Monday, May 3, 2010

Polar Vignettes...

Alone, two hundred yards from the station in the general direction of Africa. It's dark and windy.  I'm standing there getting myself used to the layout of the station grounds and how to navigate in bad weather.  The weather is good so it is unlikely I will actually get lost and have to call a rescue team, lol, but this is practice.  I purposefully frost up my goggles so I can't see anything and navigate back to the invisible main station using the wind direction and the glow of the moon off my right shoulder as navigation aids. I am so blind I actually walk into a station support column.  It's true - you really don't have to be able to see to get around.

Sitting at a galley table one quiet afternoon. The station's emergency alarm goes off. Sirens, buzzers, strobe lights! I know this isn't a drill because I plan the drills. This is real. The automated voice says there is a fire in the Power Plant. I run to get my cold weather gear because to get to the Power Plant means passing through the -90 ice tunnels. Others running too. I go down the hallway, down the beer can, through the ice tunnel - there is heavy white smoke in the generator room! But it isn't a fire, just a coolant leak. Serious in itself but not a fire at least. Three hours later I return to my cold lunch on the galley table. I'm coughing - my throat and lungs are frostbitten because I ran through the cold ice tunnels.

I wake up and look at my watch - it's 3:30 AM Sunday morning.  My throat is dry because my humidifier ran out of water during the night. I need something to drink so I get up and stumble through the early morning station into the galley and see... twenty people sitting around tables laughing and talking! What's going on!? What? it's 3:30 in the AFTERNOON? My first South Pole winter-over moment.  185 days to go.

There is a photography project where people around the world take a picture depicting life on the planet at the same moment on May 2. Here at the South Pole that moment came at 3AM on May 3. I get out of bed and put on all my ECW gear, mount my camera on a tripod and head outside. -75F. But I forgot to set my camera before I went out. It's on movie mode! Grrrr. With gloves off I try to push the tiny buttons needed to take a picture in the dark, but before I can do it my hands are too cold to operate it. The camera is becoming a block of frozen sub-zero metal. Screw this. I go back inside to bed.

Horseshoe night in the vehicle maintenance shop. The dozers and loaders have been taken outside to clear space  for the pits (and left running or they would be out there until November). I throw a few practice tosses and don't even reach the sand pit. But I get better and win my game 11 to 4. Later that night the metal horseshoes get so cold from lying on the frozen shop floor that one breaks in half when thrown. It's a different world down here.


Anonymous said...

I've been wondering: I know the ice moves something like 30 feet a year, and I assume the station must move too, right? So when the pole's true position is relocated every New Year's Day, is the station farther from the pole? Just curious.
-- Barb Alexy

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