is room until the weather determines we need to fly out. The tentative date is February 24, but the weather had rapidly turned cold so there are rumors we may be leaving earlier. We are all transitioned into the main station so they can prepare the Jamesways to go cold for the winter and so we are all in the same location in case they need to rapidly notify us if we are flying out. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying my very tiny accommodations of the station. It is such a luxury to be able to take an undisturbed quick nap at the end of the day while waiting for the internet. Also, for the first time in a long time I finally felt the privacy and the comfort of being alone. I became so relaxed that I slept harder during my 45 minutes nap than I had all season. For the first time forgot where I was and what day and time of day it was. Since I had dirt and grim older than I am in my J-way and a canvas curtain for a door, I never felt I was able to completely relax or comfortable enough to just hang out and read. I slept really well there as I’m always sleep deprived, but the commute to my room was a killer and woke me up faster than an IV of coffee. Many people told me to keep track of my dreams while on this journey as they would get pretty bizarre. I’ve been too exhausted to dream as I’ve only had one dream and it was of spiders. I know fully expect to relax enough to dream. I’m excited for my day off this week to stay in bed all day and sleep. This is easier to do in the station as the commute to get food and check email is significantly shorter and I can stay in my PJ’s all day.

With the weather rapidly turning colder at the Pole and most of my friends already off the Ice enjoying the warmth of New Zealand, I’m hearing warnings about what to be aware of while transitioning back to the real world. First, there will be over 100 degree difference to me within a relatively short period of time so be prepared to have on summer clothes under your ECW. It’s extremely strange to put on shorts and tank tops when it’s -45 F. Friends have also told me to be prepared to stare and become emotional at the first sunset and night sky I’ve seen in over 4 months. I never really got used to the 24 hours of daylight and have missed the night sky and darkness. I’ve also been told to be aware of cars. We haven’t seen any roads or anything drive faster than 10 mph in a long time. Apparently a few Polies get hit by cars every now and again after leaving the Ice. In New Zealand, they drive on the opposite side of the road than the US and everyone tends to look the wrong direction when crossing the street.

Once I leave the Pole, I plan on taking a few days in Cheech to just sleep and take long showers. Eventually I’ll make my way across NZ by woofing. This organization called WWOOF (willing workers on organic farms) supplies you with information to work with a family for 3-4 hours a day for free room and board. You can volunteer to do anything from picking grapes, mowing lawns, babysitting, and gardening. Since it is wine harvest season, I’ve seen many families needing help in the vineyards. To me this is the perfect way to see the country and get to know the locals and their cultures. Some families are Maori Indians who have a similar story to our Native Americans and I’m very interested in experiencing more of their culture. (More information on woofing is providing through the link to their website.)

I plan on meeting friends at the Wild Foods Festival in XX, NZ on March 10. They’ve already left the Ice and have reserved camping spots near the Tasman Sea. At this festival they specialize in strange foods such as grubs, venison tongue, fried grasshopper, fried cicada, fish eyes, and venison penis (someone told me it tastes like a spicy sausage --- uhm too many jokes). Then again, they also serve perogies which are common to the Midwest and of which I’m very familiar and absolutely love. (They are a warm, buttery dough filled with potatoes, onion, and cheese.) I suppose to them it’s not native and therefore wild. I’ve included the like to the festival if you would like to see what other delicacies I’ll be enjoying.

We are no longer able to receive mail at Pole and any mail already sent to us will be diverted back to our home addresses. We only have a few days left to send out any flat mail as they will be closing the post office for the winter season. Any mail we send after the 14th will remain in the post office until next Spring.

James Brown has left the building. He conducted his last cult classic “James Brown Bingo” of the season and departed last Friday. He was eager to get back to his new bride. I’ve included a picture of the last JB Bingo so I can be proud and say “yep, that’s my boss.” He's a big lover of 80's music and Michael Jordan. Every Sunday when we worked together we would spend long hours discussing da Bulls dynasty and listening to as much cheesy 80's music as possible over the galley speaker system. I could always count on JB to say "Hey Steph, I have this . . . on cassette."

Those who have spent time at Pole have warned me of its addictive qualities. There are many life luxuries that are lacking, but there is something about the peace and quiet. One aspect is the lack of advertising in our lives at Pole. You don't realize how much advertising influences your day-to-day and long term thought processes. It can't be helped. In the normal world, images and words are consistently piped into our brains unconsciously influencing our thoughts and actions on how and who we think we should be. We try to fight the conscious influences but the influx can't be helped. At Pole, a mind can relax and focus more freely in the absence of all the constant advertising. There's no urges for spontaneous shopping, gift buying, or the things "you just gotta have." I've been warned that many people become ultra sensitive, intolerant, and even more annoyed at advertising than normal once you leave the seclusion of the ice. The Super Bowl was incredibly relaxing becauce we didn't have the 2 week of continuous obvious analysis before the game, even though we watched a taped version of the game a few days after it actually happened. It has also been incredibly freeing to be able to avoid all the political jabbering of last year’s elections and now the announcing of the Presentational candidates. Any political information we receive is intentionally sought. We are able to freely choose what we want to know from the real world and what we want to avoid. We can avoid any extraneous political scandals or celebrity gossip that is droned on in ad nauseam. Again, I've noticed a freeing and focusing of the mind amidst the lack of these distractions. This isn't to say we don't pay attention to the important world events. On the contrary, we are able to focus more on what is truly important to be aware of in the US and the world and filter out the garbage. Besides the beauty of Antarctica, it will be one of the things I miss most from the Ice.

My Winterover friends that I am leaving behind will have a great season. There will be a wonderful station crew here of 57 people made up of 10 females and 47 males. Everyone has been to the Ice before either just this summer, at McMurdo, or have wintered before. The weather is extremely crisp, clear, and beautiful now which is when it begins to get really cold. I am notsalgic and a little jealous of my winter friends being able to see the most spectacular sunset, sunrise, and auroras. I wish all my winter friends a wonderful and safe season.

Weather FAQs

-34.2 C (-29.6 F)
wind chill: -49.7 C (-57.7 F)
wind: 13.5 knots

The following are frequently asked questions regarding the South Pole weather as answered by the stations meterologists.

Why is Antarctica so cold?

Antarctica is synonymous with cold, thanks to its polar location, its high elevation, its lack of a protective water vapor-filled atmosphere, and its permanent ice cover which reflects 80% of the sun's radiation back into space (re-radiation). Angle of incidence also has a lot to do with the temperature in the Antarctic. The highest sun angle here is only 23.5 degrees, so the South Pole gets a much less concentrated amount of the sun’s rays, versus locations near the equator, which get the highest concentration of the sun’s rays. The South Pole is located within a permanent polar high created by the normal Hadley Circulation. This creates an extremely cold air mass, which descends at the poles of the earth. Unlike the Arctic region, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by an ocean which means that interior areas do not benefit from the moderating influence of water. During the winter, the size of Antarctica doubles as the surrounding seawater freezes, blocking heat from the warmer surrounding ocean water.

Why does High Pressure bring us bad weather when everywhere else in the world gets good weather from High Pressure?

Explanation A: At the South Pole we are at a much higher altitude than normal (9301ft) but the biggest difference is the temperatures. If you go up 1000 feet from the surface here you will experience warmer temperatures than at the surface while everywhere else in the world has colder temperatures above the surface. Under high pressure, the downward vertical motion is actually bringing warmer, moister air down to us causing increasing clouds and worsening weather. Low pressure means upward vertical motion and here at the Pole, so when we have low pressure, it is bringing in surface air from all around us to replace the air that is being forced up. This air is colder and dryer than the air it is moving into which causes a decrease in cloud cover and improving weather. Everywhere else in the world experiences worsening weather in low pressure due to the air cooling as it goes up. When air rises it cools causing condensation and clouds and decreasing weather conditions, but here at the South Pole the air above us is warmer than at the surface so we don’t experience the condensation and the increasing clouds in low pressure.

Explanation B: Explanation A describes what happens when the pressure changes first, leading to other changes in the weather. But there are other times when the pressure change is a response to a change in temperature. When the winds come from grid east here at the South Pole, the skies clear and the temperature falls. This is because the wind is bringing drier, colder air down from the higher parts of the Polar Plateau. As the air gets colder it also becomes more dense and continues to flow downhill off the Plateau. This reduces the total airmass that is above the South Pole. Since the station pressure is just an indication of the total amount of mass above you in the atmosphere, this reduction of airmass causes the pressure to fall. The reverse happens when warmer air comes in from grid west or grid north. The warm air moves upslope toward the Pole, expanding the total air column above us, adding mass, and thus increasing the pressure. This warmer air from grid west through north is usually associated with a disturbance originating in the Weddell Sea, and is accompanied by increased moisture and winds. There is often a strong correlation between pressure and temperature, especially in the winter when the coldest temperatures often coincide with the lowest pressures.

What is the Aurora Australis?

The Aurora Australis or Southern Lights are mesmerizing, dynamic displays of light that appear in the Antarctic night skies. They appear in many forms, pillars, streaks, wisps, haloes, and curtains of vibrating color. Auroras are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun and gases in Earth's upper atmosphere (the thermosphere). There collisions produce electrical discharges which energize atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, causing the release of various colors of light. In the northern hemisphere this same phenomenon is called Aurora Borealis.

What is a katabatic wind?

Katabatic winds occur where cold, dense air flows down the slopes of the inland mountains and the Polar Plateau. This is a frequent phenomenon in Antarctica, as the continent is dome shaped and the interior is very cold. As a surface flow, these winds may be smooth and low in velocity, but there are many times when they become exceedingly turbulent, sweeping up any loose snow in their path. This fierce, turbulent air may suddenly just appear and produce localized Antarctic blizzards, where the skies are still clear and no snow actually falls to the ground. Here at the South Pole we usually see the steady, low velocity katabatic winds, but these winds pick up momentum as they move off the Polar Plateau and are often very strong by the time they reach the coast.

What is a "mock sun"?"

Mock sun" (also "sun dogs") is a colloquial term for a phenomenon called "parhelion" which occurs fairly commonly in polar atmospheres. It is a false image of the sun, created by the bending of rays of sunlight within crystals of ice in the atmosphere. Parhelia are usually observed in pairs, one on each side of the sun and at the same elevation. They tend to be red-colored on the side nearest the sun. Parhelia are quite close to the sun when the sun is close to the horizon, but move further away as the angle above the horizon increases.

Why is the air so dry in Antarctica? And what is the typical relative humidity at the South Pole?
The important thing to know here is that cold air can hold less moisture than warm air. Therefore, the low temperatures of the South Pole account for the fact that not very much moisture is present in the air. This is enhanced by the great distance from the ocean, which is the atmosphere’s source for water vapor. However, many people are surprised to learn that the outdoor relative humidity at the South Pole is typically around 60 to 80%. But the key word here is RELATIVE. What it’s relative to is temperature. Relative humidity is just an indication of how close to saturation the air is for the current temperature. So a relative humidity of 80% with a temperature of -40C/F means that the air is getting close to saturation, but there’s still not much moisture there because the air can’t hold much moisture at -40. So you can think of it as 80% of not much moisture whereas an 80% humidity reading in Georgia during the summer is 80% of a whole lot of moisture.

There are some measurements that indicate the actual amount of moisture in the air, not just a relative degree of saturation. These include absolute humidity, mixing ratio, and dew point temperature. Of these, the dew point temperature is most familiar and relates pretty well to how the air actually feels to a person. During the northern summer, an 80F day with a dew point of 45F tends to be quite pleasant, whereas and 80 degree day with a dew point of 70F is pretty uncomfortable. The dew point temperature is always lower than or equal to the air temperature. So here at the South Pole, if it’s -40 then the dew point is -40 or lower. Obviously a dew point temperature of around -40 represents a lot less moisture than a dew point of +70, even though both can occur with the same relative humidity reading.

So what about the indoor relative humidity?

The numbers here are very different from the outdoor relative humidity, and are typically somewhere around 5% or lower. That’s because you have about the same amount of moisture as outside (unless there’s a humidifier or some other manmade source of moisture) but the temperature is much higher. So you have a tiny amount of water vapor in a temperature that could support a lot of water vapor. That situation gives you a very low REALTIVE humidity.

Does it snow at the pole?

Actual snowflakes (branched crystals) are pretty rare at the South Pole, and generally are only seen during the warmest periods of the summer. But according to data from snow stake measurements, the annual snow accumulation averages about 9 inches/23cm. (3.4 inches/86mm of water equivalent). Most of this precipitation falls as ice crystals. Ice crystals are very common at the South Pole, often falling out of a clear sky when the air becomes saturated. The precipitation intensity is normally very light, but over the course of a year it adds up.

What is a temperature inversion?

A common feature of the Polar Plateau is a temperature inversion. A temperature inversion occurs when the coldest temperatures occur at the Earth's surface, and warmer temperatures are some distance above the surface (normally, temperature decreases with height). The temperature inversion may less than 1,000 feet (300 meters) thick, but the temperature difference can be 54 degrees F (30C) in that short distance! The intensity of inversions is related to altitude and latitude, and is greater in the winter. Strong winds, cloud cover, or precipitation can destroy inversions.

What is the Antarctic Convergence?

This is the region of the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica, roughly around latitude 55 degrees South but deviating from this in places, where the cold waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current meet and mingle with warmer waters to the north. This mingling creates local variations in weather, such as fogs, and also a concentration of marine plants and animals because of its higher than average amount of nutrients.

Is it windy at the South Pole?

Many people think of Antarctica as a windy place. That is true, but only toward the edges of the continent. High on the plateau at the South Pole, the annual wind speed average is 12 mph and the highest recorded peak wind is 55 mph. Cold, dense air tends to settle at the Pole making for relatively calm and clear, yet frigid conditions. (See also Question 4 concerning katabatic winds.)

What's the difference between whiteouts & blizzards?

Blizzards:Winds greater than 35 miles per hour, with sustained or frequent gusts, and visibility less than or equal to 1/4 statute mile due to snow or blowing snow for at least 5 hours. Whiteouts:Whiteouts are another peculiar Antarctica condition, in which there are no shadows or contrasts between objects. A uniformly gray or white sky over a snow covered surface can yield these whiteouts, which cause a loss of depth perception and surface definition.


-39.1 C (-38.5 F)
Wind Chill: -57.0 C (-70.7 F)
Wind: 15.3 knots

We’ve had many visitors of all different sorts to the Pole through the course of this season. Some have walked, skied, or flew by helicopter or plane. All of them have been extremely excited by their achievement of just visiting the Pole. Those of us who work here laugh at the tourists who pay over $35,000 per person to visit and are incredibly humbled by those who’ve trained for over a year to walk or ski.

Most notably of the visitors was Hannah McKeand. Hannah set out to conquer the record for an unsupported, solo skiing expedition from Patriot Hills base camp to the South Pole (XX miles). The current record stood at 42 days by Fiona Thornewell in 2001. Hannah achieved her goal and made the trip in 40 days surpassing the record by 2 days. I watched her ski up to the Pole during her final approach and it was an amazing site. I’m awed by the internal fortitude in making this incredibly challenging journey alone. Shortly after her arrival, she entered the galley and we were able to congratulate her and have pictures taken with her. She looked amazing after her journey and had no signs of frostbite or fatigue. She was in much better condition than many of the others who had either walked or skied to the Pole. She was very funny and I was awestruck by her presence as she described how once she got a song stuck in her head for over 7 hours and it was the only time she wished for someone to talk to in order to make it stop. Hannah is now the fastest unsupported South Pole Skier in the world and only the 9th women to ski to the Pole without resupplies.

Other notables were the Russians who flew in two Mi-8 helicopters and had the entire station pressed up to the galley windows during their arrival. The Mi-8 helicopters were amazing. I’m not entirely sure who these Russian dignitaries were but there were rumors that some of them were associated with Vladmir Putin and his cabinet. Only 2 or 3 of them spoke English. They had a tour of the station along with coffee, tea, and cookies. Out of respect before their arrival, the Russian flag was put on an extension pole and raised higher than all the others. They posed around the Pole with various flags representing the contributors to their expedition. They also took pictures with some sort of regional flag or crest. Will, James, and I finished Sunday dinner and then ran out to watch them take pictures and see the Mi-8’s up close and take our own pictures. I found it extremely funny that they walked around with a tape player loudly playing their national anthem. They also posed with the tape player in their pictures as if you’d be able to hear the anthem through the pictures. At one point, a few of the Russians noticed me standing by myself and started grabbing me and took turns taking pictures with me. I imagine it was because I was only one of a few females around at the time, but with ECW gear on it’s very hard to distinguish gender. Then again, I can’t say many Russian females are all that feminine. I laugh thinking about the pictures I’m in with these Russian diplomats and what they say when they show their friends these pictures. We ended up wondering over to one of the helicopters to discover one of our friends sitting in the cockpit. We managed to get on board for a look around and to take pictures. Several of the crew were sitting inside exhausted by the altitude and on oxygen. Only one of them spoke a little English. I can’t imagine I’ll again sit in the drivers seat of an Mi-8.

The most fun visitors were the 4 gentlemen from the British Royal Navy/Royal Marines who skied in 46 days from Patriot Hills. They camped near the Pole for several days until the weather was in their favor to kite back on the return trip. They became wonderful members of our South Pole family as they volunteered washing dishes in the galley in turn for a hot meal. At one point, we helped one member make his ski boots fit better by placing them in the oven so they would conform to his feet as they cooled. They managed to extend their stay to help us ring in the New Year. The station was able to grant them official visitor status and allow them each a 2-minute shower and a 2 am station curfew. One member is a lead singer in a British band and rocked the house by taking over and singing the blues after only a few hours of practice. They were a joy to have on station and became great friends with all of us. They gave the Sunday night science lecture and shared pictures and of the journey to date.

The Indian Navy completed a skiing expedition of the last 2-degrees (approximately 120 miles) on December 28. They began their journey with 11 members of which a few needed to be evacuated along the route due to extreme frostbite. I believe they were the first from India to complete such an adventure. They were extremely funny in participating in the Sunday science lecture lending to jokes about their difficult training in India without any snow.

Most expeditionists travel one-way and are then flown out. All non-governmental visitors camp with their own gear out near the Pole. Information on these along with several other unmentioned expeditions can be found on their individual websites or on, of which I’ve provided the links. Many of those that adventure to the Pole succumb to extreme frostbite. One individual had frostbite so severe on his thighs that you could smell the rotting flesh. One woman was found crying in the bathroom because the horrible condition of her feet left her unable to walk and tour the station.

Distinguished visitors of note to the Pole this season were Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, Glyn Davies, US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa (State Department), Dr. Arden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation along with various staff of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. I found it amusing to prepare bag lunches for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and her traveling party for their return trip to McTown. They had brought us several cases of fresh cherries to distribute at meal time to everyone on station.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Feb 2, 1007
-29.3 C (-20.7 F)
Wind chill: -42.7 C (-44.9 F)
Wind: 12.7 knots

Cooking lobster on girl day in the galley.

I have been very bad at updating my blog lately. The truth is, not much has been really going on here. We all fell into our routines after the holidays and time started traveling really fast! The winter-overs began taking their R & R leave of a week at McMurdo before the isolation of the winter sets in. People have been switched around in the various shifts at the galley so now I’m working with those who previously worked nights. It’s nice since these are friends I haven’t really gotten to know before because of our different work schedules.

Now that we are beginning the transition from summer to winter, things are becoming very strange at the South Pole. Those of us who are leaving are busy making plans and arrangements for life after the Ice. Those who are staying are getting eager to have us gone so they can dive into the quietness of a community of 50-60 people and their winter routines.

I volunteered to be on the last flight out for the season and therefore have been given a leave date of February 17. There is the potential that 20 or so people may stay behind a few extra days to accomplish more work. If that happens, those people may get as little as a 3 hour notice to depart the Pole. The Air Guard will monitor the weather and if they anticipate it dropping below their -50 C minimum to land, they will whisk the remaining summer personnel out. I also volunteered to stay behind if they need additional support in the galley and would therefore be one of those remaining 20 summer people.

I have very mixed emotions now that my time at Pole is close to ending. I have friends leaving as early as tomorrow and I am sad to say goodbye. The majority of them will leave Pole a week or earlier than me. By the time I get to Cheech, most of them will have moved on with their travel plans. I’m also sad to say goodbye to my winter-over friends that I will leave behind. Leah, our summer DA, just received a contract for a winter materials person and will now stay behind. I remember talking to her when we first met in Denver and discussing that she only packed 23 lbs of personal gear for 4 months. (I utilized all 75 lbs of my allotted gear weight.) Now she’s staying an additional 7. Neal, who is a cook in MacTown and I met in Denver during orientation, has been offered the winter-over sous chef position at Pole. He was here for a week in January becoming acclimated and will return this week. Francie has known she’d be wintering from the beginning. She and I are extremely similar in our personalities, places in our lives, and working styles in the kitchen and has become a great friend. I’m certain I’ll be receiving tons of stories from her winter.

The winter-overs from last season have returned. Many of them were on my medi-evac flight and doted over me when I was sick in MacTown. It’s very strange to see them again on the other side of things when I’m leaving and they’re staying. I find it interesting that most of them are bothered by how many people are here. They find it crowded with a population of 263. My friends who went on R & R said MacTown with a population of 1200 felt as huge as New York City.

In amongst the sadness of goodbyes I’m very excited to experience green grass, real potatoes, and good coffee. I’m excited to travel New Zealand before returning home. I’m extremely excited to see my friends and family again and be able to tell them all my stories in person. The biggest sadness comes from saying goodbye to Antarctica. Since I’ve gotten here I’ve wondered why some people return year after year. It’s definitely not for the money as most positions don’t pay that much. I watched a movie last week put together about our summer on the Ice and I actually realized that part of me has fallen in love with the South Pole. The beauty and quietness is unparalleled anywhere else on Earth. It’s hard to say goodbye to a place that you realize you may never see again.

There are very few experiences that you enter into knowing you’ll be a different person on the other side. Most of the time life changing events aren’t planned or expected – they hit you out of the blue. I went into this knowing I’d be changed and I was really curious how. I think that I’ll change more after the Ice than while I was on it. I can already sense a greater appreciation for colors and smells of the outdoors, a strong sense of the vulnerability of life, and an immense aptitude for the human strength that lies in each of us. Antarctica has furthered proven to me that ALL of us are capable and stronger of much more than we think or realize that we are.

Eli and I very proud of our lobster feast we made on girl day this past week.

Francie made an interesting observation early on in the summer. She noted that all the women at Pole seemed to be extremely strong women. We are strong in spirit, in voice, and in confidence. Another friend noted that the system unintentionally screens for such people. After all, how many people would accept a position at the South Pole, Antarctica unless they had a strong sense of self and were like minded. It has taken time to find our like-mindedness as we are very diverse and sometimes it’s hard to see a common ground. Nonetheless, we have all thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by such confident and purposeful friends and have benefited from each other’s strengths. There are very few environments in the world in which you’re entirely surrounded by so much inner strength. I’ve met women who are ex-Marines and ex-Army and women who’ve climbed real and corporate mountains all over the world.

Antarctica is not a place for those who are in an emotional transition in their lives. I’ve met many people who come here to get away from their recent divorce, death in the family, or bad break-up. You may be able to summer in such a transition because of the short season, but I’ve seen summer people’s winter-over contracts be rescinded because they weren’t in a strong place in their lives. One of the universal truths seems to be even more evident in Antarctica: Wherever you go there you are. No matter how far you run, you can never run from yourself. Many people think Antarctica is the perfect place to run from a situation when, in fact, here you are running directly into it. Life is broken down into the absolute basics of work, sleep, and eat. You have no distractions to keep you from dealing and focusing on your inner anguish and despair. I’ve met people who aren’t prepared for this and become very self destructive.

Many people have asked me why I came here. I really don't have an answer. The best I can come up with was that I was too comfortable in my life in Chicago. I had everything, really great friends, a good job, a great apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, and I had just purchased myself a 43" HD plasma for my last birthday. I felt a strong urge that I needed more of a challenge. I wanted less stuff and more substance. I was in a rut, but not a negative rut -- one in which everything was going my way. I wanted to push myself and free myself. After living 10 years in Chicago, I needed a push out of my comfort zone in order to fill my desire to discover more about myself and the world. When this opportunity presented itself despite all the scariness of it, I seized the opportunity. I sold almost everything I had. Granted, this feat is entirely easier to do with no obligations of a mortgage, husband, or children.

Freedom is a very scary thing. It's scary when you don't really have a plan and don't know where you're going and all you're riding on is a strong sense of self and a wonderful support system. I can work myself up into nauseas anxiety if I think about it too much. After all, I'm the planner-type. Not knowing is scary. I need to continuously turn my thoughts around into not having a plan equals opportunity. With no preconceived notion of where I'll go or what I'll do next I'm open to the scariness but also open to go anywhere, do anything, and grow exponentially.

I love quotes and collect those that inspire me.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

-- Marianne Williamson

Friday, January 26, 2007


-29.8 C (-21.6 F)
wind chill: -40.1 C (-40.1 F)
wind: 6.7 knots

Last week I had my first glass of real milk since October. Being the huge milk drinker that I am, this was a huge treat! One of the flight crews brought us a case and we had a little milk party complete with brownies. Normally there is only powdered milk which the DAs make and is actually ok when it is really cold. Most of the mild was saved for the winter-overs to enjoy.

Milk party with Michelle and Charlie and a plate full of brownies.

It’s interesting to learn that an architecture firm from Hawaii designed this new, modern station at the South Pole. I don’t know much about designing a building and I think those guys in Hawaii only know slightly more that me about designing an extreme cold weather building. I did think that one of the main rules for any structure was for the kitchen to be placed close to the garage for the simple reason of delivering groceries. For some strange reason, the guys in Hawaii put the galley on the second floor, farthest away from any convenient delivery method. The main gathering area of the station is the one area that requires the most deliveries of goods and generates the most waste.

When freshies (fresh produce) are delivered, approximately 50 people are required to form a human chain to cart the freshies from the palates up a large outside set of stairs, into the main station and then up an internal set of stairs. The freshies are then all stacked in the hallway until they can be put away. This process needs to be done very fast after the palate is dropped off the plane or everything will freeze. About a month ago we received a box of fresh mushrooms and a little bug survived the trip. Francie became really excited and watched the bug for some time before putting it down the drain. She’s wintering and so it’s hard to imagine that it will be the only bug she will see for 13 months.

All of the freshies we receive are very precious since they go very fast when feeding 250 people. Therefore, anytime we have fresh produce we try to serve it as much in its raw state as possible. For example, it would be a crime to use fresh carrots in a soup when they can be used on the salad bar along with the fresh lettuce. That way everyone gets the real raw flavor of fresh fruit and vegetables. A few days ago the Prime Minister of New Zealand was here and she and her crew brought us several cases of fresh cherries. They might as well have been edible gold for their value to us. Working in the galley has huge benefits as we are able to eat more than our fair share of freshies as well as hold on to the really valuable ones for our friends. I love the looks on peoples’ faces as you give someone who is having a bad day a mango or fresh avocado. It really is the main reason most people get into culinary arts – to make people happy. At the South Pole it’s easier to do as everyone is so appreciative for the most simple of things.

Our little greenhouse at the station has been doing an amazing job providing us with fresh lettuce. We have had fresh lettuce almost every day, for every meal for the past 2 months. The greenhouse has a large variety of hydroponic lettuce that is better than anything I’ve ever bought in the stores. The greenhouse also provides us with many pounds of cucumbers per week as well as fresh basil. On the rare occasion we don’t have any freshies for the salad bar we make cold pasta and canned fruit salads. I made that canned fruit salad with cookies and whipped cream although I had a hard time convincing everyone that it was a salad and not a dessert. I explained that in North Dakota some relative always brings this salad to every family function and it is served as a side salad along with jello with various fruit suspended in it. We then proceed to have dessert usually consistent with bars, pie, and cookies all make with the latest recipes being passed around in which the main ingredient is chocolate. I then further explained that we North Dakotans are a very healthy group of people. Someone wrote Nord’Dakota Salad on the menu when it was served and a few more ND people came out of the wood work. I met someone who was born and raised in Wishek as well as a grumpy old cuss from East Grand Forks who now finds daily amusement in making fun of my NDSU education.

Most of the food we prepare and consume is frozen. Since there is limited space in the galley freezer, our most common items are stored on the second floor deck just off the galley. The less common items and/or overstock items are kept in the Dome and are pulled once or twice a week to be delivered to the galley depending upon our menu. We have cases and cases and a wide variety of frozen vegetables, potatoes, and potato flakes on the deck which we commonly go shopping for. It’s still such a novel experience walking through these giant freezer doors to retrieve product and be on a deck in the bright sun looking across the entire South Pole campus and giant white snow banks. We use only powdered milk which is actually pretty tasty. Our dry storage room in the galley is very small and so most of the “do not freeze” merchandise is kept in 2 storage rooms on the first floor of the station in which we make frequent trips to haul up food.

I think the galley does an excellent job of minimizing our food waste. Everything that is left over we reuse in a soup or for another dish. We have a 4 day rule in which leftovers need to be reused or consumed. The challenge comes in having to be flexible in your meal plan for the day. If you were planning on making a vegetable soup you may have to make a beef stew instead because there are several pounds of roast that need to be used up. We had several requests for chicken noodle soup, but were unable to make it as we never had any leftover chicken. We never pull protein to be thawed specifically for soup, but only for the main entrée. Since all countries have strict food importation laws and regulations, all of our food waste is frozen, air lifted to McMurdo, and then placed on a huge boat and shipped to California to be burned. As you can imagine, this is a huge expense and therefore everyone is expected to eat everything they take.

Some of our best and most popular meals are steak and crab legs, seafood scampi, lobster tails, and pizza night. Every Friday is steak night and Saturday’s alternate between pasta bar and pizza. I am most tired of pork loin used in a thousand different ways and instant potatoes (mashed, scalloped, or any other). I’m probably tired of these the most since I’m the one who usually makes the instant potatoes and dice, chop, or roast the pork. It feels that I’m always preparing pork.

I’m very proud of that quality of food we do produce with the limitations we have. There is some frozen food in the dome which is over 10 years old and we’ve done an excellent job making 10 year old pizza crusts taste great. I found a can of dried onion soup mix with a date of 1990 on it. Since it’s dried and frozen, it’s still good to eat. The MSNBC reporter who was here a month ago had really great things to say about our food. Francie and I were especially proud since the day he ate here was girl’s day in which it was just us preparing the meal. We have a few people who are extremely high maintenance about their food and nothing ever satisfies them. In my opinion we are all extremely lucky to even have lobster, fresh lettuce, and steak – we are at the South Pole, Antarctica after all. For those few people who have unreasonable complaints, we have a whiner bell which rings very loudly and we aren’t afraid to use to call someone out and embarrass them in front of everyone in the galley.

Our dry food goods consist of mint Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Fritos, Triscuts and Nilla Wafers among others. These are stocked in the galley for everyone to take whenever they want. Most of them don’t last very long after they are stocked as the various work groups resupply their offices around the Pole campus. If we hear any complaints regarding what’s available someone is always around to say “It’s a harsh continent” essentially meaning that in reality we are really spoiled with what we do have, after all, we are at the South Pole.

Galley Christmas Party. The entire crew except for Francie who was on R & R in McMurdo.

All season long we had been anticipating a food drop by the Air National Guard. Since the ice breakers and food delivery by the shipping vessels over the past few years had been getting later and later in the season due to the ice conditions off of McMurdo, they wanted to practice a food drop in anticipation that may be how some food in the future delivered. (The ships bring in a 2-year supply of food for air delivery to the Pole after the ice channel is cleared to McMurdo. The Pole “closes” for flights in or out around mid-February as soon as temperatures drop again since no flights arrive after -50C is reached.) If the ship isn’t able to deliver the food stores until late February to McMurdo it may be too late to fly in supplies to Pole.

The main goal of the food drop was proof on concept since all previous drops had been conducted by older aircraft (C-141 and LC130) and computed by the navigator. (all air drop photos here were taken by my friend, Forest Banks) Current drops are done by newer aircraft (C-17) and computer calculated. The food drop also ensures relief for winter-overs that such a maneuver can be safely conducted before it is needed in an emergency. On Dec 20, 2006, approximately 17,000 pounds of food were delivered on four, 16-foot platforms to a large group watching Polies with expert precision. The Air National Guard volunteered to do the air drop at no cost to the NSF as part of a training mission. The last air drop was a delivery of medical supplies in 1999 and prior to that, modular building pieces in 1991.

My friend, Charlie, is the materials person for the galley and is responsible for the delivery of all the food to the galley from the food stores and air deliveries for menu production. He shares his extremely interesting perspective (and much more up to date) of life at Pole on his blog in which I posted his link. He became engaged to his girlfriend, Alexis, while here on the Ice.

At the beginning of the season I was asked by someone how I liked my job. I said then and still strongly believe that I have the best job on the station and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year

Happy New Year!!!

For the New Year's Eve celebration, Polies with musical talent gathered together and formed 3 bands which headlined the festivities. Everyone dressed up crazy and danced the night away under an old parachute which was hung from the gym ceiling as decoration.

On January 1 of every year they move the geographical South Pole marker. We are sitting on a giant ice shelf that is continuously moving and therefore it appears that the South Pole marker moves approximately 24 feet every year. They take a new reading on Jan 1 and replace the old marker with a new one. The winter-overs from the previous year submit entries to be the new Pole marker's design. There are 2 South Poles -- one is the actual South Pole, the other is the symbolic red & white striped pole surrounded by flags of the countries of the Antarctic Treaty located only a few feet away from the actual Pole.