In the mid 60s, a documentary was made about two surfers who follow “summer” around the world so that they can surf all year long. Starting in California, they head to various African countries, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii. The movie greatly expanded the horizons for surfers and in the mid 90s, a sequel was produced that retraces the original route of the first movie, showing the extent to which surfing has spread and evolved as a result of the first movie.
In much the same way, although for different reasons and with a different routing, I feel I’m chasing my own endless summer: as the boreal summer draws to a close – which is a little hard to believe when temperatures are still reaching into the 90s on the Fahrenheit scale – the countdown begins for my return to the Ice for the austral summer: T-15 days.
Let me back up a bit, though…
My post-Ice travels were awesome. I won’t rehash them too much because I know my friends on Facebook have already seen the pictures.
New Zealand was gorgeous – I rode horses through Glenorchy and Paradise, which feature heavily in the Lord of The Rings movies as well as The Hobbit and Wolverine, I swam with dolphins, I relaxed on a beach, and became re-accustomed to paying for things, crossing streets, and nighttime.
Australia was mostly spent relaxing at the country estate of long-standing family friends, going fishing, and exploring Sydney where I became reacquainted with skyscrapers – they really can be overwhelming. I even treated myself to a show at the Opera House.
Malaysia and Viet Nam were all about time with my parents. I got to visit the clinic where I was born, my first two homes, eat tons of roti canai, satay, barbecue pork, and mi goreng, reconnect with old friends and, when we got to Viet Nam, Mom and I threw a little Easter party for some friends with kids and we decorated the house for all the holidays I had missed while I was on the Ice.
Then it was on to London where I had lived four years earlier but hadn’t been back to visit since. I visited old haunts and friends from culinary school (Nicole and Betty), college (Ariella, Gajan, Mike), and even high school (Diede and Aisling) and had an entire weekend of rugby with Phillip, a friend from Cork, Ireland that I had met once five years ago in Connecticut but hadn’t seen since (what can I say, rugby brings people together). To top it all off, my hosts treated me to the very best of the London culinary scene and even arranged for me to stage for two days in one of the best kitchens in England. It was incredible.
And finally I got back to NorCal for the bulk of summer, which absolutely flew past in a wash of the very best the area has to offer. I landed a job at Stanford University, working at Schwab Executive Dining – a kitchen that caters to the Executive Education department of the Graduate School of Business – and found a room in a lovely little house only five miles away. I biked to work most mornings, enjoying being outdoors in the wee hours when it was just me and the squirrels (I started at 6 am). My coworkers were talented, curious, and inspirational and the kitchen’s operating budget was generous enough that only the best proteins and produce were used – I was in heaven. I made new friends and rekindled relationships with old ones. I went running, rock-climbing, backpacking and hiking and I enjoyed the freedom of being able to get in my car at 9pm on a Wednesday night and drive to my partner-in-crime’s house for a quick catch-up. I went wine-tasting in Napa, learned to surf in Santa Cruz, and went to my first ever County Fair where I watched pig races while eating pulled pork sandwiches. I got to spend time with my brother and my godson learned my name (among many many many many many other words). And during all that and more, I plugged away at all the medical tests and paperwork that were required for me to PQ (physically qualify) and DQ (deployment qualify) for my return to McMurdo Station.
Initially, my contract was supposed to start at the end of August, but around early April, I got news from Todd, the Culinary Manager, that the number of seats available to galley staff on the Winfly flights had drastically been reduced due to budget cuts and I would be deploying in September instead. (Winfly is basically like Spring – it’s the period in between Winter and “Mainbody” which is Summer.) Then the estimate for deployment got pushed back further into mid-October. Then it got moved up to early October. If you read the posts from last austral summer, you will remember how all plans on the Ice involve a healthy dose of uncertainty. It’s nice to see that hasn’t changed, right?
But now I’m ticketed and on my way to being packed and I will be flying out of Seattle on the 3rd of October, with my flight to McMurdo scheduled for the 7th of October, insha’allah. This year, I’ve shipped some things down ahead of me – mostly small little luxury items I’d wished I’d had last year simply to make life more pleasant. Still, I’m a little worried about packing since our luggage allotment to Christchurch has been reduced from two 70 lb bags to two 50 lb bags. Last year my bags were very underweight but this year is going to be different for two very big reasons:
The first is that I’ve decided to attempt the McMurdo Marathon, which means I’ll need to bring some extra workout clothes. I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time. While I know I can do it physically, the out-and-back course – as I pointed out last February – is a lonely road and mentally, it’s going to be a trial. But I like the idea of having a project to keep me focused and to structure my time off and if that project gets me back in shape, it’s all to the better, right? So I started training in the middle of August and so far it’s been going decently enough but I’ve started doing some of the runs on treadmills since that’s where I’ll be running for the first couple months at McMurdo and it is dreadfully boring, even with music. So any and all encouragement with the training and the actual run is very very welcome. Please. I’ll need it.
The second reason packing is different this year is the really big reason: my endless summer will not be so endless in 2014. Instead of coming off the Ice in March, I will instead be flying further south to spend the winter at the South Pole. You see, sometime this past June, the Executive Chef at the South Pole station – in fact the man who hired me last year – called me and asked if I’d be interested in a winter contract at Pole as my Culinary Manager had recommended me to him. Now, a lot of people had asked me, as I came off the Ice this past March, what was next for me in Antarctica and I had said that I’d really like to see how the other stations are run and maybe eventually I’d like to try wintering. Well, here was a man offering me an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! I went through the interview process and was eventually offered the position, contingent on my passing the additional PQ requirements for a Winter at Pole. The additional requirements included an HIV test, an ultrasound of my gallbladder (and other organs), a Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone test, a chest X-ray, and a psychological evaluation, to be conducted in Denver. Of all these, it was the psych eval I was perhaps most nervous about: last season, of the six cooks at McMurdo who had taken it, only three passed.
But, along with my ticket to Christchurch on October 3rd, I received the final word from the University of Texas Medical Branch – who handles all things PQ related – that I was cleared for winter deployment to the South Pole. Mostly I’m excited by this prospect but there is a bit of trepidation as well. Pole is very different from MacTown and Winter is very different from Summer. Here are the things I know so far: It’s very cold. It’s very dark. I will be one of the 3 cooks on station. The total station population for Winter is about 40. We do not have Internet access 24 hours a day. Medevacs are really not an option. The station’s elevation is 9000 feet.
At any rate, I’m now packing for approximately 13-14 months, instead of only 5, and I’m trying to anticipate what will keep me happy and healthy in a community of 40, in the dark, at 9000 feet of elevation, for nine months. Suggestions are welcome.
And that’s where things stand now, as I resurrect the blog for my second season on the Ice. So welcome back, readers; it’s going to be an interesting year!