Antarctic Medical Evacuation 2003

I’m putting this here to, potentially, stop questions.

I, honestly, remember near to nothing about the medevac we had in late 2003. Hypothyrodism due to protracted exposure to cold and dark takes a lot of forms and mine was memory loss and appalling Yoda like grammar. I remember very little about September 2003 and near to none of October other than excruciating frostbite at the very end.

I remember two people leaving. One due to a serious medical issue and one who wanted out before he got lynched.

I remember a plane basically didn’t stop moving for fear it would freeze up and never move again.

I remember a BBQ that needed a continuous propane torch to keep burning because it was too cold to go otherwise. That probably has nothing to do with the medevac flight.

I know there is another one happening now in the 2016 winter season, in the dead of austral winter. September was bad enough, but at least the continent was warming up at that point. Late June, right after Midwinter really, is as bad as it gets. Wish them well, everyone. This is dangerous as all fuck and they wouldn’t even attempt if it wasn’t dire.

Regarding Breathalyzers in Antarctica

As I have been asked by a number of people about the latest Office of Inspector General’s report, and in the case of Wired they interviewed me and generated a very cherry picked set of quotes designed for maximum clickbait, allow me to share my collected thoughts about it here. TL;DR version: the NSF response to the audit is good and proper in my opinion, not that my opinion is all that important, though I’d worry about breathalyzers a bit.

  1. Remember there are three different groups of people going to Antarctica under the auspices of the National Science Foundation: grantees (research staff paid by NSF grant, AKA beakers, from various institutions around the world), contractor (station support staff paid by any of a number of management contractors and subcontractors), and military (the Air National Guard provides flight support and the Navy Cargo & Handling Group does ship offload). That said, the NSF has overarching responsibility for all the operations going on there.
  2. Compared to contractor personnel, grantees going to the continent have a “license to kill”. This is not to say they are unsupervised or lack any repercussions for their actions, but the chain of command over them and enforcement for infractions is looser. This is supposed to be intentional over the whole population to leave the latitude to manage a small and remote crew with as much flexibility as possible through the long winter. The NSF Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines that no contractor is allowed to be looser than, but in practice the contractor has much more management staff on site to enforce their corporate policies, which tend to be more strict than the NSF. It’s a matter of perspective.

    In my opinion, the NSF has been doing the right things to keep things open enough that the program is responsive to needs as they arise. Codify things too tightly in the safety of an office back at home and you may be inadequately prepared for problems as they come up.

  3. The station managers are deputized as special Deputy US Marshals to deal with the worst contingencies of human behavior that can happen in a remote place. This isn’t exactly law enforcement and it sure isn’t part of the day to day duties of a station manager; it’s an emergency response role. Response to incidents that require using this aspect of their duties is something I suspect is documented quite well and rare.
  4. The idea of using of breathalyzers for cause by managers to insure fitness for duty isn’t all that out of the ordinary anywhere in the American workplace, particularly under government contract. The weird thing for the Antarctic stations is that your workplace also is your home. What you do in your own time should be up to you, but for South Pole Station the population is small enough that there are no separate emergency responders. If you’re in no shape to respond to an alarm going off, that’s a tricky problem. Can I be upset with you for not being respond outside of your regular work hours?

    During work hours, just like anywhere else in the world, if you’re staggering up to a piece of heavy equipment because you just had a three martini lunch, people are going to notice and have cause. If you’re so badly hungover from the night before that you can’t clearly see which buttons do what on a console, same deal, testing for cause. Your boss would be delinquent in their duties if they didn’t pull you aside and send you to the doc.

  5. Now, whether those breathalyzers are going to work properly on the Antarctic Plateau is another question entirely. You’re hard pressed to get most manufacturers to certify equipment for high altitude, very low humidity, or temperatures below -40 and without that certification any actions you take based on the results will lack foundation. Hell, I couldn’t even get the manufacturer of my “arctic expedition grade sunglasses” to give me assurance that they wouldn’t fall apart at Pole. That said, it can be done, but it’s going to require some testing. The contractor says they’ve found one that will work without calibration so all the better. Where there’s a will there’s a way to make this happen for almost any gear.
  6. The bar culture of Antarctica is not a bad thing and it had the best interests of the crew in mind when established by the US Navy. Thousands of jokes about sailors aside, the Navy has long experience of how to manage crews in tight quarters, morale building, and how to blow off steam. Acknowledging that people were going to drink, the bars were created make sure they were drinking safe booze rather than homebrew hooch (which happens when you go “dry”) and to bring people together to reduce consumption. You might not think of a bar as a place for moderation of drinking, but it gives your fellow crewmates a chance to watch out for you. If you’re drinking alone in your room, and hoo nelly is that a bad sign, there isn’t any potential for the positive aspects of peer pressure to help rein you in or ask if you’re doing alright.

    When I got asked why I wouldn’t cut people off, it’s because I was much happier for them to pass out in front of me in the warmth and safety of the bar than have them “finish the job” alone or, worse, lose consciousness in the cold on their way back to their room. Really, the bar is a safety mechanism.

Alcoholism in Antarctica

This is a post over two months in the making as it’s pulled together some hard times from Pole. I hope it helps someone. While I stand by what I’ve done and my justifications, I can’t say they give me great comfort.

Today is Midwinter in Antarctica. It is one of the most important dates on the calendar because it means you’ve hit the halfway mark of the Long Night and every day from here is one closer to the sun coming back above the horizon. You might think this is cause for jubilation. While it was certainly the reason for a feast and party, the more common reaction was “Fuck. It’s only halfway through winter. At least four months until the station opens again. Fuck. Pour me some more whiskey, dammit.”

I once gave a presentation to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where I opened, “Hi, I’m Phil Broughton. I’m not an alcoholic but I am a compulsive bartender.” From there, I told a tale of alcoholism and enabling from the perspective of a safety professional serving people booze to oblivion. In my previous tales of the Ice, I’ve discussed the fun associated with being at the end of the Earth, rivers of ions swimming in the sky over head, and a cocktail in your hand. This has generated a lot of fine detailed questions about the drinking culture of the continent which I’m going to try to tackle with one post. But it’s also time to discuss when that goes wrong, because when you’re 14000mi from home there’s a lot that can go truly horribly wrong. There are times I still wish we’d had a chaplain down there like they did in the Navy days but, alas, there was me. I like to think I did right, at least well enough, by people that were hurting.

Whichever US station you were at dictated how and what alcohol was available to you. Each of the three had a ship store from which you could by whatever sinful products of comfort you wished: liquor, beer, wine, smokes, soda, Keebler E.L. Fudge cookies, etc. One of the stereotypical flags that you might have a problem with alcohol is that you’re in your room drinking alone. The Navy knew this, which is why the bars were built; if you’re going to be consuming alcohol, you need to do it in public where everyone else is watching. McMurdo, being the largest station, was also unique among the stations for having three bars that all charged for drinks. Barbaric, I say. South Pole and Palmer Stations operated on the “bring some, take some” honor system. You want to drink in Club 90 South, you better put a bottle up on the shelf or beer in the case now and then. No one really said anything, but yes a silent tally of your consumption versus contribution was being made in the heads of your comrades. I formalized the honor bar a bit by making broadcast announcements of what the bar was lacking so that when the ship store opened on Saturday afternoon people could make sure we were well stocked for the evening and through the next week (this didn’t necessarily go over well with management as it was seen as encouragement).

I’ve been asked when the bars opened. Again, depended on the station. McMurdo’s bars had specific hours that they were opened to serve the various shifts and you as customer were supposed to attend the correct bar accordingly. I don’t know about Palmer, but Club 90 South at Pole was open 24/7/365. Not that I was there 24/7/365, mind you; my bartending duties were purely a volunteer matter which guaranteed me a chair when I showed up in the bar. At first during the summer it was just Saturday nights, but by the time winter rolled around I was up there most every night doing my thing for folks. This is the joy of an honor bar; come on in any time, no one’s gonna charge you, so help yourself. You are, of course, supposed to be working during the day but if it’s just you in the bar, and no one’s keeping a tab, who’s to say you were even drinking? (this is a very Zen alcoholic justification) The answer: me, when I find you passed out on the floor with a toppled barstool beside you when I come to “open” the bar at 8pm.

Antarctica’s problem is that you’ve run as far as a person possibly can to “escape”. I heard about every relationship shattered by the distance to the Ice…and all the ones that ended before you even thought about coming to Antarctica. The strings of jobs and towns abandoned as you tried to make a new start, a new life, in the next town, or state, or country over. But once you get to Antarctica, there’s simply nowhere further to go. Then the station closes for the winter with no more flights for nine months. When things start going wrong for you again, because the common denominator in all the situations you’ve fled from is you, you’re trapped. So you’d better get acquainted with yourself OR you can just drink yourself to oblivion and kill the days so that you aren’t even there. I’m not going to put a number on how many people took the latter route, but I’m having a hard time thinking of any that really made the former work.

I recall pouring glass after glass of Crown Royal for a person that, against all odds, was still managing to sit on a stool and semi-coherently ask for another drink. There were three people that individually pulled me aside and said, “Dude. STOP SERVING HIM. He is so far gone it’s not even funny.” Assuming they remember, as it was a decade ago, they were drinking too, and the ravages of hypothyroidism in Antarctica on memory, they probably still blame me for serving irresponsibly. I had a different perspective. I try to keep in mind and control the most serious danger and deal with the other ones as they come up. The most dire danger in Antarctica is always failure to respect the absolutely lethal environment of Antarctica itself. I was far happier to serve until I could guide him over to a couch to pass out than to see him stagger out into the -85F night. I was doubly happy to be serving him in the bar rather than have him get to this state, or worse, alone where something dumb/wrong might happen and no one would be able to help him until it was far too late.

So, yes, I ended up cleaning up more than my fair share of puke from my fellow Polies that were in a bad way. I apologize for any bruises I may have given manhandling them into chairs or onto couches because I wasn’t going to let them lie on the floor. But I am happy to say very few people had to shamefully look at their vomit permanently frozen into the ice, until painstakingly chiseled out so that the crew wasn’t embarrassed when the new people arrived. And no one, no one, had to be treated for hypothermia and frostbite due to getting drunkenly disoriented or passing out in the cold.

Phil Does Stupid Human Tricks, AKA "The Dragon", with Liquid Nitrogen in Club 90 South

Phil Does Stupid Human Tricks, AKA “The Dragon”, with Liquid Nitrogen in Club 90 South

Oh, the Crown Royal. One of those odd things that just happens, any bartender will tell you this, is that bars have peculiar booze consumption characters. That there will be a type of alcohol that sells remarkably well in one bar but doesn’t even move in the bar the next block down. Or, for similarly unknown reasons, a college town bar will see that each different year progressing through college has it’s signature booze, i.e. the class of 2014 all order dry martinis, but the class of 2015 is all Jaegerbombs, all the time. For the South Pole 2002-2003 winterovers, the booze of choice was Crown Royal, I think because of the lovely felt bags the bottles came in. Every time a new bottle was opened, the bag got suspended from the Christmas lights over the bar, slowly making a curtain. In the picture to the above, taken January 2002, it was still pretty sparse up there; by July, one of the communications techs took down about 50 of the bags to make a quilt. There were so many by then that we didn’t even notice.

A fair question I’ve been asked is “How did you get all that booze down there? What did you have? Was there non-alcoholic anything?” At Pole & McMurdo, you could buy hard liquor, wine, beer, and soda from the ship store, though as memory serves we had a better variety at Pole though not the same vast inventory. It is telling that the very first cargo pallet that came off the plane when I arrived at Pole on the opening flight was nothing but beer (my luggage didn’t arrive for another two weeks).   While bulk cargo can be brought to McMurdo & Palmer by boat, everything that comes to Pole has to do it by plane. I would describe the variety of booze in the ship store as comparable to a middling supermarket. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see both sweet vermouth and Makers Mark on the shelf, because it meant that I didn’t bring the Angostura bitters in my luggage for nothing and that there’d would be manhattans to drink all the way through winter.

Actually, the fact that I was in no danger of running out of Makers Mark or sweet vermouth is an interesting point, given that the United States Antarctic Program and the contractor running the station had made a commitment to reduce alcohol dependence. Turning the stations dry was, frankly, out of the question, though it was threatened. During the offload of the cargo vessel in McMurdo by the NAVCHAPS (US Navy Cargo Handling And Port Services), all the bars and booze sales in the ship store shut down lest there be trouble, again, for the who knows how manyeth time. Of course, the research vessels constantly circumnavigating the continent are always dry vessels, not that this stops homebrewing in the finest of prison wine traditions on the boats. So, there was proof of concept that it was possible to go dry…but booze sales were a decent moneymaker for the contractor because, really, how many t-shirts are you gonna sell to each person? Alcohol, tobacco, and candy are consumables and have the possibility of repeat business that selling souvenirs lacks. People generally got some percentage of their paycheck paid to them on continent in cash and then promptly went to the ship store to buy booze with it.

As bartender that year, I was paying attention to our consumption rates and what things ran out when (something not done before, it seems) and, frankly, it wasn’t complimentary. Remember for this timeline, South Pole Station opened on October 30th with first flight and the station closed on February 14th, with several resupply flights coming in per day while the station was open:

  • Ran out of Dr. Pepper & Mountain Dew in late March
  • Ran out of red wine in early April. SEE ALSO: South Pole “Enhanced” Sangria
  • Ran out of Coke & Pepsi in mid to late April
  • Ran out of Diet Coke & Pepsi, 7-Up, and root beer in early to mid May
  • Ran out of tonic and Bailey’s Irish cream in July
  • Ran out of Crown Royal, Bacardi 151 and club soda in August
  • Ran out of all beer except the worst one (New Zealand’s Export Gold) by early September.
  • Ran out of Export Gold the night before first flight arrived and the station opened.

At the end of the year, we still had more hard liquor than you could shake a stick at on the shelves and in storage. Of the three we ran out of, this was due to irrational popularity (Crown Royal), a special item shipped down by a cargo manager one time, three years prior (151), and for only one of them, a bartender that made mixed drinks (Bailey’s). As a responsible bartender, I made a point of trying to alternate people’s booze with non-alcoholic options but I ran out of those damn early, other than water. We had quite a few varieties of New Zealand’s beers available but they dwindled away one by one through the winter, leaving only Export Gold by the end. Therefore, as the months wore on, the alcohol consumption not only increased in quantity, but it increased in alcohol content per drink. By the end, I was regularly tossing out 4-7 empty liquor bottles a night for a 6-12 people. This doesn’t jibe with a desire to reduce alcohol dependence and the letter I wrote to the USAP and Raytheon stating this got no response.

The other thing all this booze did was cause an extra rift in the station population. Antarctica has always suffered a cultural split between the “beakers” (researchers on NSF grants) and “support” (all the workers from the Contractor that operate/build the stations, i.e. everyone else). As support staff that very directly helped keep experiments up and running, I was in an odd bridging role that let me play in both camps. The new rift that revealed itself was the Teetotalers vs. the Drunks and it was a roughly 40/60 division in a winter station population of 58. I’m to understand that the bar became much more central in the life of the station my year than it normally was, and that might partially be my fault. It was a standing complaint from the Teetotalers that any event that happened always drifted to Club 90 South, or that the event just didn’t work because everyone was at the bar instead. Stitching these two groups together, which were almost but not quite broken along the traditional beaker/support lines, is a task our station manager had that I didn’t envy.

I’m to understand the solution that was implemented the following year was an HR representative from Contractor HQ that stayed for the whole winter to help with problems, by doing such things as sitting in the bar and monitoring drinking habits. When I was told of this plan I predicted the HR representative would be the Most Hated Person At Pole. The result was a lot of solitary drinking and little cohesion in the crew, which made for a very hard winter for everyone. Being at the bottom of the globe for a year, surrounded by two mile thick ice sheets, and no escape is hard enough without trying to do it alone.

While I have misgivings about my bartending and the things I saw in Antarctica, I still think it’s preferable to the alternatives.

EDIT: The original 2nd to last paragraph said “no cohesion in the crew” . As someone that was there the year after me was quick to point out this may also have been a function of a largest station winterover population ever, spread across the old Dome and the new berthing in the elevated station, separated by a decent hike and 96 stairs at ~10000′ of altitude. More people is an opportunity for more cliques so, by comparison, two major blocs looks cohesive next to a dozen or so smaller fractious groups. However, even one friend that isn’t a bottle is a better than none.

St. Patrick’s and ANZAC Days, 2003

ANZAC Memorial, Sydney Australia July 2010

April 25th means little to Americans other than, probably, waiting anxiously for whatever you ordered with your tax refund to arrive. But to the fine folk of Australia and New Zealand it is ANZAC Day which, generally, means a fall holiday. At the very least it is an excuse to have gunfire breakfast, AKA coffee spiked with a very respectable amount of rum, which is something I learned as retaliation for my observance of St. Patrick’s Day with my exceptionally Irish coffees.

For St. Patrick’s, I got up early, relatively speaking, checked my dewars and telescopes, and then went up to Club 90 South. I then spent the next five hours cleaning up months of accumulate detritus and generally ignored maintenance in the bar. FACT: one of the reasons bars are dimly lit is so you don’t have to clean them as thoroughly. Once cleaning was completed, I compiled the finest 14 hours of drinking music that the X Drive had to offer, and then decorated the bar with shotglasses and bottles of Jamesons. At 5pm, I pressed play on the tunes and poured myself some whiskey so that I would be ready to salute whoever came through the door as I poured them their shot.

It was good time. Eventually, people started biting beer cans and spitting torn aluminum at each other. That’s how good a time it was.

A little over a month later, our telescope mechanic and former New South Wales rugby prop walked into the bar a plunked down a bottle of something special he’d brought down in his luggage: a bottle of Bundaberg rum. I was familiar with and fond of Bundaberg’s ginger beer but had no idea they made a rum. Flavor-wise, it’s a grassy salty rum agricole similar to St. George Spirit’s Aqua Libre. I can’t possibly do justice to Allan’s accent which was so thick you could drown sheep in it, but when I asked what that was for he said, “Have a Bundy with me. It’s ANZAC Day.”

Turkish Artillery in the Morning – rum by Bundaberg, mug by R. Stevens of dieselsweeties.com

While I knew the history well, it was thus I was made privy to many of the modern cultural secrets of ANZAC Day, primarily the concept of the Gunfire Breakfast, which is coffee with sufficient rum added to it that you didn’t care about the guns anymore. In honor of that, and the fact that they’re running almost 20 hours ahead of the west coast of the US, I made myself a mug of gunfire breakfast with the Ipsento Panama BBotE and my bottle of Bundy I picked up three years ago in Sydney. This was, perhaps, not the best idea at 9pm but it was goddamn delicious and I hereby dub it “Turkish Artillery in Morning”. The recipe:

  • 1 part BBotE (I found the blueberry fruitiness of the Ipsento Panama went well)
  • 3 parts boiling water
  • 1 part agricole rum (grass, salty flavored rum that uses the whole cane)

So, to all those who fell at Gallipoli, all those that mourned them back home, and all those that returned short a few limbs or marbles, here’s to you. And to the people of Christchurch who had to endure me giving a damn long semi-inebriated lecture on the history of the Great War and why the Arch of Remembrance at the end of Cashel Street was there to my ignorant fellow American Polies in 2003, I apologize again.

With that, the band played Waltzing Matilda…

Station Closing – Settling Down For A Long Winter’s Nap

Ten years and eighteen days ago, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station closed for the winter, with the last LC-130 ski cargo plane departing the skiway on Valentine’s Day 2003. I watched it disappear from a mostly abandoned experiment in the Dark Sector (AKA the pie wedge extending from pole with all the telescopes in it). With the rapidly vanishing dot in the sky, I don’t know if anyone else felt it but the weight of 8-9 cold dark months finally settled down on me.

If this all was a terrible mistake, it had officially been made. There would be no escape. The last planes leave Antarctica when the temperatures start dipping below -50F and won’t return until the temperatures are reliably above that. Below -50F, we’re no longer entirely confident that we can keep the engines running (possibly freezing solid, ne’er to move again, should they stop), keep the skis from welding themselves to the ice, or that the JP-8 fuel won’t start to gel in the lines thus leading to tragic explosions. I list these things as they’re all incidents that have occurred in Antarctica or near Thule AFB in Greenland. It is also worth noting that the very first LC-130 is buried roughly 30′ under the snow where it crashed at the end of the skiway. Shit happens when things that would normally be a minor error can easily turn fatal at the hairy edge of safe operation. One of my favorite sayings when trying to teach radiation safety to recalcitrant undergrads, grad student, and postdocs is “Every safety regulation is written in someone’s blood. Try not make any new rules, okay?” My other favorite is “Stupidity is a harsh teacher and pain is Her lesson plan; not everyone is lucky enough or survives to get a second lesson.” but that one’s somewhat more insulting.

Antarctica, however, is the most unforgiving classroom. Every year, at least one person dies on the continent for failure to appreciate that Antarctica Does Not Care About You. Humans are only the apex predator at South Pole Station because absolutely nothing else except, maybe, bacteria can live there. On the coasts, you can get your ass handed to you by the goddamn penguins; the little bastards fly through water so don’t think for a moment that they aren’t a hell of a lot stronger than they look. The bruises I got on my shins from a 18″ tall adelie lasted for weeks; I’ve been told of the 4′ tall emperors breaking bones. The lack of fear of humans in all the animals of the Antarctic isn’t necessarily just because they have no experience of us, but rather that the average human isn’t much of a threat down there. We are a frail and feeble ape that is a few hours away from death in the environment that they happily live.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station - Last Flight Out, Valentine's Day 2003

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station – Last Flight Out, Valentine’s Day 2003

All that and more went running through my head as I watched this through the viewfinder of my camera before the battery froze up.

I invite you to look long and hard at this picture. The VAST white expanse with a bunch of footprints I made. You can see something that looks like buildings in the background beyond the skiway that my last escape to civilization is leaving on. They aren’t buildings, they’re pallets of supplies on raised berms that can survive the average -85F temperatures that are coming in the winter. Almost enough equipment to rebuild the entire station. There’s enough food on those berms to survive three to five winters without rescue, depending on the size of the winter population (fifty eight questionably damned souls when I was there). Mind you, there isn’t enough fuel to keep the lights on, buildings warm, and water liquid for more than about 18 months…maybe.

So, it is vitally necessary to keep in your mind that YES, a plane is coming back for you to maintain sanity. Actually, that’s not true. Most of my compatriots weren’t thinking more than a day or two into the future, focused on the task at hand and whatever hobby they’d chosen. If there was ever a moment of existential crisis where someone started losing it because they were afraid they were going to be stuck at Pole forever, I never saw it. Maybe I did and that was one of the nights as Station Bartender that I served alcohol until someone reached sweet oblivion and killed one more day of winter which they didn’t have to remember on the way to Station Opening. It’s hard to say.

But what helps most people through hard times are customs. The Antarctic traditions run back to the early explorers with a strong naval slant, which means many of them are dumb, most of them involve alcohol, and some corporal punishment. After the last flight leaves, everyone goes back to their rooms to get ready for the Station Closing Dinner, something that’s happened every year since South Pole Station was established in 1957. I want you to all understand that the desire for adventure that brings people to the bottom of the Earth also brings some truly fantastic cooks. The man in charge of the food for the continent as whole while I was there was a Michelin starred chef from New Orleans, Cookie John. Despite the limitations of being at Pole, Closing Dinner may have been one of the finest meals I’ve eaten in my life. People bring tuxedos for this dinner despite the limited weight allowance. It is, in a word, a soiree.

After that, a more modern custom that dates to the early-1980s happened: the full station viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing. This movie is grossly inaccurate about how an Antarctic station looks like and is run, but let me tell you the mindsets are spot on. You want to know how are things are a few months deeper into winter, you need only watch this MacReady’s thousand yard stare as he fumbles with the bottle of whiskey. At the end of the movie, I turned to the station manager and pointed out that we were woefully under armed, particularly with respect to flamethrowers, for an American station. I’ll treasure the look he gave me for life as he realized he was trapped with me for nine more months.

You might have thought we’d watch The Shining. Goodness no. We saved that for Midwinter, along with Dark Star (not surprisingly, also by John Carpenter).

NEXT TIME: Winterizing the station, because you’re still not quite ready for it to get really cold.

The Antarctic Musical Tradition (AKA: NYE 2002)

What do people do when they are trapped with no possibility of escape or parole? An Antarctica station is not all that different from an old gulag in this respect; you’re welcome to try to flee, but the surrounding environment will kill you more surely than any guard will. To keep this properly nerdy, let’s have a quick word from the Warden of BEAUTIFUL Rura Penthe!

So, now that you have the proper vision of Antarctica as a frozen prison in your head, the leisure activities of choice are just what you’d expect in modern prison, e.g. weightlifting, art, reading, gambling, and music. As I recall from my tour of Alcatraz, one of the greatest privileges a prisoner could be granted was a musical instrument. Per the Institution Rules & Regulations of Alcatraz (1955):

46. MUSIC RULES: Musical instruments may be purchased if approved by the Associate Warden. Guitars and other stringed instruments may be played in the cellhouse in a QUIET manner only between the hours of 5:30 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. No singing or whistling accompaniments will be tolerated. Any instrument which is played in an unauthorized place, manner, or time will be confiscated and the inmate placed on a disciplinary report. Wind instruments, drums and pianos will be played in the band or Orchestra Rooms on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. At no time will you play any wind instrument in the cellhouse. Permission to play instruments in the Band, Orchestra or bathrooms may be granted by the Associate Warden to inmates in good standing. The Band room is a privilege and permission to play there must be requested from the Associate Warden. A limited number of inmates may be allowed to take musical instruments to and from the recreation yard. Permission must first be obtained from the Associate Warden. No inmate on “idle” status or on “report” or restricted will be allowed to use the Band Room, Orchestra Room or to take instruments to the yard. An inmate whose musical privileges have been restricted or revoked shall be removed from all musical lists, and his instrument stored in “A” Block until otherwise authorized by the Associate Warden. No inmate is allowed to give, sell, trade, exchange, gamble, loan or otherwise dispose of his personal or institutional instrument or to receive such from another inmate. Institutional instruments may be loaned to inmates in good standing upon the approval of the Associate Warden. All instruments will be listed on personal property cards. Institutional instruments shall be listed as “On Loan” from the institution, together with the date of the loan and the identification number of the instrument. Surplus parts for musical instruments together with and including extra sets of guitar strings shall be kept in “A” Block. Guitar strings shall be purchased in the regular manner and stored in “A” Block until needed. An old set of strings must be turned in to the cellhouse Officer to draw a new set.

South Pole Station’s rule was a little simpler: “Play it in the Music Room, or play it outside.” Given the choice, most people chose to stick to the small room in the Skylab tower of the Dome. I do know for a fact that at least one person decided that the Ceremonial Pole needed some mindblowing riffs with the Stratocaster and portable amp. Because if you can ROCK at the bottom of the Earth, you can ROCK anywhere.

But every year, people come to Antarctica with disparate musical abilities, some with their instruments. The IT guy from the previous post, arrived at Pole with his banjo and mixing turntable, presciently predicting the musical future eight years later. When you put more than two people and musical instruments together someone decides it’s a good idea to form a band. And, as we all know, the very first thing you do when you form a band is name it. Generally, the bands have US Antarctic Program topical names. A few samplings: NPX (the airport designator for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), Clear and Copious (what the urine of a well-hydrated Polie should be), NPQ (“Not Physically Qualified”, justification from the screening period to not go south and/or stay the winter).

These bands were were ephemeral creatures of the Ice, disintegrating as people left the continent. While they were there though, they were an invaluable part of station festivities. Heck, this is been the case since the dawn of exploration when the harmonica quartet was an important part of sanity for Shackleton’s crew. The Scots cannae help but bring the pipes.

But what of the people with no instruments or particular musical talent, which included yours truly?

Such begins our tale on fateful day in early December 2002. Having finished my work in the Cryo Barn, I walked next door to bother my neighbors in the Balloon Shack (Meteorology launched at least two weather balloons a day using the reclaimed helium vent gas from my giant LHe dewars). Nobody was there. Still craving people to bother, I went to the next closest building, the Cargo Shed.

In the Cargo Shed, I found Tony, my favorite meteorologist, shooting the shit with the cargo handlers and eating their stash of cookies. One of the cargo guys, Forrest, had already been messing with his guitar in the Cargo Shed, somewhat to the annoyance of the ladies that were wrangling the manifests. The woman who set the chain of events to come in progress had been listening to her guilty musical pleasure on headphones from her computer as she did data entry. Forrest was lamenting that he didn’t have anyone to play with. We all stated, pretty emphatically, that there were dead penguins in McMurdo with more musical skill than us. It was about then that she got up, Patient Zero forgot she had headphones on and pulled it out of the jack, letting us hear the N Sync she’d been listening to the whole time.

In that moment it was revealed to us what we could do with our complete lack of musical talent: we could form Antarctica’s first lip synching boy band. There was some resistance, at first, to the idea:

Dan: I can’t sing.

Tony: You don’t need to! That the joy of lip synching.

Dan: I don’t think we have enough people.

Me: What are talking about? Five is the scientifically proven ideal boy band size. We even have all the requisite members?

Forrest: What do you mean?

Me: Look, you’re the All American Aryan. He’s the cute one. Dan, you’re the rugged one. Tony…

Tony: Go ahead, say it. I’m gonna hit you anyway.

Me: Tony’s the token minority.

Forrest: Well what are you?

Me: Isn’t it obvious? I’m the bad one. I have the goatee and everything.

And thus it began. First things first, we chose our name, the Antarcticly relevant -98 Degrees (my sister still groans at this name). N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” was chosen as it was the song that had brought us together. We had a couple weeks of dance practice as even more important than lip synching is your choreography. I’m not gonna say we’d have impressed Paula Abdul, but we managed to not injure each other. But then we had to work one the important bits, like fan base. As proven by the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, One Direction and the immortal Fingerbang, the crowd of screaming ladies for the Garmlich Effect is vital. Luckily, we had plenty of willing accomplices for this, not the least of which being Patient Zero who thought this was the funniest thing ever.

For the grand New Year’s Eve party, the heavy shop garage was cleaned within an inch ofit’s life and turned into a stage, dance floor, and buffet. If I recall correctly, there were two different band and the mixmaster skills of DJ Banjo-IT between. Ending the evening, before the countdown, was -98 Degrees.

As we all gathered in the gym for our final preparations, along with our half dozen screaming fan accomplices, the Rugged and the Cute Ones were getting cold feet. I, wisely, had brought a bottle of Captain Morgan to provide the necessary liquid courage. Between us all, that bottle went away along with and everyone was ready to kick ass. Our accomplices left, our parkas went on, and the light in the garage we brought down.

Emerging from the light of the corridor came five completely parkabound men.

-98 Degrees: Their First & Only Performance of "Bye Bye Bye"

-98 Degrees: Their First & Only Performance of “Bye Bye Bye”

The crowd erupted into shrieks of delight and anticipation. As we walked forward, we hugged the throng on either side of the path to the stage, gave high fives, and signed autographs on body parts. We walked on stage, stood in a line, with hands crossed and heads down. It was dark and quiet, the music began. With the “Hey Heyyyyyy”, we stripped our parkas, threw them to the floor and it was ON.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is one of best displays of how little shame I have. Good luck trying to embarrass me, because I did this and rocked the shit out of it. Thank you and good night!

The South Pole Bar Albums, Volumes I-V

This is my holiday gift to you as I put together some other thoughts about Antarctica. A lot of things happened around New Years 2003, so they will take some collating. In the meantime, I have a YouTube playlist for you. While I was bartender at Club 90 South at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I was not it’s DJ. Two weeks into summer I walked into the bar, looked around, and saw the only available seat was behind the bar. So, I sat down and put my feet up on the beer case.

Random Polie: “Hey, get me a beer.”

Me: “Do I look like a fucking bartender?”

Random Polie: “You’re behind the bar…”

Me: *tosses him a beer from the case* “Whatever.”

Random Polie: “Hey, can you mix anything?”

Me: “As a matter of fact, I can.”

And there I stayed for the next 11 months after mixing that first manhattan.

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing "The Dragon" by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing “The Dragon” by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

I got to see and hear a lot behind that bar. I also became the unofficial barometer of mood for the station manager. As an honor bar, Club 90 South didn’t have a bartender like the bars in McMurdo, so mixed drinks didn’t usually happen before my tenure there; typically just whiskey and beer. Unfortunately, this also really cemented the barfly vs. teetotaler factions for that winter. Mixing between the groups was somewhat limited in the first place and got no better as the year wore on. Over the coming few Antarctica posts, we’ll discuss that a bit more.

The link to the playlist above is five CDs worth of music that I culled from our Winamp player for our most listened to songs over that year. I would like to reiterate that I was not in control of the music. I suggested many songs and as the person most likely to be in the bar at any given moment that winter, I have some honorable mention in presence of songs like Oingo Boingo’s “Insanity”, Royal Crown Revue’s take on “Beyond The Sea” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Ultimately, control of the music was in the hands of the person sitting next to the keyboard for the computer installed in the wall of the bar connected to the, in 2003, 2TB jukebox of the X Drive on the server. This was typically the IT guy or the belligerent heavy equipment operator that liked tequila.

NOTE: Dear MPAA auditors searching for the X Drive, you will never find it. It is normally buried in the snow. Antarctica is big and mostly made of snow. Please accept that people at the ends of the Earth would like some music and that we collectively share what we’ve all brought down.

Some of these songs may be tied to specific people. Fore example, Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” became the 2002-2003 Winterover Anthem thanks to one amazon Alaskan equipment operator/boat captain/pilot that demanded it be played for her during the summer. By the time winter hit, we had an entire drink in hand dance routine worked out for that song we loved it so. The song “Tribute” kind of came along for the ride.

David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By Name” is the Australian telescope mechanic and former New South Wales rugby prop that could drop a sheep dead with his flatulence at 20 yards. He was also fond of the Lee Kernaghan’s “Goondiwini Moon” but that’s not included on the albums.

The Geto Boy’s “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster” may be squarely laid at the feet of the very meek meteorologist who went a bit off the rails early. She loved that song.

The Dropkick Murphy’s “Spicy McHaggis” is my favorite electrician, Mark. He comes up prominently in many of my stories. In many respects, Mark and I were the same person that lived completely different lives. We got along like a house on fire, without actually committing any arson.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is Drew, the other IT guy. When not in Antarctica, Drew wrangled his family’s marina in Logan Harbor, ME. He brought this nautical disaster gem to us near midwinter and we adored it. Along with the construction manager’s love for Led Zepplin’s “No Quarter”, these two songs combined were for relaxed, leaned back in the chair, contemplation of the glass of whiskey.

As you look at the song list, you might notice some trends. I can’t help but see the repetition of the topics of madness, alcohol, and murder. Of course, I’ve been listening to these songs for the last decade and the music of Antarctica never leaves me. I can only hope you enjoy them, despite the ads that YouTube inserts.

The Noble Sport of Volleybag

Before our slice of Antarctic life for the day, I should let you know that most of the “Complete by December 16th” pre-order slots are already gone. The next pre-order slots to go up will be set to complete by January 6th. I am going to do my damn best to crank out some of these before Christmas, but anything that ships after December 20th has no guarantee to make it by Christmas Eve. If there is something you desperately need to get under the tree and have been procrastinating, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

And now we set the Wayback Machine to December 2002 at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to discuss physical fitness and the Noble Sport of Volleybag…

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line - The architect wouldn't like this either.

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line – The architect wouldn’t lick this either.

Prior to the construction of the elevated station, South Pole had three gyms: a weight room under the Dome, a laminate wood floor gym that was the back half of the old building in the Garage Arch, and an exercise room full of stationary cycles, rowing machines, etc. out in the Summer Camp which shut down every winter. I believe the weight room was the oldest continually used gym there. It wasn’t the best weatherproofed of buildings but decades of sweaty grunting had caused all the cracks to seal up with ice on the inside nicely. One time, I offered to pay a guy $20 to lick the ice on the weight room wall. I did so over dinner, ruining yet another meal for our architect. For a man with such a delicate constitution, I don’t know why he kept insisting on sitting with me and Mark.

The gym was a mutant. The limited space at the station combined with the varied athletic pursuits people need to keep sane and the fact that this space used to be part of the garage meant it didn’t quite do anything right.

First, ventilation. The gym was created when the old garage was partitioned into a smaller garage, a parts room/paint shop, and gym. Obviously, the first two need good ventilation or people asphyxiate, so the systems that used kept the air clear for the entire building were dedicated to just these two. This meant that after enough time in the gym, you had to prop open the door as it overheated so badly just due to your physical exertion (remember, Antarctic buildings are generally very well insulated). Air that was over 80F went rushing out the top of the doorway as -80F swept across the transom. A cloud instantly formed that began roiling in the middle of the doorway, caught between the convection currents.

Second, you have to take into account thirty years of shifting athletic pursuits. The gym’s original purpose was to provide a half court basketball game that could double for volleyball for the Navy personnel of Operation Deep Freeze. Of course, that was just silly because the ceiling was so low that you couldn’t make a shot from any farther back than the foul line and any volleyball set or bump was likely to come right back down on your head from the ricochet. Later, the adventure tourist faction of Antarctic workers (which make up a high percentage these days) got climbing wall holds installed on two of the four walls. Finally, the gym was also an emergency refuge, so it had all kinds of speakers and alarm systems in the corners of the ceiling. Basically, the two of the four walls and the ceiling were covered in junk, including a basketball hoop.

It was room meant for all sports and thus it was good for none. The solution, of course, was to make a game that required these things.Volleybag was the product of these physical constraints. The game didn’t just work around these obstacles, it depended on them. At heart, it was volleyball, but instead of a volleyball it used a basketball-sized hacky sack made of Carhartt’s heavy duty #5 duck cloth, stitched together like a baseball, and filled with the stuffing from a dearly departed sofa. The only out of bounds was the back wall and your serve had to be a perfectly clean shot, but other than that the game was like racketball with knobby walls. You actively aimed for the obstruction to change the direction of your shot or to drop it dead to the floor. Players had to be willing to make abrupt changes in direction and sudden stops when playing for this reason.

It was chaotic bliss, a sport I could truly get behind almost as much as Calvinball. One of the IT guys played with us, so he wired up the stereo to run through the emergency announcement speakers. We played at least twice a week for a couple hours each time. The memory of lying prone on the floor exhausted and overheating, door open, ice crust of sweat forming on me, and listening to the Lords of Acid blasting on the PA is vivid. I regularly went home bruised and battered from running into the climbing wall at speed. One time I ended up kicking the wall so hard that I broke my toenail off and discovered that many orthopedic implements haven’t changed much in appearance since the Inquisition’s “presentation of the tools”.

And, oh yes, the cold and lack of maintenance had taken their toll on the floor.  The slats of the hardwood were gapping ever so slightly, exposing blade-like edges to lay your knees or whatever open if you dove for a save.  I bled for that sport often and it shows in the scars.The obstacles that made the game so fun took their toll on the volleybag. Despite being made of the same heavy canvas as our insulated Carhartts, it still tore. The guardian of the volleybag, Johan, one of the South Pole’s denizens of longest duration, kept it in his room with him and had a sewing kit dedicated to mending it. By the end of our winter, it looked as stitched together as Frankenstein’s face. Since I had never worn them, preferring my shorts and Hawaiian print, I volunteered my Carhartts to provide replacement material for the volleybag for the next season (not a new one, much like Grandfather’s Axe). I have no idea how old the volleybag actually was but rumor has it that the game dated back to the seventies.

The Dome and old buildings are gone now. To the best of my knowledge, the sport of Antarctic Kings went with it. Last I heard, the metal skin of the Dome was going to be reconstructed in a quad somewhere at the University of Wisconsin, Madison since they bought it originally back in 1975. I will have to make pilgrimage when that day comes, but there will be no volleybag under that Dome.

My Birthday, Resupply, and Antarctica

Tomorrow, November 2nd, is Dia de los Muertos and my birthday. It also roughly marks ten years since I arrived at South Pole Station one glaringly bright and cold Antarctica day. I bring this up because it’s already my birthday in Antarctica and I have a story to share.

For those that don’t care about my birthday blithering, you’d probably like to know the BBotE status report. Madison, Dublin (Ireland), Santa Barbara, and soon Portland’s Ambassadors were all resupplied this week. This week also sees the inauguration of regular BBotE service to Boston courtesy of your new Ambassador, Talena! She is a recent transplant from Portland and acolyte of the Caffeinatrix. You may drop her a line for 750ml bottles by email at bahstun [dot] bbote [at] gmail [dot] com. I somehow suspect they may go quickly.

Now for the Way Back Machine, but first a glossary…

“The Ice” (n) – Colloquial name for the continent of Antarctica.

“The Dome” (n) – Colloquial name of the part of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station covered by the geodesic dome weather skin to help keep buildings from getting buried by snow. Commissioned in 1975, demolished in 2005. Replaced by the new Elevated Station.

Club 90 South (n) – Bar at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Built by the Navy well-beloved by me.

Polie (n) – A person who has wintered-over at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Polie (adj.) – 1. Pretaining to the actions, people, or places at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. 2. Patently crazy, primarily evidence being the willing agreement to spend a year at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Winter-Over (n) – A person who has stayed at one of the Antarctic stations through an Austral winter.

Winter-Over (adj.) – Crazy

Skua (n) – 1. A large, evil minded, dust mop of a Southern Ocean gull that has no fear of Man and has, in fact, learned that things in Man’s hands are often tasty and will steal them. 2. A central location in the station for excess/junk items to be stockpiled for general use by anyone rather than just throw them away.

Toast (n) – The state of diminished faculties associated with a winter spent at one of the Antarctic stations, likely related to thyroid hormone imbalance due to extended darkness and cold.

Toasty (adj.) – A descriptor of foolish acts or person who is likely suffering thyroid hormone imbalances due to a winter-over conditions.

Taking from these definitions, you may note that a Polie is double crazy.

On Halloween 2002, after almost two weeks of weather delays and mechanical failures in Christchurch, NZ before getting to McMurdo Station and then a cold snap that made it impossible to fly into Pole, the first flight of the summer season, P001, arrived at South Pole Station and I was on it. We then dropped off our gear and tromped to the not yet complete galley of the new elevated station. The NSF representative welcomed us new folks (note: he flew in with us), congratulated the previous winter’s crew for making it and handed out the Antarctic Service Medal to them, and then the station opening party began. I was the only new person that got out there on the dance floor and danced the Time Warp with the old winterover crew, thus earning me another nickname and access to Club 90 South while the winterovers were still hiding in it from the new people. This should have been a sign to everyone when people who’d already been stuck at Pole for a year considered me to be alright and normal.

There are two parties not particularly set on the calendar in Antarctica because they are dictated by weather: Station Opening and Station Closing. Roughly speaking for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the first flight in is some time around Halloween and the last flight out is Valentine’s Day-ish. However, these are not the big parties. The big two are Halloween and Midwinter (AKA the austral winter solstice, every day from there is a day closer to light). Halloween, in particular, is big because it is the fleeting moment when the previous year’s winterovers are there and the first planeload of new people has showed up. Not without coincidence, the first cargo pallet to come off the first plane of the season is not medicine, or mail, but beer. However, parties happen on Sundays because that’s the day off. Halloween fell on a Friday that year, so the party was delayed until the 2nd. My birthday.

Halloween, of course, demands costumes. To this end, the nice folks back at HQ in Centennial, CO had loaded several large, palletized, tri-wall boxes full thrift store clothes and generic accessory crap from the Goodwill Bargain Barn (motto: “VALUES BY THE POUND”) and sent them to Antarctica. Pole had them lined up to the skua bins. McMurdo had a goddamn Costume Closet for special events, which tended to cause a lot of men dressing in drag for some reason (ACTUAL REASON: Navy tradition).

PROTIP: DO NOT dress in drag around the Russians freshly released from a two year stint at Vostok. They. Do. Not. Care. Anymore.

CHICKENHEAD

CHICKENHEAD and his faithful, but inebriated, sidekick General Assistant!

I did my best under the trying circumstances to find something that fit. I had no other clothes than the expedition grade stuff I had arrived with in the go-bag I was carrying; the rest of my possessions were still stuck in McMurdo and wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks. The resulting horror was a hybrid of snowpants and boots, brass toned expedition thermal underwear, a blue seersucker jacket, and a chicken hat.  When I eventually find the picture of this, I’ll put it up.

EDIT: Picture found!

 

 

In the ship store, I discovered they sold both Maker’s Mark and sweet vermouth. I’d brought my own bitters with me, so I bought one of the travel mugs to use as a shaker, chipped some ice off the side of the Dome and made a manhattan. We were warned that we who weren’t accustomed to altitude and probably shouldn’t do any drinking. I made a second one to go out to the Summer Camp huts for the party.

My Antarctic Manhattan Travel Mug

My Antarctic Manhattan Travel Mug

On my arrival at the hut, I was greeted by my friend Mark, with a bottle of Glenfiddich in hand. “PHIL!” he bellowed. “YOU NEED DRINK AND BLOOD!” I then was ordered to take a swig from the bottle and fake blood was poured all over my face and chicken hat. Mark had already had great fun with the fake blood and his head looked like he’d just recently pulled it out of the carcass of a freshly killed pig.

The night gets a bit hazy after that. Pinatas happened. We summoned Mark, a gifted mountain climber, down from the ceiling with the promise of shots of whiskey. There was also a chainsaw. A chainsaw happened to a pinata.

As this kicks off the ten year anniversary of Phil’s Antarctic Adventures, there’ll probably be a few more of these posts popping up between now and next Halloween as we hit more milestones. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Where’s Phil Now & How To Get To Antarctica

If you’ve been poking at the store side of things lately, you may have noticed that the inventories of most everything has dwindled down to zero. This is intentional as I want to clear everything out before I put up the next round of pre-orders. “Why?” you ask. Because I am off to beautiful, scenic Richland, WA for a week of Fun With Radiation. “WHY!?!?” you may ask again. Because Richland, WA is where we’ve hidden Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, AKA the Hanford Site, and they’ve accreted various things relevant to my actual career of playing with the DEADLY RADIATIONS™. So, really it’s almost a vacation, if your definition of vacation includes plutonium and talking about regulations. Regular production will resume after Memorial Day.

And you may be absolutely certain that I am going to sample all of the wares of these fine folks at the Atomic Ale Brewpub. In the interest of Science, of course.

Over the last decade (oh god, it has been that long) I have been asked many times people how the can get to go to Antarctica, most recently by Meredith Yayanos. Well, here’s my list of ways down to the Ice:

The typical way people assume you go to Antarctica is to do Science. As I have attempted to tell folks, the vast majority of people in Antarctica are not scientists but this is still a way down. As an American researcher, the first thing you’ll need is a large research grant. You then submit your research proposal to USAP, the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program (international researchers may feel free to apply, though many of the signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty have their own programs). If approved, you’ll be granted an event number, which you should hold on to for dear life as absolutely everything you do in Antarctica will be referenced back to that.

For those of a scientific bent, it is far easier to find someone that has an existing event number, try to modify their proposal to include your research, and sort of be a research subcontractor. Or, if you like their research, go down as a research associate under their project. NOTE: this is why Antarctica is full of undergrads, grad students, and postdocs.

Of course you may fabulously independently wealthy, or have such folks as backers, and don’t want to deal with the USAP and feel like having an expedition to Antarctica on your own. You better have your shit together unless you feel like pulling a Capt. Scott down there because without an event number assigned to your expedition, absolutely no one will help you. Or they will help, grudgingly, and an extremely high price that will be taken out of your hide when your sorry, unprepared ass gets rescued and shipped home…assuming you survive to get rescued.

There are a variety of cruises that “go to Antarctica” that you can sign up for but buyer beware. Many of these cruises on converted Russian fishing vessels count crossing 66° 33′ 44″, the Antarctic Circle, as going to Antarctica. Some visit islands south of the circle, some play along the peninsula but I don’t know any that do landfall on the mainland. These cruises are also painfully expensive.

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.

My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002

But perhaps price is no object to you and you want your hero shot at the ceremonial South Pole. Well, there’s always Adventure Networks that for ~$60k will fly you down, let you do  a bit of skiing, take your picture and fly home. Honestly, we Polies looked at these flights with some disdain as we contemplated our paychecks and watched 60-70 year olds pile out of the plane, gasping for air at the altitutde, stay for 30min and fly out. That was back when the trip only cost $30k.

If you want to actually work in Antarctica and let someone pay you to be there, there are a variety of contractors that support the USAP mission. The primary support contractor for USAP is Raytheon Polar Services Co. Akima Staffing Solutions is also down there as well. This is they way for most anyone else to go to Antarctica if you don’t think you have “science applicable skills” good enough to support the NSF directly as a grantee. Construction workers, cooks, mechanics, custodians, etc.,on average there’s eight people to every one person doing research just to keep the stations running. If you aren’t afraid of scrubbing pans or wielding a shovel, and don’t mind long hours and low pay, you can go to Antarctica. I’m to understand a judge on the federal bench once went on sabbatical as a dishwasher. Of course, you will have to pass the physical and psych qualifications; you have to be crazy enough to want to go to Antarctica, but not too crazy.

Lastly, there is a special Antarctica Artists & Authors Program out of the NSF to promote the creation of works of art inspired by Antarctica. The grant will pay to get you to Antarctica, plus food and berthing once you’re there, but there’s no money for salary or materials. So get your ducks in a row to keep the home fires burning before you go on an inspirational journey. Also, don’t be surprised if you get roped into the odd job or two while you’re there.