There is a reason for the long absence, especially as I was blogging through my 20th anniversary of being at the South Pole. Computer problems. Yes, my system died a slow death, unable in the end to edit video. I was hoping to work on and show excerpts from the “Memories to Make You Domesick,” video that I copied to DVD about 10 years ago, and then put that in my computer to upload to YouTube. Now that I have a new Mac Mini and a 24 inch HD TV, I’m hoping that I can get this thing off the ground. I’m hoping to get back at it soon. I just have to work on a few projects for church and work which I can now accomplish with this thing.
Oh my! I got so busy in October that I forgot to blog about this. This first half of October was relatively quiet, other than I got my passport and readied myself for the journey to take place in the middle of the month. As I started writing this, I realized that there was a lot more to the end of October and the beginning of November. So, I’ll break this into 2 or 3 posts. Probably like it would have been done if I hadn’t not done them as they happened.
The middle of the month, that’s when everything began to happen. With a farewell to Mom and Dad, and friends from around Fennville, Grand Rapids, and Detroit, I was dropped off at the Kent County International Airport. I was bound for Denver. It seems to me that the day was partly sunny, but cleared up as I made the first leg of my journey to Chicago. As I flew across the south end of Lake Michigan, there was a lake freighter that was heading north, I think. I thought that this will be the last time I see a sight like this for at least a year. I was excited for the adventure.
The next leg to Denver was uneventful, as was my catching the Super Shuttle to the hotel near the company headquarters. I checked in and kicked back.
The next day, I caught the hotel shuttle to Antarctic Support Associates with a bunch of other “Polies” and people going to McMurdo. We all had to have our “in brief” and fill out more paper work. However, by the end of the day we were all on board a shuttle to DIA again for our flight to Los Angeles. Our trip to “The Ice” had begun. Somewhere along this line, I met some of my fellow winter-overs. The 3 hours to LAX was uneventful, and I think we had 2 hour lay over for food and stuff.
Boarding the 747 for Auckland, New Zealand was a surreal moment, reflecting on it now hundreds of people streaming onto the jet ramp looking for their door to enter the plane. At the boarding get they checked your boarding pass, and that you had your passport for the other end of the flight. It was just so much different pre-9/11. The flights in and out of airports were so much more relaxed, and if there was stress, it was self imposed because you did get to your gate in time. I do remember that it was getting dark in LA as we boarded the flight. The flight itself would be the longest that I would have ever flown. This flight was 13 hours. The previous long flight for me was 8 hours from Shannon, Ireland to Bangor, Maine on the way back from Desert Storm.
I found my way to my seat, and was seated a ways away from any Antarctic people that I knew. However, I spied a young woman boarding the plane, and as every young man wishes…yes, she was assigned the seat next to me. Her name was Dani, who was from Australia. I think at the time she was getting her doctorate in molecular biology. We had a good time chatting on the way down to Auckland. We kept in touch a bit during the year at the South Pole, but I’m not sure where she is at now.
13 hours later, we touched down in Auckland. With only a few hours of sleep, we waded through the lines at Customs. Following strange signs and such, I made it out of the international terminal and outside with my luggage. I found some other South Pole people and followed along as we made the trek to the domestic terminal for Ansett New Zealand. The flight south from
from Auckland to Christchurch was cloudy so not a lot to see, but there was one glimpse, as we were nearing Christchurch that seemed like we were flying down a mountain valley and the green of the grass with gray wispy clouds around us.
We touched down, and walked all of our belonging to the Antarctic Clothing Distribution Centre, or as we called it CDC. This is a center that outfits the personnel that are flying down to Antarctica, whether they be Kiwi, or American. It’s a joint venture between USAP and Antarctica New Zealand.
They checked us in and gave us our room assignments at the various bed & breakfasts, backpacker hotels and private hotels. I was assigned to The Devon Bed & Breakfast Guest House. A great place, however, as far as I can surmise was determined unsafe after the Christchurch earthquake of 2010. From Google maps satellite images, it look like it was torn down. Thus started the beginning of the journey south.
Start from the Beginning of this story.
When we last left our hero…sorry, I couldn’t help myself. After flying home, I had to get ready. While they supply us with lots of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, I still went out and got some of my own gear. Otherwise, I had to complete forms, get a physical (which was the first time I found out I was borderline High Blood pressure), etc. I’m still a little hazy on the details of what I did between getting hired and deploying to “the ice”. However, it was a busy time.
Oh, I do remember one thing. They flew me back to Boulder for training with the radiotheodolite system for the upper air balloons that we launch. This was for Kathie, myself and one of the summer mets. We spent two days, I think, working with the equipment and launched a balloon. I then went back with the electronics technician that would be wintering over with us, Chip Dunn. I then flew back to Fennville, to await deployment.
One thing that I realized, is that I can add some video, once I get to the point where I’m flying down to Antarctica, I dubbed my copy of the video that we made to remember our times, onto DVD. I can load that up. I need to get a slide scanner, or at least have my slides scanned. They are stored in a good place, but it would be great if I could share some of the slides through the year.
The interview…That was quit the day. It took only one day, but it was long. The reason it was so long was because of a bit of controversy, but more on that later.
To start with ASA flew me from my home in Grand Rapids, to Denver. There was something about this flight, as I flew the first leg from Grand Rapids to Chicago. I remember seeing the southern end of Lake Michigan with a Lake Carrier on it, and thought that it might be one of the last times I see a sight like that for a while. That little voice inside of me was telling me you got this. So I went with it.
I flew into Denver in a whirlwind, as I followed the directions that they gave me. Onto a SuperShuttle, to this hotel in Englewood. With the flights and the shuttle ride, it took me about 6-8 hours. I relaxed in front of the TV, ready for the next day.
I think I was scheduled for around 9am, so I got up around 730 am and got ready. I had to catch a hotel shuttle to ASA headquarters. I found out that this was one of the main staging hotels for ASA, so I wasn’t alone that morning going to the ASA. I was greeted by the receptionist who, page Kathie Sharpe who had interviewed me over the phone. I spent about half an hour with her, going through my qualifications and what it was like to winter over (Kathie had wintered over a few years before). Next was John Gress. He interviewed me for about an hour on some of the same things. It was then that I met J.P. (Jon Parlin) winter over station manager. J.P. had wintered over 2 or 3 times before and was doing this for the money. We talked about life at the South Pole in the winter, and the question came up how do you handle being depressed/being isolated. I think I said something like I lean back on my Christian faith. It was a natural answer for me. However, that set off alarm bells. I don’t remember getting grilled more about it from JP, but a some point, JP, John, and Kathie had a meeting. I went to lunch with Kathie and John, and I felt the probing of the questions about my faith. How important, how do you interact with non-believers. It seemed. Odd, and I was naive enough to not realize the scope of this.
After lunch I met the 4th player in this day, “The Mayor” of the South Pole aka the Area Manager, Jim Gardener. The two of us had a talk. I remember him being a large guy, mild mannered and soft spoken. I don’t remember the conversation, but it was cordial, and went well. Then I was in an office waiting…
Obviously, I got the job or I wouldn’t be writing this memoir. However, much later (like during the winter later) I would find out something about the day. It seems that with my raising my faith, that JP was worried that I would be some “Holy Roller” in your face. Those of you who know me that I’m not an in your face type, and while I might disagree with peoples’ choices, they are there own. Kathie actually fought for me, I found out later, because she too was a Christian and she reminded them that I could sue for discrimination based on religion. In the mid 1990s, I probably could have.
However, there were some things that needed to be done that I had missed out on. A full physical, and a psych evaluation. The physical could be done by a doctor of my choosing at home. The psych eval would be done on the “ice.” Everyone else on the winter over team had their’s done. I would have to wait.
One other thing, though, I was on double secret probation, which I found out while wintering over later. It was all due to my faith in Christ.
They had me sign papers and begin the process of preparing to go south. By 4:00 pm, I had a job in meteorology, and I would be living for a year that few people still have yet to venture. They called the Super Shuttle (I had my bad with me), and they got me out to the airport. I called my folks, and my roommate, had supper, and boarded a for plane home.
I still use this interview story as a part of my testimony, how God puts you where you need to be if you are in His will. I believe that He was there through the whole process.
Okay, so I said that it would be about two weeks before my next post. However, as I thought about it, I think the response came a lot sooner (Also, for some reason I was telling the story in the third person, I’ll tell it from my perspective 20 years later).
I think it was about a week to 10 days later, that I got a call while I was at work. The person was Kathie Sharp, who was to be the Senior Meteorologist at the South Pole. Luckily, I got one hour breaks for lunch, because the interview was about 20 minutes. I got another call after work (the company, Antarctic Support Associates was based in Denver, CO). Thank goodness for that. The 2 hour time difference helped in the communications. The second call was John Gress, who was the science technical support manager and oversaw the Met dept, at the south pole, as well as other science support position at the South Pole, McMurdo, and Palmer stations. We talked about another 45 minutes. At the end of the conversation, he wanted me to fly out to Denver to interview for the position. It seems the other meteorologist that had been hired to winter over(i.e. spend the year) decided earlier in the week, to take another job, about the same time my resume reached the office.
It would be about a week before I could get there. However, in the week to come, I decided that a step of faith was needed. It takes 6 weeks for a passport, and I would need one en route to the South Pole, because we fly through New Zealand. So I did just that, cautiously optimistic that I would be hired for a met position at the South Pole. The only thing that I was apprehensive about was that it was for a meteorological technician, and I had no experience in the equipment end. However, since the senior met (Kathie) was, they told me that it wouldn’t be a problem.
In about a week, another post! The interview…
What was this adventure that took place 20 years ago? I went to the South Pole and wintered-over. I will be chronicling this journey over the next year as things pop up, I have slides, and if I can get them digitized, I’ll add them to the blog. However, for the most part, I will be blogging about my experience looking back at where I was 20 years ago.
As every adventure starts, there was once a 27 year old out of work meteorologist. He had worked at a place that for some reason had sapped his soul. It may have even been in his field, but the stress, the hours, and the relationships had sapped some vital energy out of him. He went back home, and began a sabbatical as he meditated on what he would do for his future. About the end of July, or the beginning of August (the memories are a bit hazy now), of 1994, he noticed in a weather magazine (Weatherwise to be exact) an ad for a meteorological technician at the South Pole. He wasn’t sure if he qualified, but he had done enough in meteorology, during the 3 years at the place that would not be named, to get him familiar with the much of what he needed to do for the job. So he carefully updated his resume and cover letter, and sent them to: Antarctic Support Associates.
Stay tuned, I’ll update with the response when we get to that date, in about 2 weeks. See what happened…