Sunday, January 21, 2007

THIRD PLACE!!

On Ivan, the Terrabus: (I'm in the lower right, listening to Pearl Jam's Ten)


The starting line:


The race began around 9:20 am, this Sunday morning and about 17 runners were lined up on the starting line beneath dark cloudy skies and about a 15 knot wind. The clouds we liked in that it would keep the snow firm, but we did not look forward to facing the wind for what would amount to about 8 miles, starting at the half way (turn-around) point. The call to begin was given and within 20 seconds my recently tied right shoe lace came undone. I was determined to use this frustration to my advantage. There was also more than 26 miles yet to run, but I had slipped to the back of the pack. (My chosen outfit was, of course, the NOLS wind pants combined with the red EMS wind breaker. They never fail me.)


I ran about nine minute miles and finally was able to catch some forerunners once we turned the corner for eight miles with the wind. I felt good these first thirteen miles. Then I turned around to face the oncoming Antarctic wind. Immediately, I put back on the hat, the windbreaker and the liner gloves, and chowed down on some dehydrated bananas that were delicious (THANKS LID!) My friend Mark (a helo-tech) asked me if I wanted to draft and I, as heartily as I could, responded in the affirmative. So for the next eight miles we drafted, the runner up front would pick the path through the path to get the good snow, while the rear runner would count the flags that we passed. Ten flags then switch. The switch was not looked forward to, though the fall back was an excellent reward for ten hard flags. It was as if the forerunner's vortex would suck the rear person along.

We finally made it through the eight long miles and then turned to be abeam the wind for the last five or so. At this point, my legs were feeling worked, but I had the remainder of the dried bannanas and drank a good bit of the water from my camelback to avoid the dreaded "bonk" of depleated energy. The miles flags that I had planted slowly passed by going the opposite direction and I gave all I could those final miles and finished in 3 hours 55 minutes. I was shooting for under four hours and was very happy to hear that I was the third runner in.

Twenty-six miles. Well, hopefully, I won't have to run that distance for a while. I am very happy to have it behind me and I can now go forward knowing, to quote Rocky Balboa, that "I've gone the distance." All the cooler to run my first in Antactica on the shelf ice. My legs are still sore of course, much stretching and hydration to come before the day is out. I shall sleep well tonight.


Another view of the route:

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pre-Marathon

This sunday, I will attempt, for the first time, to run a marathon, 26.2 miles. The run all on the ice shelf and starts near New Zealand's Scott Base, then runs out to Willy Field (where the ski-equipped C-130s take-off and land) then out to Pegasus Field (where the wheeled C-17s take-off and land) then back again. I spent a long day out there in a Pisten Bulley measuring the route and putting in flag mile markers (I was working for the Rec. department that day) so I'm happy to be very familiar with the route. I've been visualizing the race every night before drifting off to sleep. Well, not really, but i'm happy to have no questions about the route since I made it. The edge is mine...

Having never run a marathon before, I'm very much looking forward to it and am trying to get lots of rest and sleep this week. Ran for 3 hours and 20 minutes last sunday and now I've been taking it easy, trying to stay loose and doing lots of stretches. I'd love to finish under four hours, but it all depends on the snow conditions. If it's too warm, it could be slushy, too cold, and it could be slippery. We're all (15 of us) hoping that it stays cold and then warms up during the race. We shall see. Very much hoping most of all for no wind. That would be excellent, but again, we'll have to just wait and see.

That is all from McMurdo!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Weeks at the Bottom of the World

Holding up the world, with fellow Mac Town GA, Tracy:


I am back in McMurdo now, but the South Pole was fantastic! I worked for a project looking for neutrinos and involve drilling holes more than two kilometers down through the snow and ice, and then putting 60 instrument pods on a string to do the looking. My job mainly consisted of trenches: the digging of them, the laying of cable in them, the part filling in of them, the laying of electrical warning tape in them, and then filling them to the top. It was all hard work, and it was much the same each day, but I loved it. I was working with good people, had a good boss, and loved being outside in the cold (generally about -16 F with a 10 knot breeze), keeping warm by the physical exertion.



I awoke at 5 am for a 6:30 work start time. My commute was on a sled towed by a snow mobile across the runway, facing backwards with my workmates to avoid the cold blast of air as we cruised to our worksite. Back to the station for lunch and then out again for some more trenching. I was exhausted by the end of the day because of the cold, the work and the altitude, but I was very happy. At the end of the day, I was always happy to be back in the jamesway number 5, room number 9 (J5-9). I had forgotten how nice it is to have my own space. I spent many nights reading about the South Pole or just contemplating where I was. All I need is a quite room, my journal, my books, and my thoughts and I seem to be able to amuse myself for hours. Any lack of sleep at the pole was surely felt, so I did my best to be asleep by 9 pm each night - though sometimes I was more successful than others.


The social highlight of the two weeks was BINGO! It was Saturday night, 8 pm. And it seemed like the whole station was there, in good no-work-tomorrow form. The prizes for different games amounted to water bottles, binoculars and money among other things. On game number two, I was sabatoged by some "polies" when they told me, on purpose or not, that the game was for a cross (not a plus sign). So evenutally I filled out the pattern of a cross with the letters and numbers called and they all told me, "you've won, you've won!" And so I called BINGO, stood up, got my board checked only to have yelled over the mic, "Not a winner!!!!!" Thankfully, the game was only in its second round and the crowd had not gotten to its later quite rowdy state. Otherwise, I think I might have had rotten tomatoes thrown at me (if there were any vegitables that had not been already eaten). I'm now promptly going to do my best to forget about the embarassing incident.

During the two weeks, numerous folks came skiing in from various international expeditions arriving at their destination. A wonderful group of four English military men spent a bit of time at the pole waiting for the winds to change so that they could put up their kites and ski-ride back to the coast from where they came. They spent their time volunteering in the dishroom - much appreciated by the galley staff and the leader of the expedition even sang with the New Year's Eve band. They were excellent guests and anyone who's interested in their whereabouts can check out: http://www.polarquest.co.uk

One afternoon I got a tour of the ice tunnels (permanently -55 F) that hold the water and sewage lines. The station water comes from pouring superheated water into the snow at tunnel level - this melts the snow down to about 100 feet and makes a little pond. Hot water is kept circulating and the pond evenatually gets so deep that the pumps can't pump the water up. At this point, the underground space is switched over to act as a sewage tank. Fascintating snow engineering.

The sun spent the day circling us in the now familiar counter clockwise manner. The moon was sadly absent for most of the time, but during the last few days, it graced us with its presence and proceded to climb in the sky as it moved toward the sun. Being at the pole was like I was in a celestial laboratory. I can only imagine my excitement if the winter stars were out! I did talk to some folks about wintering there - not this year, but something I shall keep in mind.

On my last evening there, I borrowed some skies and boots and "skied to the south pole." Yes, my ski was only about five minutes worth, but nonetheless, I have now skied to the pole, just like Captain Amundsen and have also skied around the pole, which is to say, that I have skiied around the world! All in less than an hour!

The flight back to town was excellent. Despite the loadmasters unfriendly look when I asked if there might be a chance I could go up into the cockpit, I was allowed to join the cockpit crew and stayed there for the whole flight. On this return trip, I was thankful that the skies were clear and it was incredible to fly over the trans-antarctic mountains. They are beautiful and I could clearly see the Beardmore Glacier that Captain Scott took on his journey to the South Pole. The pilot gave me her chart, so I spent most of the flight, standing behind her, chart in hand identifying the big peaks and glaciers and other interesting features.


Above you can see the ceremonial pole marker (barber striped) and the actual pole marker (to the left). As the station is on an ice cap that is moving, the geographical pole marker is moved each January 1 (about 24 feet per year). I was thankful to be a part of the ceremony and happy that the pole was exactly where it was marked to be. I had fun putting my head over the pole, and thinking that for the first time, my head was not moving anywhere except for where the earth is moving. Yes, so fascinating.

So that was the pole. I shall forever be thankful for the opportunity to go there. I have wanted to for many years, and I spent more than a moment looking at the sign commemorating Amundsen and Scott, telling myself that I was really there - at the South Pole. I already have thoughts of returning, but I don't know when that might be.

It's good to be back in McMurdo where I have lots of friends, constant internet access, can take more than two 2-minute showers a week, (though I secretly took four 1-minute showers per week) and can enjoy the near 40 F temps.

I hope the new year is treating everyone well. All the best to you. And thanks for reading.