Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's cold

Yep, I arrived on station today. It's impressive, and seemingly cold, but probably because I left 70+ degree weather. Its around 30 F here, not too bad considering I suppose. Pics coming soon. Just wanted to give a quick update. It's busy here, and there is a lot I have yet to figure out, and information isn't exactly forthcoming and obvious. After finding the proper building, and stuff, it was dinner time, and after dinner, I find myself writing this, and soon after this, the people who made "Planet Earth" for the discovery channel will be presenting some footage they are making for an Antarctic film. I figured that should be interesting. Hopefully I'll have something more meaningful to post tomorrow. I'm tired of traveling. Now I just have to figure out how to wake myself up in the morning to go to work (I forgot an alarm clock).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tourism on the Cheap

So, I've spent the last 3 days traveling the South Island. The first, a bus ride to Akaroa, secondly, a visit to a location where Lord of the Rings was filmed, and thirdly (yesterday) a Train ride over the southern Alps to Greymouth, with a one hour layover then the ride back. After spending cash on that, and the potential of possibly flying south today, I had nothing planned. I arrived back to the hotel last night hoping to find a letter under my door saying I would get to fly today, but alas, nothing. So spent the morning doing some laundry, and going to my favorite breakfast place; Cafe Roma. There are a few breakfast specialty stores around, and they are all REALLY good. And they are usually so busy that you need a "booking" to get a seat before the close in the early afternoon (a Booking Kiwi for Reservation, and "Takeway" is the same for "to go"). I managed to get in this morning with out a booking. Seems easier to do when you are by yourself, depending on how they have tables configured, or a bar to sit at.
After Brunch, I visited the Art Center, which is by the botanic gardens. Entry is free, and there are plenty of galleries on display, where you can buy pretty much everything you see. All types of craft are there, from Jewelry making, pottery, wood turning, weaving, painting, and photography. Very nice. I probably spent a good 4 hours walking around there looking at everything. On weekends they also have a local street market as well, which was nice. Lots different yummy food vendors to choose from. Egyptian, Greek, Japanese, Thai, Korean, and lots more. Within the Art center buildings is also an exhibit called "Rutherford's Den." For those of you who don't know who this man is, he is the discoverer of Nuclear Energy. That exhibit is free, and is very well done (Though Donation's are appreciated). You get to see some of the equipment he used to work with, as well as the actually room where many of his experiments have been done. There is also a well preserved lecture hall from when the building used to be part of the University of Canterbury.
After that, I walked across the street to the Canterbury Museum. Again, this was free, donations appreciated. It was way bigger than I expected. It has exhibits that explain the history of Christchurch, all the way to geologic history of the area, dinosaurs, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Antarctic, and modern issues. All very impressive and well worth a visit. If you are ever in the area, I recommend stopping buy these places before you leave.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Visit to Middle Earth

So the roller coaster of "We're flying... no we aren't, yes we are, no we aren't" continues. About an hour before scheduled departure from the hotel last night (11:45 pm) I received yet another call saying the flight has been delayed by an unknown amount of time, and "we'll be in touch." Oh Joy! So I turned my alarm off, and tried to go to sleep. I had pumped myself full of caffeine, by consuming large amounts of dark chocolate, 3 cups of tea, and a tall espresso during dinner. So between that, and the mounting frustrations of all of this, I have to say, that was about the worst night of sleep I have had since I arrived.
That morning I received word that we were going to be scheduled to leave Monday morning. Great. Its Friday here, and now I've got to find stuff to do. Soooo, my colleague whom I have been traveling with, and I booked ourselves on a Lord of the Rings tour. This is my preferred way of viewing the scenery of any particular country, but hey, hassle free transportation, lunch was provided, and if they were good, a decent commentary to go along. Why not. Overall, I'm quite satisfied with what you get for the price. The only drawback, is I didn't get to stop at every place I would have liked to take a photo. The vehicle (see picture) we were in was off road capable (3 axles, 6 wheels total) and it had a snorkel to go through some deeper water, which we did (about 2 feet deep), and was pretty fun. Yeah, I know, its not crazy serious off roading, but the things designed to hold about 20 people, what do you expect?
Also, while we were at it, I decided to take a train ride over the Southern Alps to the west coast as well. That's tomorrow. I hope the weather was as great as it was today. Amazing. I haven't decided if I would ever want to live here or not, but it certainly wouldn't be the worst place to live on the planet. I'd honestly say its one of the best, of the places I've been so far. It just seems remote to me. Perhaps I'd think differently if more than just my nuclear family came with me.
So I'll leave you with a few photos from the Akoroa trip from yesterday, and some Edoras photos from today. Just a sampling though. I don't care for the editing choices I get in Picasa, and I'm used to Adobe Lightroom, so all my final picture posts won't be until I get home.

On the way in, it was a cool ,windy, overcast morning.

By Afternoon the clouds started to break up. This was in the main little harbor area.

On the trip back, we stopped for a sunnier picture.

The vehicle we rode in.
First siting of the hill the set was built in. (center rightish)
Just a nice shot. Actually, just left off the shot is the background to Helms Deep. You'll have to wait to see. All of the "dust" is just that. It's "rock flour" on the river beds kicked up by the winds this area is well known for. Wind gusts up to 110 mph are common. When I was there, it blew my glasses off my face.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On my way.

So, it turns out that I was scheduled to fly out this morning, but somehow got bumped by a few Italians who had "more urgent things to tend to" on the ice. That meant that I had yet another day to blow on the south island here. So I celebrated my Thanksgiving touring in Akaroa. It was about 1.5 hour tour bus ride from Christchurch. Overall, very nice place. Apparently its popular for its marine tours. You can take wildlife boat rides, rides to go swim with dolphins, or a sailboat ride where they'll let you help sail. Being the land lover that I am, I opted to take a nice hike up out of the caldera, to see what I could see. Was a quite enjoyable day really. I have some nice pictures that I'll post once I get down to the ice. I'm scheduled to leave the hotel tonight at 0045. The actually plane is scheduled to lift its wheels around 0400. Looks like its finally happening. Just wanted to give a quick update. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2 photos

The pictures, as previously mentioned:
This is the main church in the center square of Christchurch. I wasn't happy about the vendor cart, so hopefully it will be gone at some point with an equally nice sky on my way back.

Here's a picture of the 2 main types of planes that fly to the ice. In the foreground is an LC-130. These are the main mode of transportation between McMurdo station and South Pole. In the background is a C-17, and is what I hope to be on tomorrow morning, on my way to McMurdo.

For Best results, wash 3 times?

Yep... delayed 24 hours more. Crazy. Its going to become difficult to actually get the work done I was sent down there to do if this keeps up. On the flip side, I am getting work done in New Zealand that I was scheduled to do on my way back up, so maybe it will even out. Who knows. I think I've got some decent pictures of the church at the center of Christchurch. Haven't looked at them yet. But if they are decent I'll post them in a little while.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wash, rinse, repeat

Flight south delayed another 24 hours.... :-/

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Flight for Me... or anyone else.

I had my bags all packed, everything sorted, and organized for how I would need it. Carefully setup my "boomerang bag" with an extra days worth of clothing, and toiletries. Set my alarm for 4:50 AM. That should be just enough time to get up, take a quick shower, grab my things, and head down to the lobby to catch the 5:15 shuttle to the airport. If we were to boomerang, which means after we take off, it's been determined we can't land in Antarctica, we turn around and head back, we would be given our boomerang bag. All other checked luggage is kept palletized for up to four days. I was plenty tired and fell asleep quickly around 10:00 PM last night, only to be rudely awakened by a man with an Asian accent at 4:30 AM. Glancing at the clock before answering the phone, I almost immediately came to the conclusion that this phone call could not be good news. Either the flight was delayed, or something was wrong with the time on my clock, and I overslept. I assumed my first thoughts were more likely than the latter, and I was correct. Barely awake enough for my brain to process the heavily accented English coming from the man on the other end of the phone, I acknowledged what he had to say, hung up and turned off my alarm. The flight has been delayed 24 hours due to bad weather in Antarctica. I was to report to the CDC at 9:00 AM for further instructions, so, now here I sit, trying to figure out how to spend my day. I have work to do, and should probably do that.

Basically, wash, rinse, repeat for tomorrow morning, hopefully with a different outcome that results me sitting on a plane, trying to pass time by reading and listening to some tunes.

On another front, I have to say the food here is much more satisfying than it was in Punta Arenas, Chile. Lots of Asian around, especially Thai and Indian, but that doesn't really surprise me. Last night I got to eat at a place called "The Stonegrill." It was pretty neat. You select the meat you want. Mine happened to be Kangaroo, because I live trying new things, and adding another meat to my growing list of things I've tried is fun. Anyhow, the bring out a wicked hot 6x6 inch square, and probably 1.5 inch thick stone on a plate that's been heated to some searing hot temperature, with the chunks of raw meat on it. You then get to slice and cook the meat to your liking on the stone. It was fun, and pretty tasty. Overall, though, I can't say Kangaroo is my favorite (Elk is), but its not bad. It's a red meat without a very strong flavor, but was certainly moist and tender, as long is its kept to the rarer side of done. The pieces I cooked longer seemed tougher. So now I quest to find something to do for another day. I have to go get some Single Malt for some friends down on the ice, so that will take up some time, but certainly not all day. I've got some work I need to do anyway. Anyhow, just wanted to give a quick update, since most of you were probably expecting me to have some kind of "ice story" today. Sorry to disappoint.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Early Flight

I've just gone through clothing issue here at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), in Christchurch. The CDC building here houses the main US presence in New Zealand for the United States Antarctic program. I contains travel offices, logistical office, a post office, and all the gear that people deploying to the ICE get. I was impressed with the size of the building. It also seems relatively new, and is certainly in a lot better shape than the warehouse down in Punta Arenas, Chile that provides a similar job function for those going down to the peninsula. After getting all our gear, we had to try it on, and make sure everything was functioning properly (zippers, etc). Everything seemed fine to me. We were then briefed on how things work and when to get here etc. I have to report back here at 6:00 AM, get all weighed in, get a boarding pass and all that jazz, and then we take off. If all goes well, we won't boomerang and turn back.

Internet availability here in Christchurch (at least the legal way) is largely a for profit enterprise. It's quite expensive at the hotel. You can pay for a 2 hour connection and be limited to 30 MB of data transfer, our you can select a 24 hour option, which is a flat rate, and an additional charge per MB, with no cap. There are numerous internet cafes around too. I find it annoying to have to pay for an internet connection though, where its so freely available at most places in the US, at least that I frequent. Perhaps its just my American culture showing. Looking back at the places I've been, the hotel in Chile I stayed at offered free internet. However, the hotel in Amsterdam had a flat per day charge. The place I stayed at, in Germany was so small and tiny, and old seeming, I don't think it would have been capable of providing an internet connection. There was now wireless signal penetrating its walls either. There were internet cafes there as well. So I wonder what the general consensus is out in the world... Generally, do you have to pay to use the internet, or are more and more businesses, hotels, and restaurants providing free access to paying customers?

Sorry to not have any pictures up. My intentions are to just kinda survive until I get to the ice, and then start posting pictures of things there. When I get back off ice, and spend more time in Christchurch, I'll post more pictures then. Hopefully I'll get some good ones. The more and more I think about it, the more I kind of convince myself that doing some stupid touristy "Lord of the Rings" tour offered by a touring company sounds appealing. So I'll probably do that, and hopefully grab some nice pictures. Gotta justify the expense of paying for it somehow. So hopefully the next time I write, I'll have some initial "ice pictures" for you, and have my feet on Antarctic soil.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I lost a day somewhere.

Well, I have safely arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand. It's weird to have taken off on Thursday night, traveled for a total of about 15-16 hours and land where its Saturday. I'm missing a day somewhere. At least I'll get it back when I fly home, kind of.
It's overcast, and probably in the mid 60's here, and sprinkling occasionally. The flights, well, were flights. 13 hours stuck in economy isn't my idea of a great time. However, I've had a lot worse. Qantas airlines has a pretty sweet setup. Every seat had its own little 6" tv screen in the seat back in front, and in the arm rest was a removable (corded) remote control that controlled the video on demand system. There were a myriad of movies to choose from, as well, as a bunch of television programs. The remote control also had game pad style controls on it, and you could play old 16-bit gaming system quality games. So between that, my book, and trying to get some sleep, I managed to say fairly occupied. The seat configuration was in a 2-4-2 setup too, and I had the isle seat of the outside row. The only think to be aware of... If you ever fly into Auckland and make a domestic connection, be prepared to walk. The domestic terminal is a separate building and what seems like a good half mile path between the two. My connection was far enough apart time wise, that I didn't have a problem, it just took a bit to figure out we had to walk to another terminal.
Flying from Auckland to Christchurch was nice. I somehow managed to get booked in a first class seat. To bad the trip wasn't longer. Total flight time was about an hour. Try and get a seat looking west, as you get a nice view of the mountains. My first impressions of the place is its kinda like a Green Denver. Christchuch is on flat land, with big mountains off in the distance. But its obvious they actually get rain here. I visited the botanic gardens here to. I can't believe the size of some of the trees there. I took a bunch of pictures but probably won't upload them until tomorrow. My hotel internet connection is currently for 2 hours, and capped at 30 MB of data transfer, so I need to use wisely. (I should have composed this before getting online. Oh well.)
Tomorrow we go over to the USAP building and get all of our ECW gear (Extreme Cold Weather) and then on Monday (Sunday, in the US) we fly out. I guess that's all I have to report for now, and I've a bunch of e-mail to sort through. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

California, first impressions

Well, my short time in California is about up. My first thoughts of the state aren't anything great...
  1. I'm surprised its not greener. I was expecting something more like Georgia I guess, but it seems more like Denver, with Palm trees. I suspect I'd have to go further north for things to "green up." That does explain the wildfires though.
  2. Yes, the traffic around LA is absolutely as bad is they say it is.
  3. Are the houses here really worth what the asking prices are? They sure don't look it.
  4. It's the end of November, and temps are in the high 60's.... but it was in the high 60's when I left Denver too. I suspect they are much more stable here though
  5. I'm reminded that the beach really does not do anything for me. Don't care for the feel of sand in my toes, or the sticky feeling the air leaves on my skin. The water didn't seem all that warm either.
  6. Houses on cliffs are probably not the safest things to live in.
  7. The people seem nice enough around here
  8. I do find the geography of the area appealing, mountains around the horizon.
  9. Eucalyptus trees are neat looking, but I imagine they aren't a native species.
Tomorrow we'll drive back down the pacific coast highway to LA. Should be much better this time, since it will be daylight. The drive north was simply nerve wracking. I don't care for driving in unfamiliar land at night, and the lanes were narrow at points. It was also disappointing to not have any kind of view. The plane takes off for for New Zealand at 8 PM pacific time, and then I'm stuck on it for 13 hours. Yipee! I heard that Qantas flights are pretty nice though. We'll see.

Well, in closing, I'll leave you with a few photos I took at the beach in Port Hueneme during sunset tonight

Friday, November 14, 2008

T minus 4 days

So all my flights and hotels have been booked through my companies travel department, travel documents collected, and itineraries confirmed with the people I am meeting at various locations to conduct business.  Next Tuesday I start my journey to highest, driest, coldest, windiest, most isolated place on earth, the South Pole.  Some may argue if it is truly all those things,  I can neither confirm or deny it.  Its a large banner in my office, and it sounds good.  I think the trip overall should be fun, though busy.  Tuesday my co-worker and I leave Denver to go to LA.  From there we'll rent a car and drive to Port Hueneme, CA.  I was hoping to drive up the pacific coast highway and get some nice views and photos, but I think its going to be dark by the time I get my luggage, etc.  Maybe I'll luck out and get some nice pacific sunsets.
Thursday we then drive back to LA, and begin our long flight to the southern hemisphere.  We'll arrive at Auckland, NZ and then take a connection to the south island, and the city of Christchurch.  The day after we arrive, we'll be issued all of our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear, and the day after that, we board a C-17 for the flight to McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica.  Provided all goes well, we won't "boomerang" back to NZ.  That typically happens if conditions become to difficult to land at McMurdo.  Once there we'll spend a little over a week doing some work, and then prepare for our flight to the South Pole on an LC-130.   Spend just under a week there, and then begin the journey back to Christchurch.  Once we're back at Christchurch, we spend a few days going over their computer systems.  Currently I'm scheduled to arrive home on Christmas eve, but I hope to be able to catch an earlier flight home.
I'm seriously procrastinating on the packing side of things.  I've decided that I'm just going to pack one of my hiking backpacks.  The tricky part is having to pack clothes for New Zealand (it's their summer) and also for the cold of Antarctica.  Typically temps at McMurdo are from the 20-40 degree F range, but I should expect highs to be -20 at South Pole, and that's being optimistic.   At the time of this writing its currently -37.5 F with a windchill of -59.5 F.  You can get updates for South Pole weather here, or here.  Currently, McMurdo has a temp of 17.6 F.  Weather info here, and here.  I've been thinking of bringing some of my hiking gear and trying to go for a quick overnight hiking trip while in New Zealand.  We'll see how things work out.  It will likely depend on how much I pack.
I'll be Internet connected for most of the trip, though South Pole only has a 9 hour period of satellite connectivity each day.  I should be able to make frequent updates here though, and I hope to post a bunch of pictures to share with everyone.  Unlike my last trip though, I won't be renting a big huge expensive lens to take with me.  I don't think the photo opportunities will present themselves like they did at Palmer station.  I also need a good excuse to practice getting better with the equipment that I have, rather being frustrated not having the equipment I want.
So a little update on the Alpine Rescue Team thing, I went to one of the 2 prospective member meetings last Monday.  The other meeting is being held while I'm deployed.  31 new people attended that meeting alone.  Wow!  There's only 8-12 slots open and they haven't even had the other meeting yet.  Makes me kind of nervous.  I've been going to trainings, and trying to meet people and show interest, ever since I found out about them.  Hopefully that relationship building will help out a little.  I turned my application in (I was the first one), and will have first pick of interview times.  First come first serve.  Turns out that the person in charge of the perspective member stuff actually spent a season in Antarctica as well.  Maybe that will help too :)  They aren't necessarily looking for people with all kinds of mad skills, but more for people who have the time and are willing to give it to the team.  So I filled out the application trying to emphasize that my past experience have shown my commitment to those teams, and that I'm willing to provide the same kind of commitment to this one too.  We'll see.  Interviews will be January 11-13th.
So with that, it's likely that the next time I post, I'll be in California, so until then, cheers!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Feeling Inspired

I don't have a whole lot to report.  Well, maybe I do, the more I think about it.  Got a promotion at work last week.  Not bad almost exactly a year to date at this new job, and things are working out well.  I enjoy the people I work with the most.  Doing Federal Government work certainly has its drawbacks, but there's a lot to be said about working with a bunch of intelligent people.  That was the hardest part about leaving my previous job, and really the only thing I miss from it.  That's likely to be the hardest thing about this job, should that day come.  Going to Antarctica on occasion is pretty sweet too, I must admit.  Though, if Geoffrey were older, I would seriously consider spending a season down there, especially if I could get Jess a job there too.

So I've now officially been in Colorado for a year now.  We arrived a year ago, to the day.  Looking back, I'm glad we made the decision to come out.  This place is everything I've thought it could be, and more.  Probably the biggest part of my life that I left back in Pennsylvania was the Fire Department and the Urban Search and Rescue Team.  I had a lot of time and energy invested in that, and I miss the service.  Much of the Volunteer fire companies around here involve a serious time commitment, which usually involves staffing the station.  Something I just don't want to commit to around here, especially living so far away from a station.  The area that I live in now is staffed by a career department.  With that in mind, I have begun looking elsewhere, locally to apply some of the knowledge I've gained.  I ran across the Alpine Rescue Team.  It's something I've wanted to become a member of, but wasn't sure if I could until I moved more into the "mountains."  After visiting one of their training session, it seems like it may be more of a possibility than I thought.  Only problem is they seem to have the opposite problem facing most volunteer companies in Pennsylvania; too much interest.  As a way to combat that, they only open up to new members once every 2 years, and from the 30+ applicants, select 8-12 people.  Everyone gets interviewed, and then you go through a "training course."  I look forward to it, should I be accepted.

On a somewhat "Alpine" related topic, tomorrow and Tuesday are the final days of the Altitude Mountain Sickness study I am involved in.  Talking with the staff there, I found out that I'll be locked in the chamber with Climber and Mountaineer Pete Takeda.  I will admit that before I found out about this, I didn't really know who they guy was.  I recall the name vaguely, probably from articles I've read here and there.  Well, as you can see from his website, he's well published, and his most recent has one some awards.  I figured since I was going to spend 12+ hours in a small chamber with him, I'd read his book and have something to talk about with him.  

As far as the book goes, I'd give it two thumbs up.  I don't read much, especially "stories," fiction or non.  Most of the stuff I read are often technical books related to the computing industry.  This book has inspired me to do otherwise.  I truly enjoyed it.  So much so that I went out and bought another(similar) book at the bookstore tonight.  The reviews of Mr. Takeda's book, An Eye at the Top of the world, are accurate.  It is well written, and keeps you locked into his story. It's hard to believe that the people went as far as placing nuclear powered device on top of some of the worlds tallest mountains.  Maybe its hindsight, but it just doesn't seem to intelligent to me.   After reading his story, I look forward to spending some time with him, though I'm not certain its anything he may enjoy talking about, we'll see.  The story has really inspired me to want to peruse some more technical mountaineering skills though.  Its just a matter of finding people to go with, as its certainly not something to do alone.  Also involves a little more gear acquisition too.