November - December 2000
I think the last letter I wrote was the night before leaving the pole. I was up very late that night doing a few last minute jobs. I couldn't be bothered going back to summer camp, and slept in Sky Lab.
That morning I finally felt work had finished for the time at pole and I just concentrated on getting out. I hung around with the others leaving and said some good byes. Once the plane had passed pole 3, Rodney's friends went out to the pole and we put him on his Nansen sled. After the plane had landed we pulled him out to the plane. It was the plane for official station open for the season, and had lots of PAX onboard. After they were cleared away and fuel taken off the plane, a group of us towed him out to the rear cargo door and the ANG crew helped us load him aboard. There were many of his friends there to see him leave the pole. It was a beautifully clear day.
The flight back was as comfortable as one can be. We were to go straight through to CHC that day. As we were getting to MCM we were told that our connecting plane had not been able to land and we were to spend the night in MCM. We had an NSF rep on board who very discreetly made some inquiries and found that an earlier flight had got in. He arranged for this flight to be held, and for the people scheduled to take it to be bumped. When we landed we were surprised to find the C-141 on deck and we were transfered to the next flight for CHC.
Arriving was very strange. We go through the normal customs at the international terminal. It was around midnight and we were very tired. We were also apprehensive about who we were to meet. When we cleared customs D and S had family waiting for them. I was very pleased to see Jenny (EBC) was there to welcome us. We worked together a lot at pole and she is a very good friend. It was great to see her and I was very happy to have someone making sure I was not forgetting bags and was walking in the right direction.
Getting to our hotel is a blur. I remember arriving at the very fancy Heritage and pilling into reception with a massive amount of luggage looking like - well we'd been traveling for some time. For the first time in awhile I was aware of how much I smelt!
Once we got to our rooms Father John came and saw us and said that Rodney's (R) mum and sisters (J\&L) had invited us up to their room to meet them. I'd been in regular contact with them since Rodney died, and it was very strange to meet his family, especially under the circumstances. They had the Australian flag, that had been placed on Rodney's casket pinned to the curtains (ANG and the Kiwi Air Force showed Rodney great respect on the trip back - well done). R was very nice and offered us all drinks. I was disappointed the mini-bar didn't have any Aussie beer. Father John lightened the mood by announcing that he'd very much like an inferior Kiwi beer, and we soon drained the fridge.
It was very late, but we had just met and were starting to relax with each other. It didn't feel right to just leave at this point. We knew other polies were meeting at Bailey's across the street. So everyone was invited over. We hung out there to the very early hours. There was a lot of the pole crew there and everyone were pleased to meet R,J\&L. Bailey's is the CHC hangout for people going to and from the ice. They closed the doors and let us drink and talk for as long as we wanted. A great place. The only thing I clearly remember after going to Bailey's is walking back and hearing a bird singing. It was the most beautiful sounding bird I have ever heard.
The next morning I slept in. Once I got up I took a very very long shower. For breakfast I had a great salad bagel. It was huge with what looked like two whole tomatoes on it. The best salad I've ever tasted. With a very full stomach I walked across the road and lay down on the GRASS next to the statue of Scott. Once the sun got too HOT I walked down the street to the botanical gardens and lay on the GRASS in the shade. When I got sick of this I went to my favorite hang out in CHC, the Dux Delux, and had a salad and beer for lunch.
We (a group of people from pole) waited in CHC for a bit over a week for Rodney's body to be released for transport back to Australia. I spent a lot of time with Rodney's family.
As of the last re-reading of this (Apr 2001), we are still not sure exactly what happened to Rodney. We have one answer - the cause of death - which poses even more questions. It was not something obvious, and when we left CHC we still had no answers. There is an inquest in NZ still trying to answer the questions. At one time I'd have been happy to not know even what little we know now, and put it behind me. The longer it goes on the more I want some answers. Maybe only Rodney knows what happened - and then again maybe with what we know he might still be puzzled?
Rodney's Nansen sled that was used to move him to his temporary resting place at the South Pole, and then to help him leave Antarctica, has been donated to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. They have an excellent collection of Antarctic history dating back to the earliest days of exploration, and the race to the pole. This sled adds to a series of Nansen sleds they have from over the years.
There are parts of this story which I can't write. I sort of know what I'd like to tell you, but the words won't come out. The 10 days in CHC waiting for Rodney to be released is like a surreal dream, with very weird and bad images flashing in randomly. Flying back to Oz started off in the most bizarre way, but soon became a very emotional home coming. The time spent in Australia in a wonderful house with my fellow polies was incredibly bitter sweets.
Rodney's funeral was on a Wednesday. A service was held in Torquay. A friend of the family gave a very moving service, and family and close friends spoke of their love of Rodney, and the loss everyone was sharing. Rodney is buried in a bush cemetery a little down hill from a large gum tree. Because of the size and weight of the coffin, eight of Rodney's friends carried him to his resting place. R (Rodney's Mum) gave DP and me each one of Rodney's vests to wear - which we were honored to. Getting Rodney to the grave went okay, but because of the size of the hole he had to be lowered by hand. I thought one of us was going to fall in - my footing was feeling unsure - and soon everyone was helping lower him. A rare light moment at a burial, which I'm sure would have made Rodney smile.
Because I'd left pole earlier than under normal circumstances, things got left undone. I said I'd go back and install new computers and finish off some work. I wasn't thrilled about the idea. Hadn't seen Helen yet, or really had a break. But I wanted to work for AMANDA after pole, and thus wanted to do good by them. Grudgingly I got back on a plane to CHC.
A bloke that was at pole in 99/00 was a great folk singer type. He has a very funny song called "Another Day in CHC", about how it can be difficult getting a plane to MCM. Well I didn't know it, but I was about to live the song. First day back I get to the CDC at 5am, get on a Herc, fly for 6 hours, and land in CHC again. Next day get to the CDC, and get told to go home again. Next day there is a message at the front desk saying don;t even go to the CDC. For 10 days I got variations of this. One day they canceled for 2 days - and I went for an over night drive up the coast with some residual WO polies. All along I was staying with polies. So this wasn't a real hardship. Each night I say bye - see you tomorrow. Finally on the 10th day we flew for 3 hours landed back in CHC. I rushed into the city for a meeting I had not expected to able to attend. Every 30 minutes I had to call the CDC as we were still on standby. Finally I get back to the CDC, get bused to the Herc, waited in the bus 30 minutes - mechanical problem - back to the CDC - get out for 10 minutes - back to the plane - finally take off - arrive in MCM at near mid-night after a 6am start - 12 hours in the air.
While waiting in the bus on the airstrip in MCM the 7 people on the flight were talking. I wasn't that interesting in talking - but it turned out one of the people was Australian. He was going to pole to write about science for National Geographic. He was a very popular person - everyone having images of their names appearing in NG. He'd written a 3 part series for NG about riding a bike around Oz. I'd been to quite a few of the obscure places he'd been, and so we had a lot in common to talk about. I noticed at pole he was being swamped by people trying to make the absolute best impression on him. The result being he was looking overwhelmed. I offered to take him a trip away from the station to the old plane wreck. Figured he'd like getting away. We hadn't been the first people out there this season. But I don't think anyone had gone to the trouble of completely shoveling out the entrance and going. So after some shoveling we got in. Like everyone he loved it. I wanted to try and find the old solar observatory further out. So we drove the snow machine for some distance looking for it. Didn't find it. But it was probably the furthest I'd been from the station - maybe 10 miles. It was such a clear day we could still see the station as specks on the horizon. But it was still amazing to be so far out; Really really quite.
It was very strange to be back at pole. Someone was sitting in my chair in the bar (they moved when I explained the problem - well eventually they did). I had figured that my job was going to take 2 weeks if nothing went wrong. I had originally planned to have 3 weeks; But with the delay I was right on the limit. Of course things went wrong. One of the most crucial changes involved upgrading the main server. All the computers would be useless while this was happening. Maybe a 2 hour job. Of course after I re-booted the computer, nothing happened. No BIOS - nothing!!!! 36 continuous hours of work later everything was sort of working again.
A very unusual thing about being back was how many of the WOs had left. Of our crew there were 3 still there, and me and Y had come back. Not many compared to a normal year. I of course knew many people very well from the summer crew. But it was still a culture shock. The bar had changed so dramatically. I was not impressed by the new dominant music - country AND western - with the occasional line dancing breaking out... I quickly got to meet people up there as I ate most of meals there. As usual I had breakfast just after the rush, but with three shifts in operation I'd be trying to wake up with coffee while the night crew were in play mode after a days work; "No I don't want JD in my coffee - well maybe just a dash"..
Another dramatic change at pole was the new station going up VERY quickly. Walking up the hill out the entrance of the dome the steel girders skeleton of the new building dominated the view to the left. It reminds me of Casey, and how it must have been just before the Tunnel was torn down, and the Redshed was finished. I'm glad I was there before the demolition this time and had a chance to live in the dome - despite all my complaining, it has character.
All my work was in the dome. I was hardly game to go out to Mapo, Really didn't want to see what had happened in the AMANDA section. There was lots of work going on out there. I went out one day to have a look at the new radiation shield on DASI, and to take a few photos. But I got out of there asap.
The flight schedule north was unusual with a couple of breaks just before Xmas. I decided to change my plans a bit so there was some slack in the schedule. t worst I'd have a day to relax in CHC and go visit Scott Base. The day before leaving there was an open day in the Clean Air Sector. Even though it was Sunday I put in a long day and only caught the end of this. But it would have to have been close to the clearest, warmest, stillest day I've experienced at pole. Above -20degF, and a very blue sky (a bit on the light side). It was a nice day to wander around and take photos.
Next thing I know all my bags were in the BOS, and someone asked me about a problem with the computers; "Ask Marc or Steff - I don't work here any more". A few friends came out to see me off. It was another perfect day. As I walked out in front of the Herc, the ANG bloke - on a two week rotation to Antarctica - gave me the usual bored look of "just get on the plane" which he gives everyone. I gave him a nod and smile, and walk out 10 yards to get a clear view. I can see the dome perfectly; My home. Mapo with the new radiation shield looks bigger than normal, and Chris has the cover down on ASTRO; My work area. Past the mound of snow the new station is being built on, I see the circle of flags that is the ceremonial pole, and past it the geographic pole - "Under the Milk Way"; My life for the last year. Some people are walking from the pole to the dome having got their hero shots to prove they have visited the South Pole.
In MCM I'm told my CHC flight has been brought forward a day. I'm not going to complain. For a change we leave on schedule. It's a crowded flight and I don't manage to get somewhere comfortable to sit. Some idiots are lying on the hand carry (stuff that is normally fragile - like my camera gear). I mouth at them to "get the f\*\&\^\*\& off the bags". They smile and wave back. I haven't got much in the way of bags and rush through customs. As soon as I stop moving I strip off my ECW. Back at the CDC one of the store-men comes up to me. "Darryn, you know the drill - this all your stuff". There is a pile of very dirty smelly ECW. "Righto mate, go see Marlene and you're out of here".
I've been asked about what is going to happen with the series of letters that I've written; Am I going to publish them? This week I was walking past a book store and saw Jerri Nielson's book in the window. She has a movie book contract with Miramax for a rumored "lot of money". From our year the Doc and a Science Tech are writing books they hope to have published. I've also read a number of articles about pole that deal with times when I was there. We all see life differently and it strange to read about how someone else saw a shared experience. This is especially true if you feel they get it wrong or miss the point. Pole is a shared experience - a very personal one. I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of sharing someone else's life with complete strangers. Even the very intimate details I do share don't come close to conveying the experience. For me to be comfortable with the letters being on the web I will trim them considerably, and omit complete letters. Thus they will even less represent our year. I will burn a CD of the originals along with my best pictures (once I just a chance to scan them), which I will give yous (I bet a publisher would never allow me to use my own grammar). You will not be seeing my writing from pole in the UofW bookshop window!
Where does this leave me now; what next? It looks like I will continue to work for UofW for a number of years as a computer/IT "cleaner". This will be soon the longest I have worked for one employer. Many pros and cons with this. A move - less flexibility (I want some time off - I quit) - nice group - biggish work load - work too soon after pole. It will work out. After all this is how things happen in Antarctica - they work out - why not in the real world.
And what about Antarctica. Where do I stand with her? Just on two and a half years there now. I can't even imagine ever wanting to winter at pole again. I don't dislike pole or the life style - I like it. If last year had been different I could go back for a winter. Winter is not easy. I've met many people that have had very difficult years. There are as many types of difficult years as there are types of snow. But don't expect many of the crew to call our year hard - that's the way they are (2 are wintering at pole again and 4 at MCM this year). Wintering on the coast I could easily do again. With my present job - and I'm sure with future ones - I will be back for summer visits. I'd like to experience other aspects of Antarctic life, maybe the tourist industry, as a privateer on a sailing boat, or yet another countries program. I can't imagine not going back.
After much consideration I do not regret having wintered last year. It is a beautiful place, like no where else on earth. I got to see the pole in her complete wardrobe of clothes. To see the stars circle endlessly above in the winter is amazing. A whole year that is one day and one night - a moon that appears and goes for two weeks at a time - the flatness and remoteness of the plateau - to spend so much time in a place that only modern humanity could reach and at such cost. I hope I was able to share just a bit of this with you. And I have an addition to my group of friends that are like family. Especially the bloody Evil Bar Crowd. They are the best friends.
I will always "hear the silence calling".
love to you all,