Friday, November 23, 2012

All Settled In

I've now been here for about 10 days and I'm feeling pretty settled in.  The altitude doesn't get to me as much, though soccer is still harder than Wolverine's bones (but it's getting a little easier each time).  The monotony is sinking in (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)--get up, work, eat, play soccer, play guitar, drink beer, chug lots of water, watch a movie, drink more beer, etc.

I'm writing this post while I'm waiting for some code to compile.  If you don't have any programming experience, just imagine what it's like to watch grass grow but having to continuously monitor it in case the grass decides to grow sideways or something.  I figure I'd take this time to describe daily life/my work down here.

First off, for those who are new to my blog or who have forgotten since last year, the South Pole is extremely cold, high, and dry.  It's been warm the last few days, meaning it's only -35F or so with less than a 10 knot wind (so windchill of around -55F or so).  We're also at about 9300 feet physical, but with the extreme cold, the pressure altitude can range from around 10,000 - 12,000 ft so you can go to sleep at 10,500 and wake up at 12,300.  It's an extremely dry desert here (which is why my telescope is down here) so your lips, hands, nose, and any other exposed skin cracks like a waterboarded terrorist (note: I do not condone torture--I do however condone colorful metaphors).  Because of this, you need to pretty much chug water constantly or you'll start getting the symptoms of dehydration.  It makes drinking alcohol down here a different experience but coupled with weak beers and the effects of altitude training, your hangover can be anywhere from non-existent to Robert Downey Jr in severity.

I usually wake up anywhere between 5:30 and 9am depending on how late I was working the previous night or any altitude related insomnia.  If I'm up early enough, I go to the galley to get some breakfast (served 5:30 until 8am). I usually don't make it a point to get up for breakfast just because it's so terrible.  It's not really the cooks' fault but your breakfast options are eggs, bacon, sausage, and usually pancakes or pre-made waffles.  Not exactly appetizing though sometimes a couple of over-easy eggs coupled with some fresh fruit can be worth it.  Ugh... just thinking about breakfast right now is making me nauseous...  After I wake up, I check the telescope viewer running on my computer to make sure everything is ok.  We have it set up so you can remotely view things like the telescope's movements, temperatures, log and error messages, and even the weather.  When things break, we have it set up to send me an email and when things REALLY break, it pages my radio.  Yes, my telescope can totally call me.  Though it spends its days peering at the birth of the universe, it never seems to have anything interesting to say.  Provided everything is working, I plow through all my spam emails twice since they're all forwarded to my usap (US Antarctic Program) email account.  I then pick up my laptop and head down the hall to the science wing--a giant room where all the experiments have lab/desk space (this is where I am right now).  People walk by the hallway and peer in through the windows, sort of like we're animals at a zoo.  This is of course the excuse I give for when I fling my poo at them.  Then I usually start chugging through the previous day's data, making plots, making website postings to share with the collaboration, and when the satellite is up I push all this data up north.  At meals, I find myself saying "Excuse me, I've gotta go push some data up north" which I realized is a pretty good euphemism for taking a dump (since all directions are north).

When I need to swap out a calibration device, refill the liquid helium tank, or if something breaks, I go out to the Dark Sector Lab (DSL) where my telescope sits.  It's a 1 kilometer walk and although sometimes you can catch a ride on a snowmobile or truck, it's really a nice walk and a surprisingly good workout.  Because of the low temperatures and constant windchill, you need to suit up to go outside.  USAP provides you with the necessary gear although since I've gone down a few years now, I'm supplanted some of it with my own gear for comfort.  I usually double up on socks but my hiking shoes are usually sufficient unless I spend more than 30-40 minutes outside stationary.  I then put on a pair of lined carhartt overalls which have more pockets than a pool table.  To protect my hands, I put on glove liners, then wool mittens, and then leather mittens on top of that to stop the wind.  And my hands still freeze.  Thanks genetics for giving me shitty circulation to my extremities.  As long as it's above -40 or so and not to windy, or if I don't plan on spending too much time outside, my standard down jacket is good enough.  To protect my face/head, I wear a facemask, goggles, and a knit hat.  When it's windy, I'll put my hood up over this.  When you're outside for a while, I recommend dancing to stay warm.  With all the slick surfaces, it's a good place to learn how to moonwalk.

Recently, some of my colleagues and I have taken up body sledding down snow drifts for entertainment.  Because of the constant wind, giant snow-drifts will build up around buildings and they can be rather steep.  Sometimes, the snow plows and forklifts will pile up giant mounds of snow to try to keep everything flat around high traffic areas.  There's one right outside the station that I've starting colloquially calling "the Murderhorn" which can be a lot of fun sledding down.  Occasionally, I'll just take off sprinting and slam myself into a snow berm with an elbow drop reminiscent of the best Macho Man Randy Savage wrestling matches.

Today is Thanksgiving back home, although it's Friday here and we don't actually celebrate until tomorrow.  Since the standard work week is 6 days (although us scientists don't exactly have "working hours"--our hours are 24/7), holidays are usually pushed to the closest saturday to give people a two-day weekend.  Although I do wish I was home with my family, the excitement of being at the South Pole is totally worth it.  This is my niece's first Thanksgiving ever!  So naturally, my family has a lot to be thankful for this year.

Because it's tradition to annoyingly go around the table and say what we're thankful for this year (thanks Dad), I'll go ahead and give a short list.

I'm thankful for the healthy arriving of my wonderful niece, Lauren Lee Hunt.  I'm especially thankful that I got to meet her the day she entered the world.  I'm thankful that my sister and brother in law are so awesome and live so close by.  I'm thankful for the relationship I have with my parents and how active and involved they are.  I'm thankful for my research being more exciting than in previous years.  I'm thankful to have the opportunity to be at the South Pole and I'm thankful for those who recognize the opportunity this presents and who love me while I'm gone.  I'm thankful that there is a cease-fire in Gaza so my friends living in Israel can take a moment to breathe.  I'm thankful that you made it to this point in this exercise in selfishness we like to call a "blog."  Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll talk to you all later.

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