Hi there. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve had the energy to write an update. There’s a lot to that sentence that I won’t really bore you with. But I’m here, it’s 8:23am on Saturday, November 20th, and I’ve got an hour until I have to go into work. For what it’s worth, I’m not 100% sure if my auto-emailer is working to notify subscribers that I wrote a post…if you haven’t gotten anything from me, please let me know – and read previous posts!
I’ll start with all of the cool things I’ve done recently, beginning with the most recent. Last night, I went cross country skiing for the first time. A friend from work is going to be the first woman who solo cross country skis to the North Pole…she’s an awesome badass, and if you have any contacts at Red Bull, she wants them as her primary sponsor. I’ll give you a cookie if you help me help her get in contact with them. I had never been before, and she said she’d teach me. We tried to go out several days ago but the skis I got from our Gear Issue didn’t actually fit with the boots I got. Oops. Got all the way to the start, and the boots were too fat for the chimney. Damn. So this time, I had boots that worked…and I tested them beforehand because I learned my lesson the first time. It was pretty awesome. It’s going to take a few times until I’m comfortable with it, obviously, but at this point I only fell twice and we skied for about an hour. I called myself out, too, that I’d probably fall at least a couple times. Even though we were on a giant ice-ridden flat surface, at one point I was moving along and the super skinny ski caught an edge and I just fell over like a big tree. The second time I kind of crossed one ski with the other accidentally and did a weird inverted fall. Oh well, it was awesome and I will definitely do it again.
Earlier in the night, I was able to go on what’s called the “Pressure Ridge” tour. The pressure ridge is where the sea ice starts moving toward land and it causes these cracks that rise up because they butt up against each other and it’s like a baby earthquake causing ice versions of the tectonic plates shifting over each other. There were a number of seals and pups near the trail, so we were able to get some pretty close (outside of 30 feet from them) views of them which was incredible. Right around the first corner of the hike, we saw a mama and her pup and the pup was kind of rubbing its own belly. I’m trying to learn the language so I can ask what it’s like to be a seal so we can be friends, but I’m also trying to teach myself penguin, so it’s been a lot of classroom time for the extracurriculars. Hash tag worth it.
Work wasn’t bad because I was able to help out our supply team try to find 300 pounds of ham in the giant freezer warehouse. I took apart crates and palletized them, as well as help them move some inventory and keep track of everything. Toward the end of the afternoon we found the crate with hams in it and Thanksgiving was saved. I get a lot of satisfaction out of jobs like that, where I feel like I’m actually doing something.
Friday was my day off and I’ve begun a trend to volunteer with other groups on base. This week it was the SPOT team. That stands for “South Pole Overland Traverse.” I was yesterday years old when I learned the O in that stood for Overland. I thought it was just South POle Traverse. It’s the team that brings fuel to the South Pole from here at McMurdo and the day was badass. I was at their office at 7:30a, and we did some reconnaissance to prepare for the day and then headed out to what’s called “Willy Field” – which is where the planes that land on skis come in. They have an area nearby where they keep their giant Caterpillar tractors and it’s also where their “home away from home” on skis is. They pull these modules that hold their living quarters, kitchen, bathroom, tools, food, etc. The kitchen’s basically like an RV sized kitchen. The living quarters are bunked beds. They have a freezer that holds their food for the entire trip – which takes maybe 25 days there to the South Pole, and maybe 18 days back. The difference is because their load is significantly lighter on the way back since they provide the fuel and leave it there. After being at their living quarters, we hooked up these giant plastic slick sleds that looked like huge yoga mats, and we put these thick rubber/plastic bladders on tops of them and strapped them in. We then connected two per yoga mat, 4 per trailer that gets connected to the tractor, and then we went over to the fueling area. At that point, we further strapped them down and put netting on them so they don’t wobble around too much on the 1000-mile trip South, and started filling them. That was a lot of standing around, but it was cool because then I got to see what Willie Field was like…mainly, one of the planes with skis was getting ready to take off. It was awesome. It was a propeller plane – I believe a C130? – and the props went, and it skied to the start of the runway and it took off. I got it on video. I’ll show it to you sometime. We ate lunch at the tiny Willie Field kitchen, which I’ve heard about a lot, and it was nice to eat somewhere other than the galley. Did some more work, and then headed back to their living quarters where I was able to help them refuel all of their Caterpillar machines. That was pretty badass. I was inside the Caterpillar and I was able to control the flow of fuel into the other machines and I felt like I was actually helping. It was awesome. If I could have any team to be a part of next year, that’d be my first choice because I’d love to see the South Pole, but I don’t know that being there the entire season would make sense for me. We’ll see. Plus, I like driving, and I’m okay with being by myself…which I would be for like 10 hours a day as we were driving.
It’s interesting to have the experience I’ve had in my normal, 10 hour a day, 6 days a week job, and still see the possibility of wanting to come back. There are glimpses here and there of how cool this place could be – it’s just not in the galley. I feel like I could be helping so much more than I am at my job. If you don’t follow me @kolberyan on instagram, you might not have seen that I was able to go down below the sea ice in the observation tube that they set up. This Ryan-sized and barely larger metal tube with quasi-ladder-type rungs on the inside of it is placed in a human-made hole in the sea ice with an observation room at the bottom of it. The room has thick acrylic windows through which you can see what’s happening under water. The tube itself is secured with these thick beams of what I assume is steel and you awkwardly climb down the tube, get to a rope ladder in the observation room, precariously step onto a stool and you’re under the freakin’ water. It was pretty awesome. I heard seals (someone in my group saw one) and I saw a neon green jellyfish that was the size of about a grapefruit. Plus, seeing the sun (up 24 hours a day these days) shine through parts of the sea ice above was surreal. Parts of it looked like a frozen lava lamp.
And I was able to do an 8 mile hike last week called Cape Armitage. That was on the sea ice as well. In a few weeks that possibility will be gone because the sea ice will melt. Evidently it’s beautiful when that happens, and that’s when the penguins start showing up. I guess there are times when penguins are literally waddling through town. They’re a protected species so I’m not able to bring one back to the states with me, but if I have a day off and I’m sitting outside and a penguin wants to come over and chat with me on his/her own accord, it’s allowable. I want to befriend a penguin from afar. I want to write postcards and get responses. I want to develop a secret handshake/wingshake without touching. I want to have a dance off. These are small asks, in my opinion.
I’ve also really enjoyed my Thursdays at work where I’m helping with what’s called “Food Pull.” Appropriately enough, food pull is when we…pull food and put it into our freezers, thaw boxes, and storage in the back of house (kitchen) areas. It takes several hours and is very laborious but I get a lot of satisfaction on those days. This past Thursday wasn’t too long – 8:30 to around 3 – but last Thursday was super long. We were busting our asses (there are 4-5 people helping pull anywhere from 7 to 10,000 pounds worth of frozen food). This food is stored in the supply warehouse – literally across the “street” from our back dock – but it’s a huge building that’s a freezer. Shelves that are like 5 or 6 44″x44″x44″ crates high carry all of the food that was received the ONCE a year we get deliveries like that. They’re shipped on a vessel, which is going to come in January I guess. At that time, an ice breaker floats up to our port and breaks up the ice so that other delivery vessels can get here. Those delivery vessels have anything from food to science equipment on them. Supposedly at that time, the town goes dry also…so I won’t be bartending or getting alcohol from the store. Better stock up now! Okay.
That’s been another thing that’s saved my sanity – bartending. I’ve been bartending for so many years at this point that it’s second nature – especially here. It’s basically like, which beer do you want, or which mixed drink. No wine (yet?). Mixed drinks are super simple. And the people for the most part are really nice to the bartenders in the form of tips. I like working those three hours a week. I also work in the retail store for two hours a week. That’s super chill on Wednesday mornings. I also also, as of last week, have a radio show. I call it “Galley Ryan Radio” because GRRRR. I thought it was funny and I am de captain now, so what I say goes.
Anyway. Time to start thinking about work, regrettably. I’ve had a good few days, and I have some fun things planned for next week, so I’ll stick to focusing on that. Let me know if you have any questions about my life on the ice!
Awesome. As I read this I imagine you with a beard and pipe and knit hat with the Longest Johns playing in the background. You definitely need a penguin friend. Perhaps you should show up wearing a tuxedo one day. One of them will walk right up, look you in the eyes for 10 minutes or so, and then… forever buds.
Miss you man. Keep being awesome.
Dance-off with a penguin, I can see that trending on TikTok 😉
Aw. Yay. Thanks Hank. I miss you too. Although awesome is strong, I’ll do my best.
Happy early birthday bro! (in a few hours EST) Love reading about your adventures, keep up the exploring, and the posting! The stories about the South Pole 1000 miles away, what is there and what do they do there? Your soap ever find its way home?? 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your time down there, what an experience!
I left you another message but it disappeared! Happy Birthday bro, love the updates. Keep exploring…amazing experience!
I was wondering why I wasn’t getting updates! So excited to go back and read what I missed! OMG your radio show!! You’re a natural! Please keep us posted on learning the ancient language of seal 🙂
Hopefully the not getting notified thing is resolved. I’m glad you checked back! Sealese is underway and Penguism is next. I’ll be sure to report back.
The South Pole is a research station that’s an all-enclosed single large building that houses up to I believe 150 people. It’s basically 1/10th the size of where I am, at McMurdo. Just a baby version of this place. The building, I’m told, basically looks like a capital “E” and they have laboratories, a place for food (a galley, like where I work but smaller), dormitories, offices, etc, but everything’s in one building as opposed to the “campus-like” layout of McMurdo. They do all sorts of research, but I believe they focus more on atmospheric / weather research and astronomy.