Tuesday, December 27, 2011

That Two Day Weekend

Saturday morning was the Race Around the World, a christmas tradition. It was only a 2.3 mile run but the weather was so terrible that it was very difficult. I really struggle with the altitude when it comes to aerobic exercise. I'm not designed for this. My lungs can't get enough oxygen. It's so cold out that you really have to wear something to cover your face or else risk damaging your lungs but then it's even harder to breathe. I started out the race fine, but about .25 mi in, we hit some really soft snow and the effort of trudging through it really wore me out. The rest of the race was spent gasping for air. It was really a miserable experience. I hate distance running to begin with, but add to that sub-freezing temperatures and 20mph winds and it was just the worst. Thankfully, towards the end of the race, when I was contemplating what it would be like to just drop dead, a friend of mine caught up to me and we raced to the finish. It made it slightly more fun. I would classify the race as worse than going to the dentist but better than being stabbed in an alley. Congrats to Jamie Tolan who won the race. He's a grad student on our sister telescope, SPUD or Keck (depending on where you are).

After the race, everyone gathered in the galley for brunch. I was too cold and too nauseous to eat but it was nice to see everyone out and about. After a little while, I grabbed some food, and then a bunch of us decided to hit the sauna. That was definitely the best idea possibly ever created by man. It goes 1) sauna after race around the world 2) go to the moon 3) the internet 4) sliced bread. Whatever damage I may have done to my lungs was definitely soothed by the 210 degree sauna. Naturally, after 10 or so minutes, you have to run outside. We call that "the cycle." After 4 or so cycles, I was ready for a shower.

Later that night was the famous Christmas dinner. The galley is decorated with strings of hanging lights and there is a christmas tree in the corner. There are also a few menorahs, for those interested. Dinner was beef wellington, lobster tails, white truffle mashed potatoes, baked root vegetables, and about 1000 different kinds of desserts. There were also appetizers before the meal. They had shrimp cocktails, seared scallops, baked brie, some duck dish, and spiced cider. There are three settings for christmas dinner. I volunteered to help with the second seating which meant I walked around pouring the wine. It was actually a lot of fun. I made sure that no glass went empty. I also helped serve desserts and bus the tables. I was part of the third seating, so after I finished, it was time to eat. The food was incredible. Best lobster ever. I made sure to take advantage of the wine stewards, having inside information on the job. The best part about the third seating is that there isn't a time limit. The other seatings were only an hour to make room for the next group but since this was the last, we had infinite time. I sat with a bunch of telescopers. One of the PI's from SPT was there and he was a lot of fun to talk to. He's up at Berkeley and I wouldn't mind working for him next.

After dinner came the traditional post-holiday dance party. It was a lot of fun. So many of us comment that we wouldn't be caught dead listening or dancing to most of the crap that was played normally, but down at the pole, it's all about just having fun. The dance party continued late into the night but I went to bed relatively early since I had to do a cryo transfer the following morning. That definitely put a damper on the evening, but it's what I'm here for.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This week

The past few days have been fairly quiet. Weather has been really bad at McMurdo so we haven't have many flights come in. This means that I won't get my crate of testing equipment until after christmas.

This week is christmas, or as I like to call it, "that two day weekend." Every year for "that two day weekend," there's a race called "The Race Around the World." I've never been here for it but I always wanted to do it. I think everyone who runs in it gets a free t-shirt. It's a short race, only about 2.3 miles, but I'm not looking forward to it. I hate running distances longer than half a mile or so. The stereotypical polie archetype is that of a marathon runner, so I'm probably going to get my butt kicked. The cold combined with the altitude and low pressure make running here extremely difficult. You start breathing heavily but can't get enough oxygen so it feels a little bit like you're dying. So that's probably what will happen tomorrow--I'll finish the race, then roll over and die.

Tonight, I volunteered to help out in the kitchen peeling potatoes, etc. I wanted to do it so that the people celebrating christmas don't have to worry about it but apparently I'm being a grinch for volunteering, according to two people I was talking to about it. I think they're being dumb. I also volunteered to pour wine during one of the dinner seatings. After christmas will probably be a big party but I'll have to take it easy since I'll have to do a cryo-fill early the next morning. That will not be fun.

The past few days have been fun, although nothing really remarkable happened. I've been sitting around drinking beer or wine with different people and we've just been discussing everything from science to the environment to travel to cars, etc. It's been fun. Of course, I've been staying up way too late drinking and talking, so my past few mornings have been less fun. But at some point, you really need a day or two where you stay up way too late and have a few too many beers. It's good for the soul.

I've been practicing with my band for New Year's. We've gotten almost all of our songs down. We're really trying to be a more rocking band than usual. Most bands down here are classic rock cover bands or folk/bluegrass bands. Those are fun, but after the last open mic night it was apparent that people really wanted to rock out--so we intend to fit that niche.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I love scotch, scotchy scotch scotch

To quote Ron Burgundy...

On Friday, we got a new supply of "liquids," meaning booze at the station. Whenever we get a resupply of stuff for the store (or sometimes for the kitchen), they usually make an announcement asking for volunteers to help unload the cargo. Well at lunch, I was talking to one of the people who helped unload the new "liquid" and she said she saw a few bottles of Laphroig being unloaded. The alcohol policy is as follows: each person can buy either 2 six packs of beer, 2 bottles of wine, or one bottle of liquor each day (a lot per day, I know). With this, prices are pretty much fixed. Cheap beer is usually $5 for a six pack. This would be things like Coors Light. "Good" beer is usually no more than $6 or $6.50 per six pack. This would be beer like Dos Equis. I'm actually impressed that they even have Dos Equis this year. We usually have the choice of watered down crappy New Zealand beer like Speights or watered down crappy American beer like Coors or Corona. You'd probably have to pay me to drink those. Anyway, the liquor is $30 no matter what, which means if you buy Jack Daniels, it's a rip off but if you get Laphroig, it's a steal. Because of this, really good bottles of liquor don't last long in the store. So having been tipped off to the nice scotch at the store, I lined up 10 minutes early to make sure to get a bottle. There were about five bottles of Laphroig and I'm pretty sure that the first five people in the store bought all five bottles. A lot of people who arrived just after the store opened were very disappointed to see the scotch gone.

I was very happy to get this bottle. It's a very very good scotch and for some reason scotch seems to taste better down here. There's nothing quite as relaxing as watching a movie and drinking a glass of scotch after a long day down here. The scotch came in handy as Saturday was James Brown Bingo. Last year was the first time I went to James Brown Bingo and it is quite the experience. The head chef, James Brown, always dresses up in some elaborate costume and then it's just Bingo as normal, except James Brown is a character and as the MC, makes it very interesting. I described it some last year, so I won't go into too much detail but this year his costume was that of a Viking with Norwegian flags painted on his face (in honor of our guests the previous week). James Brown Bingo is as fun as you want it to be. On the surface, you're playing Bingo (which is ok) and James Brown takes forever to call out the numbers. He always waits for the audience to call out numbers and then says yes or no but doesn't really say the number himself for a while. So it's really a test of patience. You can either succumb to the mind numbing boredom, or you can have a couple more drinks and start yelling our numbers or jokes or just random crap. This is really what makes James Brown Bingo so much fun--it's all the tables yelling out hilarious comments because we're all so frustrated with how long it is taking. The prizes are pretty good, too. They start small, like a mag-light flashlight or a gift certificate to a restaurant in Christchurch and then get bigger, like a gift certificate for some hot springs in NZ and eventually a $100 gift certificate to Kathmandu (a NZ REI type store). I actually came close to winning the Kathmandu gift certificate. The final Bingo game is blackout, where you have to have all your numbers on your board called. I had only one number left when the person won. It was a fun game this time around, and I got to share and enjoy the scotch I had purchased so it was a good time.

Eventually, a bunch of us telescope people, as well as some of the younger station worker all got together and had some beers and just talked about standard South Pole things--science, world travel, music, etc. It was a good night. The following day, I had two plans: 1) go to brunch and 2) play soccer. It was a successful day. Soccer was a lot of fun, as usual. It was fairly tiring as I'm still not quite acclimated to the altitude here. Hopefully by next week I will be back to ~100% or at least what my 100% is at this altitude.

First night by myself, first problem with the telescope

Randol, the other BICEP2 grad student down here, left on thursday which meant I was in charge of the telescope. Every three days, we need to refill the liquid helium tank and cycle the fridge. It just so happened that friday was the first time I would have to refill the helium. Liquid Helium, like all cryogens, is very dangerous if not handled properly. If it contacts your skin, it will burn it badly. If too much of it is released into the air around you, you will asphyxiate immediately. If you aren't careful about the container it is in, it will form an ice plug, pressure will build, and it will explode. Fortunately, I don't think there's ever been a death attributed to liquid helium so the procedures to deal with it are very safe and very proven. Still, it always makes me nervous the first time I have to deal with it--especially filling the telescope because if I get an ice plug, we lose a lot of time (and Helium which is in short supply) trying to un-plug it. The other major concern is that the telescope will run out of helium sooner than expected and then it warms up and again, you'll lose time and helium to cool it back down.

So my first night with the telescope, I watched the helium level as it slowly ticked down, figuring I should have more than enough to last until the morning. I go to bed at around 12:30 and at 2am, my radio starts going off that there is trouble with BICEP2. I look at the viewer on my computer that shows what all the thermometers are reading, mount position, helium level, etc. and they are all reading zero. I then check my email for the auto-generated message to see what happened. Apparently, the alarm for low liquid helium was triggered. The problem is that we should have had plenty to last the night and with everything reading zero, I had no idea what was going on. So I threw on some clothes and ECW gear and ran out to the telescope. I was nauseas from the effort but I pulled it together and checked the instruments. Again, everything was reading zero so I took a manual reading from the LHe level meter and it was reading what I was expecting. With that, I was much more relaxed. I power cycled some of the monitoring programs that we run and once everything was back online, everything was reading out normal. Thus, in the end, there was really nothing wrong. I babysat the telescope for about an hour and then went back to the station. At that point, I could maybe get 3-4 hours of sleep before having to go back out the following morning to refill the helium, cycle the fridge, and start the next schedule. Everything went off without a hitch but it made me panic for just a little bit. It was a helluva way to start my time as the responsible party down here. Since then, everything has been fine. This morning I did another fill and fridge cycle and now I'm waiting to queue up another schedule. All is well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Pics

Here's a good shot of what Antarctica looks like. Taken by Scott Hut by McMurdo. Those are some Weddel seals sunning themselves on the frozen ocean.

A pic at the airstrip outside of McMurdo. Mt. Erebus is in the background.

My lab. Randol is working on the computer.

Here's a picture of my band playing on Open Mic night. Daniel from IT is on bass and Jon from the greenhouse is on drums. It was a blast!

Here's a picture of all of us with the Prime Minister of Norway. From left to right: (top row) Brad Benson (post-doc on SPT), Jamie Tolan (grad student on KECK), Prime Minister of Norway (Prime Minister of Norway), Jamie Bock (JPL scientist, PI on BICEP2 and KECK), Me (duh), Colin Bischoff (post-doc on KECK), (bottom row) Hien Nguyen (JPL scientist), Chin Lin Wong (grad student on KECK), Sarah Stokes (grad student on KECK), Grant Teply (grad student on KECK), Chris Sheehy (grad student on KECK), Randol Aikin (Grad Student on BICEP2) in the front.

Here's a shot of my ice-beard. I'll get a better one going later in the season (both bigger beard and more ice). Note my hand-made monster hat from the OB farmer's market. Thanks to Sara for buying it for me.

I'm a crazy person.

The Prime Minister of Norway giving a speech by the Ceremonial Pole to mark the Centenary of the expedition to the south pole.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prime Minister of Norway's Visit

On Tuesday, the telescope needed a cryo-fill and a fridge cycle. That's where we refill the tank of liquid helium and then cycle the fridge to get down to 0.25K. The cryo-fill is always a little nerve-wrecking since if you screw it up, you could literally blow up the telescope--but you'd have to REALLY screw it up. The first one is always the hardest. The next ones should be no problem. Before starting our next observing schedule, we did a star pointing schedule. Now usually, I don't talk about work stuff because it's usually a) really specific and won't mean anything and b) kind of boring but this was kind of a lot of fun. On the telescope, we also have an optical camera that looks at stars so we run a schedule that peaks up on a star and we can see the star on a small tv screen we have. We also pipe the images into our control software so when we look at one of the stars, we open up a picture of it in our software. You then take your mouse and click on the center of the star which makes the telescope move a little bit until the star is in the center of the screen. You then tell the telescope that this is the center and repeat for the next star. You do this for about 7 stars and then rotate the angle of the telescope and do it again. It was kind of like a game. After it gets all the information, it uses this to calculate where the telescope is pointing which we then apply in our analysis software.

It was just neat to really have a hands on experience with the telescope, especially when it was in such a tight feedback loop. I'll have to do this about once a week, so it hopefully will remain fun and not become tedious for a while.

Later on that day, the Prime Minister of Norway, who is visiting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first successful expedition to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, came by the Dark Sector Lab for a tour of our telescope (and the SPT telescope). This is only the 2nd head of state to ever come to the South Pole, so as you can imagine, it's a fairly exciting place to be right now. We could tell that the PM was coming since out in the distance, we saw a bunch of people skiing. Clearly Norwegians. On the way in, all us grad students went downstairs and greeted the guests. So I got to shake the Prime Minister's hand and say "Hello! I'm Jon Kaufman. Welcome to our lab!" We set the lab up with posters and slide-shows showing off all our cool science. Our P.I. from JPL gave a short talk about our science and we toured the PM around. Afterwards, we got some pictures of all of us with the PM. It was really cool to give a science lecture to someone who can actually make decisions to benefit the scientific community. Because of the anniversary, there are about 100 tourists who have flown, driven, and skied in to the Pole. It's a really happening place to be right now. Y'all should come on down.

Open Mic Night

On Saturday night was the Open Mic. It was in the Summer Camp Lounge which is a dirty old Jamesway out in the Summer Camp area where parties are usually held. There were a few solo acts and a couple of bands. I decided that I would play some of my acoustic stuff as well as with my band which I haven't done before. As usual, all the acts were really great. The girl who put on the whole thing always sings some country/folk songs and has an amazing voice. The first band did sort of a folky/bluegrass thing, which sounded really great. My usual bass player down here, Daniel, went up and played keyboards and sang (first time he did that in public) with a fiddle player and a guitarist. They played some bright eyes songs which sounded great! The second band up played some covers like Hotel California and some Bon Jovi. It was fun to listen to. Later, my "band" went up. I say "band" since we only practiced once. It was myself, Daniel on bass, and then Jon from the Greenhouse on drums. Daniel and I have been playing together for a while so we were able to put the songs together quickly and Jon is a quality drummer so he was able to just dive right in. We played a Gov't Mule song, then Hey Joe, then Red House (both the Hendrix ones). The crowd really seemed to enjoy it. We definitely sounded much better than we were expecting and we all had such a blast up there. A few more acts went up and then at the end of the night, everyone wanted us to play some more so we got back up on stage and just started jamming. We picked up my friend Timon on keyboards so that added some to it too. We hadn't had anything prepared so we just started taking requests from the audience and surprisingly, we were able to play a lot of them. We did stuff from Metallica to the Violent Femmes, Guns N Roses, Bob Marley, etc. it was really a lot of fun. Eventually, we ran out of gas at around 2:30 am and decided to call it a night. The funny thing is that most of the party that stayed until the end were what's called "beakers," or the science people. The station people (carps, heavy machinery operators, etc) usually poke fun at us beakers but we were able to party way harder than them.

It was so much fun to play down here, as it always is. This year though, I should be able to play the big New Year's Eve party. A lot of people are really looking forward to my band playing that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First Few Days

It's Saturday here, and I arrived on Tuesday. It's been fairly laid back the past few days (as it is supposed to be). Because of the altitude, you really want to give it 4-7 days before you start doing anything too taxing. I'm able to get up and down stairs now without feeling like I'm going to pass out, so that's good.

I've spent most of the week doing turnover work with the current BICEP2 grad student. It's mostly just an information dump and changing some settings on the computers. It's all mostly set up and I've seen just about everything that I'll need to do once it's just me. This morning, we did a refill of the liquid helium tanks. That's probably the hardest thing that I'll have to do, but I've done it dozens of times before. In my free time (which is ample since my crate hasn't arrived yet) I've been watching movies in the lounge or playing foosball and darts with the other Polies. The station is abuzz since the centennial anniversary of the discovery of the south pole is coming up this week and for it, the Prime Minister of Norway is coming down so some Norwegian reporters, etc. have started trickling in. Hopefully, when the Prime Minister comes down, he'll take a tour of the telescopes so I'll get to meet him. I think it would be cool to have a photo with the Prime Minister of Norway at the south pole hanging on my wall.

This weekend will be a lot of fun. Tonight is an open mic night so I'll play some acoustic stuff and then I got the band back together, so we'll rock out again. I've gotten a lot of comments from random Polies about the band last year, so I think they're excited to hear us play again. One of the cargo supervisors said she heard guitar playing coming from the band room and said to the other people "I bet I know who that is..." Tomorrow will be the first soccer match that I'll play in. I tried a little on Wednesday but could only last about 5 minutes before I thought my lungs were going to jump out of my throat and kick me in the nuts.

It's been fun, but the more bored I am down here, the more I'm aware of the distance and isolation. Luckily, the "holy crap, I'm at the south frickin pole!" feeling gets me past the down times and work and physical activity will be picking up in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arrival at the South Pole

We all met at building 140 in McMurdo to drop off our bags and get weighed. We then boarded the Delta to head out to Pegasus field. The Delta, is a giant orange truck with tires probably 4 or 5 feet in diameter. We all get shoved into and locked in the back, which is covered in graffiti and stickers from previous years. I like the Deltas, they make me feel like I'm actually in a harsh environment. The ride to Pegasus takes about an hour and is usually fairly bumpy. Supposedly the day before our shuttle driver had gotten air in the Delta. The ride ended up being fairly smooth and we made it to the field without any problems. At the field, there wasn't a shuttle to take us to the plane (which wasn't ready yet anyway) so we stayed in the galley nearby. Since the weather was so much better, we decided to walk around and take some pictures. Mt. Erebus was covered in snow and spectacular. The Royal Society Mountains have many more features and really look like they came from some artist's imagination. It's an amazing view. It was also relatively warm (around freezing) and with the sun shining, the snow was fairly soft. This could only mean one thing: snowball fight. A few of us got together and started winging snowballs at each other. It was a good way to pass the time. Eventually, we tired of getting pelted and went back in the galley for some cheesecake. One of the people traveling with us was former Air Force and current EMT at Denali in Alaska. He was telling stories about how he lives off grid, how small his town is, and how he survived no less than six air-crashes. It's definitely a certain class of people that are attracted to Antarctica.

The flight was late by about an hour since it took longer than expected for the flight crew to get out to the runway but once we loaded up, we were soon on our way. The LC-130 we were on was completely stuffed with cargo. I've never been on a Pole flight with this much cargo. Naturally, it took a looooong time on the runway to take off and it was only after our second attempt that we actually got off the ground. Later in the day, I was talking to someone who left earlier in the day who said the plane took 13 tries before it actually took off. Supposedly, they are way behind on cargo shipments due to weather and Thanksgiving so they are packing these flights full to the brim. The flight was great, as it always is with the Hercs. It's very, very loud but very smooth and the air force let's you get up and walk around. I went up into the cockpit and took some pictures and just generally hung out around the plane. One of the SPT grad students was allowed to sit in the cockpit as we landed! I was so jealous. Apparently, all she did was offer to give a tour of the telescope to the crewmen and they said "you seem cool, do you want to sit in the cockpit as we land?" That's crazy! We always give the airmen tours of the telescopes. This wasn't anything special!

We landed at pole about 3 hours after taking off on the snow runway--another smooth landing with the skis down, deplaned and headed towards the station. There were a lot of people out to meet us since the entire PAX (passengers) list was either SPT or BICEP2 (me) which was so much fun. You walk up and everyone gives you a big hug and says "welcome to Pole!" It really makes you feel good to have arrived. There were more people than I thought down here for our sister telescope, SPUD (or Keck depending on what part of the world you live) and it's all people I've either worked with for years or at least known for a while so it's a good group of people that I'm happy to be spending time with.

After I got into the station and changed, I met up with some of the guys to watch a cheesy 80's movie (The Delta Force starring Chuck Norris). I stayed up long enough to chug a couple of bottles of water and then headed off to bed. Sleeping wasn't too difficult, although the altitude was hitting me pretty hard. I've been taking Diamox, which is a medicine to prevent altitude sickness. The main side-effect, well actually the main intended effect is that it makes you have to pee every couple of hours. So naturally, I woke up in the middle of the night having to pee like my life depended on it. Unfortunately, my room is at a certain point of the station where the closest bathroom is up a couple flights of stairs. So by the time I got to the bathroom, the effort of putting on my clothes and climbing the stairs made me almost pass out. I was able to sit down and rest until it passed but it made it very difficult to get back to sleep. It's a strange experience--Diamox essentially triggers your breathing reflex so you do it more, so you're very aware that you're taking frequent, huge breaths. Eventually, I fell back asleep until morning. In the morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast and then headed out to the Dark Sector Lab. To get to DSL, you have to cross the skiway (where the planes land) and just when I got to the skiway, the crossing beacon went on signaling that the runway was closed. A small twin-otter aircraft took off and the did a few circles in the air. Twenty minutes later, the beacon was still on. At this point, there were a few other people waiting at the crossing beacon and we were all wondering what the heck was going on. Eventually, we saw a Bassler aircraft off in the distance coming in for a landing. Finally (after about a half hour of sitting in -20 F temperatures), the beacon was turned off. Fortunately, a Pisten Bully was waiting as well so we were able to catch a ride out to the lab.

I'll head back to station in a couple of hours to grab some lunch and then probably take it easy for the rest of the day. The altitude is hitting me harder than normal this year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


For those of you who followed my blog last year, you'll remember my disdain for mcmurdo, and it has not waned over the year. I would probably hate to be stationed here. It's like being in a tiny town in America except you have no privacy. The room I was assigned was small and sleeps three. I got the top bunk (which gets unbelievably hot at night). It seems like my roommates have schedules such that there is always somebody sleeping in the room so I can't spend any time in there. It's also so small and full of their stuff that I don't even have room to put my bags down. I just threw everything in a pile in the corner of the room. Because of this, I couldn't even change into comfortable clothes until after dinner. I can't wait to move on to pole (today, if everything goes as planned).

To pass the time, I went out to Scott Hut (as I do every day, every year I'm here). There were some Weddel seals sunning themselves on the ice and a Skua keeping watch. The food has been surprisingly good. Even at the welcome lecture, they commented that the food was better this year than in previous years. It's amazing, they started making the food with flavor and spices! Lunch was a grilled cheese and hummus sandwich with fresh salad with a beet and mushroom salad, as well as minestrone soup. Dinner had this excellent curried eggplant with Israeli couscous as well as salad and a black eyed pea stew. Obviously, these are just the vegetarian options. I think there was also beef short ribs and chicken stew, both of which looked good.

After dinner, I went to the store and bought some water bottles and patches, as per usual and a six pack of beer. I met up with the SPT people in the coffee shop where we had some wine and beer and traded stories from previous deployments. I drank just enough to get me tired, then used that to fall asleep quickly in the hot room. I slept ok except waking up in the middle of the night to my roommate's loud snoring. I haven't met the guy yet, but I know already that he snores, talks, breathes loudly, and makes weird noises in his sleep. So there's a good ice-breaker if I actually meet him...

It's been a boring morning. I got up at 7 to catch breakfast, which isn't really a good idea. Breakfast is always pretty bad, but I thought "maybe they improved it this year." Nope. So I've been in the library on my laptop all morning, passing the time until lunch. I'll probably take another walk out the Scott Hut since I don't really have any other options to entertain myself.

If all goes as planned, I'll be at pole tonight!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Back in McMurdo

Got to the airport without any problems at 2:30 and put all my bags together and ECW gear on. The flight left around 5 am and landed around 10 am. The C-17s are incredible machines. There were a few turbulent spots but mostly, it was so smooth that it felt like we were still on the ground. I sat on the side of the plane, as usual (infinite leg room). To make it super comfortable, you take the giant red parka and pull the hood through a strap behind you so the jacket stays up on its own. Then you wrap yourself in the jacket and it's like sitting in a warm red hug the entire time. I sort of dozed off but mostly just toyed around with the iPad. Midway through the flight, I tackled the bag lunch they gave us. It was pretty bad, but at least there was plenty of it! I then got to go up into the cockpit, which is really cool. It's such a shame that kids can't do that on planes anymore. It's really an inspiring view.

Supposedly, the reason our flight was so early is because they had to pick up a bunch of penguins and fly them back the CHC in time for them to catch a flight back to the US. I then heard a rumor that they are actually going to SeaWorld in San Diego, so when I get back, remind me to complain that they made me get out of bed early.

We landed in Pegasus field which is about an hour's drive from Mactown but the snow roads were very soft so we just crawled along. It took probably 1:30. Finally we got to mactown and were whisked away into a stupid meeting that was completely useless for us Polies since it talked about living in McMurdo.

I've gotta go get dinner so I'll try to post more later.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Finally Decent Beer!

My second day in Christchurch started out spectacularly in that I awoke after a full night's rest, finally. After a shower, I went to get a disappointing $13 breakfast of yogurt, sorry, I mean yoghurt, toast (with marmite--gross), and some kiwi (or kiwifruit down here--otherwise you get funny looks). My fitting for the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear was at one so I just vegged on the internet and watched some local tv. I love the news here. It has a 15 minute summary of world news followed by a half hour of local farming news. It's really interesting how different some things are down here. The Kiwis just elected their Prime Minister and instead of bickering and punditry, they interviewed a bunch of political rivals in a bar surrounded by their constituents. Things were pleasant, entertaining, and respectful. Very un-American.

The CDC was a fun experience, as usual. I've now gone down enough that they know exactly what gear I want and what gear is useless so I barely have to turn anything in. Also, much of my gear was brand new which is always good. This year I opted for the Carharts instead of wind pants. My official reason is that I will be doing more work outside this year although it's mostly because I'm sick of looking like a huge nerd around all the cool carpenters. The flight tomorrow leaves at 5 am so I have to arrive at the CDC by 2:30, meaning I leave the hotel at 2. So pretty much as soon as I'm done posting this, I'm going to sleep. It will be a 5 hour flight to McMurdo in a C-17 and then hopefully just an overnight before going on to Pole. The problem with the flight being so early is that I won't be able to grab breakfast and the next time I'll be able to eat (aside from the small brown-bag lunch on the plane) won't be until noon or so. So I went to a grocery store to buy some food to take with me. I was walking by the beer section and it looked fairly normal--crappy NZ Pilsners and Guiness but in another part of the store, there was a shelf surrounded with single 12oz beers. The Belgians caught my eye and upon looking closer, I noticed they had Rogue, then Avery, then Sierra Nevada. Then I found Victory and North Coast. But the crazy part is that I found Green Flash and Coronado. San Diego beer. I couldn't believe it! I was disappointed that they didn't have Stone but I was so blown away by their selection that I didn't care. Then I saw the price. Each beer was around $8 US! Naturally, I bought a North Coast Old Rasputin, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, and a Green Flash West Coast IPA. These will be my Birthday present to myself at Pole this year. I'm so excited!

I had met up with the SPT people before going grocery shopping and we stopped off for dinner at Flying Burrito Brothers. I don't know if we have them in the US but it's just a standard Mexican chain style restaurant. Relatively mediocre food, and almost insulting to the Mexican food I now take completely for granted in San Diego. I ate there more out of a morbid curiosity than a desire for good food. It's unbelievable how bad the Margarita was compared to what I'm used to. It was all lime--no Tequila flavor. If you're reading this in Southern California right now, stop what you're doing, go to the nearest hole in the wall and order a margarita for those of us who can't.

Anyways, tomorrow, I should be in Antarctica!!! Hopefully, just an overnight at McMurdo, then off to Pole!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

First Day in New Zealand

I arrived in Auckland, NZ after a 13+ hour flight full of turbulence and boredom. There was a good 20-30 minutes where we experienced some of the worst turbulence of my entire life. It was no fun. And when the turbulence was over, the in flight entertainment system wasn't working. It would cut out half way into a movie and then take 30 minutes to reboot. Luckily, I was able to find a channel with some simpsons reruns to keep me busy. So I watched some tv, ate a meal, tried to sleep, watched more tv, and then there were still over 5 hours left in the flight. Luckily, the entertainment system started working again and I watched X-Men: First Class and Our Idiot Brother. After landing in Auckland, I had to go through customs where they take a keen look at my hiking boots and then off to board another plane for Christchurch. Finally, at around 2:30, I got into my hotel room in Christchurch. Christchurch was hit by several massive earthquakes over this past year (including the 7+ magnitude 6 days after I left last year) so all of our usual hotels were closed or destroyed. After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed out to explore Christchurch. On the plane from LAX to Auckland, I ran into some South Pole Telescope grad students that I had traveled with two years ago, so I wasn't alone in my wandering. I met them at their hotel (which was a slightly longer walk than I was expecting) and then we had lunch at a little bar/grill. Had my first Steinlager of the trip and it was delicious. It's just a shitty pilsner but after the long flights, even the worst of beers would taste like heaven.

We decided to try to go to Cathedral Square to assess the damage from the earthquakes. Much to our surprise, most of it was cordoned off. Christchurch is destroyed. Almost the entire downtown area is in ruin, abandoned, and fenced off. We were able to walk along the fences and snapped some pics of the destruction. The Cathedral, which was shaken when I saw it last year, was rubble. It's incredibly sad to see an entire city like this turned into a ghost town. It looked like we had stumbled upon some post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was very eerie. We found an area near the old Cathedral Square with some shops open and looked around.

Instead of the old shops, they city had erected these stores and restaurants all made from shipping containers painted to look very modern and trendy. Some shops were large, made of 3x3 containers with the inner walls removed, some were two stories of shipping containers. It was so inspiring to see a very real and very environmentally friendly construction to bring back the local economy. We later walked around through the Botanical gardens and past some food/wine event in one of the parks (it was closed so we couldn't get it--everything in NZ seems to go no later than 7:30) and finally stopped off at a bar for drinks and dinner. The bar was also made out of shipping containers. It was set up like a cantina, with a bar in the back, a covered sitting area to the side, a patio area, and a food truck, all behind walls of reused corrugated steel. It was very cool and again, an amazing use of old shipping containers. There was a live guitarist who was actually quite good but nobody seemed to clap. It was awkward. I grabbed a falafel from the Lebanese food truck and ate it as I walked back to my hotel.

I'm exhausted. I've barely gotten any sleep in the past 36 hours so I'm going to crash. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll go to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and then leave for McMurdo the following day.