Sunday, January 29, 2012


the bridge of remembrance at the end of cashel street

On February 22, 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit an already quake-rattled Christchurch, destroying lives and buildings. I had left the city only a day before to head back to Antarctica, and only spent two days in the suburbs of the city when I returned in October, so this visit was my first to the downtown area (now considered a "red zone") since it was closed down last year.

January 23 was my day to visit the city. The morning began at 6:45 AM with a magnitude 4.5 aftershock, which woke up our hotel and shook those of us who'd never been in a quake before. There was no damage, just a bit of back-and-forth, but we were all awake and decided to start off early.

My first stop was to visit the Cashel Street Mall Re:Start. In the February quake, the Cashel St. Mall was badly destroyed, and dozens of stores were lost. The Re:Start project was a brilliant, innovative decision to re-open the mall using shipping containers in bright, fun colors. Stores and cafes are now operating once again thanks to Re:Start!

But right next door to the rebuilding, downtown Christchurch stands in a state of limbo, eerily quiet and empty. The rubble has been cleared away, leaving skeletons of buildings. It gives you a chill down your spine.

I love Christchurch, and I want nothing more than to see the city back on its feet and thriving. So while the destruction is bitter, the knowledge that rebuilding will follow makes it bearable.

the remains of the grand chancellor hotel, slowly being taken apart by a crane

The afternoon was sunny and warm, so I revisited the famous Christchurch Botanic Gardens and lounged in the grass. Nine months with no plants or flowers makes you really appreciate nature when you can be near it!

Christchurch is an amazing city, and is a second home to many people in the U.S. Antarctic Program. I can't wait to spend more time there when I redeploy later this year, and to visit it in future years as the Garden City becomes a City Within a Garden.

Friday, January 27, 2012

traveling, part two

On January 17, I began my travels back to Antarctica, for nine months of wintering at McMurdo Station. Mostly, this involved a lost of sitting in airports, sitting on airplanes, and sitting in orientation briefings. But in between all of the sitting, there was a bit of fun and running around with friends who I haven't seen in several months.

I'll do a post specifically about my time in Christchurch in the next day or two.

01: Dallas to Denver

I said goodbye to my family and boarded a plane from Dallas to Denver on January 17. My flight group was scheduled for two days of orientation at the Raytheon Polar Services headquarters in Denver before departing for the Ice.

the plane flew over my neighborhood as we took off, so I said goodbye to home

02: Denver to Los Angeles

A quick flight to LAX, where we had a six hour layover. Thankfully, my friend Heather got us into the Admiral's Lounge, which made the wait much more tolerable.

los angeles in the sunset, a nice reflection from my sunrise photo on my last flight to lax

03: Los Angeles to Auckland, NZ to Christchurch, NZ

Thirteen hours to Auckland, and another hour and a half to Christchurch, but finally we arrived! Due to a change in McMurdo's flight operations, our flight for the morning of January 23 was rescheduled to late that night, which meant we had two and a half days in the city.

the united states antarctic program hanger at christchurch international airport

04: Christchurch, NZ to McMurdo Station

And at last, at 9 PM on the evening of the 23rd, we boarded a flight for the five and a half hour flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Our plane (a C-17) was full of cargo, which made it a bit cramped for the passengers!

a plane full of cargo... we squeezed in to seats along the wall

So after exactly 100 days off the continent, I've finally returned to my home on the Ice. It's still summer season in McMurdo, but winter will begin in just over a month, and we have a lot of incredibly interesting things going on here in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

antarctica, at last

I arrived in McMurdo Station, Antarctica at about 3:00 AM on Tuesday morning, and have spent the last two days attempting to acclimate to life on the Ice again. I need to put up a post about my travels from the US to New Zealand, but that will have to wait just a little longer.

In the meantime, I leave you with a comic drawn by a McMurdo resident named Tessa Hulls (who can be found online at

click for full size

Monday, January 16, 2012

antarctica in the news

There have been quite a few news stories lately concerning Antarctica, many specifically about McMurdo Station, so I thought I would collect a few of them to share here.

Strong earthquake hits off Antarctica's coast (January 16, 2012)

A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck Sunday off the coast of Antarctica, prompting a warning that there was a "small possibility" it could trigger a tsunami. The tremor was centered in waters south of South America's southern tip, about 334 miles (539 kilometers) west of Coronation Island and 388 miles northeast of Palmer Station in Antarctica, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

3 dead, 37 rescued in Antarctic fishing boat fire (January 11, 2012)

Fire raged out of control on a fishing ship near Antarctica as the crew tried to fight back the flames early Wednesday. Three fishermen died, and two of the 37 rescued had severe burns. The Jung Woo 2, got into trouble in the Ross Sea about 370 miles (595 kilometers) north of the U.S. McMurdo Station Antarctic base.

Another story about the Jung Woo 2's accident can be found here, from

Lockheed's $2B polar project under attack (January 12, 2012)

CH2M Hill Antarctic Support, Inc. is protesting a $2 billion contract won by Lockheed Martin Corp. to support the U.S. Antarctic Research program in the South Pole. The contract is to provide logistical support and implement infrastructure for the three workstations located in the South Pole, McMurdo and Palmer. The work runs the gamut from keeping computer networks running in the harsh conditions, to installing light bulbs and bringing in food and supplies.

And, of course, not all of the news is gloomy:

A new crab has been discovered on the Southern Ocean floor of the Antarctic, and has been named after actor David Hasselhoff

photo from washington post

Thursday, January 12, 2012

traveling, part one

With my deployment date looming, I made a last-minute decision to travel for the last week, seeing a lot of friends from my previous trip to Antarctica, as well as some old co-workers. Over 4,000 miles of flying and driving later, I'm back home, with just enough time to finish packing before the next part of my traveling commences.

01: Dallas to Los Angeles

The journey began at 5:30 AM, with an early flight to LAX.

los angeles, early morning

02: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (and back)

Unfortunately, I just missed my connection. Instead of waiting around for the next flight, I decided to rent a car and make the short, lovely drive up the coast. It was a beautiful day, and I arrived to spend two days in Santa Barbara with my friend Dan (a fellow McMurdo winterover in 2011).

the santa barbara coast

03: Los Angeles to San Francisco

After driving back to L.A., I hopped a flight up the coast to San Francisco, where I spent four days with my friend Pablo (who I met while living at the South Pole) and his family, relaxing and exploring the city.

ghiradelli square from the bay

04: San Francisco to Chicago

Chicago was my home before I went to Antarctica in October 2010, and this was the first time I'd been back since leaving. It was great to see my old friends and co-workers, as well as Edwina and James, two friends I met at McMurdo!

the chicago skyline

05: Chicago to Dallas

Two days in Chicago, and then back to Dallas, my home base for the last two months. It was a lot to squeeze into a very short amount of time, but it was my last trip before I head off in four days, and it was a great chance to enjoy time with friends in some of my favorite cities in the entire world!

Part two of my travels will begin in four days, and will follow my trip from Dallas to Denver, on to LAX, and then Auckland, New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ, and finally down to McMurdo Station, Antarctica for nine months!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

packing for antarctica

One question I frequently get (after the initial "Are you crazy?!" and "But what do you do down there?") is, "How do you prepare for something like nine months in Antarctica?"

The answer is, "Very carefully."

There are two very important things to remember when packing for Antarctica:
1. You're going to be there for a pretty long time (in my case, nine months).
2. There is no store. In fact, during the winter, there is no mail, no airplanes, no physical contact with the outside world whatsoever.

My packing list looks like a Frankenstein combination of one's vacation list and one's grocery list. There's the usual shoes, shirts, socks, although everything must be packed with the knowledge that if something rips or gets a whole in it, it can't be replaced. So socks actually translates to 15 (or so) pairs. And then there's the food; while we get three square a day, and have access to a small store for chips and snacks, there's no way to get your favorite treats unless you send them down yourself. So peanut butter, canned soup, granola bars, and dark chocolate also get thrown into the stack.

The end result is a stack of rather heavy boxes in the back of your car, being hauled down to the local post office:

(These are only three of the eventual six boxes to ship. In my defense, this means I don't have to take a huge suitcase with me on the plane!)

The "what if" plays a big role. "What if I run out of soap? Can I buy more in the store there, or do I need to have a specific brand?" Many common items-- toothpaste, Aspirin, shampoo-- can be purchased there, but you're limited to the brands they have.

All in all, packing for Antarctica requires a lot of forethought. You have to try to anticipate your needs and wants months in advance, and hope that you hit the happy medium between "packed too much" and "packed too little".

With just over a week to go before I fly out (for orientation, and then to New Zealand), I'm starting to go into packing overdrive, frantically rushing to make sure my boxes are mailed and my luggage is packed!

Number of days until I'm on the Ice: 15

Sunday, January 1, 2012

twenty-eleven: year in review

The best way to tell a story, most people agree, is to start at the beginning. Therefore, it seems fitting that a blog detailing my life in 2012 begin with a review of 2011, and the background that has led me to where I am today.

My 2011 began in ice and ended in fire. But, more importantly, it started with happiness and ended with the same. Sure, there was a lot of other stuff in the middle: sadness, anger, disappointment. But it's the start and the finish of the story that leave the biggest impression, so 2011 will, in my mind, go down as a Very Good Year.

The year started, as I said, with Ice. We counted down the New Year with
champagne and friends at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica.
I arrived there on Nov. 3, 2010, and spent the first six weeks of 2011 at the
Station as a contractor.

A week-long vacation in Christchurch, New Zealand in mid-February ended a mere
day before a terrifying earthquake struck the city. I was lucky to have my family
fly in to meet me, so we were able to see the city before it was badly damaged.

Then it was back to Antarctica, this time for nine months in McMurdo Station, on
the coast. We waved goodbye to the sun, and watched our station slip into darkness
for the long winter. Winter means no flights for the season, as temperature and
weather make it too dangerous to land. (Photo by Booni Doc)

Life continued on throughout the Long Dark, including working with my crew and
spending time with friends on station, who were quickly becoming more like family.
(Photo by Booni Doc)

In mid-June, as we were in full darkness, we gathered and celebrated Midwinter,
along with all of the other wintering stations on the continent. There was amazing
food, dancing, friends, and fun!

Flights returned in mid-August, bringing mail and fresh food, as well as the first
wave of summer workers to help us open the station for the upcoming season. And of
course the sun returned as well, bringing stunning sunrises and sunsets, as well as
the rare and glorious phenomenon known as nacreous clouds.

I finally left Antarctica on October 14, after exactly 350 days on continent. From
there, it was off to Hawaii for two weeks of defrosting and thawing out in the tropical
sun, and stretching my legs on the hiking trails.

The year ended with fire... two kinds, actually. Shortly before midnight, fire broke
out on The Mound, which my hometown (Flower Mound, TX) is named after. Flames
stretched along the field, leaving the Mound scorched. But the frightening display was
offset by beautiful fireworks, as my family and I gathered to watch the New Year roll
into Times Square and our own Dallas, TX. (Photo by Brett Chisum/Flickr)

There's a poem titled "Fire and Ice", by my favorite poet of all time:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
-Robert Frost

Since my blog is named after another poem by Frost, I thought it fitting to include this piece in my inaugural post. Now let's hope the world doesn't actually end in 2012...