Just Another W-O-W Day at the Bottom of
By Vilmar Tavares
Vilmar Tavares continues his six
month work assignment on Ross Island
in Antarctica. Ross Island has an active volcano on it and is generally
surrounded by pack ice which gives it the impression of being linked
to the continent. Vilmar works for a company that provides support
services to the National Science Foundation, and he is in charge
of several warehouses that supply administrative supplies: oils,
cleaners, paints, solvents, and bulk issue items like toilet paper.
Not just anyone can get a job here, but Vilmar has extensive qualifications
because of his twenty-six years of experience with the United States
Hey guys and gals!
I checked out a cross country bike today after dinner and went
out tooling around town to see how it handled in snow and icy roads.
Never having ridden in these conditions I was not quite sure what
to expect. I also wasn't prepared for the little adventure I had,
Went to the room, got my arctic mittens, liners, and a cap. Then
I got my pack, two cameras and headed towards Hut Point to do some
photography. The hut was built by Scott in 1902 (it looks brand
new from the outside!) and I found a decently preserved, yet desiccated,
Weddel seal hanging around outside as if a sentinel.
All was well as I continued to Vince's Cross, a wooden cross serving
as a memorial to George Vince, one of a party of twelve men in Scott's
crew who was out exploring in search of a penguin rookery. Not finding
it, they split up and a party of eight returned only to be faced
with extreme cold and a blizzard at Castle Rock (just a couple of
miles from the station here). They found themselves on a steep slippery
slope where three of the men stepped on a patch of bare ice and
tumbled out of sight. All three miraculously came to a halt when
a patch of soft snow stopped them at the edge of a precipice as
a howling dog flashed past and disappeared into the sea pounding
below. One of the other men, Frank Wild, took charge of leading
the remaining five who were left at the head of the slope. He led
them off in the direction of their ship but suddenly came upon a
cliff with the dark sea below. Another step and he would have gone
right over the edge. Unfortunately, one of the others, Vince Cross,
couldnŐt get a grip on the slippery ice and, like the dog, he vanished
over the edge and into the sea. What a sucky way to die.
This site is only a few minutes walk (and visible from) the station
and my bedroom window.
On my way to Vince's Cross, I dug trenches in the packed snow to
set the bike in so I could get a photo of myself and was trying
to figure out how to set it all up when someone walked by and did
me a favor by taking my picture.
So I now have a photo of myself cycling in Antarctica. Hope you
guys don't get too jealous. :-) :-) :-)
Then I made it to the cross and the wind came up out of nowhere.
Easily thirty-five to forty-five miles per hour. So, here I am with
cameras in hand trying to take photos of Mt. Discovery and the Royal
Society Range when this little tempest stirs the teapot called my
life. I chill off in a hurry and scramble to get my glove inserts
on, cameras stowed, coat zipped up to the top, all the while trying
not to lose either the bike, the cameras, the helmet, my goggles
and my arctic mittens. If any of them fell, they'd go the way of
Vince as this was where he met his Maker. In my case, the sea is
still frozen but the drop is fearsome.
now I gain a better appreciation for the mercilessness of this climate.
One minute all seems well and temps are zero, then the wind picks
up and all bets are off.
I must say that writing this probably does not convey the feelings
and emotions one feels while experiencing this place but I developed
one hell of a lot of respect for the guys who tried to live here
so long ago. The adversities they confronted just can't be transmitted
via the written word.
I was purposefully taking my time mentally check listing where
each object was located on my person: between my legs, under an
arm, gripped in my teeth, or firmly clenched in a hand. All the
while getting colder and colder. Then I either put in on, put it
in my pack, pulled it shut, or zipped it up. One at a time, never
loosening my grip until I was done. My fingers got very cold. My
face was stinging. But I finished and went for the shelter of a
small hill and then pedaled back to the station.
I also never realized how physically exerting it is to pedal in
fifty below zero wind chill. Especially when it is blowing in your
face! I know I could not have gone more than half a mile and I was
panting at the end.
So that was my little adventure for today. The weather is supposed
to get nasty again tonight. We'd been getting snow and winds for
the past two days so today's sunshine (and fifteen above zero temps)
was very welcome (albeit I really like it stormy). Plus, on a clear
day like today, it is possible to see with great depth and definition
the Royal Society Range, Kukri Hills, Asgard and Olympus Ranges
plus the Koettlitz, Bowers Piedmont, Ferrar, and Wilson Piedmont
glaciers. Words can't describe the powerful beauty. So if and when
the blow does come, I will venture out again on my trusty steed
to see what it feels like.
Read more of Vilmar's adventures