Thursday, December 4, 2014

Under the Ice

The Observation  Tube

Last year, we heard rumors about an "Ob Tube".  A metal tube that was put down through the ice and projected into the water. Supposedly,  you could then climb down into and do some underwater Observations.   This year the “Ob Tube” was installed and we were able to climb down there!  It was awesome.  Because the tube is out on the sea ice, you have to formally go and get a radio and have a travel buddy.  For this Adventure, my partner in crime was Gracie.  When we arrived there was no one around so we could spend as much time down there as we wanted.   When you first get down there, your eyes are drawn to the ice above you and the shoots of ice that are growing down from the ceiling.  Then you start to notice the ground and wonder what all is down there.  There were long white slivers all over the ground and big white prickly urchins.  There were big blogs of purple or black all over the ground.   Next I looked into the distance and saw jellyfish slowly swimming through the water and as I went to take a picture of it I found my camera kept blurring and as i investigated I realized it was refocusing to the tiny tiny creature that were swimming all around the tube.   As my eyes adjusted to following those tiny things I realized that there was a swarm of orangeish minnows in the middle distance. I was shocked that I had missed them originally as they were clearly a cloud of fish and as I looked above them i noticed slightly larger school of silver fish that slowly circled the Ob Tube.  About this time I looked back down at the ground and realized the big blogs of color might be massive jelly like things that were alive because you could seem them periodically draw together and then spread out again.  Then I noticed some starfish and about this time I heard my first seal.  it was so clear and loud you thought they were going to swim right up to you, but alac and alas, they were nowhere to be seen. 

In general I haven’t been doing to much touring this year. I’ve been settling into my job and my schedule 2-12.  I’m hoping to get a bit more done as the season progressed but the Ob Tube has certainly been a highlight and i hope to get to go down there once more before it gets closed down for the season. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Getting to Antarctica!

Getting to McMurdo

I finally arrived at McMurdo station close to a month after Jamie left Massachusetts.  From leaving Boston to arriving on station was a full 12 days.   Let me tell you about the journey.

Step one on getting the Ice:  
Get to Christchurch, New Zealand.  The program covers transportation to and from Antarctica so your role in the whole thing is pretty simple. Get to the airport, don’t miss your plane and don’t do anything that would attract the attention of Airport security. (yes, those things have happened).   I managed to successfully get myself to Christchurch and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way.  I slept about 9 hours on the flight to Sydney and then watched Game of Thrones, some David Attenborough and a movie called Frank.  The food was good, my chair mates were relatively friendly and I avoided all alcohol (copious and free) so that I wouldn’t have to climb out of my window seat to go to the bathroom. 

Step Two on getting to the Ice:
Extreme Cold Weather gear and orientation.   Upon arriving in Christchurch you are met by a charming Kiwi (AKA New Zealander) who welcomes you to NZ, gets you off to your hotel and tells you what time to be back the next day for your clothing issue.  With that, you are trundled off through the springtime air to whatever hotel has been booked for you for a night of rest and relaxation before you head back out to get your clothing and prepare for your journey to Antarctica.   
The next day, upon arrival at the Clothing Distribution Center (the CDC), you are reminded to sign the NSF code of conduct, the rules of internet use and regulation and to give proof that you have taken the online “test” about appropriate use of the network while in Antarctica.  Next you bring your computer to be scanned and checked to make sure it is up to speed and finally you head into the changing rooms to try on your new wardrobe.  Upon arrival in the dressing room you’ll find two orange bags with your name attached. Inside there is all of your Extreme Cold Weather Gear (ECW).  You MUST take the big red, the bibs, and the shoes.  People who have been to the ice for years will often switch out gear or give gear back because they have brought their own, but they caution you to bring everything if this is your first season on the ice of if you are working in a new job.  It’s hard to know what you will need and it’s better to have more and stay warm.  Aside from the Big Red, overalls and shoes you will also get: 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of lightweight long underwear-tops and bottoms, 1 pair fleece long underwear-tops and bottoms, a neck gaiter, a balaclava (a head/neck covering), a beanie, a hat with ears, goggles, and two pairs of gloves.  That’s the basics. Everyone gets that. Some people get a little more. This year I also got a Carhartt jacket and a pair of mittens.  My bags were FULL UP.   After trying everything on, exchanging sizes, looking in the mirror and wondering how you can possibly walk in the shoes you package everything back up in to the orange bags and put it in a corner in the changing room and head out to get trained up a bit more. 
Next you watch about 45 minutes of videos about Antarctica,  Safety is the main topic.  Safety on the continent, safety at altitude (e.g., at Pole) and respecting the environment.  If this is your first season, these videos are pretty awesome as you are seeing the place where you will be, hopefully, the next day.   As this was my second season, I still pretty much enjoyed it but I was a bit bored.  I can imagine as you go year after year, it can get a bit tiring to watch these videos over and over.  Regardless, after a mere 45 minutes, they are over.  
If you arrive early in the Season, AKA the first flights when station population is rapidly increasing, your company HR (PAE, ASC, GHG etc) will probably be in Christchurch to orient you.   After your videos, you’ll go and meet with them, do paperwork and have some trainings.  This is what Jamie did.  I arrived about 3 weeks later when the number of people traveling through Christchurch had diminished so we only had the video training and after picking our computers up, we were free to head back into the city to enjoy the day and await our IceFlight. 

Layton, our welcoming committee, he met after we cleared immigration. 

The clothing distribution center where we went for clothes and orientation. 

Part of our orientation. On they back wall you can also see the clothes we are about to be given. 

My two bags full of ECW gear. 

Suited up for the first time! 

Jamie, exchanging his jacket for a different size. 

Step Three on Getting to the Ice. 

Get to the ice. This is not often as easy as you would think.  The plan is for you to arrive in Christchurch, get ECW and have orientation the next day and fly to Antarctica the day after that.  So for me. I arrived on Saturday, got dressed and tressed on Sunday and was packed up and ready to go for my 5:30am hotel pick-up on Monday for my IceFlight.   That rarely happens.  I met ONE person this season that kept that schedule.   What happens more often is: you are up getting ready for your shuttle and you get a phone call at 4:38 saying that your plane has been delayed.   For both Jamie and I, we got a 24 hour delay so we were able to go back to sleep.   Sometimes it’s just a 3 hour delay or some such thing.   Regardless,  that’s typical.  You probably won’t fly on your scheduled Ice Flight.   After one 24 hour delay, Jamie flew to Antarctica.    I also got a 4:48am call telling me that I had a 24 hour delay on that Monday of my Scheduled ice flight.   I then proceeded to get that call at 4:48 (sometimes 4:35) on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of that week.    When we finally flew on Monday,  I was skeptical until we touched down at McMurdo.   However, assuming you are ready to fly, we arrive back at the CDC and suit up in our Extreme Cold Weather Gear.   We then get in line to check our baggage and weigh everything. On our way in we fill out a departure card and the NZ Military checks our forms and passports before we go to “check-in”.   Outside of our carry on and body weight we were allowed to bring 100lbs on the flight. (This can change so it was one of the first questions we asked/were told at our orientation.)  After weighing our gear we hop up on the scale with all our ECW and our 15lb carry on.  Some people weigh A LOT as they will stuff their pockets with fresh veggies or alcohol in an effort to keep their luggage limit acceptable. It can be pretty funny to watch this in the morning.    If everything is within limits, you get your boarding pass (a laminated number on a chain to wear on your neck) and you are free to wander for a bit before reporting to the passenger terminal.   The cafe across the plaza will open for breakfast so we often go there.  At the appointed time we head back to the Passenger terminal where we watch a series of videos about the how unique antarctica is-both ecologically and politically.  We are reminded to be safe and take care of ourselves and after the videos we wait to hear the weather report.  If the weather is good, we leave from there to take busses (after a security scan of course) to the planes that will take us down - both Jamie and I flew in a GlobeMaster C-17.   After our 3 minute ride to the plane, we hop off the bus, pick up a bag lunch and ear plugs and get on our sweet ride to Pegasus Airflied, McMurdo Station, Antarctica, where we finally put our feet on layers of ancient glacial ice to begin our season in the sun. 

 Waiting in line to check our luggage.  

Lisa (one of the cooks) and I, getting on the bus.

Getting our lunch before you load up! 

The view from my seat.  The stairs you see straight ahead go up into the cockpit.  Yes, we can go up there, but I asked to late in the flight so I didn't make it up.   It was a cloudy ride anyway. Not much to see. 

Toward the back of the plane.  You can see all the cargo back there. 
I made it!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Things to love about Christchurch and New Zealand

First some things:

This is a little thing, but the Kiwi's (what New Zealanders call themselves), walk around baring their tootsies for all to see.  Not all of them of course, but I'll see a few a day.  And I don't mean at the park or at the beach. I mean walking down a city sidewalk, in the mall, on the bus.   Anywhere and everywhere I have seen naked feet parading about as if there are no pieces of broken glass, spit or any offal that might be lying around.   I've tried it a few times, but just down to the hotel lobby.  I'm not a seasoned skin-on-ground walker yet, I've got to start small.  

The Coffee:
The coffee here is exquisite.  I have never had a bad or poorly poured cup of coffee and while we haven't travelled all over the island, we have stopped in all sorts of coffee shops around NZ and each and every one has been delicious.  That being said,  it's next to impossible to just order plain old boring drip coffee (called Filter Coffee) here.  They just don't do it.  Secondly, they've got things on the menu that I'd never heard of before.  Flat white, long black...they sound like things from an art school. Once you get the lingo down and figure out what you like and want, however, you will be in a super jazzy, everything bright and shiny, feeling on top of the world caffeinated haze.

Less cell phones:
They certainly exist here and people have smart phones and all that jazz too but it seems like less people have their faces in a device than in the States.  On a bus you aren't surrounded by the bluewave glow of iphones all around you and if you need to stop and ask someone a question on the street you don't have to worry that you are interrupting some sort of on going facebook drama that is demanding their immediate attention.  It's a little thing, but I like it. 

Now some places: 
The Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park 
I’m not sure if my love of these places has been given it’s rose-colored lenses by the fact that the Rose Garden has been in full bloom the majority of the time I’ve been visiting them or if it's the fact that I am in Chrischurch in the springtime when every flower is wearing her finery and working full tilt to attract the attention of bees and other such helpful pollinators.  It might also be that this garden has the most incredible trees, varied in species, size and style.   Or maybe is that’s there are a plethora of various little inset gardens for you to take your repose in; the azalea garden, the rainforest garden, the water garden, the rose garden, etc.  Perhaps it’s that the grass has little white snowdrop flowers  beckoning you to walk and picnic amid their cottony countenance.  Whatever the reason, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are my favorite in the world and I spend as much time in them as I can before heading to the white arid desert ecosystem that houses McMurdo Station.

Alice in Videoland and The Physics Room
The Alice is, by it’s own account, a discerning movie goers Nirvana.   The Physics room is an attached cafe and art house.  Could you ask for a more perfect combination? After seeing whichever little known but excellent foreign film at the Alice theater you can then mosey over to the Physics room and discuss character motives and passions, the placement of this or that in the 2 second scene right after the moment of the secondary plot reveal.  Anyway, you get the idea.     It has about 4 different shows going in a week but they are all shown in the same Cinema, a cosy 40 seat affair with big comfortable red seats and an Egyptian motif and if you go on a Tuesday, tickets are only $10.  the first year we were here the Alice was showing Antarctica: A Year on Ice and it was that documentary that got us interested in wintering in Antarctica. 

The Artwork
Christchurch was hit incredibly hard by an earthquake in 2011.  The main cathedral in town wasn’t the only this that was brought down.  Entire city blocks were, or subsequently have been, leveled.  Old classic buildings were destroyed. The river flooded.  And many businesses were lost.  As a result of this, and unfortunately still 4 years later, Christchurch is in a state of perpetual construction. I was talking with a resident yesterday who told me that officials told them not to expect road construction and reroutes to be done for 10 years as they have to deal with all the systems underneath them first.  However, amid all this construction and, infact, out of the construction has come a community that is making the best out of it’s, literally, crumbled surroundings. In almost every empty lot there is a piece of artwork or display and ,often, they are interactive.  Mini-golf throughout the city,  recycled materials turned into musical instruments,  outdoor sitting areas created from debris.  Even the city officials have a little fun: the road blockers are redesigned to look like sheep.  The city has taken to using the containers originally brought in as temporary structures to create permanent businesses and art designs. The Re:Start mall, also known as the Container Mall is built out of shipping containers and as you walk around the city you’ll see food stalls, art galleries, info booths all made out of shipping containers. 
This is an outdoor dance floor.   $2 and your own IPod in the Dance-O-Mat and for a half hour you can jam out to your favorite beets.  And even lights for the disco ball!  

Costing only $2 to get in, the Canterbury Museum is right next to the botanic gardens and the two complement each other almost as well as bananas and peanutbutter.   Naturally,  I loved the Antarctic exhibit as who doesn't love to tour things that have direct bearing on our adventures,  but I was tickled by many of the other exhibits as well.   My favorite was Fred and Myrtle's Paua House.  Fred was a fisherman and would come home with Paua shells (abalone) and polish them up.  He has so many the Myrtle started putting them on the walls. Ultimately the house was covered from floor to ceiling.  They became a tourist attraction and people from all over came to tour their house.  When they passed their house was donated to the Museum and you can tour it just like when they were living there.   Quite unique.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

King Richard's Fair and Connor's Corn Maze

I had another fun weekend of fall festivities.   On Saturday I went to King Richard's Faire with my family.  My Aunt used to take me when I was little and as I got older she would take my younger brothers and sisters. Guerline sent out a message suggesting we all go again and so we did!  It was wonderful fun! 

The King and Queen of Carvershire opening the faire! 

An acrobatic and comedy routine. 

We all got our faces painted within 5 minutes of walking into the fair.  Don't we all look beautiful? 

The Mud Show. We watched these two men smear mud on their faces, drink muddy water, and then eat mud.  They were hilarious and it was surprisingly entertaining. 

And then they kissed a boy in the Audience.  But it was pretty funny. 

The swan swing!  Nothing better! 

Up, up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful...swan..? 

My sister Roses. Look at her pretty face! And those leaves are OK too I guess. 

$3 to ride down and a wire on that fun little horse!  Oh, and you get a sword to try and get the brass ring. 

If you make it to the top,  you win $10!  Roses, as you can imagine didn't make it.   Payton, with Guerline holding the bottom, did.  Then Guerline argued with the guy about the fact that he wouldn't pay them. She said the used "teamwork" and they still deserved the cash.  Hilarious.  Needless to say, it didn't work out for them. 

One of the best parts of the fair? Turkey Legs!  Look how dark they are!  They tasted like pork, it was so awesome. 

What did everyone eat?  Three turkey legs, a BBQ sandwich, chicken tenders and fries and Pizza.  All overpriced but relatively tasty.  Well, the Turkey was awesome.  The rest was just OK.  I don't understand why everyone didn't just get the turkey! 

This was, by far, my favorite show. These two women had excellent chemistry and great crowd management.   It took a few minutes to warm up but I was belly laughing by the end. 

That, my friend, is a baby liger! 

Couldn't go to King Richards' Faire without seeing the Joust! 

Payton LOVED the archery and wanted to do it 4 times!  Everyone joined in once. 

Look at that form! 

Watch out for all of our skills! 

Between all of us,  some of our arrows came pretty close. 

Here we are after our fun filled day.  From left to right, Bo, Guerline, Payton, Roses, Auntie, and Shannon 

This is a random photo of Maggie sporting her mustache at Taco Tuesday when we went for dinner at Margarita's! 

King Richard's Faire was great fun and it was followed up with another glorious Fall day with one of my oldest friends, Julie and her fiesty son, Connor.  We went out to Connors Farm Stand (yes, the son and the farm are the same name) to do the Corn Maze but it turned out to be filled with all sorts of entertainment and fun!

In the corn maze you could get clues to tell you which direction to go in.  Here's Julie examining the first clue! 

Connor is destined for photography!  Look how cute we are! 

Aww!  We made it up to get a view of all the corn! 

Don't get lost in the corn, no one will find you!  Connor is hidden in this photos somewhere. 

Wheel-of-Fortune! Spin the wheel and you're given a fun task to do. We got "follow the oldest and cluck like a chicken".  Very fun. 

All the fun things you can do at Farm. 

Oh you know, nothing like a stroll through a hay maze. 

I wish we could have ridden the little cows!

AHHH!   They are so adorable! 


Connor didn't really love this, but I was really excited about it. They are little bicycle tractors!  After Connor stopped riding his, I got in line and went around a few times on my own. 

A giant working rocking chair. 

A big pumpkin!

A big pumpkin and a little pumpkin! 

A big pumpkin, a little pumpkin and a jack-o-lantern!