Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 - The year of Graduation, Great PCT walking, Grueling Candidacy, Glaciology Papers, and Going South.....again

Well, here I sit the precipice.  Looking out over the wide expanse.  I'm looking ahead to another year, yet looking back on another year gone by.  I have kept personal thoughts and experiences mostly off of this blog for the past 6 months, limiting entries to those PCT-related (with a few exceptions).  Since 2008, my year-end review blogs have become somewhat of a tradition for me though, so I decided once again to make this quick post.  I realize it's a bit early for a year-end blog entry, but my internet access will be very limited this year at WAIS Divide, and I wanted to post this before I left McMurdo Station.

2010 - Another one for the books.  Another year filled with incredible ups and downs, and one I can file away with smile.  I set many goals for myself this year, many quite lofty.  I sit here now at the close, with a calming sense of contentment knowing what I was able to accomplish.  I will have memories from this year that I will undoubtedly carry forever.  Memories defined by me....and memories that will define me.

I gave this posting the title that I did (lovely alliteration and all), because of the 5 milestones that most highlight and/or punctuate 2010 for me:
  • Graduation from Penn State with a Masters Degree
  • A Successful 2663 mile Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike
  • A Successful PhD Candidacy Exam
  • Submission of My First Manuscript
  • Another Year in Antarctica (Beginning and End of the year)
2010 began just as 2009 did.  A lovely New Year's celebration at WAIS Divide camp in West Antarctica.  We were half-way through another successful drilling season.  Our goal depth - 2600 meters.  Overall it was another great season for everyone.  I was able to cut and mount all of my physical properties samples and assist the core-handling crew.  With that said, something was a little off for me.  I've alluded to this in previous posts, but the short story is that I as my 2nd Antarctic season was coming to a close, I had become rather despondent.  A sort of "blah"-melancholy.  It's very hard to explain in words, and I still have not figured out what brought this change in demeanor on, but I knew at the time that I needed another head cleaning session... (more on that later)

New Years Day 2010

WAIS Divide Camp - 2009-2010

Me and Charlie Bentley in the WAIS Divide Drilling Arch

On my way back form the ice, I again spent a little time barnstorming around the mountains and bucolic pastures of New Zealand.  I did another tour of the Southern Island, hiking a bit at Arthur's Pass, visiting glaciers, zipping through the kepler track again, and general overall sight-seeing.  It was nice...but in truth, I rushed through it.  I really just wanted to get back home.....home to friends, family, and people I was missing.
Kepler Track

Steepest Street in the World - NZ

Moeraki Calcite Boulders - NZ

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I plugged away trying finish up my Masters Thesis edits and get it into a form that was not only acceptable to the Grad School, but that I could submit to a Journal.  I handed in everything and starting making plans for a PCT hike.

On April 22nd, I headed out to San Diego to start what would be my most epic journey yet.  I stayed that first night in town, walking around a small neighborhood near Scout and Frodo's house trying to take-in just what I was about to begin.  I remember looking up at the star-lit sky through the palm trees and immediately feeling that I was where I was supposed to be.

And then the journey began.  For 4 months, I plodded, sloshed, trekked, glissaded, forded, and swam my way along the 2663 miles of the PCT.  I dealt with incredible amounts of snow, long mile days, and hordes of mosquitos.  The rewards were completely worth it though.  Breathtaking vistas, sunsets, and mountain peaks....the likes of which I have never experienced before (except for maybe briefly in Colorado).

While sitting at a random hostel along the trail on May 16th, 3000 miles away my name was being read aloud during the 2010 Penn State Commencement ceremonies.  I had received my Masters Degree.  Whatever happens in the years to come, and whichever direction my career takes me, this can never be taken away from me.  I was very proud of this accomplishment and celebrated around a nice campfire with hiking friends.
Shiny new Masters Degree

Just over three months, 2000 miles,  and thousands of memories later, I was standing in Canada a completed PCT thru-hiker...and ready to head home, healed.  I blogged during the entire hike and each day is up on here.....Here are the capstone final blogs though:

Day 123: The END!
PCT: Final Journey Home
Newspaper and PCT Updates
PCT - Closing the Chapter
PCT Epilogue
Mexican Border

Mt. Whitney Climb

Crater Lake

Canadian Border - The End

The celebration didn't last long once I got home.  I was in full school mode rather quickly.  Throughout the month of September I fine-tuned my masters manuscript.....over and over again.  I passed it around between co-authors for weeks until it was finally ready to submit.  It was very important to me to have this paper submitted before heading to the ice again.  This would leave me worry-free.  Hitting that submit button was a huge relief and another accomplishment in my book.  This will be my first of hopefully many papers to come.

My first scientific paper is "in peer review" in J. of Glaciology
"Late-Holocene climate evolution at the WAIS Divide site, 
West Antarctica: bubble number-density estimates"

And then.....the stress came.  Candidacy.  One simple word that can cause so much angst.  So much turmoil.  I spent an entire month struggling with preparation for this dreaded exam.  I wrote two proposals...which turned out to be rather mediocre at best.  I studied every day, countless equations and fundamentals of glaciology.  On November 16th, I walked into a small conference room with 4 very smart people.  For nearly three hours I was asked question after question about my proposals and had to defend them.  It was dreadful....yet somehow, by the grace of God, I passed.  Here is my quick blog recap about it.

So here it is, the end of the year and I am again in Antarctica.  My flight arrived in New Zealand on my birthday, and I am patiently awaiting my flight out to WAIS Divide for what will probably be my last season here.  All in all, it was a rather fantastic year.  I have again grown both mentally and spiritually this past year and had many realizations as to what really is important in life.  

Arriving in McMurdo off of the C-17

McMurdo Sea Ice Observation Tube

Final Thoughts
It is incumbent upon us all to live the life that we've imagined.  Our lives are a mere flicker of time, and blink out before we know it.  Here are a few more words of wisdom from the one man who can, and should, inspire us all.  These are words that I marinated on all summer, words that sculpted my soul, words that opened my eyes....

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation, is confirmed desperation."

"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-lie as to put to rout all that was not life; to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion"

"The surface of the Earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!  I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.  I do not wish to go below now, nor ever.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him.
In proportion, as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.  If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now....put the foundations under them!"
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.  It is not so bad as you are.  It looks poorest when you are richest.  The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise.  Love your life, poor as it is.  You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.  The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.  I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. "

"I am enjoying life as much as ever, and regret nothing."

H.D. Thoreau (excerpts from  Walden)

Emotional finish of the PCT...

The beautiful view form Muir Pass...that quite literally brought me to tears

So long 2010, and may 2011 bring equally poignant and fulfilling experiences to us all...

WAIS Divide

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year everyone...

so be well, take care, and suck the marrow out of life!

-John "lakewood" Fegyveresi

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back in McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Well,  I've made it successfully back to McMurdo Station Antarctica.  The entire crew is here and we are all waiting to fly out to WAIS Divide.  Again, things are a bit backed up and we will probably be sitting for a bit while we wait for the camp staff to plow out the drilling arch.

In the mean are some pics from the C17 flight..

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Once more unto the breach dear friends...

the stage is set,
the players are ready.

the ice beckons, and I shall answer the call.

What an incredibly trying month it has been.  I sit here now, on my couch, pondering over it all.  My perpetual stomach ache of the past few weeks is finally subsiding, and my mind is free to again be something other than single-focused.  I am last.

What the hell am I rambling on about?

Imagine if you will...getting three root canals done, while sailing over rough seas, and being subjected to the music of justin bieber for 3 hours.   Then...multiply that by 10.  That's about how unpleasant my morning today was.  

In order to pursue a PhD at The Pennsylvania State University, you must pass a qualifying exam.  This exam, called "Candidacy" consists of preparing two proposals and defending them in front of your committee.   This turns into a session of: "lets pummel the student until they curl up in the fetal position in the corner whimpering".  Needless to say, it is a miserable, yet necessary evil.  

This morning, I stood in front of my committee and presented my proposals.  One of which I discussed moderately with my advisor beforehand, one of which was completely my own idea.  For three hours I scribbled half-remembered equations on the board, talked about grain-growth in polar firn, and tried to pound my proverbial fist on the table that my ideas were good ones.

At the end, after 3 hours, I was kicked out into the hall where I sat for 15 minutes wondering if I passed or failed.  Meanwhile, they sat in the room deciding my fate.  There is a 30% fail rate for this exam, and if you do fail, you might (i stress "might") get another chance at taking the exam.  In my case, I had already decided that I wouldn't be taking it again if I failed....that I would be quitting the PhD program.

15 minutes later the door opened to hand shakes.  I passed.  I wanted to vomit.  It was over.  Then I was told that I barely passed.  It was a "squeaker" use their words.  Basically, my proposals alone would have failed me...but my presentation and defense were good enough to put me over.......barely.

I can't stress enough just how horrible an experience this all was.  Even now, with a Pass in the books, and knowing it's over, I don't really feel much better.  I thought I would, but instead just feel really stupid.  I forgot basic things I should've known, and now they all know just how much I don't know.  It fundamentally has me wondering:

- Am I cut out for writing good scientific proposals?
- Am I cut out for really pursuing a PhD
- Just what is it that I want to do for a career after I graduate?  Teach, Research, Industry?

I have 2 months down on the ice to think about this.  To think about what I really want to do with a PhD.   My manuscript for my masters has been submitted, and I will have nothing weighing me down.  I shall look forward, and put this experience behind me.  I survived.  I passed. It's over.  Time to focus on the future.

My future is limitless.  When I feel aimless, and am doubting myself.  Like always, there's Tennyson to guide me.  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.   

       Think but this....and all is mended....right?

Anyhoo, last minute logistics to take care of and I fly out to Antarctica Thursday morning.  The ice is calling, and I must go.

- John, PhD Candidate

WAIS Divide Arch at camp opening this year.  Almost completely buried.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sometimes we need reminders

It's easy to fall back into the usual habits, rituals, and comfort zones.  In all of my Antarctica prep and school work, I often forget how just 3 months ago I was knee deep in river fords and gazing across glacially carved valleys at breathtaking mountain-sides.  Our bodies and minds can so easily forget highs and lows.  It seems we have a tendency to sort of "average" an experience over whatever time period it was done in.  In other words, the entire summer of 2010, just like the summer of 2007, will be remembered fondly as a great experience walking along the PCT.  Somewhere in there though, are the subtleties, the peaks and valleys, that make the experiences we all have so unique.

Last week I ordered some PCT stuff online just to have my usual stash of paraphernalia:  patches, water bottle, etc.  I got to thinking about this photo I have on my desk at school.  It's a framed photo from my Katahdin summit on the AT.  I look at the picture a lot while I'm sitting there, toiling away on some proposal or something.  It helps me to remember what can be accomplished when we have pure determination.  Much like I stated after finishing the Leadville 100:

"Inside each and every one of us is an infinite well.  An infinite well of determination, drive guts, grit, and will.  At any point we can tap this and accomplish things that we would normally think to be impossible. We just have to believe, and that well is endless.  When you need more, you just dig deeper.  Each of us can do more than we think we can, and is capable of more than we think we are."

So "lest I forget" I decided in lieu of another framed "finish" picture at work, that I would make something that I would see everyday, that would remind me of what I'm capable of...when I believe.

Every morning when I sip my coffee I will see two things:

1.  My motto, anthem, and motivator while I hiked the PCT:
       "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield..."
Tennyson's quote that symbolizes for me, the drive to keep going, discover new places and adventures, and to never give up.  Also, these words are forever inscribed under the memorial of Robert Falcon Scott...the polar explorer who lost his life while trying to best Roald Amundsen in the race to the South Pole.

2.  My reason for pushing myself like I do...
      "...and not when I come to die, discover that I had not lived..."
Thoreau's quote that reminds us all, that we had better get to living....and not have any regrets when our time does come.