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Antarctica: November 21, 2002

Meat

Lotta work today.

Got to breakfast at 7:00 this morning. Mark, the MegaDunes physicist was there. Mark weighs as much as a person his size without any flesh. He has spent six seasons on the ice, as well as a couple in Greenland. He's a professor at University of New Hampshire. The polar regions make him hungry. He had four bananas, three eggs, sunny-side up, two slices of buttered toast, and a big slab of ham on his plate.

I had a bowl of something that was supposed to be raisin bran. I sat down at the same time as Chris, the MegaDunes ice core guy, and Ron, their mountaineer.

"You guys didn't read the sign," he said as I eyed his plate. "It said: 'Take a banana.'"

"It didn't say, 'take ALL the bananas'," Chris replied.

"I wasn't about to fall for that trick," Ron said, commenting on the cheezyness of Mark's bananas. "First it's a banana, then it's mind control."

So began another day in McMurdo.

Moved the webcam boxes out of MEC (Mechanical Equipment Center) and down to the helo yard. Got the 802.11 working and put the access point in the Puzzle Palace (the comms building). Got both of them on line on the internal McMurdo network and watched helicopters take off on the cams.

Tony, my PI (Principal Investigator--your "PI" is your boss in Antarctica), calls the webcam boxes TAISUs which stands for Tactical Autonomous Instrumentation Support Unit. We have both TAISUs running now.

Did my weekly clothes washing. Got my first shower in three days. In the old days showers were strictly limited to one two-minute shower per week. Now that there's a desalination plant, everyone can take hollywood showers as frequently as they can get to the shower. Of course, as this place was built in a time when showers were limited, there aren't many. (There are two on my dorm floor which must house 100 people). I went into the bathroom this morning and in a miracle of queuing theory found a shower open. I ran back to my room, grabbed my towel, and availed myself of an Antarctic luxury.

All herc flights are delayed out of here due to bad weather surrounding the station. Our weather is fine, about 20 degrees F, overcast, light wind, but to the north and south there are blizzard conditions. It's starting to get more crowded as folks flow in from Christchurch but can't get out.

Coming to McMurdo in November makes you a target--something I've just learned. By November, all single people looking to "hook up" with someone on the ice have done so and anyone not hooked up is a lost cause. New blood is fair game, apparently.

New blood. Meat.

So I've met a lot of people this year. I start off by showing them pictures of my family. That sets the tone. If they're interested in a nice conversation, they stay, if they hope I'd be meat, they leave.

Tim left for the helo to take him to the dry valleys today. I met him on my floor while I was rushing to my shower. He was in his ECWs for flight, holding a case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He handed it to me explaining it didn't fit on the helo. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. The gift of beer in a treacherous, life-sapping landscape could only be felt as a bond of brotherhood. I will have to find a way to repay him.

Perhaps I will need to buy him a house when we get back north.

The MegaDunes guys do a daily "safety meeting" which involves drinks. Last night the weekly MegaDunes "safety" meeting was in Chris and Ron's room. We stayed up till midnight, drinking beer and wine, listening to iTunes quietly pushing the Beatles into the dry Antarctic atmosphere.

Ted, the expedition leader, has also tried his hand at screenwriting. When he was describing his project to some newcomers he began this way. It could be a wonderful opening to a novel or a movie. Ted said:

"We had the idea these giant structures existed by reading the journals of the early explorers. They'd separate by a couple of kilometers and suddenly they'd disappear into what appeared to be a completely flat icescape. And pilots flying on the deck would radio down to field teams that at altitude they realized the teams were moving among massive ice formations invisible at ground level.

"It wasn't until someone looked closely at a geosat picture of West Antarctica that we realized there were huge ripples in the ice covering an area the size of the state of California, and that they moved against the wind, and were covered in sastrugi running parallel to the wind, and nobody had the slightest idea how something like that would happen."

While Tony and I go out to bring uninhabited places closer to society, Ted and team are heading out to the -40 degree air temps and nearly -90 degree wind chill equivalent temp to attempt to solve one of nature's mysteries by meeting it in person.