Journal report from Terry Trimingham January 29 - February 5, 1995
This could be the start of my last week in McMurdo, but it is anyone's guess as to what will actually happen. My job depends on there being people out in field locations to talk to, and those locations are all in the process of packing up and closing down. The actual date they close down depends a lot on the weather and the LC-130 airplanes. It has happened that due to weather or maintenance on the aircraft that things were delayed for up to two weeks.
The beginning of this week saw wonderful "Indian Summer" weather in McMurdo. The sky was clear and sunny, wind almost non-existent, and it seemed WARM (it was probably right around freezing). At work things are starting to slow down. Most of the locations in the Dry Valleys no longer house scientists (just crews of carpenters to close down and winterize), so there is very little radio interaction there. Since the sea ice is old and falling apart I don't have many people checking out in vehicles (which keeps me busy a lot earlier in the summer). The people at the remote camps are curious as to the status of the aircraft coming to get them, so I talk to them, but other than that it has been fairly slow. After work on Monday I went to an aerobics class for the first time in weeks. I hadn't been able to go while working the evening shift, and prior to that I had been helping with the play. Aerobics is fun; we have steps and we exercise to music. It was a big class at the beginning of the season, but now only about 9 to 12 people attend.
After class I went up to the Greenhouse for one of my last visits. I thinned out the spinach and the bell peppers that evening. There is only one row of spinach, and after about 30 minutes of work I harvested about 2 pounds of leaves, which is a lot in bulk. The peppers needed pruning, and it felt good to get something constructive done. I met my greenhouse partner that night (she and I signed up to go do it together, but this was our first time together all summer!) and it was nice to have someone to visit with while picking.
I went into the info sys building (next to the greenhouse) to use a phone, and ended up staying around to learn to use a new software. It is always fun to learn something new, and I had a great time interacting with a bunch of the "computer geeks".
Tuesday evening was the birthday dinner. They served the dinner on the "E" side of the galley, which is kind of open and noisy. The starter was shrimp cocktail, but it was some "peel and eat" shrimp that have wintered over one too many times, and I couldn't bring myself to get excited about it; it smelled strongly of fish. For the entree we had filet mignon, lobster tail, twice-baked potato, and cauliflower. Being in the "E" side isn't as private feeling as on the "O" side, but it was a good meal, a nice change to eat off a plate, and have someone wait on you.
Wednesday my roommate went out to the Dry Valleys to close down one of the camps and was gone for a few days. I had 3 holiday days coming to me, and I took Thursday off. I found someone else that had the day off too. It was another BEAUTIFUL day in McMurdo and we felt like we needed to get OUT and about. I wish we had gone around the loop, but instead we decided to do something different and ride the shuttle out to Willy Field and then walk back in. It was dead calm and dazzling out there! It took about 2 1/2 hours to get back to the dorms, and it was very nice to be out. The walk back puts Castle Rock in front of you and Mt. Erebus off to the right. It is hard to think back to the last day as nice as this one.
Friday I was at the radios by myself as my coworker took a holiday day off. I had hoped to have that day off as I signed up to be a tourguide for cruise ships, and the M/V Khlebnikof was in town with 113 people to show around. Oh well, perhaps I can work it out to be off when the next ship comes in. We only get a few cruise ships call in each season. Last year and this year I signed up to help show the tourists around. It think it must be confusing to come in and walk around McMurdo for an hour or two only, but they seem to enjoy it. I had a few groups come in and see the radio room where I work, and I spoke with them then.
After work a friend and I walked out to Hut Point. There was a lot of open water just right there at the point, and we saw a seal swim by; the water is REALLY clear! It turned out that was the last time we could have walked out there for a week. To get to Hut Point you have to walk on the road that goes past the ice pier where the ships dock. The next day the Nathaniel B. Palmer (US Antarctic Program research vessel) was in, followed by the M/V Greenwave (our resupply ship). The road is off limits to all non-essential vehicle traffic and unauthorized foot traffic from now until the Greenwave finishes off-loading. Saturday is my regular day off, and I had arranged to go around the Castle Rock Loop with one of my hiking buddies. We woke up to overcast skies and wind, but decided to go anyway. It was very enjoyable to be out in the elements, even if it was so windy that you felt like your face was freezing off. With wind clothing and a lot of head protection, I wasn't uncomfortable at all. We both wore our bunny boots, which are issued as part of our survival gear. They are rubber, but weigh about 1.5 to 2 pounds apiece, so my legs got a work-out! I hadn't worn them for a couple of months at least.
We had a nice time and were both pretty wiped out when we got into town. I was walking to the dorm when a big truck stopped and one of my friends driving asked if I would like to go for a ride. I hopped in and spent the next hour riding around with him. He was driving a big tractor-trailer and was taking mill vans from cargo yards to the ice pier to stage as retro. Being up in the cab was wonderful; I felt like I was on the top of the world! I really enjoyed seeing the big forklift putting the heavy mill vans on the flat bed behind us. We would jump out of the cab and turn a knob to secure the van on the flatbed, and then jump back in and lumber on down to the cargo line at the pier. Once at the pier we would unsecure the van so that another fork lift could take it and put it in place. There were people with clipboards noting the number and contents of each van, and someone on the radios coordinating where the trucks needed to go to pick up the next van (there are a number of areas where cargo is staged around McMurdo). It was very organized and quite impressive.
McMurdo has been gearing up for the ship to come in for a while now. A special group of Navy cargo handlers flew in and people have been changing sleep patterns to go into a 24-hour work mode. Last night the ship pulled in, and from that time on, all the bars are closed as is MWR and liquor sales. The galley expands the hours it serves food, and roads are blocked off to non-essential traffic. Everyone will work hard until the ship is emptied, and then keep on working hard until it is loaded up again with everything we are going to retrograde. As soon as the ship is off-loaded, McMurdo can close for the summer, so this is our last big push. It is amazing that a years worth of supplies can be taken off the ship and a years worth of retro can be loaded on again all in the space of a week.
The harbor remains mostly frozen over; I don't think the ice breakers are going to do any more than what they have done. The little bit of open water around Hut Point and the ice pier is strange to look at, it looks so alive, constantly moving with the sunlight shimmering on it. Usually by now there is a lot of open water and we can see whales from the dorms. I have been looking, but haven't spotted a whale yet.
The sun is starting to get lower in the sky now too. It is obvious that the shadows are longer in the evenings. I think the first sunset is going to be on 19 Feb, so just about 2 more weeks. It will still take about a month before it gets dark enough at night to see stars though.