Antarctica

Week 37 300 Club - Sunday

25th June - 2nd July 2000

Has it been cold this week!! Below -70C for a number of days. On Friday it got down to a record low for the year of -75.7C/-104.3F. And what does that mean? 300 Club!

300 Club is one of the those rare chances in life to do something really dumb. The concept is simple enough - a 300 degree change in temperature. This is accomplished by going into the sauna and cranking it up to +200F, and then going out of the dome when the official Met thermometer is registering below -100F. Dave Z. had had some great cloth patches made up before we came down for the people that did it. But to qualify for a patch you had to get to the top of the hill outside the dome entrance. For extra stupidity points you could go all the way to the Geographic Pole. There is one other catch - sans clothing - birthday suite only.

On Friday morning our friendly Met person made an All Call to let us know we had made it below the -100 mark. It seemed a bit early to be running around naked, so no takers. At lunch everyone started getting more excited about the idea, and a group of blokes piled into the sauna and set it to extra crispy. I had planned to wait till after work, and wandered back to my room just in time to see a troop of very hairy and frosty blokes come tearing back into Upper Berthing. It looked a lot of fun; So I decided to go for it with the next group.

I thought I knew what hot was. No I didn't! I'm assured that it is really important to stay in the sauna as long as possible. I bet the person that came up with that story is still doubled over laughing about all the people that believe it. After 10 minutes in the inferno I'd had enough and starting making noises about it to try and move the herd. Towel off the sweat, and go for it.

The impulse is to run. And when everyone else is following their impulse, it's hard not to follow also. But this is a mistake. Not only does it cause more windchill, but you start panting, and risk burning your lungs. I walked the length of the tunnel. Decided to run up the hill, and once at the top jumped around a lot. Most people made an attempt at the pole. I was starting feel a bit chilly, so decided to stroll back in. In the tunnel I went for style points with some poses for the blokes who had come to watch the women. Seemed a bit silly for them to be standing around for ages in the cold tunnel, when they could have just piled into the sauna with them. Shy?

Going back into +200 after being outside was a far worse shock than the other way. My mistake was running up the hill. I had a cough for the rest of the day. As for the people that went for the pole, or ran the whole way, many are still coughing. Nothing fun about frost biting your lungs. Only a few made it all the way to the pole without realising how stupid it was. The most important thing is that I'm now the owner of a ultra cool cloth patch.

This week demonstrates how life here can go from an amazingly fun time to very sobering in the blink of an eye. And then we go back to work.

On the day we had a memorial for Rodney we were still in shock. When Rodney leaves the pole we will all be working like crazy for station open. Only a few of us will get the chance to go to his funeral. It was now the time for the station to say goodbye.

At the end of winter Rodney's body will be returned to Australia to buried in his home town. In the mean time he had to be placed somewhere. Pole is so small and crowded that there just wasn't anywhere convenient other than in a service area of the station. This was not as respectful as many people wanted it to be, and thus wanted to do something else. Someone came up with the idea of burying Rodney at the pole. For us this seemed very fitting and much more dignified.

The carpenters soon found a supply of oak, and set to work making Rodney a magnificent casket. Over the past month many of Rodney's friends worked on this, manufacturing every piece including the outside fittings. Sonja made a beautiful plaque out of maple, with Rodney's favorite constellation, Scorpio, inlaid in brass, with engraved pieces of brass above and below Scorpio. The casket was finished last week and it was time to bury Rodney.

No public announcement was made. Everyone was told personally. At 1:30 on Sunday afternoon everyone met in the galley. Almost the whole station was there. We went down the tunnel that goes to the entrance of the dome. Some of Rodney's closest friends carried the casket out to the entrance and placed it on a Nansen sled.

A Nansen sled is a beautiful long wooden sled that was used back in the days of Antarctic exploration. I think it was a fitting way for Rodney to be taken out to the pole.

The whole station then took Rodney out to the Geographic Pole. The air was still and crisply cold. The moon was down and it was inky black except for the beams of the high power torches cutting across the sky. Once Rodney was in place Jake said some very nice words, and read something Rodney's mother had sent. Dave P. then said some words about his friend that were incredibly moving. It was the most touching thing I've ever heard.

Rodney is buried 15 feet from the South Pole at about 110 degrees east, in the Australian Antarctic Territory. This is roughly south of Perth, and also south of the Australian station Casey. Having wintered at Casey, I was pleased about this.

I had quite a few drinks for Rodney that night.

To be continued .......

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