Thursday, December 18, 2014

First Couple Days in McMurdo

Well, I didn't really want to write a blog while I was down here because to be honest I can't say I have ever read a blog, nor have I ever had a desire to do so.  However, my mother kept bugging me about writing one. So like a good son, instead of writing emails to multiple people saying the same thing and updating tons of photographs to Facebook I will give this a shot.

Today is my second full day here at McMurdo station.  I am currently sitting in the Crary Library, which so far is my favorite spot in town.  Not so much because of the books, but it is quiet, and it has arguably the best view of the McMurdo Sound which is shown below.

The flight down here was pretty interesting.  We were in a C-130 military aircraft which is a prop powered flying warehouse.  This was operated by the New York Air National Guard.  As can be seen in the image below it is a very "no frills" flight.  I actually preferred it to many commercial flights that I have been on.  We were seated in cargo net seats along the side of the fuselage.  This meant that you could stretch your feet out as far as you wanted to, and there was no possibility of the jerk in front of you jamming his seat back as far as it possibly can go.  We were free to stand up, wander around and look out the tiny windows as shown in the next photo.  The only trouble is that there was no consideration in the airplane design for minimizing the sound inside the aircraft.  To say it was loud is a bit of an understatement.  The earplugs provided worked really well, it just made communication impossible.  So, I read the majority of Lone Survivor which was given to me by my brother and an excellent book.  It put the seed in my head of trying to become a NAVY SEAL as my next adventure, but let's get through Antarctica first.

Anyways, around 8 hours after takeoff we smoothly landed on the ice.  We were greeted by some interesting looking vehicles with about 4 ft diameter tires on them and a big cube on the back in which the cargo (us) was stored.  We bounced and bumped our way onto Ross Island past the Scott Base which is New Zealand's base.  And finally made our way into the beautiful town of McMurdo.

I managed to stay half awake through the introductory briefings.  We were then given our room keys, and set free to go find our luggage.  I grabbed my luggage, threw them into my room, went and grabbed some pizza, then hit the hay after a long day.

The next day I woke up, and began figuring out what exactly I was supposed to be doing here in town.  One of the big things when you arrive is to get all of the training out of the way so you can actually get down to business.  There are many different training sessions that are required, and the communication for which ones you will need is awful.  They also have no problem with pulling you off of a helicopter as you are about to leave McMurdo because you didn't attend a training session.  Anyways, all students and workers that I have been hanging out with down here have a point of contact here that tells them what training to do, where to be and when, and so on.  However, my point of contact is my professor, Mike Gooseff, who is back in the US.  So, I met up with a helpful woman that he works with, and she was able to help orient me.  

By talking with people at lunch I learned that I needed to attend a field safety briefing at 1:00 pm.  Here we went through all the typical do's and don'ts you would expect.  Basically no having fun, as usual.  We set up some tents, learned how to light stoves, and wrapped up at around five.

Thursday nights are the American nights at Scott Base.  Typically entry to their store and bar requires an invite, however Thursday nights they open it up to all of the Americans.  So we walked about a mile over to the Kiwi base, which by the way is all painted green.  We didn't know where any sort of entrance was so we were walking around the exterior of the base.  Two scientists had just hopped off of a helicopter and were kind enough to let us into the back door.  They had just flown down from Mount Erebus, which is the southernmost volcano on earth.  I thought it was so ridiculous that they had just flown down, hopped off the helicopter, let us into their base, and showed us the bar.  I want that job!

We had a really good time at the bar talking with the kiwis.  I don't know if they liked us or not, but I do know that we entertained them.  I always struggle picking up words from different accents, but this was a whole different challenge trying to do it with a buzz on.  I will say the weirdest part of the night was when we left the bar at around 11:00 pm, we walked outside and the sun was still way up in the sky like it was noon.  The constant daylight has been a weird adjustment, and it certainly gives me more energy all day.

I woke up this morning feeling really good for the amount of Flying Fortresses (good kiwi beer) I drank.  I think Antarctica must have the same healing powers as Canada where hangovers simply do not exist.  I made my way to the galley for breakfast, and guess what?  More training!!  The schedule that I had checked, along with other people that I knew from the flight down said that our meeting was in the galley.  Well it was now five minutes past our meeting time and no one was around.  We asked around and found out that it had been moved without any of us knowing.  We walked in about ten minutes late and the instructor was pretty ornery.  He demanded to see the piece of paper that told us the wrong room, and I offered to go get it.  He scoffed and said he didn't believe me and that we would have to take the training again on Monday. I do not however plan on sitting through his course again.  Anyways we sat through the rest of his presentation, a waste management one, and a fire one.

I then met up with Andrew Fountain who is a professor at Portland State, and who is a collaborator with my professor.  He showed me the locked cage where all of the gear I will need for the field is.  I also received some emails informing me that I will be shipped out to the Dry Valleys ASAP, which is exciting!  I have to complete one more training course, re-pack for the field, and check out of my room for all of this to happen.

Although there is a lot of fun to be had in McMurdo, it feels much like a small town.  Almost all major conveniences that we enjoy in the US can be found here and honestly, that takes away a little bit from the experience.  However, I couldn't be happier that we don't have cell phone service here, and the internet is just barely enough to send a few emails.  If I want to meet up with someone or ask them a question I actually have to go find them in the galley, or their room, or even worse call them on a land line!  What a strange, terrifying way of life!

I am excited for the Dry Valleys because the location is much more remote, and the accommodations are much less plush.  We will live at field camps in the valleys that offer a shelter to cook, eat, and work in, but we will be sleeping in tents.  I have a feeling that sleeping in a tent with 24 hours of daylight will take some getting used to.  Ben, the stream team leader which I will be joining, says we have a lot of work in some awesome locations which sounds great.  When we hop around from location to location we get to ride around in helicopters which is another great perk!  He also told me to bring a big big backpack because I am the FNG (this acronym is an endearing term for a rookie and I bet if you think about it you can figure out what it means).

I just finished up the last half of this post after lunch, and now I am in my room awaiting phone calls and emails to schedule the last of my training, and my flight in the helo to the valleys .  I also am going to go tour the Crary Aquarium here in a bit.

Take care and I will send more updates soon!  Hopefully with pictures depending on the internet connection, and hopefully from the Dry Valleys!

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