Editor’s Note: 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 Airforce.
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, either.
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, couldnÕt 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.
So 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.