Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Midwinter Dinner

Sorry, I've gotten behind on my blog posting. It's been a week and a half since our big midwinter celebration. Everybody gets dressed up, and the galley puts on a gourmet feast. It's quite a shindig. It's so dark and cold here this time of year that the midpoint of the winter is a very significant milestone. It's ten days past the solstice now, and I think I see a little lightening in the sky. The lightest time of the day is about 1PM (it's a long story why it's not noon...), and I see a faint purple glow on the horizon. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the sun again.

I've had a round of fierce insomnia in the last month or so. Not quite as bad as last year, where I didn't get a decent night's sleep for two months. Finally went to the doc and got some mild sleeping pills, and I've been sleeping my brains out for the last few days. A lot of folks have that problem down here. Our circadian rhythms are kind of in free fall for a couple of months. Add to that the fact that our diets are less than ideal, and we get zero vitamin D, and you have a recipe for some sleepless nights. I credit the fact that I'm doing better than last year to taking a multi-vitamin.

This picture was taken at the midwinter dinner. These are the the IT guys, with me hiding out in the back. That's Eric, Mark, me, Joel and Grump in the back. In front are Ken, Mark, and Antz (http://www.antarcticimages.com/).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Crater Hill, Revisited

Tuesday I went back up to the top of Crater Hill in a PistenBully. It's still a couple of days before the solstice, but I was so impressed with how incredibly dark it is here this time of year. We left around 9AM, and got back by 11AM, and it was as dark as the bottom of a well the whole time. The PistenBully has pretty bright headlights, so everything is fine as long as you only care about things within the headlight range. It's a very eerie feeling to have everything be gone outside the perimeter of light.

Navigating the top of Crater Hill involves some tricky maneuvering. After a long and bumpy ride from town, the trail from T-Site to the buildings on top of CH runs practically vertically up the hill. There's no way in a million years a wheeled vehicle could make it up that hill. The PB makes short work of it, but it was a little spooky when I lost traction on some wind-drifted snow. At the very top it is necessary to execute a quick 90-degree turn to the right, lest you plunge down a cliff into a depression.
We really lucked out on the weather. It was about -20F and calm, which is bikini weather for the top of that hill-- it is frequently scary windy up there. In this picture I didn't even put my gloves and hat on-- that's pretty balmy for this area in the middle of the winter. Whenever leaving town like this, we are require to at least bring all our ECW (Extreme Cold weather Gear). I wore jeans with long johns, Carhartt coveralls, long underwear top, big red coat, neck gaiter, ECW boots (Baffin boots, in this case), and my fur bomber hat. If it had been windy, I would have added a balaclava, goggles, and a fleece vest. Our big red coats are seriously warm-- I rarely find the need to wear more than a t-shirt under mine in town.

It was so incredibly dark that I completely missed one of the communications shelters I was trying to go to. It was outside my headlights, so it was just gone. There was even a half moon, but it was impossible to see anything but a million stars. We had to stop and stab our flashlight beams out into the darkness to locate building 66. There are fiber optic cables running all over the ground up there, which I didn't want to run over. We parked a hundred yards or so away and hiked up to the hut.

We checked on the conditions of the buildings on top of the hill, which was our main objective. We don't get up there often, and it's a good idea to go up periodically to make sure the buildings haven't blown away or drifted full of snow.

On the whole, a successful trip, but I always feel that I have acquired a gray hair or ten when I make that PistenBully trip.

(Sorry about the quality of the photo. Some much better photos were taken before this, but didn't save, due to a cold battery issue)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crazy Nightmare

A couple of days agoI had the wildest dreaming experience ever. I slept okay the night before, but I woke up too early and couldn't get back to sleep, so I was tired that morning. I took a power nap at lunch like I often do. I usually sleep very lightly, and can wake myself up at any time. This day I laid down, and immediately started having really intense dreams. They were all in color, with a lot of music. I was in a mall at one point, and the Muzak was really loud. The themes of the different "scenes" in the dreams were lots of loud sounds, music, and really obnoxious people. Several times I ran into someone I didn't know who would come up to me and start poking me in the chest, and wouldn't stop. I had to scream at several people to leave me alone. At one point I was in a school, and we were just coming back from a break in the class. There were about a dozen severely retarded and/or crazy people milling about in the hallway, annoying people. One really creepy guy followed me back into the classroom, and I had to scream at him to leave me alone.

This is where it gets crazy. I had been hearing the music all along. I thought "I'm dreaming. I must be really hearing music, and I'm just transferring it to my dream". After a while, I realized that the music had woken me up, and I started to think of turning it down so I could sleep better. I got up and went over to the stereo to turn the music down, and realized that I wasn't in my room! I was in somebody else's room, and there was some construction going on in an adjacent room. There were some guys in there laying down some flooring-- they had come in and turned on the stereo. I went in there to talk to them. I explained to one guy who looked like he was in charge that I wasn't supposed to be there. I explained that to me it is June 15th, and I'm supposed to be napping in Antarctica. I don't remember what he said, but one of the flooring guys started poking me in the chest and being really rude to me. So I left. I was really freaking out now, because I was in someone else's body, far away, and I had no way to get back. I struggled and strained to wake up, but I couldn't. I tried standing up on the bed, which I knew would wake me up. Turned out I was just standing on the bed in my dream.

I started to get really worried that something had happened. Maybe I had died in my sleep, and that's why I couldn't wake up. Ususally if I'm having a lucid dream all I have to do is think about my breathing, or the pressure of the pillow on my head, and I'll wake up. I don't know how long it actually was, but it felt like I was in a panic, trying to wake up for about ten minutes. I had no way to get back into my body. Finally, something shifted and I was able to wake up, completely freaked out.

There is a very loud air handler vent in my room, pointed right at my bed. Evidently I had gotten so submerged in the white noise that I couldn't hear it anymore, and couldn't get back to reality. I think that was why there was so much music in the dreams. The last song I heard before I woke up was by Queen (it sounded like from the vocals), but I've never heard it before. I was hearing it, loud and clear, in stereo. Crazy.

After waking up, I had to go back to work. A wild coincidence after having an intense, disturbing dream with loud sounds-- on my way back to work via the Crairmaster, I was (I thought) all alone in the building, about halfway down the ramp. The fire alarm went off, with a claxon right next to my head. I jumped about two feet in the air!

What a crazy day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Crairmaster, Links

I think I've probably posted about the Crairmaster before, but it's been a while. In between the center of town and my office, there's a big building called the Crary Lab. It's not too far out of my way to go through the building rather than around it (especially on cold days). I decided some time last season to implement an exercise plan using Crary as my workout machine.

Crary is located on a hill, with the aquarium in phase III at the bottom, and the library at the second story of phase I. Starting about two-thirds of the way through last winter I started doing laps of the stairs to keep from turning into gelatinous goo. It has always been hard to be religious about going to the gym here, but I have to go to and from work several times a day-- it was a natural! (Plus I don't really get sweaty just doing four laps up and down three flights of stairs, don't have to change, etc.) It's really like four ten-or-fifteen-minute workouts a day. I just leave for work a little early, grab four or five laps on the way down. Coming up to building 155 for lunch, I grab some laps on the way. Same with going back to work, and going home at night.

Well, last year I averaged about twelve laps a day, and got 1410 laps done by the time I had to fly out of this lovely town. This year I started at the first day here, so I'm smashing old records. As of this minute, I have 1538 laps so far this season. I calculate that works out to 4,602 flights of stairs. That's almost sixty thousand vertical feet! Keeping stats on my Crairmaster laps has helped to keep me engaged. If I had no idea how many laps I had done, I might skip a day, or slack off. My average is just over 13 laps a day, so stay trudging so as not to hurt my average.

Too much time on my hands? Maybe. (Note: I copied this picture from the University of Chicago's web site. It is pitch dark here 24/7, so a photo wouldn't mean much.)
On another note, I've spotted some cool links about Antarctica, for those of you so inclined: