|25th September 2005
12h 48m 23s
Length of Twilight:
16h 15m 21s
Length of my Shadow:
First off, I don't live in an igloo. We don't throw snowballs at polar bears for fun. And the sled dogs were quarantined in New Zealand, so we can't use them to pull the fire trucks around.
Life here is not so much different than at home. My dorm room could easily be a college dorm room anywhere. The galley food could pass for hospital food. Inside, most of the buildings are the same as their counterparts in the real world. They just have bigger coatrooms.
There are a variety of different styles of doors here. All of the older buildings, and many of the new ones, have exterior doors that open inward. Fire code violation? Yes, but a necessity of doing business. If snow piled up outside a door that opens outward, you'd be stuck. Most of the newer buildings have grated stairs that won't let snow accumulate, so it isn't a problem. As you can imagine the wind here can, at times, be a bit excessive, so most of the doors that open inward have heavy-duty hasp-type latches. The doors at Crary are walk-in freezer doors.
Very few exterior doors are ever locked. Some buildings are secured, but there is a vestibule that is always unlocked. It's a safety thing. There is a light on the corner of every building, so that if you get stuck out in the weather you can find a place to get out of it. And every last little closet of a building on station has a phone, for the same reason.
As you can imagine, we drive a variety of unique vehicles here. Most of the vehicles around town are just like everywhere else: vans, pickups, earth-moving equipment. Some of these vehicles are allowed on the ice roads, but they have to have much larger tires than normal. But for getting around away from the roads, there are some unique solutions:
The Mattrack. This is a regular vehicle that has had its wheels replaced by a track unit with rubber treads. These are probably the most comfortable ride on the ice as they have comfy seats and pretty decent suspension. Our two new airport fire trucks are built on Mattracks. (Incidentally, the name is derived from the inventor—a 6-year-old named Matt, who drew a picture of a truck with tracks instead of wheels so that it could drive in the snow. His father took the idea, spruced it up a little—but not too much—and now sells the tracks for something like $30,000 per vehicle.)
Pisten-Bully. These vehicles are similar to tanks, but without the guns since we're not technically supposed to be using the wildlife for target practice. They are on two tracks and can turn on a dime. The ride in the front isn't too bad, but in the back it is about as comfortable as a tank. There are variations on this, we have a couple with flat beds on the back, one with a forklift on the front, and even a trailer—with little tracks—that can be towed behind.
Hagglund. This is sort of a Pisten Bully train—two separate cabs mounted on two separate sets of tracks. These are mostly used on longer jaunts, and I haven't ridden in one so I can't testify as to the comfort.
Ivan the TerraBus and the Deltas. Not a pop band, but a freight car on wheels. A cruise ship retired to axles. Ivan is HUGE, and probably burns as much fuel as the Queen Mary. His wheels are about 5 feet in diameter and three feet across. Ivan seats about 55 people; the Deltas, trucks built on a similar chassis, can hold three or four large pallets of cargo.
McMurdo recycles something like 70% of its solid waste, a pretty remarkable achievement. Part of the NSF's commitment to the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, but it's also a practical necessity: all the trash has to be shipped back to the US, so if it's going back anyway it might as well pay its own shipping. The effort starts with all of us. Each
But back to the garbage. After we sort it into the dozen or so categories, it goes to the waste barn. There the waste people ("wasties," if you like) sort a few of the categories like plastic and glass into subtypes, grind or compress the metals and construction waste, and (perhaps the worst task to have on station) check through things like the burnables (which is supposed to be paper towels and the like, but often becomes the dumping ground for other things). Then all the waste gets stored in large shipping containers, food waste in refer containers so that it won't rot while being shipped back across the equator, and gets loaded on the ship to go back north in January.
Many people gripe about having to sort their trash, but I can't really understand the complaints. It takes all of about 5 minutes a week to take my trashcan with my little bit of trash to the end of the hall and divide it up into the bins. Then the janitors and wasties handle the rest, I don't have to go out in the cold. That simple action keeps three-quarters of what I generate from being shipped 8,000 miles only to be anticlimactically dumped in a landfill. I think it's pretty easy to do the right thing.
Winfly is rapidly coming to an end, and in just a matter of days the station will start filling with the rest of the 1200 or so that will make McMurdo their summer home. The next time we'll talk about what it takes to make this continent hum, and why there are so many people here.
Ivan the TerraBus and a Delta