Biking, hiking and truffles

Fat tire bike for the roads and the glacier

The Scallion 26

Hi friends and family,

     We are just bopping along down here while the US seems intent on imploding, but maybe that will settle down next week. The weather has been nice enough to get out most days if the wind isn’t too bad, so my buddy Mike and I did some fat tire biking on the glacier a few days ago, which was wonderful. I also made another trip out to Castle Rock, up Ob hill behind the clinic and continue to be the guy to beat on the ping pong and pickleball court. The food is still delicious and plentiful and avoiding the dessert table is near impossible when it’s covered with home made truffles, cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies.
     The evening activities this weekend include a modern art themed event that encourages all the creative minds on the base to come up with interesting and sometimes bizarre exhibits, and this evening is a Freak Show with music for those that want to dress up. I’ll show up more as a voyeur than participant just to see folks strut their stuff in odd outfits. Last weeks marathon was a fun event that I volunteered to drive people around instead of running in the face biting wind, and there was a lot of limping around the next day that people wore as a badge of honor. To round it out I’ve done some time in the galley washing pots and pans, and even a little baking to keep my cooking skills up. The dental schedule continues to be filled, and I took out a few wisdom teeth yesterday to balance out the cleanings and fillings that are more common. Also had time to write a new edition of the Scallion to poke fun at the admin folks.
    Cohort 5 is in New Zealand and is supposed to fly here in 10 days after their managed isolation is complete, so we’ll start a new round of masks and distancing once they arrive. If it all goes well I’ll fly to the South Pole with the new medical folks to give them some dental training and then figure out my date to return home. Until then I’d love to hear some news from your homes and hope you are well. Attached is another addition of the Scallion to see how much I can insult the administrators before they throw me off the island.
Cheers,
Back to baking Bob

Brunch truffles

Pickleball in the gym

Hike to Castle Rock in bright sunshine

Ob Hill rises 850 feet above the town

 

 

Brunch and music

Ice Stock provided 6 hours of music and dance

The Scallion 25

Hi New Year hopefuls,
     We’re in the middle of a heavenly 2 day weekend to start 2021, and so far it’s been pretty upbeat. Yesterday I got to play some pickleball with friends as well as feast on an amazing brunch where duck and chicken cordon bleu were featured along with sushi tuna and cheese platters. The desserts were tempting too, but I’d already had enough and got a great nap in before the annual music festival known as Ice Stock was under way. There were a half dozen bands over a six hour period set up on a stage outside, and the weather cooperated with sunny skies and light winds to keep it in the mid 20’s, which brought out the shorts on some folks. One real highlight was a synchronized dance group that performed a high energy routine to rounding applause. Six varieties of grilled brats were on hand to picnic for dinner at the concert so the day finished with everyone happy and satiated from the food and music. So while it is often said that Antarctica is a harsh continent you can see that we’re not suffering too much down here for the time being.
      The base did a Level Red drill the other day, which means a patient tested positive for Covid-19 and our medical group got on the phones to do contact tracing to see how it would spread in a real case scenario. It became obvious after an hour that in a setting such as this with everyone in close contact, the whole place would be infected in short order. Fortunately it was just a drill, and we are blessedly virus free for now and hopefully for the foreseeable future.
     Today I woke up hoping to hike but the 30-40 mph winds discouraged our group from heading out, so it looks like indoor activities for a while. I got inspired to write an edition of the Scallion, which I’ve attached to this email. I hope 2021 is starting off well for you too.
Cheers,
Bob in virus free paradise

Scott’s 1902 Discovery Hut with McMurdo in the background

The dance routine at Ice Stock

Garrett serves up duck breast with a raspberry sauce

Sushi and cheese platter for brunch

 

 

Handshakes and hugs are back in style

4 Adelie penguins on the ice near the base

Hi social distancers,
        No Covid here, so the base went Level Green two days ago and it’s smiles, hugs and handshakes all around. It took a while to remember it was OK to sit with friends, gather in crowds and leave the masks at home. All the managed isolation has paid off, and one of the unexpected benefits has been the absence of the “crud”, the inescapable lingering cold and cough that has plagued the population in years past, but has not been here this time. No runny noses or missed days of work because of fatigue and malaise, which leaves the medical team sitting around with no sick people calling in for treatment, but a probable blueprint for the future. Of course it doesn’t affect the dental schedule, and within a few days of putting up the weekly sign up sheet for exams and cleanings it gets filled with folks happy to see the dentist.
      The party at the Waste Barn last night had a few hundred people packed to the walls with standing room only for the music and skits, and ended with a wedding presided by a fellow that claimed “By the powers vested in me by absolutely no one, I now pronounce you man and wife!” It was a great way to end the day after an afternoon hike with a buddy that was rewarded with my first penguins of the season, along with some seals basking on the ice in the 24 hour sunshine. The next sunset is February 20th, so we’ve got 7 more weeks of daylight, at which time I’ll probably be on my way home.
      Today is New Year’s eve since we’re a day ahead of most of you, but the big celebration known as Ice Stock is scheduled two days from now on Saturday as part of a 2 day weekend celebration of music and food. Probably more hiking, pickleball and ping pong for me around the events to keep the pants from feeling too tight. Hope your year ends on a high note too.
Cheers,
  Socializing Bob

Party at the Waste Barn

Weddell seals near the New Zealand base called Scott Base

Sheet metal skier sculpture near the Castle Rock hike

Meeting in our medical office

 

 

The cost of fame

Ping Pong poster

Hi racquet fans,
     The other day I stopped by the rec (recreation) office to say hi to Kelly, the lady who has been running the events around the base for a number of years. I had noticed a ping pong tournament sheet that was halfway finished so wanted to know if it was possible to get into the mix. She said the tournament had kind of petered out and no one had played in over a month, so she would make a new one with me included, which sounded good. The next day I noticed a poster of ping pong paddles as well as a TV ad that said “Bob is back- can you beat him?” around the base with a message to sign up at the rec office. The end result is all the trash talking players are now avoiding me and it’s been hard to find any games. Hopefully at some point that will die down and some competitors will show up at the table in the lounge above the galley, which is our dining area.
     Kelly did give me 2 nights/week for pickleball, and it officially starts this evening. I’ve already heard from a number of folks who said they plan to come so I’m hopeful it will be a good turnout for some doubles. Of course if anyone wants to challenge me to some singles I’d feel obligated to set the record straight with no qualms.
     In dental news, we’ve settled on a new flossing motivational campaign with a poster on the ceiling of the dental room. After some debate it was decided to skip the fake blood dripping on the patient from the teeth of the seal and just go with the visual. My schedule has been filled all week with some fillings and lots of cleanings, so free dental services are still a hot item.
     Tomorrow evening the base goes to Level Green, which means no masks or any restrictions, like life used to be. It’s what we’ve been waiting for and we get to stay that way until the next plane arrives in about a month at which point we go back to level yellow for a week. Some of you have sent me news about Covid in Antarctica, which unfortunately referenced an outbreak at the Chilean base from a supply ship. Fortunately that base is thousands of miles away and poses no risk to any other outposts, so we are blissfully isolated from that issue.
     Hope 2021 brings in a better new year.
Poster boy Bob

Flossing poster

 

Open sea past the sea ice

Frozen Ross Sea looking at the mainland

Ski landing in Antarctica for the holidays

Landing on skis on the glacier

Greetings northerners,

     A lot of luck and clear skies brought our LC-130 skiing to a landing on the glacial runway of McMurdo last Tuesday evening around 6PM. It was a great relief after over 4 weeks of hotel isolation. Our cohort of 18 loaded into Ivan the Terribus, a 40 passenger aging wheeled snow vehicle designed for everything but comfort for the trip to the base. Five minutes later we were stuck and spinning multiple wheels from a combination of fresh snow and warm weather. The call went out for a tow, and a friendly bulldozer showed up in front 10 minutes later and pulled us to firmer ground for the 30 minute ride to town.

    We checked in, got our room keys and I dumped my bags in a room that looked like the same one as last year, but without a roommate, and headed for the galley for some pizza. Dinner and a shower was all I needed to head to bed by 11.

    I spent the first day getting the dental office in shape and started seeing patients before we were rewarded with a 2 day holiday. Hiking and pickleball were top priorities, so I secured the gym for 2 nights a week for pickleball with the rec department. Christmas eve was the first possibility, and one energetic young man showed up to play. He left a bit dejected after failing to beat the old guy but I told him how wonderful it was to run around and sweat a little for the first time in over a month if it was any consolation. I’m hoping some more will show up tomorrow evening to get a group of regular players to burn off all the good food the galley has been serving, especially the pies and tarts.

     Yesterday I hiked up to Castle Rock and climbed to the top with Shawn the doc in 15 degree wind chill, which my burning thighs reminded throughout the rest of the afternoon, but it was worth it. Today it’s been pretty quiet and I’ll probably take a stroll down to the water to check for penguins after lunch.

     Hope your holidays are quiet and your waistlines are stable.

Cheers,

Bob

Flying along in the LC-130- masks removed for eating and drinking only

Emergency shelter on the hike to Castle Rock

Climbing to the top of Castle Rock

A skua trying to figure out how to get into the food waste bin

 

Fly and Bike to nowhere!

Cohort 4 in managed isolation in New Zealand

Hi transport fans,

     After our ill fated 10 hour flight that returned to the same airport last week I figured I might as well duplicate the futile effort of movement on the previously disdainful stationary bike in the workout room. So each afternoon I prop my tablet in the holder and watch a movie for an hour while I pedal to nowhere, satisfied at least that I’m getting some exercise to counteract the most sedentary time in my lifetime as we head into week 5 of our managed isolation.
       This mornings flight was cancelled at the convenient time of 4:20 AM with a startling phone call. It at least saved us the brain damage of packing up everything and checking out of the hotel before pointlessly driving out to the airport. Our group is devolving into sleeping late, overeating and wearing the same outfit everyday as we sink into a routine of blandness.
     Some comic relief was provided last night by a creative soul making hats out of our meal covering aluminum foil prior to watching a movie about a marooned astronaut on the moon, which buoyed our spirits that we weren’t “that guy!”
      There’s hope that the weather may clear at McMurdo later in the week so send some sunshine our way. Until then we remain in lockdown in what feels like the Twilight Zone.
Cheers,
Stationary biking Bob

Biking to nowhere

 

Boomerang flight

Image

Hello frequent fliers,
We’re on day three of delays and cancellations to fly to Antarctica from New Zealand, but were given the green light for a 4AM departure. So we packed up our bags at 1AM and shuttled to the airport to start the process. First a check-in, then a weigh-in and sit and wait for the bus to take us to the Kiwi C-130 cargo plane. After 40 minutes on the bus we finally boarded and sat in cramped cargo seats for another 30 minutes.
The engines started and by 4:30 we were on our way for the 8 hour flight. I napped, watched a few movies and made a few trips to the back of the plane to the urinal inside a tent like structure. It was looking promising as we approached the point of no return where there is not enough fuel to make it back so we would be committed to land at McMurdo. Suddenly the captain came on and in some unintelligible, garbled static told us we were turning around, so with no choice but to sit for another 5 hours we hunkered down for the slog back to Christchurch in what is referred to as a boomerang flight.
We touched down around 2:30 in the afternoon, tired and famished. Back on the vans, and back to the hotel to shower and crash for some real sleep. Basically we flew 10 hours to nowhere at some cost in the hundreds of thousands with a light breakfast to hold us over.
Back at the hotel I indulged in another delicious lamb shank dinner with real silverware, and we were just informed that we will not be attempting to fly again tonight, so it’s off to bed in a while to wait and see what tomorrow will bring.
Have a good day and stay tuned for the continuing saga of go or no-go to the Ice.
Cheers,
Boomerang Bob

Real silverware at the Breakfree

Toni combines ping pong and ballet

 

Iron cuisine

Set-up for toast

Greetings stay at homers,
Inspired by a story shared by my hotel mates about a chef in a similar hotel quarantine for 2 weeks in Asia, I’ve employed the hair drier and iron to add some heat to leftovers. I acquired some aluminum foil from the kitchen crew under the ruse of wrapping up leftovers, and so far have enjoyed some nicely browned toast and reheated Kung Pao chicken and rice without setting off the smoke alarm or sprinkler heads in my room, which was a total measure of success.
A real chef in our group took it one step further and made a mouth watering grilled cheese sandwich, which I may try closer to our departure date to lessen the risk of having my wares confiscated prematurely, but in a tone of inquiry and adventure, “What could go wrong?”
In days filled with mind numbing hours to fill, the creative process can run wild, and who knows what could be accomplished if the steaming tea pot is employed as well. I’ve still got 48 hours to go, so feel free to send suggestions and I’ll see what passes my strict adherence to the rules.
Cheers,
Creative cooking Bob

Toast from the iron

 

Reheating chicken and rice

A neighbor’s grilled
cheese masterpiece

Quarantine cast of characters

Hola future Vaxers,
As we round the corner on our isolation timeline and are in our final week, I thought I’d share some insights into the personalities of the people tasked with making our stay more bearable, or not in some cases.
Someone from the “wellness” team calls every few days to banally ask how we are doing and if they could do anything to make our stay more comfortable. I repeatedly ask for real silverware and a ping pong table and always get the same reply of “No, I’m sorry” in the Glenda the good witch tone, knowing that the manual they are provided has a cover of unicorns and fairies but inside is just a single sheet that has one line that says in 250 font “Tell the sniveling weasels NO to everything!” in a pleasant manner.
Most of the Kiwi yard guards are cheery and smile under their masks as we walk lemming like in circles but one stands out who surely graduated with honors from the prestigious but less well known Auschwitz Charm School. She’s always threatening to revoke our outside privileges if we don’t stay 2 meters apart which leads me to think she gets a bonus pot of gruel at the end of the month for her exemplary discipline and adherence to the rules. She must have a bloodhound like sense that can detect deviants like my buddy Dylan and me who inch closer in conversation as we exit her field of vision.
Lastly some nameless, faceless demolition worker in a room next to mine is busy most afternoons alternating between hammering, scraping or applying a belt sander to the wall in an effort to either remodel the whole place or tunnel his way to freedom.
Just 5 more days of living the dream and then we either fly south to the frozen promised land or transfer to another hotel that promises to be less restrictive. Hope your viral load is low and your spirits are high.
Cheers
Banal Bob

Joyless cereal bars

Hi cardboard fans,
      Just when you thought food couldn’t get any more dull, dry and tasteless, my breakfast included a recycled cardboard tub of cereal bars made of overcooked, compressed paper shards. They didn’t even make it to the “save for later” space on the dresser, but got pitched in the rubbish bag destined for the landfill. It would be interesting to attach a tracking device to see if even the scavengers of the dump would be enticed to sample these vegan inspired cardboard replicas.
       I know some of you think I just have too much time on my hands, which of course is true, but this one really took the imagination of a prison chef in Hades to combine floor scraps in the wastewater plant into these  mouth drying rectangles of fecal chips.
     Lunch also included a brightly wrapped sample labeled “Chewy Muesli Bar” (which seemed redundant) for anyone that didn’t get enough fiber with the breakfast coal flakes. I now imagine dinner might provide more in the form of  something uniquely inspired like a salad of wood splinters and shavings over dried fish scales and cactus needles for that extra colon boost that we all crave.
    Hope your meals are flavorful and colorful, and as for me all this is balanced out by the joy of my little princess turning 28 today!
Cheers,
   Dry humored Bob