Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Talk of the Town - Redeployment!

It's still a little too soon for us all to have official redeployment dates, but we're getting closer to having those assigned.  Rumor has it I will likely be leaving the Pole in early November (the 3rd to the 6th) with the first LC-130 to arrive on November 1st.  How exciting!  No idea when Jason redeploys, hopefully close to my date, but I have a feeling it may be a bit later than me as he has a much more important position on station than me and therefore turnover may take longer.

My penguin timer!  It tracks how much time I have left on the ice.  I started it when I first started getting paid rather than my date on the ice (2 days later) so I could have an idea of how many paychecks I'd get this winter.  The 4th for a redeployment date is a rough estimate.

Because we're getting closer to the end (3.5 months left!), we're getting more serious about vacation planning.  We have to lock in our dates for diving in Cairns by the end of the month as apparently early December is a popular time for people to go dive in Australia.  Jason's brother, Brian, will be joining us in Australia.  It'll be nice to have somebody in my open water class with me.  Plus, it'll put our American Airlines frequent flyer points to good use!  The USAP has changed the carrier we fly with (now United Airlines) so I likely won't have much use for the AAdvantage points.  We're going to "gift" the points to Brian so hopefully the long and expensive international flight to Australia won't be so bad.  And, of course from his perspective (that I'm going to assume as I haven't spoken to him in a few weeks), I'm sure he's ready to take a break from Colorado living for a little while and do something new.

The toughest thing with trying to book our plans right now though is adding in buffer days.  I have been told that in November the South Pole tends to experience some stormy weather that can cause cancellations and delays in flight plans.  While we will be assigned "official" redeployment dates, nothing is truly official.  As is such, we need to pre-plan some days to spend in Christchurch in the event that we don't make it there on time.  I don't like the idea of paying for a hotel booking that I may not be able to use, but that's life.  I had to do it in Punta Arenas in the event that the Laurence M. Gould, my chariot out, was delayed or stuck in some sea ice.  Worst case scenario is that we arrive too early in Christchurch to begin our road trip and just have to hang out there for a while.  If that happens, we'd likely try to take day trips to the surrounding area (a visit to Hanmer Springs for their hot springs/spa sounds lovely right now) to try to get some use out of our money.

We've also been reading more on car camping in New Zealand.  As it turns out, their laws are much different from the United States'.  In most places it will be illegal for us to just pull off to the side of the road and camp there;  we are required to pay an entry fee for a campsite for the night.  That will add a bit more expense depending on the campsite.  You are also required to have some kind of portable water system/bathroom with you...which means a more expensive rental.  We were planning to just camp like normal beings and use a hotel some nights to shower and freshen up as the rental was going to be so cheap.  Maybe we'll still do that, but it seems like paying double to me at this point so I'll likely protest.

Their National Parks work differently too.  In the US, I am used to just showing up and paying an entry fee to enter the park.  I did this in Zion National Park August 2015 and Great Sand Dunes National Park August 2016.  In NZ, apparently for some of the more popular National Parks (of course these are the ones I want to see!), you have to make a reservation for the date(s) you plan to be present.  Normally when I go on a road trip with Jason, we just...go.  Get in the car and drive.  It makes it a lot more fun to just spontaneously go and see things.  Of course some things are planned, but it's not like we abide by a strict itinerary.  Unfortunately, this road trip is going to need to take a bit more planning to ensure that we hit our reservations on time.  It takes the spontaneity and fun out of it, but at least I'll get to check out Milford Sound.

After all is said and done in NZ, we'll fly to Sydney and pick up Brian from the airport.  The plan is to spend just a few days in Sydney as it is so expensive and, really, just another city.  I want to see some of the more famous landmarks of course so those few days may be jam-packed with some touristy activities.  Then, we'll fly to Cairns, where Brian and I will begin our open water class.  I think we'll do the 4 day class as it's about $300 cheaper.  I miss out on a couple of dives, but after two days of living on a boat and diving all day I think I'll be okay.  After our liveaboard diving trip (Jason's still not quite sure if he wants to do another class or just join us for some diving), we need to spend a day in Cairns for a decompression stop.  It's not safe to fly so quickly after diving.

From what I gather, Jason, and likely Brian, will want to do something else after this.  See Australia or something.  We talked about going to Bali as the flight is cheap and the living there is even cheaper ($20 for 5 star hotels!), but, man, I really don't want to be there at peak tourist season with all of the college backpackers from the UK and the States.  There isn't anything at Bali either that makes me really want to go.  Buddhist and Hindu temples are cool, but not that cool for me.  Plus, to knock off Asia as a continent (leaving me only with Africa), I want to make sure nobody makes some nonsense claim of how Indonesia is an island and not really on the continent.  If we were to stick around in Australia for longer, we'd probably go see Ayer's Rock or explore the Gold Coast of Australia.  Not sure, once again, if I want to spend money to see some giant red rock, even if it is an impressive rock, but we'll see.  The Gold Coast would be new for all of us so perhaps that's an option.  Brian has 3 weeks of vacation he can waste, and we don't have any pressing need to return to winter in the US.

After all of that, we may have to fly to Auckland, NZ to catch our redeployment flight home with the USAP.  Luckily Brian can just leave straight from Sydney and endure that 18+ hour flight again.  Travel works a little differently from this side of the continent.  At Palmer, I just called American Airlines to unlock my ticket and did delays in various spots on my trip home from the station.  Here, the USAP supplies an actual travel agent that may be able to just give us the fare credit to do with as we please.  Regardless, the USAP is required by contract to see that we make it home safely so we have to follow their rules.  This doesn't bother me at all of course since the most expensive leg of the trip is covered by the company.

Once home, my plan is to eat some goddamn good Mexican food.  Something with spice.  Something with green chiles.  Something with a margarita.  Hopefully my tongue can handle the spice again.  I should also probably be a good daughter and call my parents in Boston since phone calls have been difficult from the Pole for me.  After that, well, I guess it's back to reality;  I have to visit the Office of Student Services at school to register for my classes for the spring 2018 semester.  This mini adventure has set my graduation date off by 1 year, but I knew that going into this.  I'll complete my P1 year and be a "regular" person again, dealing with traffic, grocery shopping, and electrical bills.  God it sounds so awful (mainly the traffic) when I put it in writing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Updates on Station Life

A little less than four months left of our winter stay, and the sun is expected to peak just slightly over the horizon (more like its light rather than the ball of gas itself) in only four weeks.  We've all been busy plugging away at our winter projects the past few months, and now we are reaching the final stretch.  Currently there are a few things happening on station that affects our lives.

Right now the carpenters are busy replacing the flooring upstairs in the elevated station.  What this means for us is that parts of the upstairs hallway in front of the galley entrance is blocked off during the day.  Detours are put in place for us in the evenings so that we can still access the galley without having to go outside or in the beer can (cold!), but they change every night as the carps make progress on the project.

This morning, after having not gone to dinner last night, I found myself having to navigate around the blocked off areas by taking a few flights of stairs.  My room is in the lower level of the B1 wing, and the only access to the elevated station is through a flight of stairs in the wing.  So, every morning I must climb three flights of stairs to even get to the main part of the station (as if I don't climb enough stairs each day).  This morning I climbed the stairs, noticed that the hallway was blocked off from where I would normally access the galley, and had to come up with a different method of getting to breakfast.  So I went down the station stairs, down the hallway of the lower level, and then back up three flights of stairs in the beer can to get to the galley.  Talk about a morning workout.

The station safety engineer is really good about sending out emails each night notifying us of which parts of the hallway/station will be inaccessible and which parts we can still use.  Last night though I was incredibly tired and didn't process or retain the information in the email.  I haven't been feeling well either, oddly enough, with some swollen glands and a sore throat.  Shouldn't be the case since there should, in theory, not be new viruses on station...but here we are.  So, back to the main topic, I was a little confused waking up this morning on what to do to get to the galley.

As for other projects, my team is busy continuing with our inventory of all items on station.  This winter we have been specially assigned to count the items in four electrical milvans.  The newest milvan, milvan 3, has been staged for us to go and inventory.  We have been told that it has double the amount of parts of the previous milvans and is kind of a mess.  Oh joy.  We should get started on that inventory today.

And, as a special request I guess from my coworkers, other events have been happening on station.  This past weekend and the one before it were the South Pole Winter Games, aka the poleympics.  I didn't compete and chose to enjoy a more quiet station as everybody else pulled sleds outside, but from what I have heard it was a lot of fun.  Quite a few winterovers were walking around on Sunday after the medal ceremony looking like Mr. T.

Unfortunately my coworkers, Brett and Steve, dishonored our department by not winning gold in the team sled pull.  The two of them, with the help of our electrician, were pulling Brett's wife, Sarah, in a sled from the geographic pole to the ceremonial pole.  They came in second place after a group of guys all hailing from Michigan won gold.  Such shame Brett and Steve have casted upon the logistics department.  I suppose second place can do just as well as gold, but that's if you're really a loser at heart and don't have respect for yourselves.

Second place winners in the team sled pull.  From left to right:  Steve Ashton, Sarah Baddorf, Brett Baddorf, Peter Bammes

Monday, July 3, 2017

Power and Water

Obviously the power plant and water plant are some of the most crucial places to keep running steadily while at the South Pole as they are our only lifelines in the middle of the winter.  We have some rules that apply to us as a population to ensure that we don't abuse these resources, and I'm going to take the time to discuss those rules in this post.


Water is a limited resource for us here.  I don't know the exact mechanisms behind the Rodriguez wells (Rodwells) from which we get our water so I won't discuss too deeply how the water's actually made.  Essentially though the water comes from deep holes that have been drilled into the ice.  Our water on station is therefore all ancient glacial water so that's pretty cool!  The "raw" water from the Rodwell goes through a series of pipes to get to the water plant in the power plant where the water technician will add a number of chemicals to adjust the pH and whatnot.  A few other tests are done to make sure that the water is clean and safe to drink too.

Because water is a limited resource, we have water rations in place.  We each are allowed only two two-minute showers a week and one load of laundry a week.  Some exceptions are in place for those who get dirty;  the galley staff for instance can take as many showers as they need, and the mechanics are allowed to shower whenever they get covered in oil.  Nobody goes around and stands outside of your shower with a stopwatch, but we try to be respectful community members and not abuse the policy.  Our work uniforms also do not count as a load of laundry from what I have been told.  I don't really have a uniform other than the Carhartt bibs I wear everyday, but I guess that can count!

It may sound difficult to limit your showers to just two minutes, but it isn't too bad.  There are quick shutoff buttons on the shower heads so that you don't have to turn off the running water in the middle of your shower.  You also don't get too dirty here since it's difficult to sweat.  I find that showering more often is actually uncomfortable.  My skin and scalp get so dry here that if I shower more than twice a week I'll just be itchy all the time.  Likely sounds gross to those back home who are used to daily showers, but, hey, that's one of the sacrifices we make down here.  If you are that concerned about showering daily, there are always baby wipes to do a quick sink-shower.

Additionally to conserve water, all sinks in the bathrooms (except the power plant bathroom) are equipped with automatic faucets.  These can be a huge pain when trying to wash your face or brush your teeth since you have to hold your hand in front of the sensor to get the water to run, but you learn to deal with it.  It will be nice to get to McMurdo to use the faucets regularly (no auto faucets from what I remember!).

In terms of drinking water, we are allowed to drink as much as we need.  We are in an incredibly dry climate at the Pole so we get dehydrated easily.  Anybody who knows me knows that I drink an insane amount of water each day (6-7 L of water per day).  My consumption rate is slightly higher here, mainly in the mornings, but not much higher.  Coming to the Pole actually had me nervous that I'd be policed for how much water I drink, but luckily it's a health and safety aspect of life here so nobody has any big issues with it.


Jason is the lead for the power plant and is therefore in charge of the power and water creation here.  One of his pet peeves is when people leave the lights on in rooms that are not in use.  It's a waste of power, and we really shouldn't be doing that.  Fuel is another precious resource, and, while we do have a lot of fuel this season, we should be aware of how much we are wasting when leaving random lights on.  I do find it hilarious how many lights are left on in unused rooms (have these people never paid a power bill before?!), and often I get dragged along on the nightly rounds of the elevated station to turn off the unused lights.

There aren't any strict regulations on how much power we use, but I do know that he has certain rules in place.  If anything big is to happen in terms of power changes, he likes people to contact him/the person on call in the power plant so they are aware of the changes taking place.  For instance, turning on all appliances in the galley warrants a call to the power plant.  Turning off one of the power logic controllers at an out building also warrants a call otherwise he'll think that they're losing power to that building and start trying to troubleshoot.

Because the power plant is our life source (no power means no heat and no water), the guys in the power plant take their jobs seriously.  They always ensure that we have a backup generator available in the case of any issues that could arise.  They also take heed to perform the maintenance on the generators on schedule.  Recently they had to do a large overhaul of generator 3 (we have 3 main generators and a peaker as well as 2 smaller generators in the emergency power plant) and a top end rebuild of generator 2.  They should be good to go for the rest of the season now!

In the event of a power outage, Jason and all of the other guys in the PP head straight to the PP to deal with the issue.  If we had a massive catastrophe that meant we lost the power plant, we would end up running the station off of the emergency power plant in the B pod.  All science would cease at that point and we would essentially be in survivability mode.  The EPP is capable of powering the elevated station so we should be okay in terms of comfort, but, again, the biggest priority would be surviving.  Worst case scenario, everybody would have to move into the B pod and survive there.  Luckily it has never come to that, and let's hope that trend continues.

Life here obviously requires some adjustments that you otherwise wouldn't have to deal with back home.  The water rations are likely the biggest things that affect our day to day life, but it really isn't as bad as I had thought it would be prior to arriving here.  I can say though that it will be nice to hit Christchurch and take a long shower.  Yes, I'm going to be bad and waste some water.  Wouldn't you after not having a shower that's long enough to steam mirrors in a year?