November 15th, 2009
New Zealand, McMurdo and South Pole - Current Time
Back in late January or February they start asking folks to make a commitment for the following season. At that point I was working my way through my 4th Austral Summer in row at Palmer Station. My 10th season in the Antarctic. (2 Summers in McMurdo, 2 Winfly/Summers in McMurdo, 2 winters at Palmer, and then the 4 summers at Palmer) Overall I had spent about 51% of the past 10 years on the Antarctic Continent. So, at that point I decided to take a season off, it was time for a break. It didn't help that I had spent most the previous northern summer working full time either. - I've gotten spoiled and enjoy the seasonal work, with time off! So, I declined, and planned on taking a year off or seeing what other opportunities popped up.
After a rainy May at home in Glenwood Springs, I got a phone call in early June. The guy that had replaced me, and was working the winter had taken ill, and was going to be shipped out on the next ship. Well, long story short, I declined to go finish the winter, but was willing to do a quick trip down and back to try to train the network engineer and station manger on how to keep things running without a communications technician. I got home July 3rd, and got on with trying to enjoy the summer. Within a couple of weeks I was working part time from home answering questions, ordering materials, and preparing to give the person that would be doing the summer at Palmer some training when they passed through Denver in September (normally they would have 2 to 3 weeks with the outgoing technician on station).
While in Denver in mid September, the opportunity arose for a 'short' season at the South Pole. Normally they only fill the position for a full year (13 months actually), but it was September, and they had no viable candidates. They asked if I was interested, and I decided to give it a try. They had to get some approvals and it was the end of September before I had an actual offer, which left less than a month for the scheduled departure.
Everyone who travels to the Antarctic as part of the US Antarctic Program has to “PQ” (judged physically qualified). This involves a full physical exam, blood work, and a dental exam. I scheduled the appointments in Denver at the programs Doctors and Dentists to help speed things up. Within a week I had all the paperwork submitted and then had to wait. I didn’t think I had any reason to worry, but they can sometimes be very reactionary, and you never know what was OK last year may be a red flag this year. After 12 days of waiting, I got the word on Thursday they wanted one more test. I managed to get a appointment at the Hospital for Tuesday, and went and ran on a treadmill while hooked to an EKG machine. The folks at the hospital said all was good, but when I checked on Thursday, the medical department hadn’t gotten the results yet. I hunted down a copy at the hospital and got those faxed off to medical. So, back to waiting. It’s a busy time of year for them trying to review a large number applicants, as they do both the employees of the Support Contractors, and all of the Science Grantees.
After a fair bit of confusion Tuesday morning the 20th, I finally got word I was PQ’d. Of course the original plan was that I was due in Denver that Afternoon. After a fair number of phone calls and emails, I was scheduled for the next orientation a week later.
So… After a lot of back and forth, and a bit of uncertainty, I was on my way. I wrapped up a few things at home, put the car away at the storage lot in Grand Junction where I keep my travel trailer, and finished my packing.
My thought had been that the ‘short’ season at the actual South Pole would be a break from the routine of Palmer. (many folks assume I’m at the south pole when I say I’m in Antarctica – in reality it had been almost 9 years since I had been at the Pole). The trip would give me a chance to see the new station which the construction had really just started on when I was last there. The big plus would be the travel at the end of the contract. Traveling to Palmer we transit via South America - Chile. Going to the Pole would be entirely by aircraft, and would route me through New Zealand again, offering some more vacation options on the way home. The season at the pole would only be about 3 months.
So on the 27th of October, in a blinding snow storm, I departed Glenwood Springs on my way.