Monday, December 22, 2008

Hot Date

I drove through blinding snow from Livingston to Helena today, to make an appointment. Since Conan was born here, and I have had continuous contact with Wayne and Judy Carlson (the breeders that keep Conan's parents) in Helena, I thought I would drop him off to reminisce with his Helena family while I carried out my business.

While I was in Antarctica, Wayne and Judy acquired Gem, another un-fixed female for breeding. She's a lovely Corgi, a small, black/tri-color female. I gather that Conan and Gem got to spend a lot of time together over my austral winter season. (Since Conan is fixed, there was no possibility of hanky panky.)

I knew I would be a while at my appointment, so I dropped Conan off with his previous pen-mate. They were so glad to see each other! They played and nipped at each other, notwithstanding the horrid weather (about +2F and windy. Ick.).

When I came back from my downtown Helena appointment, they were living in sin, sharing a tiny doghouse. When I announced my presence, they came out to greet me, barking.

It was just cold. Conan was very grateful to see that I hadn't abandoned him for another ten-month Antarctic contract.

I've been spending so much time with him in our unemployment/ vacation phase, I thought it might be helpful for him to see that there is more to life than hangin' with dad at the dog park.

It just reaffirms what I already knew: there is nothing stronger than the love of a dog for his man. Yep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Hey, who's idea was it for me to leave sunny Australia, anyway?

I'm back in Livingston, Montana now, freezing my butt off. Yesterday it was 55 degrees COLDER here than it was at McMurdo station. Seems like I'm going in the wrong direction.

Conan doesn't seem to care-- he could hang out at the Livingston dog park all day. I guess his fur coat works better than my down one...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weber Bridger Octave Mandolin
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Science 19 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6045 p. 927 DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6045.927
News & Analysis
Antarctic Science
U.S. Icebreaking Woes Threaten McMurdo Resupply, Research Plans
1. Jeffrey Mervis

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Double duty.
Scientists sampled sea ice in the Bay of Whales last January as the Swedish icebreaker Oden cleared a path into McMurdo Station.
Swedish politics has thrown a monkey wrench into Antarctic research by scientists from around the world—and exposed the precarious state of the U.S. icebreaking fleet.
Last month, the Swedish government abruptly ended an ongoing agreement with the U.S. National Science Foundation that allowed NSF to lease Oden, the pride of the Swedish icebreaking fleet and also the world's most capable polar-class research vessel. NSF has used the ship each winter since 2006–07 to clear a path through the sea ice to resupply McMurdo Station, the largest scientific outpost in Antarctica and the hub for U.S. activities on the continent. A trailing oil tanker delivers some 5 million gallons of fuel to run the station and to operate a fleet of planes that ferry scientists to the South Pole, the Dry Valleys, and other scientific locales.
NSF spent $10 million last year to rent Oden, which also provides scientists access to hard-to-reach portions of the Southern Ocean, because the U.S. Coast Guard's three polar-class icebreakers can't do the job. One is being decommissioned, a second is in dry-dock for extensive repairs, and the third, the U.S.S. Healy, is scheduled to do its first-ever winter Arctic cruise and wasn't designed to meet the challenge of breaking through the channel to McMurdo. Without next winter's delivery of oil and other supplies, McMurdo and the pole's Amundsen-Scott station would have to be put into caretaker status until the 2012–13 season and most research dependent on that logistical support canceled.
“Unless we can find and engage a suitable replacement [icebreaker] by mid-August, we will have to implement contingency plans that would curtail operations in the near term,” Karl Erb, head of NSF's Office of Polar Programs, wrote in a 28 July letter to the community. Erb says that it might be possible to make the available fuel supply last until January 2013, “but only by significantly reducing our on-ice tempo of operations.”
The Swedish government decided that the Oden needed to stay at home this coming winter after two harsh winters disrupted shipping lanes in the region. “With Oden in the Baltic Sea, it is likely that these delays could have been avoided,” Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt wrote in a 5 July letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Word that such a step was being contemplated triggered a furious campaign this spring by Swedish scientists and their colleagues around the world. In addition to buttonholing government officials, they even pressed their case with Sweden's royal family. Speaking at a recent meeting in Stockholm of 28 countries that operate Antarctic research programs, Swedish oceanographer Martin Jakobsson of Stockholm University turned to Crown Princess Victoria, an avowed advocate of polar science, and exclaimed, “and what a shame Oden won't be able to go south.”
Their efforts were no match, however, for the commercial interests that had complained about the ship's unavailability. “I don't think the government even looked at the ramifications for the science,” Jakobsson says. “The research is getting better and better, and now they are pulling out the carpet from under us.” Bildt's letter says the government “carefully considered requests to make Oden available in Antarctica during part of the austral summer” before deciding that “it is not considered a viable option.”
The news is a heavy blow to Anna Wåhlin, an oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg. During two previous trips on Oden, Wåhlin deployed battery-operated instruments that measure deep-water circulation patterns on the floor of the Amundsen Sea and beneath the Ross Sea shelf. This December she had planned to return and collect the first round of data shedding light on the rapid melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a phenomenon that is raising global sea levels. “The batteries only last 2 years, and if we don't get there on time, the data will be lost,” she says.
This spring Wåhlin's university hosted two dozen oceanographers from around the world to discuss the fruits of a collaboration made possible by NSF's use of Oden and to plan new research projects. With the ship's possible redeployment in the wind, the meeting was dominated by talk of “what would happen if Oden couldn't go south next winter,” according to the meeting's organizer, Robin Muench, a senior scientist at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, Washington.
But oceanographers are a resilient lot, Muench says. Having learned to cope with unexpected delays from inclement weather, logistical snafus, or mechanical breakdowns, they have already begun to draw up contingency plans. Wåhlin is hoping to hitch a ride on Araon, a new South Korean icebreaker. Muench says he's going to check out the cruises already scheduled on the Nathaniel B. Palmer, NSF's ice-strengthened research vessel.
In the meantime, NSF is trying to solve the resupply problem. Erb says he has begun discussions with the owners of two foreign icebreakers. “Both options seem viable,” he told Science last week. “I hope to be able to tell the community in a couple of weeks that we have a resupply ship lined up … and that life is good.”
However, neither vessel would have the capacity to support research. “And that's a big loss,” Erb admits. “The Oden was getting into areas where nobody had worked before, and new discoveries were beginning to emerge.”


Here are some pictures of my new custom Weber Bridger Octave Mandolin:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dog Park Heaven

I'm getting settled into the stateside gig now. When I got back from New Zealand, I had an epic 2800 mile road trip. Drove from my dad's place in Louisville, Colorado, up to Helena, Montana to pick up Conan. I scooped him up and headed back to Livingston to check out my house. The renters had everything in great shape. I let Conan rip around his old yard a few times and hit the highway. It was about 50F with 90MPH winds in Livingston, which was just too nasty for me. I went down to Prescott, AZ, my old stompin' grounds. I hit a bluegrass festival in Wickenburg, and visited some friends up in Prescott. Conan got pretty sick of riding in the truck all day, but he was a trooper.

My dad had foot surgery scheduled for the twentieth, so I headed back to Colorado to stay with him a while, as he wouldn't be able to drive for some time.

There's a great dog park close by, where I've been hanging out with Conan for hours a day. He's not too interested in socializing with other dogs, but he sure likes to take a dip in the lake and jump up on as many people as possible. The Louisville dog park is a hoppin' place-- sometimes as many as 30 dogs there.

The weather has been great, for the most part. Very warm for late November. Today was over 60F and sunny. I still feel like I need to thaw out a little-- I wonder if that will ever go away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


After a marathon of travel, I'm finally back in the states. I checked into the airport in Christchurch at 1:30 PM on Monday the 10th, and arrived at my dad's place in Colorado 27 hours later. 1.5 hours of waiting, a three hour flight, a three hour layover, a twelve hour flight, a three hour layover, a three hour flight... I was exhausted.

I spent one night at my dad's place, then hit the road for Montana. I drove as far as Billings the first night, then on to Helena to pick up Conan the next day. He was SO glad to see me! I was really feeling stressed on the way up, but couldn't put my finger on the cause. I suppose I was feeling guilty for leaving him, and was slightly worried that he wouldn't remember me right away. Fortunately, he acted like I had just left him for the weekend, and he had been waiting for me the whole time. He tried to jump out of his pen when he saw me-- a big relief.

He stayed with Daisy and Roper (his parents) for the last nine months. Daisy and Roper's parents, Wayne and Judy Carlson, did a great job taking care of Conan while I was gone. He looks great. I went back to Livingston to check on my house, and the weather drove me out. It wasn't too cold (about 50F), but the wind was whipping. After just being in balmy New Zealand and Australia for the last month, I just couldn't handle it. I left springtime, and found myself in winter. Yuck.

My house looks great (the renters have taken very good care of it). I really had no more business in Livingston right now, so I decided to take Conan on an epic road trip. I drove all the way from Livingston to Cedar City, Utah in one day. We drove from CC to Wickenburg, Arizona the next. I attended one day of the Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival, which was great. I'm not a big fan of country music, but Rhonda Vincent and the Rage were epic-- they did an all-bluegrass and gospel set.

The next day I headed up to Prescott, my old stomping grounds. I lived here from 1988 to 2005. Nice to be back-- it's been three years. Staying with a friend now-- I'm going to round up some old friends tomorrow.

The weather has been amazing. About 83F for the BG festival, and about 78F today in Prescott. It is hard to beat winter weather in AZ, though that's about 10F above normal temps in mid-November. I'm glad I came down-- I still need to thaw out a little more.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lee Ving

Yep, I'm getting ready to leave New Zealand. I spent the last couple of days over on the west coast of the south island, wrapping up my vacation. I stayed at a really cool inn called the Pioneer Hotel over in Hokitika night before last. Built in 1866, it is just a little neighborhood put with eight hotel rooms. (

I checked out the Hokitika Gorge area, and took a little day hike up the Styx River Valley. Incredibly gorgeous there. Bright blue water, running down out of the Southern Alps, through an incredibly dense jungle. The whole west coast is like that-- epic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


After my incredible travel misadventure yesterday, I was in for a nice, easy day. Today was great. It was a little cool here in Christchurch (about 54F), but sunny and nice.

I ran into several ice friends in my travels around town, and had some nice visits. Some are just leaving the ice, some are getting ready to go back down, and some are in the middle of travelling.

I rapped with some friends for a while down at Bailie's, a downtown Christchurch pub. Our schedules didn't match for dinner, so I decided to get a bite on my own, and head back to the hotel.

Right across the street from my hotel is the Christchurch Arts Centre, a really cool old stone college campus from the 19th century that has been converted to art galleries and other artsy venues. Really cool.

The Dux de Lux is a trendy restaurant situated among the Art Centre's buildings. I hadn't had dinner there this trip (though it is an ice veteran favorite spot), so I decided to grab some chow.

I ordered the Yellow Thai Curry, and picked a spot out on the patio. I kept my jacket on, and I probably wouldn't have sat out there if it weren't for the outdoor radiant heaters.

The curry was stupifying. It consisted of fish, rock lobster, shrimp, and the most outrageous mussels, in a spicy yellow curry broth. It was literally some of the best seafood I've ever had, and it was only about the equivalent of $US15. Yikes.

I rented ("hired") a car today, and I'm headed out for the west coast of the south island tomorrow.

I'm still conflicted with the urge to go pick up Conan (my corgi, in Montana), and the need to soak up as much sun as I can before heading back to the states at the beginning of winter.

Life is good.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bad Karma?

I wrapped up my two-week blitz of Australia, arriving back in Christchurch today. Since the last post, I've been to the Sunshine Coast, the Glass House Mountains, Brisbane again, Sydney again, and some more touristy stuff around Sydney (Manly beach, the Blue Mountains).

I've had a very lucky, easy time of it so far. At least until this morning, that is.

My luck was to take a turn for the worse today. I was booked on JetStar airlines for my flight back to New Zealand. I knew from my trip out that arriving early is a very good idea with them-- long lines. I got up early, took a shower, packed up my stuff and headed across the street to the train station with plenty of time. I got a ticket, got on the train-- no problems yet.

Got to the airport with time to spare. Read my book for a while, then got in line to check in. It took me over half an hour to get up to the check-in kiosk. I gave the woman my passport and itinerary, which she checked over carefully. She asked to see my ticket back out of New Zealand. What?! I hadn't even booked my trip from NZ to the states yet-- my travel plans were still open. That's not unusual-- all we have to do as USAP participants in name the date we'd like to fly home, and they issue us tickets. I wasn't sure how long I would be travelling, so I left my exit tickets open. Well, it turns out you can't fly into NZ without a hard copy of your exit ticket. I had no idea-- nobody had ever mentioned that to me.

I ran over to a pay phone and called the USAP travel agent in Christchurch. They put me on hold for what seemed like forever, then told me I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars over my travel allowance to travel anytime in the next couple of weeks. I knew that couldn't be right, so I had them explore my options while I tried to get my ticket extended-- it was pretty clear that I wouldn't find a solution to this problem in the next hour before my flight took off.

I called the airline. They told me I would have to talk to the staff at the airport to beg to have my flight extended. I went back and waited in line again. When I got up to the front, they suggested that I talk to their customer service folks at another desk. I went over there, and (thankfully) didn't have to wait in line there. I was now completely sure I had missed my flight, and was throwing myself on their mercy. They said that pretty much the only thing I had hopes of doing was to purchase a refundable ticket from NZ to somewhere else, so I could legally leave Australia for NZ. I went over to the Quantas ticket desk and told the man that i would like the cheapest one-way ticket from Christchurch to anywhere (knowing that I would cash it in as soon as I landed). He sold me an $800 one way fare from Christchurch back to Sydney. I raced back over to the check-in kiosk, waited in a short line, then talked to the agent. She said I couldn't do that, since I didn't have a visa to go back into Australia! Argh! (Of course, I had no intention of actually using the ticket.)

Another ticket agent looked up my visa information in another program, and proved that I was legal to fictionally fly back into Sydney in about a week. Whew! I got my boarding pass, and raced across a huge expanse of airport to get to my gate. According to the time on my pass, I had three minutes to get to customs, fill out my declaration form, wait in line, clear customs, go through security, and get to the gate. I made it to the gate about one minute after the supposed cut-off time, to find that the plane hadn't even arrived yet, and was delayed about twenty minutes. I was home free!

The plane eventually showed up, and we boarded. The flight was completely full, but it looked like I had my little row all to myself! My luck was improving! Wait-- here comes a couple with a little baby. They sit right next to me. Another couple with a baby comes and sits down right across the aisle. Groan. Then I notice that the couple in the row in front of me has a little baby too. What are the odds of sitting with three screaming babies in a ten foot radius around me?

Luckily, the babies took turns with their blood-curdling, apoplectic screaming. Never two at once. The little girl next to me was a professional screamer, though. She screamed at the top of her lungs for at least a half hour straight, and nothing the parents were doing was working. I may be deaf for life in my left ear.

I survived the three hour flight okay (if you disregard the deafness part...). I hustled over to the Quantas counter to cash in my temporary ticket. Guess what? They didn't let me, because I didn't have a hard copy of my real exit ticket in my hand. Argh! I got with the folks at the CDC (USAP travel office), and got them working on getting me a real ticket back to the states (which they actually do through Denver, for some reason). When I get it, I can get my $800 back, minus about $A105 in fees.

I have to admit, it was my responsibility to know what my visa requirements were, and I didn't have the right information. In the end, it all worked out all right, except for the loss of a few bucks and a portion of my ability to hear, forever.

I can't help but wonder what it was that I did to bring this horrible string of luck upon myself. I can't imagine what it was... I didn't steal any hotel towels. I didn't double park. Not sure. I did engage in some questionable Indian food, though. A couple of days earlier, I had some Beef Vindaloo. Now, Hindus regard cows as holy, so there is no such thing as beef Indian food. I thought it odd at the time, but it looked good, and I was really hungry. I wished I had been more careful, in retrospect. Now I see the error of my ways. I undoubtedly angered Brahma, or Vishnu, or whichever Hindu god it is that is responsible for travellers. I was punished in the most heinous of ways-- I will never do it again! I have been smitten by the triple-screaming-baby demons, and I must repent.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I'm kind of a nut for accents-- I like to listen to folks and figure out where they're from. On the ice and in New Zealand, I watch the TVNZ news, just to listen to the reporters talk. I love it. I have said that I can't really tell the difference between the Ozzie accent and the Kiwi accent. Now that I've spent a good amount of time in Oz, I think I have it nailed.

The differences are pretty subtle, but I bet I can spot 'em now. The main difference is the way they say words with "I". I've asked Kiwis how they spot Ozzies, and they say Australians say Feesh and Cheeps, and most Kiwis claim that they say Fish and Chips. Ozzies claim that Kiwis say Fush and Chups. What I've observed is that given a word like "pit", Ozzies will sometimes pronounce it peet. Kiwis will sometimes pronounce it pit, and sometimes putt.

Words with an "E" are a giveaway, too. Directions in NZ are Right and Leafed. In Oz, they're Roit and Left. In my observation, an Australian will NEVER say leafed. And only a few Kiwis would say roit.

Here are some common Ozzie words, and the Kiwi equivalent (if applicable).

Beah: Favorite breakfast beverage. XXXX, VB, Toohey's. Beah is everywhere.

Bibey: Toynee person.

Bite: A small sheep. A water vehicle. (Kiwi: Boat)

Boy: Purchase.

Bye: A body of wodda.

Cah: Automobile.

Cheese: Thanks or Thanks/Goodbye.

Cheesemite: Thanks/Goodbye, my friend.

Droive: How you operate your cah.

Dola: $

Goodonya: Good for you.

Goy: Not a girl, rather a lad or a mite.

High Ya Gine?: How are you? (Equivalent to "hayadoon?" the US. No answer expected).

High Ya Gine Mite?: How are you, my friend?

Hobba: Where you keep the sheeps in the bye.

Ite: More than seven (seeven in NZ).

Noice: Good. Often an exclamation-- NOICE!

Noin: One more than ite.

Noeries: You're welcome, no problem.

Oilin': A body of land surrounded by wodda.

Pint: The colored stuff you roll on your house. Picasso was a pinter.

Point: About 16 oz of beah.

Roid: What soofas do on the wives.

Sheep: A big bite. (Kiwi: Ship)

Sooffa: Goys that roid wives on their boads.

Straila: Huge oilin' in the South Pacific.

Strailin: What they speak there.

Theeweegigh: Here it is for you.

Toynee: Very small.

Wives: Bumps in the wodda. Sooffas roid them.

Wodda: H2O

Here's a typical conversation:

Customer: G'day.

Proprietor: Highyaginemite?

C: Doyin' a hunga!

P: What'll it be then?

C: I'll have a sausage roll.

P: Foive dolas then.

C: Heeyagigh.

P: Exact change! Noice! Goodonya! Cheese!

C: Noeries.

P: Heehagigh. Cheesemite!

C: Cheese. See ya lighta.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bluehair Island

I spent the day on a one-day tour of Fraser Island, just offshore Hervey Bay, where I'm staying. Fraser Island is an incredible place-- basically a 100-mile long sand dune, with temperate rain forest, tropical rainforest, and other habitats mixed in. It has big freshwater lakes-- the biggest collection of dune-top lakes in the world. Saw some dolphins on the way down, and on the way back.
The tour was exactly the kind of bluehairs-on-the-big-bus tourist thing that I usually studiously avoid. This time, it was kind of a bonus day for me-- I only had the one day to check out the island, and the tour seemed like the best way to actually see something. The island is too big to hike around, and it is covered with rutty, soft sand roads, so a car is out of the question, barring renting a 4WD in addition to the little car I've already rented. I swallowed hard and joined the bluehairs. Actually there were quite a few young German tourists and other "traveler" types, so it won't be so bad if someone actually saw me with the grannies.
I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I mean, how cool can a big sand dune be? Very cool, as it turns out. The tropical rain forest was amazing. HUGE trees, with all sorts of clingy vines and strange, parasitic-looking plants. Australia is like the anti-New-Zealand. In NZ, there are no poisonous snakes or spiders, and you can bash through the brush anywhere you like. In Australia, the bush is trying to kill you. There are six of the top 30 most venomous snakes in the world, just on Fraser Island. There was even a sign that said there are a certain variety of pine cone that can wound or kill you. Evidently, Kauri Pines are so tall that a ten-pound pine cone might just bust your noggin if you are unlucky enough to be present when it sheds one. Yikes.
I hopped a plane and did a quick 15-minute flight over the island. Really cool. Another highlight was Lake McKenzie. I gorgeous, fresh-water pond with sugary white sand beaches all around. A dingo came out of the forest and cruised for munchies for a while. Fraser Island has the purest strains of dingoes in existence, due to its isolation from the mainland's dogs. I swam around a bit, and got back on the bus, dripping wet. On a one-day trip of a hundred mile island, we didn't stop anywhere for long. I'll definitely be back here some time.
I'm glad I did the one-day tour, but if I had it to do over again, I would plan on spending a week there. This whole trip has been kind of like that, though-- check out NSW and Queensland in two weeks, with the intention of gathering information for a future trip. In my experience, sometimes that is the best way to travel. Do a quick "blitz-trip", scouting for places to return to.
Speaking of venomous creatures, I was just victimized again. I was standing in line at my backpacker to stock up on Internet time, when I felt a bug land in my hair. I reached up to brush 'im out of there, and the little bugger stung me. A bee. I guess I'm glad it wasn't a Purple-Banded Death Adder. Traumatic, though. Almost as bad as the incident with the Ibis.

Tomorrow: The Glass House Mountains.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cackle, Splash!

I'm staying at a very cool backpacker here in Hervey Bay. It's called the Colonial Inn YHA, near the boat harbor. It's like a tropical resort, but cheap. The only thing I have against the place is the cacaphony of tropical birds that goes off like at 4AM, and continues for most of the morning. Yikes. I'm used to the silence of the ice, or at least the monotonous droning of the air handler through my dorm air vent. I might get some earplugs before I hit the sack tonight.

I took a whale watching cruise today, and got to ogle some breaching Humpback Whales. I gather that this is kind of the end of the whale-watching season. Mostly mothers with baby whales, which aren't too curious about tourist boats. Earlier in the spring (August), teenager whales come up from Antarctica, and they get quite cheeky with the whale watching boats, sometimes "spy hopping" up out of the water to check out the folks on deck.

The mom-baby teams did some breaching and splashing, but stayed away from the boat. Still, it was definitely worth the trip. I'm glad I did the half-day, though. Eight hours of whale splashing might get a little tiresome.

Tomorrow: hiking Fraser Island.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Attack of the Ibis

Had a nice day yesterday. I had a leisurely breakfast at one of the many sidewalk cafes near my backpacker on the West End of Brisbane. Walked down to the Cultural Centre, and hopped a ferry up to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Got to see a lot of Koalas, lizards, birds and things-- even fed a kangaroo right out of my hand. Kind of a touristy thing to do, but I'm glad I did.

The whole South Bank of the Brisbane River near where I'm staying is a huge complex of libraries, museums, and other cultural buildings. There is a river walk full of sidewalk cafes, restaurants and shops, and there was kind of a craft fair going on. There is an incredible arbor, with bright pink flowers on it, that seems to go for miles along the river walk.

I stopped at one of the food stands and got a shrip and chicken roll and one of the incredible Aussie ginger beers. I turned my back on my lunch for a split second to get a napkin, and an ibis jumped up on my table and ate half my lunch in one bite. These ibises (ibi?) are big, creepy looking birds with odd, hooked beaks. They're about twice the size of a chicken and (now I know) evidently quite aggressive. Live and learn, I guess

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Well, I've been in the land of Oz (Australia) for four days now. I was really impressed with Sydney, but had the itch to get farther up the coast. I can always spend more time in Sydney on the way out.

So far I've feasted on Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian food. I was walking about 10-20 miles a day, though, so I don't feel too much like a pig.

I hopped a train early Wednesday morning, and ended up in Brisbane fifteen hours later. This is one HUGE country! I covered about a fourth of the east coast in a twelve hour train ride, and a three hour connector bus from Casino to Brisbane. For some odd reason the trains don't make it all the way to Brisbane if they arrive at night. Go figure.

Where Sydney was a dream to visit, Brisbane is more of a nightmare. It's big and spread out, with a big winding river running through the middle of the city. Like most river cities, the streets run at crazy angles, and for some reason only about every fifth intersection has street names posted. I've been doing a lot of walking around, cussing the Brisbane public works department.

Tomorrow, I'm going to take a boat up the Brisbane River to a Koala sanctuary. The weather today has been perfect (about 80F and breezy), and I have my fingers crossed for more of the same.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Well, I got to Sydney about eight this morning. Never been to Australia, save for a couple of times through the Sydney airport. I like it a lot more that I thought I would. I reminds me quite a bit of Seattle and Chicago.

It's a big city, for sure. Lots of polyethnic culture going on. At least half the faces I see on the street are Asian, and young. I'm guessing there's a college near here, though I haven't learned the neighborhood yet.

I'm near Chinatown, right above the central train station. The public transportation here is amazing-- by far the best I've ever experienced. I got off the plane, on the train, and was in the middle of downtown in minutes. There is a monorail, light rail, busses, and real train service within a block of the hostel where I'm staying. My room is a converted train car-- quite appropriate.

I went to the Sydney Aquarium today-- a rare "touristy" outing. I generally stay away from the places all the tourists go to, but I had heard great things about the aquarium. It was totally worth the trip. I guess it's the #1 tourist destination in Australia. Really quite amazing. There is a huge tank that's part of the bay, with big glass tunnels where you can actually watch huge rays and sharks swimming over your head. Quite an experience. I'm going to spend another day in the big city tomorrow, then head up the coast to explore some beaches and get away from the big city scene.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wide Eyed in the Real World

I've had a great last couple of days. Incredible fiery Thai food last night, and a ton of exercise. Must have walked ten miles around Christchurch yesterday, rounding up a bus pass, calling card, exchanging cash, etc.

I'm staying at the YMCA, which might sound like a rescue mission, but it's a hidden gem. It's a type of hotel that I've never seen in the states. I rented a tiny room with a balcony overlooking the Arts Centre at the edge of downtown Christchurch (still within easy walking distance of anything I might need). Five of these tiny rooms share a common bathroom-- the rooms have no TVs or fancy things. I think it's because Kiwis are spartan travellers that there are so many backpackers, cheap, simple hotels, and holiday parks. My room is about $35US a night.

Seems like in the states you can either pay huge bucks for a very fancy room, or you can pay less depending on your tolerance for old appointments, and filth. Never would you get a clean, tiny room with no TV. I think the Kiwis have really hit on something here. You get a tiny, immaculately clean room with no frills for a cheap price. No cockroaches, and no TV. I like it.

I was having a tough time sorting through eight months of baggage in the tiny room, though, so I decided to upgrade. I now have a nice room on the top floor with a queen size bed, a private bathroom, a TV and a huge balcony overlooking the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. It's amazing, and it's about $75US a night. In the YMCA.

I had a weird night last night-- woke up at 4AM and couldn't get back to sleep. I started a book called A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe on the flight down. Devoured about 250 pages of it on the plane. Great book-- highly recommended. Since I couldn't sleep, I got up and read a couple more chapters.

Went back to bed, but still couldn't sleep. I just kept at it, trying to get back to slumberland, and finally did-- about 6AM. My little room was right across the street from the Arts Centre, which is being remodelled. About 7AM the backup alarms and concrete saws started up. Somehow I managed a fitful sleep through it all. There was so much weird noise going on that I had the most incredible set of lucid dreams. I knew I was dreaming, and was aware that I was right on the edge of waking for two hours. I had dreams of singing loud Scottish songs, immense paintings, astral travelling, being a ghost, with a moral lesson in ghost behavior-- Yikes, it was psychedelic.
I finally got up about 9AM, well rested if tripped out. I packed up my stuff for the room upgrade, and went downstairs to check out.

They said my new room wasn't ready, so I stepped out to an old Victorian house converted to a cafe that an ice friend had recommended. Pretty hungry (it was 10:30 by this time), I ordered the special. Holy cow. It was a big, thick piece of wheat toast with six huge chunks of thick bacon, a big venison sausage, two poached eggs, two baked tomato halves with herbs, and portobello mushrooms. Holy gut-bomb, Batman. I ate about half of it and waddled back to my room. I may not have to eat again for a month.

New Zealand is such a cool place. There seems to be very little crime, and the people have a charming naivete, as though they've never been to the nasty real world of criminals and rude people. My room key is a regular old metal key, with the room number on the fob. The doors are not even set up to lock, unless you lock them. I just rode the bus from downtown out to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center, where Raytheon's NZ offices are) to use the free internet service. A guy on the bus notified the driver that someone had left a bag on the bus-- he brought it up to the driver, who tossed it up on his dashboard. No rifling through the bag, no bomb squad. Weird. I could definitely live here.

Today is the day for getting caught up on e-mail, and getting ready to mail some of my excess stuff back to the states so I can travel lighter. I could not believe the amount of stuff I had, leaving the ice. Now that I've gone through it, I can see why it seems so huge. A pair of Carhartts, a pillow, and a big towel just about fill a suitcase. Not to mention my down jacket and fleece vest. I thought I was travelling light, as those are the bare necessities. Don't need 'em in New Zealand, so away they go.

Well, better get back out in the sunshine. We're supposed to get some rainy weather in the next couple of days-- better get out and enjoy the rays while I can.

Monday, October 13, 2008


My plane got in from McMurdo a little after 10PM last night. It was past 11 before I got to my hotel and my head hit the pillow-- a long day.

This was the day to get bus passes, calling cards, and talk to the travel agent about my Australia trip. Absolutely unbelievably gorgeous here. Probably 75F, bright sun, and a little breezy. It feels a little hot after being on the ice, but I'm not complaining.

I ran into an ice friend this morning, and we went out to breakfast. I had two huge pieces of toast, piled with roasted mushrooms, red and green peppers, cauliflower and broccoli, smothered in homemade hollandaise sauce. It was to die for, especially after eating flavorless, frozen galley chow for eight months. I'm in heaven here.

Dinner tonight was Phad Poong Ga-Ree at the Ironsides Thai Cafe, near my hotel. Huge, fresh prawns, mussels, calamari, and vegetables in a fiery hot creamy sauce. That was worth the eight-month wait, and I'm just getting started.

Tomorrow: Sun Worship!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Invasion and Retreat

Well, McMurdo has been officially invaded. There are over 700 people here now, and the summer season is underway. Time for me to go. "Bag drag" is this afternoon-- I get my gear weighed for the flight tomorrow.

Soon I will be experiencing things I haven't experienced in almost eight months. Humidity. Plants. Warm sun. I'm planning to keep my blog updated with my continuing travels-- I'm really looking forward to New Zealand and Australia.

See you in the real world,


Thursday, October 2, 2008


I've posted before about the advantages of wintering here-- less people, more privacy, slower pace. One of the disadvantages of wintertime is the lack of science going on. In the summer there are "beakers" (scientists) everywhere, and contract workers like myself get the opportunity to soak up a lot of cool science.

There are volcanologists from New Mexico up on Mount Erebus, studying its eruptions. There are seal people in their huts out on the sea ice, glueing video cameras to seals so they can watch 'em eat. Microbiologists counting germs, physicists counting neutrinos-- a lot of cool stuff.

The beakers like to give presentations, where they explain their work to us in layman's terms. There is usually a presentation every Sunday.

Some of the research being done on the ozone layer doesn't lend itself to summer conditions, though. A team of atmospheric scientists from the University of Wyoming comes down every year to do some experiments on the ozone hole. Jen Mercer of UW gave a science lecture a couple of Sundays ago that was very informative. (

Turns out that ozone-depleting chemicals build up in the stratosphere in the dark polar winter, and are activated when the sun comes up. That's why the UW crew likes to get here when it's still dark. They can launch a balloon in the evening, and correlate the data they get with information gleaned from the LIDAR (which I mentioned in an old post). The LIDAR is a powerful laser, aimed straight up from the Crary Lab here at Mac Town. It bounces off particles of ice in the Polar Stratospheric Clouds; reflected light tells about particle size, temperature, and altitude. PSCs, or nacreous clouds are where the chemical reaction takes place that destroys the ozone. The reason it makes a hole over the pole is that the stratospheric wind is in the form of a vortex, centered on the pole. Wind circles the pole, and extremely cold winter temperatures make a kind of atmospheric cauldron where chlorine and bromine accumulate. Add sunlight, and a catalytic reaction occurs that turns ozone into oxygen.

I've worked a little bit with the balloonatics, getting their radios and gear set up for them. A month or so ago I had to climb a tower to install a small antenna for them. It receives telemetry data from the balloon as it travels through the stratosphere. When they've made their pass, they trigger an explosive charge that separates the payload from the balloon. A parachute opens, and the device falls to the ice. Another explosive charge cuts away the parachute, so it doesn't drag it off to infinity. The balloonatics will ride out in helicopters in a few weeks to try to find the balloon payloads and bring them back in. Interesting stuff.

(Picture from the UW website


Well, "Springfly" is all but over. Normally the first flight after the long winter is called Winfly, as is the following period of time until "Mainbody", when the summer season is officially over.

This season is different. The winfly flight in August was cancelled, and our reinforcements came in for springfly in September instead. Winfly was supposed to end on September 30th with the arrival of the first mainbody flight. We've had a bit of weather lately, so the first flight is now four days late.

If weather is perfect, a planeload of people arrive in Christchurch, to depart on the Air Force C-17 a day or two later. When the flight is delayed, it dumps more people in NZ that can't leave. I heard today that there are 480-some folks backed up in "Cheech". Not good.

Twice, the flights have actually taken off, and "boomeranged". They get part of the way down, and the weather doesn't look promising for a landing, so they fly back to Cheech. In the days when folks flew down on C-130s, a boomerang flight could be over eight hours. A friend of mine here boomeranged for five days in a row. Yikes. And that's sitting crammed in a cargo plane with no windows.

The C-17s are actually very nice-- my ride down here was better than commercial travel. A boomerang on a C-17 is probably only 3-4 hours, because they're so much faster.

The irony is that often they call off the flight, or boomerang it, and the weather turns out to be gorgeous. Like today. It is a beautiful, sunny day with little wind. A calm day here is unusual, and very welcome. The picture above was taken out my office window, about noon. That area is called the VXE-6 transition, named after the old military support wing that operated here before us civilians took over. The transition is the shore of the sea ice. We stage equipment there, such as seal huts, fish huts, snowmachines-- things like that.

Right now the huts for the NPX traverse are out there. Pretty soon a fleet of big tractors towing sleds will head out for the pole. The trailers have big bladders full of jet fuel for pole. Before the traverse, pole station got all of their fuel by pumping it out of overfueled C-130s. Very expensive way to move fuel. The new guys from my shop have been putting radios, GPS units, and Iridium phones in the huts and heavy equipment down at the transition.

Speaking of radios, I had better get back to work...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Long Distance

I just called a screen printer in Christchurch about my order. (I'm ordering 30 shirts with my winterover T-shirt design.) There was a wicked delay on the call, and I talked to my coworker Antz (a former employee of Telecom New Zealand) about it. Here's what we figured out: my call went from my office here through three other buildings in McMurdo, then on a microwave link to our Black Island communications station, then up to a geostationary satellite, back down to Australia, then over a fiber optic cable to California, over fiber to Denver, then back out through Raytheon's switch to Qwest's network, then routed to my calling card's central switching place (probably in Omaha, or some place like that), then back out to California, then to Hawaii over trans-Pacific fiber, then down to Auckland, then over telecom NZ's fiber down to Christchurch via Wellington. Whew! Technology is wild, eh?


Wow, McMurdo has changed a lot in the last week. We got the first "Winfly" flight in a week ago, and the population has gone from 125 to over 300. That may not sound like a huge difference, but it is. We're used to seeing the same people every day, and knowing everyone. It's like having a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, with a population of 125, and suddenly 30 people leave and 200-some strangers show up. Yikes. I've heard stories of how rough it is on winterovers when people start showing up again, but now I'm experiencing it firsthand. I now have a roommate, too, which is a big adjustment. He's a good guy, though, and we're getting along fine. I only have a month left here, and I'm sure it'll go by fast. I'll be cruising the dog park with Conan before you know it.

(Photo by Kiwi Ken Barlow)

Monday, September 1, 2008


Well, the first flight of Winfly will be day after tomorrow. We haven't seen any new faces or imported any freshies since late April. In a way, it's exciting to have produce on the way, and looking forward to the population shifting. At the same time, there's a feeling of dread. McMurdo is a nice, comfy place with 125 people. A couple hundred people are about to decend on us, which is a little daunting.

McMurdo is like a little town in the middle of nowhere. It's amazing that we get along as well as we do, without a lot of the gossip and drama that you find in a little town. There's some of that, but I think we realize that we're stuck with each other for eight months, so we do our best to get along.

I have a theory that we are selected for this work on the basis of how well we play with others. It isn't stated anywhere in the hiring process, but we do have to pass a psychiatric test and interview before we're allowed to winter. Anybody who is really negative, or has a big chip on their shoulder would be a bad match for this work. The Antarctic program isn't for everyone.

I finally got around to putting my license plates on our van. We're not in any country here, so the vehicles don't need to have any license plates on them. Most of them have plates from around the states, donated by USAP participants. Here's mine.

Most of the vehicles here are "monster trucks". They have huge tires to keep from tearing up the ice roads going out to the runways. In order for the tires to clear, they are jacked up about a foot. I'm sure our van would feel huge on real-world roads, but it's just normal here. Part of it's not so normal, though. Free gas! No traffic! It's going to be a big adjustment coming back to the real world. Yep.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I'm getting a little homesick, feeling the weight of this long, dark season. One thing that always cheers me up is to see pictures of my son, Conan. He's a 20-month-old red Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He's living with his parents, Daisy and Roper in Helena, Montana now. I can't wait to get back and roam the dog park with my buddy. He's the greatest dog of all time.


Well, the sun is officially back. I haven't seen it yet, but I know a few people who have. There's a great big mountain (Mt Erebus, a 12,000 foot active volcano) north of us, which blocks our view of the first sunrises. By going out to Pegasus airfield, or up to the top of some hills around town, it is possible to see the sun.

It is getting remarkably lighter every day-- it's a welcome sight. It has been a long, dark winter. The last time I actually saw the sun was April 24th-- 123 days ago! Light is good.

I'm starting to look forward to redeploying, and making some preliminary travel plans. New Zealand is a given, but I'm thinking Australia and Thailand, if it's not too hot. It has been really cold here lately, and I don't think I'm going to adapt to hot weather right away. We had -80F wind chill yesterday. It is just nasty to work outside in that kind of weather, but I sometimes have to do it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More Nacreous Clouds

Here are some more pictures of the awesome nacreous clouds from last week, taken by fellow winter-overs Dave Barud and Brian Nelson. Tomorrow is the sunrise! (First time in 117 days. Whew.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Crazy Sky

It really is getting a lot lighter every day. It's amazing how fast the days brighten up. We have been having some outrageous nacreous clouds for the last few days. It looks like the whole sky is on fire. Nacreous clouds, or Polar Stratospheric Clouds ( are vivid, pearlescent clouds high up in the atmospere. They are often white with pink and blue shimmers, but sometimes they are even orange, red, or purple. I saw some today that had a vivid fuscia color to them. Wild.
I'm getting excited to get out of here, but still enjoying the adventure. Now that we can see the Transantarctic Mountains on the other side of McMurdo Sound, the place doesn't feel so much like the bottom of a well.
Work is picking up, and we're getting ready for the insane rush of activity at Winfly, when the first flights come in. Fresh veggies! Woo Hoo!
(Photos courtesy of Ken Klassy. You can see more at

Thursday, August 7, 2008

T-Shirts and Light

We had a contest for the design of the winterover T-shirts, and the winner was announced last week. I put together this design, but didn't win. I think I may have some shirts printed up anyway. The winterover T-shirt is a tradition-- it shows pride that we survived the winter season, and solidarity with our fellow winter-overs. There were some really professional-looking designs. I don't feel too badly that I didn't win.

It has been getting a LOT lighter lately. I came out of the galley after lunch today, and I couldn't believe the daylight. It is a very noticeable chance from day to day. Two weeks ago, it was too dark to even make out the outline of the Transantarctic Mountains on the other side of McMurdo sound. Now they can clearly be seen for several hours in the middle of the day. The sun doesn't actually rise for eleven more days, but it's getting close enough to the horizon to produce some comparatively bright afternoons. I've definitely seen enough darkness to last me for quite a while.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


There is an old plane crash out by the Pegasus runway, and some folks went out there last weekend. The plane, named Pegasus, is actually the namesake of the runway. It's out on the permanent ice, a few miles out of Mac Town. I found this picture on the common drive-- it was taken by Kiwi mechanic Ken Barlow. There are two PistenBullies idling in the foreground, and a few people standing on the old planewreck in the background. This picture was shot in the afternoon-- we're starting to see some light! Three weeks to the first sunrise.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A month till sunrise!

On August 19th, the sun will break above the horizon, for the first time since the 24th of April. If you go out to hut point in the afternoon, you can see a little bluish sky in the west. The sun is closest to the horizon when it's in the north, but the mass of Mt Erebus blocks us from ever seeing the midday glow. This photo was taken with a telephoto, so it greatly exagerates the tiny bit of glow we really see on the horizon. It's still pretty much pitch black all the time.

My coworker, Antz Powell ( had to go out to Black Island (where our satellite communications station is located, about twenty miles south of McMurdo) to do some emergency repairs. As soon as they got there, a big storm hit, and they were stormbound for a couple of days. At one point, the winds hit 123MPH! Yowzer! We were hit by the other side of that storm, and I think our biggest gust was around 60MPH. This has been a mild winter from what I hear-- we haven't even had a severe weather condition one yet (

I've been sleeping really well for over two weeks now. Here's hoping that the insomnia is a thing of the past-- it was no fun! And the sun gets closer every day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Frame

Well, we had a nice camping trip out at the Kiwi A-Frame. It was really not nice camping weather outside, but that never stopped us before! It was probably around -25F with a winds of around 20kts, with a maximum of -40F with a wind chill of -70F. We drove a Kiwi Hagglunds out to the Kiwi A-frame, and spent the night. It was all cozy warm inside, but a bit inhospitable outside. I got a chance to play my mandolin a tiny bit, but I'm still not ready for prime time. A great time was had by all. We somehow scrounged four "sparkler" fireworks, and we used them to spell out the word "COLD". Quite impressed with how it turned out. L.

Friday, July 4, 2008


As of last post, I was in the middle of a rollercoaster drama with insomnia. I tried everything I could think of (warm milk, exercise, reading, light therapy, food, no food...) to get a good night's sleep, but the vast majority of nights I would sleep for the first four hours, then tossing turning hell. I did Ambien every night for a week, but couldn't stand the side effects. The days after taking it I felt more and more "out of it", until I was starting to see things that weren't there. There aren't supposed to be any cats in McMurdo. Eek.

I've been thinking and reading up on it, and just on a lark decided to try taking multivitamins. With no freshies for months, the diet here is not exactly what I would call healthy, but I never thought to take supplements. I started taking a multivitamin every day, and coincidentally the sleep problem completely disappeared. So far I've had nine good night's sleep in a row, which is heaven. I can't say for sure that the vitamins did it, but it sure looks that way. I'm continuing to do the light therapy, and exercising every day. I'm also using earplugs, which seems to help a lot. It's not that my room is loud, but the white noise emanating from the heater ducts might have been contributing to my waking up in the middle of the night.

Last weekend we got together for a group photo of the town. You can't see me very well-- I'm in a black parka and fur hat near the right edge below the two doors.

Going camping tonight. Heading out with some friends to the Kiwi A-frame on the ice shelf to get away from town a little bit. It's not the greatest weather, though not unusually cold for this time of year. It's -24F with about a 20mph wind. It's been calm for the last few days, but the wind just kicked up. It's crazy, but it feels really warm out when it's -25F and calm. I'll probably melt when I get back to the real world.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Midwinter Dinner

This last Saturday was one of the biggest events of the year, the Midwinter Dinner. The galley gets all fixed up, and folks drag out their fanciest clothes. The wintersolstice is a big deal-- the days will now start getting longer! It is pitch dark 24/7 now, but in six weeks or so we'll be seeing some pale light on the horizon, and the sun will officially rise on the 19th of August. I did the math and realized that I'm already three weeks past the midpoint of my contract-- time is flying!

Doing better with the insomnia. I had a month with only maybe three good night's sleep, and it was really wearing me down. I went to the doc for some pharmaceutical intervention, and I've been sleeping like a big dog since. Catching up, in fact. I slept all night Saturday night, but still managed a six hour nap on Sunday, followed by another full night. Guess I needed it!

In this week's pictures you can see the galley all dolled up, some friends dining, and some group shots. The bunch of scruffy looking characters is my work group (I'm the guy in the wild celtic shirt-- my tux was at the cleaners).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Polar Plunge, Sleeping

Well, I think I'm starting to get a handle on the insomnia thing... I've cut out naps, and I sit in the light room staring at the lights for twenty minutes or so first thing every morning. I have been sleeping better, and hopefully I'm over the really heinous part of it. Last night I watched a piece on 60 Minutes called the Science of Sleep. It mirrored exactly some of the dificulties I've been having. I've never gone without sleep completely, but a week of four hours a night was leaving me feeling like death. This last Friday and Saturday night I had completely normal, all-night sleep, and I felt like I was about ten feet off the ground the next days.

This last Saturday Scott Base hosted a "Polar Plunge"-- the second one this year. The Kiwis cut a big hole in the sea ice, and rigged up a ladder to get people out. There was quite a good turn-out, some jumping in their birthday suits, and some preferring a swimsuit. I had DA duty that night, past the time for jumping, so I had a good excuse why I couldn't do it. (In the winter, the general population takes turns doing Dining Attendant duty-- basically washing dishes in the galley. It only hits about once a month for each person.) I did show up after my shift in the scullery, but stayed toasty warm and dry. Maybe next year...