Rainy Days and Mondays (and Bad Weather in Antarctica) Always Get Me Down
The day is Saturday, November 25 and the weather is just downright pleasant. I could not have asked for a more exceptional day. The sun was shining, the skies were clear and there was virtually no wind to speak of. Wait right there, Mr. Hademenos! You start the journal whose title is Rainy Days and Mondays (and Bad Weather in Antarctica) Always Get Me Down by stating that it’s not raining, the day is not Monday but Saturday, and the weather in Antarctica is pleasant. What in the world is going on? I know, I know. As Ricky would often say to Lucy in episodes of I Love Lucy, “I’ve got some splaining to do!" You are so right. So, here goes.
As you know, I am a high school physics teacher at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas. Because I teach five classes of physics with a total of approximately 140 students, it is not a minor undertaking to ensure that my students are continuing to learn the material in a physics class with the help of substitute teachers to help facilitate the process. It turns out that, as my expedition was being planned, the scheduling worked out perfectly. I would be gone four weeks from school with the last week being a week-long holiday for Thanksgiving break. I was to fly out of Antarctica on Friday, November 24 and make it back home on Saturday, November 25 with a day to recoup from the very long flight home before I returned to the classroom. Having assignments waiting for me from 140 students over a three week period is no easy task but with the support and encouragement of a phenomenal principal and administration as well as faculty members, I felt that I could leave the classroom behind and pour my energy into this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, focusing on the tasks at hand while in Antarctica. Wait, if you’re supposed to be home on Saturday, then why did you begin the journal entry referring to the weather in Antarctica on Saturday? I think you can see where this is going.
As my final week in Antarctica progressed, I saw myself becoming fixated with two things: (1) reviewing the weather conditions on the intranet page at McMurdo Station on almost hourly intervals and (2) reviewing the monitor in the Galley for outgoing flight information to Christchurch, New Zealand. On Wednesday, November 22, it was looking grim but being the “glass half-full” kind of person, I was holding out hope that the flight would be a go. I e-mailed our coordinator about flights out of Antarctica and then on Thursday, I got word that the flight was on and to be ready. Of course, I was out in the field when the e-mail came and noticed a more recent e-mail from the administrator that unfortunately the flight would be cancelled. Oh, well!
I did not feel like eating dinner in the Galley so decided to go to the Galley and grab pizza to eat in my room. As I finished my meal, the phone rang. I was being called to bag drag for a flight tomorrow. Yep, you heard right – Bag Drag! Most of you have probably never heard of the term 'bag drag' but I can assure you it is good news for Antarctica travelers. Well, it could be good news. Because the flight out of Antarctica is on a military cargo plane, it is important to gather weight information of everything that you are bring with you. A bag drag is simply the preflight formality of checking bags the night prior to a trip out of Antarctica. You are to bring every bag you are traveling for weighing – your carry-on and ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing gear return to the room with you and your checked bag is left behind. So, I rushed to Crary Lab to let Carol know that I was being called to bag drag and I ran back to my room to pack. As I left to go back to my room, she reminded me to put a change of clothes in my carry-on baggage which I did. Carol was extremely helpful by checking out a truck to transport all of my luggage to Building 140 where the post office was and the bag drag was to occur. After preliminary information regarding the flight tomorrow, I placed all of my luggage (and me) on the scale for weights. I won’t tell you exactly how much I weighed but let’s just say it was over 130 pounds! I tagged everything and the baggage that was to be checked was left at Building 140 where the next time I would see it would be in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Friday was finally here and I was taking in my last day in Antarctica. I got up early, got dressed and was out the door toward the Galley and assumed my position in front of the monitor. There it was… Flight KCH002 on the schedule for departure at 12:00 noon and we were to report to Building 140 at 10:15 for a shuttle to the airfield. And, as a measure of sanity, it was nice to see my name on the passenger manifest.
I then went to the office and wrote one of my final journal posts, where I continually checked the intranet page for departure information. We were still on for a 12:00 noon flight. I would write a little more, then check the page. This time… uh-oh… now it was a one-hour weather delay. That’s OK as long it was still on the schedule. I then went back to writing and after another check… 2 hour weather delay. I will spare you the dramatics but the flight eventually got cancelled. It would not be until Monday, November 27 where the next possible flight time would be. Saturday was the day that McMurdo Station celebrated Thanksgiving and on Sunday, no flights leave or arrive. One thing that was understood was that flight delays are a part of Antarctica life and that these decisions are made with safety first and foremost.
Faced with the fact of staying here additional days, I notified my school administrators and my teacher colleagues of my flight delay and arranged to have a substitute for several more days. Now that I took care of the most important steps, I decided to take in the Thanksgiving festivities by first signing up for the Turkey Trot 5K race. Let me be clear here. I am not an avid runner nor did I train for this event. My plan was to simply walk it. I just wanted an opportunity to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the pleasant weather.
However, there was one thing I had to do before the 10:00 am race. A colleague of mine, Todd, had wanted to visit the Ob Tube before he left Antarctica on the same flight I am scheduled for. But in order to visit the Ob Tube you must go at least with a partner, so I promised I would go with him. I got dressed in my Extreme Cold Weather gear, met him in the Galley at 8:00 am and then proceeded to the Fire Station to get the key. However, there were only two keys available and they were both in use with visitors to the Ob Tube so we would have to come back. I went to Crary Lab and began working on my journal posts and would go from there directly to the race at 9:45 am.
The time came and I proceeded to the chapel where all race entrants were to check in. As I got closer and closer, I could see what kind of event this was going to be. I know it was going to be fun but this kind of crazy fun?
As I made my way through the crowd in front of the check in table, I saw a chicken, someone in a cone of shame, and electrical outlet, a minion, a group photo of interesting personalities and then me! Yep, I was official with my own tag – Number 243.
Before the race started, I overheard someone (Kathy from Shuttle Operations) asking racers if they were going to run or walk. Kathy had stated she wanted to walk the race. I quickly said – I’m walking. She said, “Great, we’ll walk it together!” This was great because I knew I was going to walk the race and was prepared to be the last racer to cross the line by myself but it is always much better when you have someone else to talk to while you’re working on being the last racer to cross the finish line.
The race course was an upward climb to Scott Base (the New Zealand station) representing the midpoint of the race, followed by a return back to the starting point. It wasn’t much longer before we heard the final announcements to the racers, followed quickly thereafter by the start of the race. And, we were off… on our leisurely stroll. It was actually a great feeling not being pressured to outrun fellow competitors or strive to improve upon a personal record. Kathy and I were talking and having a wonderful time enjoying the scenery and taking a few photos along the way. Approximately 15 minutes into the race, Kathy looked up and said, “The runners are on their way back!” I said, “Oh no, what’s the problem?” “There isn’t a problem,” Kathy replied. They are the race leaders!” I knew we were taking it slow… but this slow?
We trudged up the hill and noticed three runners who had the same mindset as us… or so we thought. It was a group with the “Cone of Shame” racer in it. We all made it to the halfway point, where we were greeted by a water station and the Antarctica Fire Department.
While we were getting a cup of water, we noticed that the three runners ahead of us had all "collapsed" and were given CPR by the paramedics. All of this was, of course, staged and as we were laughing about their stunt and got our pictures taken, they had quietly gotten on their way and were leading us by quite a bit. Sneaky for sure but that was okay with us.
We were in it for the stroll and the scenery. As we continued on our way to the finish line, we noticed someone on the side of the road offering drinks and by drinks, I mean DRINKS, to the racers. Who were we to pass him by and not patronize his services. So, we indulged!
A little further down the road, we stopped for a photo while I took a breather in the wheel rim of a vehicle. By the way, the vehicle, known as the Kress, turned out to be the shuttle transportation that took me upon landing in Antarctica from the airfield to McMurdo Station.
We ended the touristy trend of the race with another picture in front of the McMurdo Station sign before the Finish Line was in sight.
After I passed through the Finish Line, I was given a number which turned out to be my place in the race.
So, I am sure you were wondering how I did in the 2017 Turkey Trot race. Well, I did get a picture of the final standings list posted along Highway 1 in the Galley.
It is a long list and probably hard to see my name. To help you out, I decided to take a close-up of the section where my name was.
Yep, there I was. Coming in 126th place was George Hademerios. Dead last and a misspelled name. The humility of it all! Was I offended? No, of course not. I promise you that I have been called a lot worse than George Hademerios! On a positive note (yep, there was a bright spot in all of this), I was the first (and only) runner in the race to compete in Bunny Boots!
I had a lot of fun that morning and am appreciative to Kathy for making it fun. What a great way to wrap up my final days in Antarctica! However, today was the day that Thanksgiving was celebrated at McMurdo Station. I had heard so much about the Thanksgiving Day meal. It was literally a feast, as you could probably deduce by the menu and floor plan of the meal.
For a typical meal, anyone and everyone would simply come to the Galley as they felt like, serve themselves and then find a seat of their choosing to enjoy their meal. This meal was a little different. OK, a lot different. Everybody comes to this meal and with about 900 residents at McMurdo Station, reservations were required. We chose the 7:00 pm serving and the line was lengthy as you can see but we were entertained with a great musician while we were waiting for our turn to enjoy Thanksgiving.
Although the bad weather day and the flight delay did get me down, it was hard to stay down after a day like today. And what better way to wrap up a day like today than with a question from Kiwi:
Coming Up Next: Thanksgiving Day is a special day that offers pause for reflection and what exactly we have to be thankful for. So, what exactly am I thankful for? Watch for the next journal post!