Sunday, August 26, 2012


I'm getting wanderlust. HARD. I've been back in Boise for 2.5 years and am starting to feel like "world traveler" is fading from my identity. I feel like being a "world traveler" isn't an accomplishment, a title to mark some certain point in your life or a concrete achievement like "Nobel Prize Winnder" or "Olympic Qualifier" or "Prom King/Queen." It's not something you can even call someone who used to travel a lot but now just sits at home. To me, that person would be a "person who has traveled the world." Being a world traveler is a title you have to maintain and keep hold of through action. You have to earn it. And I want to earn it back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


What a wild ride.  Towards the end of the season, work would switch from being unbearably slow to refreshingly hectic.  There was the supply vessel arrival, which brings about 90% or so of the supplies that McMurdo Station will use for the next 12 months.  I worked in the store for that time, opening boxes, counting and recording the clothes, towels, food, whatever inside, and putting it back into boxes. And then moving the boxes.  And collapsing boxes.  Etc. etc. etc…. boxes.  Luckily I still had a normal 7:30-5:30 shift, unlike much of the station which was on 12-hr shifts until it was done.  Then there were a couple of days spent stocking the store and trying not to die of boredom (I didn’t because I had NPR podcasts on my iPod) and a day where Jules stole me from the store and took me out of town to practice driving a bulldozer.  Excuse me, operating a bulldozer.  Then I had a day to pack, a weather delay day, then I flew!   And, at the end, it felt like only a few weeks had passed since I was flying out of the Boise airport, waving goodbye to my mom and Sully.  It sure was strange.  I really liked it, but it was more strange than anything else. 
After arriving in Christchurch (where the smells of life and the darkness and the humidity and the green things knocked me on my ass after so many months of sensory deprivation), Josh and I spent a day or two at Karen’s house, planning roadtrips.  We had a huge itinerary of a South Island loop planned, but we looked at the driving times and our allotted 10 days, and Josh and I both decided we’d rather do less sightseeing and driving, and do more “doing.” If that makes sense.  So we bagged the big trip for some smaller 2-3 day trips out of Christchurch.  We drove down to Dunedin, stayed for one night in the driving rain at a weird holiday park where the cement buildings were painted with Disney characters, and decided to come back to a sunnier area.  We then drove north to Kaikoura (meaning “meal of crayfish” in Maori) and stayed there for two nights.  One of our days there, actually Josh’s bday (HAPPY BDAY JOSH!!!!)  was spent hiking up the trail to Mount Fyffe, but stopping short of the summit to stay in a backcountry hut.  It was beautiful; the hut is in a tiny grassy meadow on the slopes of the seaward Kaikoura range, and from the meadow you can see the Kaikoura peninsula with its aquamarine coastline.  The hike was steep! A full mile in elevation gain, though the trail itself wasn't very long in length.  We were straining and sweating on the way up, and our legs were jelly on the way down.  On the way back into town, sweaty and dehydrated, we pulled out at the Kowhai (pronounded “Ko-fye”) River, stripped down and bathed as best we could in the late-summer trickle.  A swimming hole would have been nice, but we took what we could get.
After driving south back to Cheech we went back to our old standby, the South Brighton Motorcamp, which is situated between the New Brighton beach and the estuary of the Avon River as it meets the sea.  It’s a couple of blocks to the beach where we are, and yesterday we rented surfboards and wetsuits and had a go at the waves.  Today we’re headed there again at 11am, which is just before high tide (I’m told that halfway between high tide and halfway between low tide are the best times to go).  So we’ll hang out on the beach today, then surf tomorrow morning before lunch, when we’ll have to return the boards and wetties.  It’s supposed to be stormy anyway, but we’re gonna try.  Friday will be spent packing, doing laundry (if possible) and returning the rental car.  Hopefully we’ll then stay at Karen’s and she’ll take us to the airport on Saturday morning, where we’ll fly from Auckland back home.  We’ll leave Auckland at 3:40 pm on Saturday and get to Boise at 3:10pm on Saturday.  I love crossing time zones!
See y’all soon!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fuel Tanker Offload

Today being the second day of tanker offload, and having gotten up at 4:30 this morning, and having worked for 13 hours today and 13 yesterday, and this being a Sunday (my regular day off)...I am tired.

My job for tanker offload has been "tank dipper," the person that uses a dip tape to measure how much fuel is coming into the fuel tank.  Every 1/2 hour I climb to the top of the tank, open the dip port, dip and call in my reading to Control, in the Fuels Barn.  The view from on top of the tanks is amazing; I can see the channel in McMurdo Sound where the icebreaker cut through to allow the fuel tanker to dock at the ice pier.  Sometimes you can see whales, and yesterday when we were connectin ghte hoses to hte boat, a seal swam up next to the pier where we were standing.  He puffed out his nostrils at us, realized that we stunk like fuel, and swam away.

Josh and I got to board the tanker yesterday morning and take fuel samples from the bulk tanks on board, which was exciting.  Tanker has been a great time for me; not only do I get to work with the Fuels department (which is the department I'd hope to apply for when/if I come back), but I am doing an important job, where I am utilized and needed and relied upon.  Fuels runs a tight ship and they have a very complex system of valves, hoses, tanks and pumps that require constant attention, and even the normally less-than-thrilling amount of intellectual stimulation that provides is vey satisfying.  My body has proved itself suited to manual labor; I can deal with being cold, I make sure to keep snacks and water nearby, I don't strain my muscles or get too sore--- but my brain feels like it's locked in a prison during the workday.  My saving grace for the 2nd half of the season has been free NPR podcasts, which keep me from going totally brain dead, but that's nothing quite as nice as working with a group of people to solve a problem or execute an operation.  I hope I can find a job like that in Boise.

After tanker finishes (later tonight), we get two days off--one to make up for our missed Sunday and one as comp time for our 13-hr workdays.

After that I have about a week and a half of regular GA work (some of which may be working on the supply vessel offload) and then I redeploy on the 12th of February.  I am SOOOO excited.  So excited to be home and unemployed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teenage WAISland

Hello from the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) divide!


I arrived here, finally, after 5 days of weather delays in McMurdo.  It was pretty weird having such a sense of limbo, and getting up super early in the morning at McMurdo, to take an airfield taxi 17 miles out onto the runway on the Ross Ice Shelf, only to spend the entire day in the airport galley on weather delay.  Rinse and repeat for 5 days.  Luckily I had a good book.


Anyway, I’ve arrived!  Actually I arrived a week ago on Friday, but haven’t posted until now.  I’m on a field camp rotation at the WAIS field camp, 800 miles from McMurdo in West Antarctica.  We’re right below South Africa, I’m told.  I’m the camp GA, which means I shovel, melt water, schlep gear around, fuck around with cargo straps for 15 minutes at a time then angrily stomp to the carp shed for some WD-40, help with galley stuff, etc.  I also drive a snomobile a lot, which never loses its charm.  I can see why rednecks in Idaho like to do it, though I will never agree with it.  It seems too lazy to do for recreation.  Occasionally I shuttle visitors to and fro the Arch, which is the building housing the massive ice core drill that has just come up with a core from 15,700 years ago.  Part of our morning meetings is the lead ice-handler briefing the camp on our little version of “This Day in History”, except it’s “the ice we brought up this morning is from the time when humans were crossing Beringia from Asia to North America.”  Pretty stunning.


A little more about WAIS, from my friend Erika who is a GA for the Carpenter’s shop in McMurdo and who came out here for the camp put-in.  This is from her blog, She does a nice job of summing it up:


WAIS Divide (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) is about 800 miles from McMurdo, about 6000 feet in elevation, and is the location for the drilling of a 10,000 foot ice core. We are here to support the scientists for this specific project along with other scientific research that is being done in and around this area. The idea for this specific ice core project began in 2000 with testing beginning in Greenland in 2005, which Eric was a part of. The actual drilling here began in 2007 and will continue for the next few of years. In studying the ice, the scientists want to learn about past climate conditions dating back 100,000 years ago and see how it has changed.


At night I sleep in an Arctic Oven, which is a massive, really warm tent that I have all to myself.  I have a flattened triwall cardboard box for padding on the ground which is super comfy.  (Why yes, it does make me sound like a hobo, thank you very much.) My tent is of the many tents in “Tent City”, about ¼ mile from “town”.  Maybe less than ¼ mile but it sure feels that far when I stumble from my tent, bleary-eyed and yawning, and have to trudge through snow and wind with only green flags to mark my way back to camp since I can’t really see the buildings.  Camp life is incredibly awesome though.  It’s what you would think of when you think of Antarctica: the camp is made up of big semipermanent tents, we ride snomobiles to work, wear huge boots, skate ski all the time, etc. etc.  There are only 40 something of us here, so we all share housework, camp maintenance, snow melting, and all that stuff that you’d think of when you thought of a camp. 


Well, I’ve gotta get myself off to bed.  Going to bed is quite an affair, as I have to change my clothes, brush teeth, bundle up, trudge out to tent city, shovel out the tent, arrange my clothes and stuff, and arrange my sleeping bag and mat, which takes longer than you’d think when you have to wrap yourself so tightly that only your nose shows…

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Off to WAIS!

Hello there, friends and family.  This will be my last post for awhile, unless I figure out a way to remotely upload posts to my blogger.  I'm flying out tomorrow morning to WAIS (Western Antarctic Ice Sheet) Divide, the biggest field camp where they drill thousands-of-years-old ice cores.  Our only internet capabilities will be text-only email, so I can't get on the internet, or even email pictures or anything.  Our internet is only available for a few hours a day, when the satellite is visible to our camp! (crazy, eh?)  I had some hesitancy about going out there because I'll be gone for 2-4 weeks and let's face it, I'm gonna miss Josh.  I feel a little guilty that his job doesn't let him travel as much as mine does, so I'm going to try and have enough fun for the both of us.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year, and get crackin' on those resolutions!


Monday, December 28, 2009

A Midseason Review Part. 1

Well, I'm about midway through my first season in Antarctica, so I've decided to take a little time to review some of the highlights of my season thus far:

Sea Ice Training: For sea ice training we went out in a hagglund, a tracked amphibious vehicle, although the one we were in probably hasn't been able to keep water out for about ten years. The purpose of the training was to teach us how to profile cracks in the ice so that we could tell if they were safe to cross with a vehilce. Using kovack drills, we measured the thickness of the ice, and how wide the crack was. Most of the ice where we were was about six feet deep. At the end of the day we had the treat of being able to go inside an ice cave inside the Eurubus glacier toungh. The ice formations inside were incredibly beutifull.

Happy Camper: Another training. For this one we learned how to construct snow shelters and some basic Antarctic survival skills, then spent the night in tents or snow shelters. I chose to spend the night in a tent, and for the most part had a pretty warm night. Around one a.m. the wind picked up and started shaking the walls of my tent, which we covered in ice from the frozen condensation of my breath, so I got woken up with a nice shower of ice. When I got up in the morning, there was about a -40 degree windchill outside of my tent. We then did radio and whiteout training as I tried to retain feeling in my hands. I had the pleasure of completing my happy camper with two members of the BBC team down here filming a new series, Frozen Planet. The two that I met were Jeff Wilson and Mark Smith. If you watch the special fetures on the "Mountains" episode of Planet Earth, you'll see that they were the ones that filmed the famous snow leppord scene. Overall, it was a great experience.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

STOP..... Tanker Time!

Today our crew went to a fuels briefing for Tanker Offload.  I capitalized the event because vessel season (for a couple three weeks starting in mid- to late-January, where various ships come into Winter Quarters Bay and remind us that McMurdo is, indeed, an oceanfront town) is the most exciting time of the season.  It's probably the most stressful time, and it's at the end of the season, so everyone's chomping at the bit to go home.

Tanker Offload is the name we give to the 4 or 5 days of setting up hoses, pipelines, and valves to offload a BUNCH (5 million gallons) of fuel from the fuel tanker ship into our bulk tanks on station.  People are working on offload 24 hours a day from before the boat gets here until after it leaves.  The GA's are, like always, the temp workers, and Alex Morris (the station Fuels Supervisor) will be taking 3 of us for the dayshift and 3 for nights.  They are 12-hr days, beginning at 0545 (that's 5:45am for you civilians) and ending at 1745 (5:45pm).  Read = time of massive exhaustion.  It looks like if I'm here for tanker (and there's a chance that I won't be because I'm going to WAIS divide next week), I may end up on the night shift, which means I get two days off to "transition to nights" and some time to transition back.  We'll see.

The GA's will have 3 jobs during tanker offload: walking the line, dipping tanks, and manning the pier valves.  Walking the line is exactly what it sounds like - we walk alongside the hard fuel lines for about 1.2 miles (each way) from the tanker at the ice pier to the bulk tanks at the top of the hill overlooking town.  And then we walk down again. FOR 12 HOURS.  My iPod will be getting charged a lot if I end up being a linewalker.

Dipping the tank is how we measure how much fuel is in a fuel tank; we use a special tape measure with a weighted bar and thermometer at the bottom, drop it to exactly the bottom of the tank, then read the tape like you'd read an oil dipstick in a car.  This seems simple, but does take some finesse.  Firstly, the tape is flexible, so if you don't pay attention to exactly when the weight just kisses the bottom of the tank (and for a Madagascar 2 reference, "just a little kiss, like you're kissing your sister"), it will fold down and ruin your reading.  And, a fuel-soaked tape and a dry tape look very similar, and if you don't have a guess within a few inches of where the transition from shiny black tape to slightly less shiny black tape is, and you don't have a very clear, sunny day but not too sunny and no wind, it's easy to miss.  We are in Antarctica, so you can imagine the chances of a perfect day.

The last task is manning the pier valves.  There are 6 valves (if I remember correctly) on hard metal fuel lines at the pier.  During tanker, we'll run soft hose from those valves onto the boat.  If you're lucky, you will watch the valves for 12 hours and nothing will happen.  If you're unlucky, something will happen and you will have a spill or leak on your hands.  It's one of those low-probability but high-consequence situations where it really is worth having someone there if something goes awry, because there's about 800 gallons of fuel per minute going through those lines.

Fuel tanker will be exciting, I think, despite the horrendous hours, monotonous tasks, and immense responsibility.  Plus we get to carry radios and say things like "Roger that" and "over."  Isn't that enough?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More ridiculous Antarctic acronyms

For some reason, Antarcticans (or maybe scientists in general?) will go to extreme lengths to make their project into an acronym.  Some are such a stretch that I'm beginning to think they choose the acronym and design the description of their  project around it.  For example, the project that I was working on at Lake Bonney was called ENDURANCE, which stood for "Environmentally Non-Disturbing Underwater Robot in ANtarCtica's Environment."  It was a super sweet project and I loved it, the acronyms around here just make me laugh.

Other beeker project acronyms:

CREAM - The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) experiment was designed and constructed to measure cosmic ray elemental spectra using a series of ultra long duration balloon (ULDB) flights.  

AMANDA - Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array (the forerunner of the IceCube neutrino telescope project at the South Pole)

SuperDARN - Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN), a consortium of 9 nations operating 16 identical radars over the Arctic and Antarctica.

NICL - National Ice Core Laboratory

ANSMET - Antarctic Search for Meteorites



Josh is jaded
Well, I've reached the mid-season, and McMurdo charm is ebbing away like the snowpack in town.  It's great to know my way around the town, but it's really frustrating sometimes to not be in control of your own time whatsoever.  The work weeks is really getting to me... we work 10 hour days, 6 days a week.  By the time Sunday rolls around, I have so much stuff to do that I feel rushed on my day off.  It's not truly a day of rest as I feel like it should be.  Maybe my self-righteousness is due to the fact that this is my first real-world job and have had the luxury of college for the last 4 years, but it's how I feel nonetheless. (I think this picture of Josh pretty accurately represents how I can feel on some days).

I'm certainly doing fine here and am not desperate to come home or anything, but being in one spot without the freedom to go anywhere, with VERY little free time is taking its toll.  I miss my mom, my dog, trees and friends.  I think two months might be enough for me at a time - it would be nice to come down for 6 or 8 weeks as a scientist, live at a remote field camp and go back home.  It's not like "Antarctica" (the concept, the exoticism, the vastness) has itself become stifiling: I don't think that could ever happen on this white block of ice - it's that being a labor worker in McMurdo has become stifiling.  And I'm one of the lucky ones; my job takes me around the continent more than any other first-year job.  I feel very fortunate, comparatively.  If I could come down in an ideal capacity, it would be as a scientist.  I would be down here in a project in which I was emotionally invested, I would see the project through and leave when it was done (as opposed to seeing little bits of projects, working with them in a way that a mercenary fights in a war- not caring about the true meaning or cause, just down to make a buck.  I don't like feeling that way about my job, but it's set up to be that way.  Sorry for the long metaphor.)

There are still fun things that I'm getting to do, though, like working at the BFC (basically a huge Outdoor Program) and possibly (nothing's for sure yet) going to the South Pole for a few weeks.  And the fuel tanker ship and supply vessel offload sound pretty exciting - I love a "final push" mentality about organizations.  Maybe that's why I was so good about procrastinating in college.  My boss is a good and fair boss, but I don't like not being able to budget and allocate my time, or keep my own schedule.  If I could work 10 hours a day on projects, but have a little freedom to push and pull things around in my schedule, I could still get my work done and not feel as much like a piece of equipment and more like a responsible person.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

the Ob Hill Uphill

Josh probably won't write about this, so I'm going to do it for him.  Today was the Ob Hill Uphill, a 1-mile scramble of a race to the top of Observation Hill, the highest point around McMurdo Station.  So instead of sleeping in this Sunday, Josh got up and ran straight uphill.  I admire runners....

Just like the Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving, he got 4th place!  Way to go Josh.  Pictures to come.