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4 December, 2002

Stranded in McMurdo, Day 3

Well, it looked good this morning concerning our chances of getting out to the field site. We heard the pilots were resting and we would be going soonafter. Then the weather took a turn, and our flights were cancelled for today. I was optimistic about our chances today, but it looks like we'll have to wait until tomorrow.

I woke up not feeling my best this morning, and several members of the team have complained of the same sore throat and runny nose. I didn't think much of it until Jamie and Lynn mentioned I didn't sound too good at lunch. I decided to check out the McMurdo clinic.

Jerry Seinfeld says that it's required to wait when you go to the doctor. That's why it's called a "waiting room." But this doctor took me right away. He sat next to me on the flight down here and said he's seen many people from the flight with the same symptoms. He took one look at my throat and gave me some amazing New Zealand losenges that not only soothe my throat, but also put my tongue to sleep. When I got back to the dorm, several other members of the team wanted to try them for themselves.

Dante and I used our time today to test out the satellite phone with his computer and it's working fine. TEA says they've cleared up the glitch that was bouncing back the e-mail sent through the website. When we're in the field, we may still have difficulty checking because the web server is very slow. I will do my best to answer all the e-mail when I get back to McMurdo, even if I can't in the field.

Dr. Dean Eppler shared with me his decription of living in the tents and the kind of life to expect in the field. The following is an excerpt of one of his e-mails:

This is the 25th season the ANSMET (ANTarctic Search for METeorites) folks have been in the field down here, and for John Schutt, the mountaineer who’s going to be accompanying my group, it’s the 22nd season. In that time, they’ve come up with a pretty good system for living working in the field that revolves around Scott tents, good sleeping bags and small backpacking stoves. Scott tents are large, four-poled tents (named, as a friend of mine is fond of pointing out, after Robert Falcon Scott, who froze to death in one after returning from his first trip to the Pole in the early 1900s) that are very easily and quickly set up, even in a high wind, and provide a floor space about 10 feet on a side. We sleep two to a tent (Johnny and I will occupy one and Cady Coleman, an astronaut, and Diane DiMassa, a Mechanical Engineering Professor from University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, will occupy the other). The floor is a rubberized canvas on which we put double, closed cell foam. On top of that we set up an additional foam pad and, finally, our sleeping bags. Between the two occupants is an area about 4’ by 10’ on which we set up food boxes, two stoves and all the other accoutrements we drag around in field (extra clothes, extra clothes for the extra clothes, and even extra mittens, gloves and hats). When you get two people in the tent and start a couple of stoves, it’s pretty warm and toasty…all jesting aside, it is certainly the nicest living accommodations I’ve had in many years of climbing, backpacking and camping in the back of my truck. As it is light 24 hours a day, the inside of the tent has a nice sunny shade all the time…sleeping can be a problem, but frankly, if Snowcraft School is any indication, I’m going to be so whipped every day, the bigger problem will be to stay awake long enough to get food and water down my gullet. We store most of our food outside, as well as tools, rock boxes, and anything else not integral to our personal comfort and maintenance.

The food we eat is a pretty good mix of normal stuff you would buy in any grocery store in the States. We carry a LOT of food – without frozen food, Johnny and I will be shipping in 300 pounds of food, most of it high in calories, carbos and fat. To stay warm where we are going, we need to ingest, on average, 5,000 to 7,500 calories A DAY. At that rate, we will probably not lose weight…in most cases, for me, losing weight would be a good thing, but in this environment, if you’re not getting enough to eat, the body starts to digest itself rather indiscriminately, not only taking it off the fat on my gut, but from muscle tissue in places like the heart and from tissue in other places like the nervous system and brain (what brain, you ask…if I’m here, the point could be made the latter disappeared a long time ago…). So we spend a lot of time, every day, eating. The other critical thing is to melt enough snow and ice to stay hydrated. With every breath, we dump several quarts of hydrated, heated air out of our lungs. That water goes into the environment, and freezes out on things like face masks, moustaches and beards, but it’s lost to the body. Blood volume drops, and blood is the body’s primary heat transfer medium – hence, if you’re not getting enough water, you start to have heating problems with toes and fingers freezing. Johnny tells me we will have to be drinking, again on average, 4-6 liters per day. That means we have to have ice brought in almost constantly, melting, storing in bottles, drunk in things like New Zealand "Cool-Aid" (called Raro), cocoa, tea, etc. Well, when you’re drinking that much, it goes out no only through the lungs but urine as well, so (and I’m sorry if this is gross to some of you) but we keep a "P" bottle in the tent for late night calls of nature.

By being lucky enough to tent with Johnny, I’m going to be living with a mountaineer who has an incredible reputation on several continents – this guys is literally a living legend. He knows how to do this stuff in his sleep, so I will be in good hands as long as I follow what he says, something I’m definitely planning to do. Given the experience of the guy whom our tents are named after, I’m infinitely luckier…Scott and his three companions died of scurvy and hypothermia less than 30 miles from where I’m now sitting. When their bodies were found the following year, their shipmates collapsed the tent over them and left them in the snow, to be slowly bourne to the sea by the motion of the Ross Ice Shelf. One of the folks whom I was talking to here told me that a glaciologist did an estimate of the rate of movement of the ice sheet and calculated that Scott and his mates were finally carried into the Antarctic ocean sometime in the last 10 years… somehow that seems fitting, and it eases a spot that’s been in my mind for many years since I first read about Scott and his expedition. They were, after all, British naval officers, and burial at sea would have been their custom…

Thanks, Dean, for submitting this.

ANSMET camp with Erebus in background.

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