And now for something completely different…

Well, that last post was a bit heavy, so this one is going to focus on the lighter side of things, particularly as in the last week+, I’ve probably been going out to play way more than maybe I should be doing.

During a conversation at a bar just over a week ago, I laid down a date and time for a young firefighter (the one I had been talking to just before Thanksgiving) to come in and do some prep work for us. Granted, the guy is 24 and the conversation was had at a bar, after midnight, after alcohol had been consumed. So colour me very surprised when he showed up at the appointed date and time last Monday, ready for work! Sorry, but I’ve been living in a state where flakiness is the standard, so I was duly impressed that Roger not only remembered what we’d discussed but followed through on his commitment to do it. I kitted him out with a cut-resistant glove and an apron and lent him my knife and was then even more surprised when he proved to know his ass from his elbow in the kitchen! Not only did he get through all his tasks with decent speed but he seemed to enjoy himself and pledged to come back on his next day off. Score one more prep cook for Sarah and me!

Towards the end of that week, we learned that Sarah was going to Happy Camper over Friday and Saturday. This meant that she and I would be switching days off so I would be working 8 days in a row but would have Sunday off, like most everyone else in Town. This would also mean that I would get to eat brunch like a normal person, instead of having to wait for everyone else to get their food before picking amongst the leftovers, as is usually what happens when you work in the galley on Sundays. While I wasn’t looking forward to an 8 day work week, I was very excited about brunch (it’s the little things, really), and even more excited for Sarah.

Happy Camper is the informal name for Snow Craft I Course, which is  required of everyone with a job that keeps them out of doors or away from station. The course lasts two days and one night and teaches the skills and knowledge necessary to live out of a survival bag (which are required to be carried with you as part of your job). Such skills include but are not limited to cold weather adaptation; cold injury prevention, recognition, and treatment; local geography and weather patterns; risk assessment and management; and VHF and HF radio operation.  The night is spent sleeping in tents or ice shelters you build yourself. The required survival bag you’re provided with contains: 2 bivouac sacks, 1 tube of burning paste, 1 cook set with utensils and mugs, 2 short sleeping pads, 1 first aid kit, 1 bundle of food to support two people for three days, 2 ice screws, 4 boxes of matches, 1 bag of miscellaneous cold weather clothing, 1 mountain tent, 2 fuel bottles, 1 Whisperlite stove, 50 feet of parachute cord, 1 signal mirror, 1 sledge hammer, 2 sleeping bags, 1 sno saw, 1 collapsible snow shovel, 10 assorted stakes (assumingly for vampires?), 1 survival manual, 1 Swiss Army knife, and 1 loo roll. You are encouraged to take extra clothes and snacks with you. Everyone I know that has gone has had an amazing experience and you generally feel a special bond with the people with whom you go through Happy Camper. Because neither of us are required to work outside, both Sarah and I fall under the category of “moralee” which means if there are extra spaces, in the course, they’re offered to our department and if our bosses can spare us or want to give us a “morale boost”, we get to go. We’ve both been dying to do it and now she finally gets to go!

The night before she was to depart, we celebrated the glorious weather she would be having for her Happy Camper experience by sunbathing with music and beer on the steps behind our dorm.

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While it’s undoubtedly more pleasant to do something like Happy Camper with warmer temperatures, less wind, and sunshine, I have to say that ever since my Sea Ice Training, I kind of enjoy being out when it’s cold, snowy, and blustery because it reminds me what a harsh continent it is and puts me in mind of that with which Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, et al had to cope. (Also, “It’s a harsh continent” is the standard answer when people start complaining about not having little luxuries like fresh vegetables or triple-ply loo roll).

This reminds me, I’m not sure I’ve gone into how weather reports work here. Below is our intranet homepage. Obviously there’s the standard info on the left, that gives the temperature, wind-chill, skies, etc. Then there’s the little box on the right with Weather Condition on top and all green 3s at the end of each line.

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Identical versions of this can be found on one of the television channels as well as on a large flatscreen right next to the main entrance/exit to Building 155.

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There are three condition ratings for weather here. Condition 3 is what it’s at most of the time during the summer. “Con 3” is defined as winds at less than 48 knots, visibility greater than or equal to 1/4 mile, and a wind chill temperature above -75 degrees F. Unrestricted travel and activity are allowed in Con 3. Condition 2 is defined as 48 to 55 knot winds sustained for 1 minute OR visibility less than 1/4 mile but greater than or equal to 100 feet sustained for one minute, OR a wind chill temperature of between -75 and -100 degrees F sustained for one minute. In Con 2, pedestrian traffic is only allowed between buildings and vehicular traffic must check out with the Firehouse and is only allowed in radio-equipped, enclosed vehicles. Condition 1 is defined as winds greater than 55 knots sustained for one minute, OR visibility less than 100 feet sustained for one minute, OR a wind chill temperature below -100 degrees F sustained for one minute. At Con 1, all personnel are required to remain in the buildings or the nearest shelter.

When I did Sea Ice Training, it was solidly Con 2, which I thought made it particularly awesome, albeit cold and difficult to maneuvre.  Con 1 is seen rarely during the summer but, as they say, it’s a harsh continent and you just never know. The coolest thing I learned about the weather was during my Outdoor Safety Lecture, where we were told that the worst of our weather comes north from the Pole. Because we point pretty much directly south, if you look out past the chapel and can’t see Minna Bluff, and the wind is blowing into your face, you’ve got a few hours before the storm hits. If you look out past the chapel and can no longer see White Island and the wind is blowing into your face, you might want to make sure you have shelter to hand. Cool, no? Anyway, we were solidly in gorgeous Con 3 weather, so Sarah was going to have a blast for sure.

And in between and around all of this work and excitement over Happy Camper, Sarah and I had been going out to play quite a bit and as a result, I’ve started getting to know some of the firefighters better. While most of them are quite young, I no longer believe they are completely  interchangeable and have become quite fond of a lot of them, even though I feel like their sister/mother a lot of the time.

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There’s Justin, the firefighter/IT guy from Kansas who is a wealth of knowledge on all things McMurdo-related and was probably the first non-kitchen person to acknowledge me when I switched from Midrats to Days.

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Jesse, from San Diego, who likes to piss me off by wearing a Cal shirt when he comes in to volunteer in the dishpit. Can someone send me a Stanford shirt for him please? This must be fixed. He’s also the only person I’ve ever met who will borrow money from you and then pay you back that night.

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Brandon, who is in LOVE with my sunglasses, is always good for a hug. Yeah, remember how long it took for me to find/decide on sunglasses? Apparently I chose the “most awesome” ones. It’s gotten to the point where the minute I see him, I take my glasses off and hand them over so he can run around with them. The funny part is that Jesse and I have the exact same style but everyone seems to like the finish on mine better.

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Greg was on my flight down, and someone with whom I’ve enjoyed chatting with in the Coffee House a lot, particularly about literature. We’ve also apparently broken into a discussion of French wines, in French, whilst drinking Coors Light around a poker table in a dorm lounge at midnight. Can you say “classy”?

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Andrew is a Brockton, MA boy, former Marine, and a rugby fan who LOVES Ronan O’Gara, so we’ve usually got quite a bit to laugh about when he’s not occupied chasing a girl. He makes me miss New England like crazy.

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Josh is fairly new to me although that’s because he was already here, then went to Pole, and is now back. I find him completely delightful, mostly because he says pretty much everything he’s thinking, which makes for some pretty great spontaneous one-liners. This does, however, mean that if you go drinking with him, you will probably have to endure several (unnecessary) apologies the next morning. Still, how could you not want to hang out with someone who tells you, immediately after meeting you and learning your age, that “you don’t look bad for 30!” He cracks me up.

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And how could I forget my new prep volunteer? I’ve gotten to know Roger (aka Mr Swishy, aka Prep Monkey, but only in the kitchen) better than most thanks to his time in the kitchen – true to his word, since the first day, he’s come in on all his days off. Not only has it been great having the help but I’ve really enjoyed hearing his stories – they’re pretty unusual, and coming from me and my friends, that’s saying something! He’s a certified ice-diver, rock-climber, a former professional paintballer, and his father manages/conducts a 50s and 60s swing/big band orchestra something-or-other (I’m not going to get those details correct, I’m sure), which meant he spent a good part of his childhood on a lot of cruise ships. He’s a professional firefighter and EMT and also an arson investigator. If you know me at all, you know how much I love learning about stuff I know nothing about and learning about fires is  fascinating. Roger has shown me how you can read the aftermath of a fire like a map to see where the fire likely started and how it moved through the house or car. It’s catnip to me! And when the kid gets drunk? Oh my lord, ridiculousness always ensues – there have been dog piles (I may have come out the worse for that one, my tailbone is still bruised), wedgie wars, and more than a few dance-offs. We’ve also bonded over a mutual love of Top Gear.

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And thank goodness I’ve always got Sarah, my awesome co-worker and friend who can make me laugh so hard I cry, three or four times every day. She loves hugs, rolling her own cigarettes, making people happy with food, being outside, and dancing. My favorite days are when she needs help or just wants company on the sandwich line so we can be out in the galley together being silly, dancing to Lady Gaga on her phone while we make sandwiches, and giving out free hugs to everyone who comes by.

*Phew* This was a longer post than I intended but I wanted to give an idea of some of the people I’ve come to know and love down here, as well as what I’ve been up to in the last week.

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