One Year Ago

One year ago, 7 Oct., 2009, I began my trip to Antarctica. It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. Thanks to everyone for their interest and questions. I could talk about that place for hours.

I’ve learned that if you want something enough, you can do anything. You can go anywhere. Along the way, there were people, writings, and even songs that motivated me. One of the greatest influences was Dr. Jerri Nielsen and her book Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Story of Survival at the South Pole. It really made me realize there are regular people working in Antarctica; they just work in an extreme environment. Also inspiring is the following passage from Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Of course, there is also a Pink Floyd song for any occasion:


Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

Antarctic Perfect

Antarctic Perfect: “All kinds of disappointment wrapped in a package that looks like something you’d want.”

~ Thomas “Tree” DaCosse, Antarctic Fire Department, Summer ´09 -´10

While my trip to Antarctica was by no means disappointing, the above quote sums up how things aren’t always what they seem, how you often need to make due with what you have, and how humor can make a harsh environment more bearable.

As I review photos of my time at McMurdo Station, I realize how deeply I miss it. I’m happy to be home with family and friends of course, but there is something about that far away place that I’ll never forget. The following photos still give me a chuckle.

Due to the extreme cold, all the water and other utilities are run in utility chases with heat trace to keep them from freezing. Fire hydrants are enclosed and stuffed with insulation and equipped with drains to prevent them from becoming unusable.

Antarctic fire hydrant.

Not all stop signs in McMurdo have been obscured. (No, there are no traffic lights.)

Antarctic stop sign.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown riding the perpetually blowing wind.

Antarctic wind vane.

Random funnies:

I just shook my head at this and went to bed.

Get 'er done!

Antarctica or Bust. I remember that feeling well.

In one of the supply yards, locations were not indicated by a boring numbering system…

…they were referred to by mustaches.

Things need to be weighed down to prevent them from blowing away.

Antarctic portable toilet. (Note the frowny-face on the concrete block)

The summer sun is very strong in Antarctica. On the rare occasions when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is not obscured by clouds (Yay – Pink Floyd reference!) it feels downright pleasant. The thermometer pictured below was mounted at the entry of my dorm building. The high temperature was 34°F that day, but this photo was taken prior to 7:00 am so it was probably around 25°F at the time.

Wishful thinking.

The power plant is undergoing an upgrade. And one of the generators crapped out.

Failed generator.

At times it felt like I was on another planet. This little fella reminded me of Star Wars.

Antarctic droid.

I’m not sure how heavy this thing is, but whatever.

"Just stick a rock under the tread."

"There, that'll do it."

Keeping people entertained without hurting or killing themselves was the responsibility of the recreation department. I was only able to find this one Frisbee Golf thingy. Oh well, it’s a harsh continent. At least the scenery is splendid.

Frisbee Golf?

Keeping the infrastructure maintained is the responsibility of FEMC – Facilities Engineering, Maintenance and Construction. Here are some examples of infrastructure stuff.

The simplicity with which the utilities are run to and from the power plant, water plant, and wastewater treatment plant is staggering.

Mama tank and baby tank.

This guy was lying next to the nuclear plant demolition site. The light bulb was not lit, so I assumed it was safe to pass.

Oven upgrade?

One day, while attempting a photo of scenery, I took a bit of a tumble.

I believe this is what I was aiming for:

Skua, my frequent companions.

“May the time not pass so slowly before I set sail again.”

Green and Red of Mayo
The Saw Doctors


After six flights taking me from McMurdo Station to Christchurch, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; Honolulu, HI; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; and finally Newark, NJ; I arrived home on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010.

Thanks for following along on my travels.

Trail End

“The sun is down, enjoyed the dream
I’m full of hope that you think of me.
I think of you and how much you mattered
when I’m torn, torn and tattered.”

Torn and Tattered
Carbon Leaf

Headed Home

We left McMurdo Station at 4:15pm local time on Thursday, 2/18/10 and arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at 9:30pm. It was dark and raining with temperatures in the 50s.

After lots of flying, I’m scheduled to arrive home late Saturday morning, 2/20/10 Eastern time.

I leave Christchurch tomorrow afternoon (2/19 here, 2/18 Eastern) and fly to Sydney, Australia; Honolulu, Hawaii; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; and finally Newark, NJ.

A Love Song to Antarctica

Only Him or Me

Townes Van Zandt

Don’t go saying I’m leaving you
thinking I never got close enough to stay.
Time runs in, and then runs out
starts again and it’s always been that way.
You’re gonna drown tomorrow
if you cry too many tears for yesterday.
Tomorrow’s half of all you’ve got
so treat him good, ’cause when I’m gone, he’ll stay.

I won’t be forgetting you.
You won’t be forgetting me, I know.
If memory comes a summer cloud
rains her sweetness down to me below.
I’ll see you like you look right now
maybe wonder why I had to go.
But heaven is the way she is
rain falls and rivers flow.

So here’s to feeling good
and here’s to feeling bad.
Here’s to being thankful
sorry for the pleasures that we had.
And autumn days and window panes
god forgive us if you feel deceived.
But the clock don’t know you like I do
and it’s only him or me you got to believe.

Next Flight Out

The bags have been dragged. I’m scheduled for the next flight out on a C-17, the big military plane on Thursday afternoon, 2/18/10 (Wednesday evening, 2/17/10 in the States). Kind of hard leaving this place, but it’s time to go.

Update: My flight is scheduled to leave McMurdo at 3:30 pm Thursday, 2/18, McMurdo time, which is 9:30 pm Wednesday, 2/17, Eastern time.

I’m obviously looking forward to seeing my wife and pets, family and friends, but I’m also curious to see other things people see everyday, like night and stars and trees. (Like everyone else in the northeast U.S., I’ll have to wait a little longer for spring, rain, and grass.) I’ll have to remember to pay for stuff like food and coffee and that traffic moves at speeds greater than 15 miles per hour.

I’m looking forward to driving on a highway, walking in the woods, sleeping in my own bed and maybe going to a hockey game where there may be fifteen times the number of people in one building than I’ve been with in McMurdo since October, 2009.

Of course, there is no Frosty Boy at home (it now comes in lime, and for a brief period we had chocolate), and I’ll miss the McMurdo library. Hopefully I’ll continue my habit of reading rather than watching television, although it will be interesting to see a television commercial rather than the military public service type messages we get here.

I’ll greatly miss the scenery here too. I never tire of seeing mountains, sky, snow, ice, and the effects of wind; and penguins, seals, skua, and whales.

“The land looks like a fairytale.” ~ Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)