Coffee and maple syrup are fighting for control of my central nervous system. If all goes as usual, they will both retreat from the field in about another hour, leaving me devastated and sleepy. But meanwhile, I’ll try to muster enough energy to write about the New Year from the perspective of today, January 2nd.
New Years is a big deal at South Pole. It’s the last major holiday before people start leaving the continent, or start getting ready to stay for the long winter. I’ve noticed that over the last week or two my thoughts have been going to the after-planning; I’ll be spending a few weeks touring around New Zealand, and had to think about rental cars, hotels, the ferry, my expiring drivers license, and generally plans. All plans will have to stay somewhat fluid, since while I am scheduled to fly out of South Pole on February 6th and from McMurdo to Christchurch on the 7th, there may well be delays. So I’m taking care of what I think I can take care of, and playing by ear all the rest. That may not keep me from obsessing, but it’ll give me a good reason to dismiss obsession.
The holiday work-week ended on Sunday, just like on Christmas week, and we had a two-day weekend Monday and Tuesday. There’s a lot of drinking on these big weekends, and it started for some people on Sunday night. My general reaction to being around people who are drinking a lot is to drink far less than I might otherwise, or not at all. I probably had three or four over the course of the holiday, and they were more like tastes — just enough to keep me from being a teetotaler.
One of the bigger events of the weekend was the South Pole Marathon. This is a genuine 26-mile-plus run, outside, where we keep the cold. Also available in half-sizes. Twelve brave or perhaps something-else souls ran it — six each going for marathon and half — starting 10:00 am on the 31st. Not quite as many finished. [For a write-up of the marathon better than this one, look here at Lily’s blog.]
I’ve not looked into the history, so I don’t know how long it’s been going on. The South Pole record is 4:02:15, set two years ago by Ricky. He’s a professional runner and worked a summer here pretty much in order to qualify to run the marathon, as I understand the story. That wouldn’t be a shabby time in any marathon, and at 10,000 feet and cold, it’s pretty impressive. None of these times are really official — the course is not accurately measured and the timings are done by volunteers.
This year the course was rumored to measure out more like 30 miles — four loops around a 7.5ish mile course, starting and finishing at the 2012 geographic pole. An extra 4 miles could have made quite a difference. Perhaps more importantly, we had scheduled flights and so the course couldn’t include the runway. The runway by now has been packed pretty solid, and it would be more like running on pavement or track. Parts of the course this year were through plowed but not packed snow, and the runners were post-holing up to their ankles at least.
The weather was perfect for the run; that means no colder than expected and very light winds. The problem with winds is that ideally you’d want to dress differently for the upwind and downwind legs of the run, or differently on each side for the crosswinds. That means carrying more gear and taking time to change maybe seven times over the course. Some clouds moved in around the third lap, and one of the serious runners had to stop because of some nose frost-nip. Frost-nip isn’t serious, but it’s the first stage of frost-bite, which would be.
I went out to keep the half-marathon timer company, and to greet the first two finishers. Grahame came in at 2:41 followed by Ryan at 2:49. I went in shortly after, missing the rest of the half-marathon finishers. No women finished the half-marathon.
I had planned to go back out to greet the first-place finisher of the marathon, but mis-timed it, and watched from the galley. Alex came in first at 4:48, and Sarah — Race Around The World winner Sarah — was the first female finisher at 5:56. Again, all unofficial.
While that was all going on, at roughly 11:00 I helped run the Annual Carhartt / Rodwell Water 1/361th and Micro-Marathon. Those distances turn out to be more or less one length of the elevated station, and 4.2 centimeters. Both races were held indoors on the first floor of the station. We had three entrants, one of whom is a sprinter and was happy that finally there was a sprint-distance race at the pole. He came in at 12 seconds, a new record. It’s a new record because “Annual” is a hope, not a history. Rose and I had a blast running it and designing it, setting up an aid station at the half-way mark, and moving the aid station to the half-way mark of the Micro-Marathon to reset. I had also planned on setting up flags to mark the route, but that kind of fell way to eating breakfast.
The sponsors are also somewhat mythical. Carhartt makes a line of cold-weather gear that’s pretty much what everyone wears here. And the Rodwell is our source of drinking water. But who better to sponsor an athletic event? Most people were probably wearing at least some Carhartt products, and they were all absolutely drinking from the Rodwell.
I spent a few hours admiring the Ice Carving entrants. Where by “admire” I mean that the Cargo department made a Tiki Bar, and was serving beer, margaritas, and “jungle juice.” I’m not sure what was in that last, but it was the kind of odd mixture that would show up at fraternity parties, designed to mask high-alcohol with sugar and juice. It did its job. It’s peculiar to be at a party and have to worry about finishing your drink before it freezes. I failed. But the aloha and similar shirts were out in force, and a good time was had by me.
I don’t really feel comfortable taking pictures at parties or posting them when I do. “What happens at South Pole stays at South Pole.” I might have watched a movie either on my own or with others between dinner and the Big Party. [Recently I’ve watched the new Muppet Movie, Trainspotting, This Film Has Not Been Rated, and Pale Rider.] At least one person I know curses personal laptops as an evil that has taken people into their berths on their own, and out of the common areas where they might have done things with others, even watching movies together rather than apart.
Daniel — the PC Sys Admin in IT — has had a hand in helping to set up and run a lot of the parties. He’s good with the sound equipment, and keeps coming up with phrases like “I played saxophone for a while.” I think he’s played everything. I think he was in all the bands that played at New Years. He and other volunteers set up the gym for the night, with sound and lights and a stage. [All not pictured here, as I said.] Three or four bands played, but I retired after the third. Not a lot of dancing, and I was kind of tired. Our usual DJ, Mouse, spun for a few hours after the live bands, and I was sorry to miss that. The South Pole’s ranking firefighter, got engaged to one of our Communications officers, a long-standing relationship. An epic night for all.
The first of the year is set aside for recovery for some, and continuing for others. More than one table in the galley had coffee and Kahlua going before 9:00 am. In theory, I think only wine and beer are permitted in the galley, and then only on Saturday dinner; but who would stop someone? On sundays and holidays, brunch runs from 10:30 to 13:30. If I haven’t been up late, that’s a bit late for my tastes, and certainly a bit late for my coffee addiction. I was up and doing the Sunday New York Times crossword by 9:00. And drinking my coffee.
The first of the year is also the day when the old geographical pole marker is retired, and the new one is installed. The marker was designed and made by the winter crew from 2012. They are all remarkable. A few days ago the surveyors marked the position of the geographical pole. Remember, I’m living on a moving ice sheet, and while The South Pole stays fixed — in some sense — the station is gliding past it about an inch every day or about 10 meters every year.
First, many of us gathered to move the U.S. flag from the old position to he new, passing it from hand to hand around an arc, ending with putting the flag in its new position. Then the winter manager read the statement prepared by the new marker’s designer, and pulled off the ceremonial bucket. I have no idea why there was a ceremonial bucket.
We took a lot of pictures and then went in to New Years Brunch. Played some pool, went to the gym, and wrapped up the day watching a bootleg of Skyfall.
A good day to start what I hope will be a good year.