Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Safely at South Pole

Quick update (very little internet here):

Made it safely to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and the ice-core drilling is progressing well.  We have already drilled over 400 additional meters of ice this year (which equates to tens of thousands of years of climate history).

The camp here is much different than WAIS Divide.  I'm used to sleeping in a tent on the ice sheet, and going out for a run along the airplane skiway.  Here at pole, we have our own dorm rooms, and a full fitness center.  I feel a bit spoiled.  Our drilling facility is about 2 miles away from the station, so it gives me a nice run into work each day. 

The temps here are much colder than WAIS however.  We are at 9300 feet elevation (although the pressure altitude is often over 10,000).  Average temperatures here are about -30C (without wind of course), but it's been as cold as -47C (windchill in the -60's).

Here are a few fun pics from camp so far.  Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, Holidays to everyone...

Ice core in the drill barrel just after reaching the surface

Not bad Garmin....not bad...

The "Ceremonial South Pole"

Inspecting an ice core

Having some fun at the climbing/bouldering room here...

The sun never changes its angle in the sky over each day
It simply spins around

A little fun with photshop here....falling off the bottom of the world

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Fun DFL Before Heading South

Headed to South Pole...

I haven't been running much lately, especially since my lovely little stroll through the woods at the Mountain Masochist with my Barkley friends.  I'm definitely not in any sort of shape to be competitive right now, but I couldn't help shake the itch to get out one last time on some trails before my long 2 months down in Antarctica.  

On a very last-minute whim, I signed up for the TARC Fells Ultra here in Massachusetts...a 40-mile romp through the Middlesex Fells park.  I had done a little hiking in this park a few months back and remember thinking it would be fun to run there.  What I didn't realize is just how gnarly the trails were. You just don't think of Eastern Mass as being super rocky (at least I didn't), but this course sure packed some technical fun into 40 miles and 7000' of gain.  I knew going into this race, that the absolute only reason I was doing it was to spend as much time as possible in the woods on the trails.  I did not care about time, place, or competition.  I just wanted to enjoy some reflective time in the woods, and absorb as much of it as possible before heading to the very cold and sterile South Pole.  This would be the last bit of dirt beneath my feet in a while, and I wanted to suck the proverbial marrow out of it.  

The course was an ~8-mile loop repeated 5 times.  I knew that in order to go out on the last (5th) loop, you had to leave on it by 2:30 pm.  So my goal was simply to aim for as close that time as possible without cutting it too close.

As soon as I started running on the course on loop 1, I was struck by the fantastic technicality of the trail, and the wonderful views from the rocky vistas.  In many ways, the trail reminded me of both those in Rothrock State Forest, and those in the Catskills.  Rocky, steep, and with lots of hand-over-hand climbing.  It is one of those courses that you can't help but smirk the whole time on.  Every single time I came up on a vista, while others zipped on by, I stopped and admired it.  Sometimes I even sat down and took time to breathe it in.  The weather for a December 5 day was unseasonably warm and sunny, so it was a perfect way to mark the end of my trails season and fill my head with great trail memories to keep me fulfilled while on the ice.  I timed my stops so that I would just make whatever cut offs I needed to, and wanted to spend the most amount of time on the course that I could.  This is absolutely counter-intuitive to any normal racing strategy, but it was what I was hoping to experience. The 8 miles of the loop went by at a decent pace, and the terrain was always keeping me busy.  There were really only a few flat straight-aways to run full out on.  I ran the first loop a little faster just to bank some time, but then plodded away on the next 3 at a very moderate pace.  I stopped every lap at about 5 overlooks and a few places along the reservoir.


As I neared the end of loop four I noticed my timing was spot on.  I would finish at about 2:20 pm and have 10 minutes to head out on a final 5th loop.  When I jogged down the trail to the station, the volunteers told me not to "lolligag".  In other words, they didn't want to me to be that guy that rolls in dead last, an hour later than the penultimate finisher.

I spent about 2 minutes refueling and went out on my last loop knowing it would be my last 8 miles of fun, right as the race clock struck 2:23.  I really did time it perfectly.  I also had a sneaking suspicion that there was no one close enough behind me that would be heading out after me, making me very likely to be the final runner starting loop 5.

As I progressed through the loop, I passed a few runners on their loop 5 coming the other direction (the course is such that you can choose which way to do the loop...I did all 5 loops in the clock-wise direction).  After about 3 miles though, I didn't see a single other soul on the course....and it was awesome.  It was literally me, and the course, and no one else.  I had surmised at this point that I was likely the last one on the course.  With a mile to go to the finish, I sat on a rocky overlook and watched the sun set.  It was truly lovely.  I will go back to that memory often when I'm missing the earth beneath my feet in Antarctica.  I jogged the last mile in and arrived to a cheering set of volunteers.  While 2 people did finish shortly after me, I was indeed the last runner to finish 5 loops (the other 2 runners were only doing 4 loops).  This was my first true DFL (Dead F--ckin Last) finish, and it was awesome.  Then...I hopped in my car, drove home, and spent a fantastic evening at home.


I sit now at Logan Airport, ready to start my very long journey to South Pole.  I will spend many cumulative days on air planes.  Every time I shift a little and I feel that soreness in my legs, I will smile and think fondly of my day in the woods.

South I come....