Antarctic Diary: November 23, 2002

Pack animal

Read the diaries of Mawson, Scott, and Shackelton and you learn the one truth about the continent that has not changed with jet planes and snowmobiles:

Any task you think will take five minutes, will take two hours.

You can extrapolate from there. Things you think will take an hour will take a day. Things you think will take a day will take a week. Anything requiring a week takes the whole season.

Nobody plans anything that takes a month. They won't live long enough to see it finished.

Working in Antarctica is like working in jello. It's as if the air is thick, gravity stronger. No matter what you do, you can't walk fast enough. Everything breaks in the cold. And if the cold doesn't get it, the static does.

When you arrive in Antarctica they ask you how many weeks you're going to stay. Nobody can be here for a couple of days and do anything useful. It can take a week just to figure out how to empty the trash can in your dorm room.

Weather stops everything once per week. There are killer storms here. The planes don't take off in them. The helos don't fly.

You sit and eat. You sit and drink. You sit and talk. You learn how to love your fellow man.

Last night the leader of the MegaDunes said to me: "McMurdo is like--'Here, eat this.' Or maybe like a good Italian grandmother--'Here. SIT and EAT this.'"

For days. Days and days.

When it's time to go somewhere you have to haul things. It doesn't matter if you have nothing to haul, you just haul your ass. There's always equipment to move. There's always a couple hundred pounds of cargo in a Hardigg case that has to be moved from Crary Lab, up the hill to MEC. Or from USAP Cargo to the helipad. Nothing in Antarctica is where it should be, so you have to move it.

I've been hungry since I got here. I'm eating multiple meals per day and I'm never not starving.

Ever notice you can put a pile of oats in front of a musk ox and he eats it no matter what? It's because the poor beast must be wondering how he was born into a world with so much stuff that has to be moved. Why can't things stay put?

Today I moved all our electronics out of the Puzzle Palace in my 50 pound gray case up the hill to Crary Lab, about a 1/2 mile walk uphill. I "staged" my gray case there. Then I repacked the radios, and went to the BFC (Berg Field Center) about 1/2 mile even further up the hill and I picked up two 25lb sleep kits and two tents for Tony and I in the Dry Valleys. I dragged them all downhill to the Crary and loaded the radios into them. Then I dragged them all down to the helipad about 2/3 a mile away. Then I walked back to Crary, got my gray case and dragged it back to my room so that tomorrow I can pack all my crap into it that I'm NOT taking to the valleys and lock it in the cages in USAP Cargo.

I thought it would take me 10 minutes to do all that.

I started at 8:00AM. Went to lunch, did more hauling. Finally finished about now, 5:30P. This was supposed to take 5 minutes this morning. Since when am I such a terrible misestimator of task length?

I got invited to the hut 10 party. It's a scientists party. God only knows how that will be. The beakers aren't known for their irrational exuberance. We might have sips of wine and lifted pinky fingers instead of pounding beers and making each other laugh.

It's Saturday here, Antarctic Friday. Sky looks ominous. It seems they're always predicting a terrible storm here. So far I've heard three terrible storm predictions, each of which ended in blue skies and sunshine. Maybe they'll be right this time.

Temps started at about zero degrees today, with a wind-chill of -43F. I was out in it all day. Didn't seem that cold to me. Now it's warmed up again, probably to 20.

The predicted bad weather makes them remind us of the condition one and condition two scenarios for bad weather. We had to sit through a 45 minute film in Christchurch before we left.

The video starts with a quote from Scott's diary, his words upon reaching the south pole and finding evidence of Roald Amundsen's having been there first:

"My god, this is a horrible place."

They didn't even bother to get a good voice actor to play Scott for the line. The video narrator just lowers his voice and makes the pronouncement with a phony British accent. Then he goes on to explain how to be sniffed by fruit beagles before you get on the plane in Christchurch.

That video explains the different weather status levels, as well as a number of good points for Antarctic survival. One survival point is hydration. While the humidity is frequently 25% here, the amount of moisture in the air when the air is zero degrees farenheit is very small. So one dehydrates quickly. And it's easy to forget to drink a lot of water when you're sitting around.

Signs of dehydration are the ones I have right now. Lethargy. Headache. Some flu-like symptoms. So I'm going to drink a bunch of water when I get done typing this.

I wonder what Scott would say if he knew what we were doing here. i wonder what Scott told his men about hydration--if he knew they were being dehydrated so badly.

At least a pack animal gets to drink frequently.

I'm off to the watering hole.

I leave you with this thought. Today I heard one of the saddest things ever said.

It's a well circulated saying that "Everyone is a ten" in Antarctica--meaning that when the friend/partner/mate selection pool is limited, you lower your standards and take what you can get.

A reasonably young scientist from Princeton was heading back today. While she was happy to be going home, she felt she'd miss all the attention she'd been getting from the men down here. Apparently, back home, she doesn't get such attention and feels herself "plain" in looks.

She said, smiling, "You know how it goes down here. You're just a plane ride away from ugly."

I wanted to hug her and tell her she wasn't ugly. But unfortunately for ice people, we don't accept comfort well. We all know people who walk in Scott's footsteps don't need a hug when their feelings are hurt.

Or maybe we're wrong about that.

Love to all.