Thursday, August 28, 2014

DAY 2: Pennsylvania to Illinois.

DAY 2: Clarion, PA to Taylorville, IL

Flying out to NOLS HQ, I feel like I’m on a NOLS or Outward Bound course.  The first day and night are always chaotic, but slowly, there becomes order and organization and efficiency.  I still have a long way to go, but made some progress after waking up from my resting spot in the grass next to Freddy.  I flew the first of two flights today to Marion, Indiana.  It was a beautiful flight and after taking off I had to fly through a long corridor between clouds to gain my cruising altitude.  From there I stayed mostly above the clouds but made sure I was going to be able to get down, either through a big hole or by checking in with a Flight Service Station to find out the conditions at my destination. 

The second flight took me into Illinois where I am now.  I was hoping to get into Iowa, but I put down early because of wicked haze and thunderstorm activity.  I debated setting down early for a bit, but I find when I’m debating it, it’s often best to just put down.  I landed in Taylorville and am now the only one here.  All the other planes are in hangars, which I assume is because of potential for hail damage and I now type with the computer on the tail watching lightning on all four sides.  I can’t hear any thunder, so I know it’s a ways away but it is disconcerting nonetheless.  I don’t want hail damage to end my journey and damage Mr. Fred. 

There’s a pilot’s lounge here that’s open 24/7 with wifi, snacks and the like.  I met the chief of police who was hanging out on his motorcycle at the airport in civilian clothes and he told me to sleep inside for the storm.  Earlier I went for a run and played some pick up soccer with some folks until the lightning came and ended all the sports in the park.  It was 90 degrees when I landed and it’s cooled off a little bit but not much.  The local soccer players say this is normal.  Hot and humid.  I was hoping to get a lot of sleep tonight, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case.  I’d be happy in the air conditioned lounge snacking on popcorn, charging up all my things but with all the other planes packed into hangars, it feels like Fred’s a sitting duck.  I suppose better to deal with this kind of thing on the ground than in the air.  The heavens do not seem to be happy.   I love the look of the airport lights, but I don’t like the darkness of the sky all around.  Here’s to a safe passage through the night.  

896 nautical miles left to Lander...838 miles made good.  Just about half way there...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DAY 1: Massachusetts to Pennylvania

DAY 1: Martha’s Vineyard to Clarion, PA.

It is time again to be “By Sky” for a bit.  I took off today from a wonderful night on Martha's Vineyard to see family and friends and pointed Freddy to the West.  I am bound for Lander, Wyoming to take a refresher course for my EMT certification followed by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute staff meeting.  Though I love aircraft, I have come to despise going to a commercial airport.  There’s too much security hassle, too much waiting around, and too many memories of sad goodbyes.  So off I go in a little 1970 Cessna 172.  I’ve taken the other three seats out so I can sleep in the plane if I need to.  I have my bike along, a few days worth of food, camping gear, and my flight bag amongst a few other things to keep me busy on a rainy day. 

I flew first to Monticello, NY which has been the customary first stop on all my air voyages to the West.  It has a long runway, which I like for the first stop but is not a place I want to hang out for too long.  So into the sky I went after refueling from the self serve 100LL (100 Octane Low Led), planned the next leg, got a weather briefing and into the sky Freddy and I jumped. 

The weather briefer and I had mostly discussed the thunderstorms across my route of flight and how to avoid them.  I listened and then went into the sky to see if I could asses the situation better from the sky.  I started at 4,500 feet, but some scattered clouds were about that level so I climbed dup to 6,500.  (Aircraft flying west not instrument flying are required to fly at even thousands of feet plus 500’.  East is odd plus 500’.)  I could see the storms were but I couldn’t quite pick them out of the haze until I was closer. 

And that’s when I saw the gates of Heaven.  Some of the most beautiful cloud formations I have seen.  Towering cloud pillars on either side and a miles-long ramp of puffy comfortable clouds leading to a little gap between the pillars.  At this point I was surrounded by clouds, though there were still holes that I could descend through if I needed to go down.  I couldn’t quite see how tight the ramp was and didn’t want to be over a solid cloud layer, and I couldn’t quite tell what was on the other side of the gates.   I looked to my left and saw a large hole in the clouds that I could fly through and it looked clear on the other side, so hard to port I went. 

It was far from straight and level flying and I loved it.  Exploring a temporary and so beautiful world that exists right above us.  It was one of my favorite bits of flying I have ever done.  It felt like a fantasy world, or another planet.  And so I made it through the two thunderheads with space to spare and nary a bit of turbulence and continued to weave my way up and over, side to side, under and out around the clouds. 

I landed at Dubois, PA, but was told I could not sleep in the plane, so I hoped back in without refueling and flew 15 minutes to the west and landed right around sunset at Clarion, PA.  I refueled from the self service pump, and then got a bit of welcome exercise pulling Freddy over to the edge of the ramp by the picnick tables.  I’m the only one on the airport tonight and it’s relatively quiet.  I had a dinner of chips, a tomato, some zucchini, lettuce and cheese, and I’m now ready to call it a night.

Fuel is more expensive than auto fuel, but one hour of flying works out to be about equal to an hour of tree work.  Happily, I enjoy them both.  What a treat I had today to witness such a glorious part of our planet.  There are beautiful stars out tonight, looking slightly different…a little more familiar in a way, after spending the day in the space between the ground and the stars.  

Tomorrow...west again!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Palmer Wrap Up

I have long since left Palmer Station and am heartily enjoying the New England summer.  I had a wonderful time there.  Boating was the high light, but I had a lot of fun with friends and especially my two co-workers.  Here are a few highlights:

Double Rainbow!  What does it mean?!!

The "recreation" hut a short hike from the station. I slept on the little porch one of my last nights. 
One day went for a beautiful coastal hike around the station. 

One of my favorite days involved going outside of the normal boating limits, driving the boats through various degrees of brash and open water and landing our zodiac on the side of the island in packed ice slowly surging up and down as the waves under the ice reached shallower water.  It was a foggy day and we had to rely our on our GPS to get us back to the station.  So foggy we could not see land at some points, just ice and water.  I loved it.  I drove with safety glasses on so I could keep my eyes open through the falling snow.  I felt like we could have been in the middle of an ocean.  No one else wanted to drive so I had the helm to myself.  It was one of those days, where I have to say to myself, again and again, I'm getting paid right now!! 

A beautiful iceberg, connected underwater. 
Our galley, during the international day of jazz.

Had to drive our boats through a mess of brash ice and small icebergs.  Amazingly clear water. 

On our way home we got to go through the Lamaire Channel to drop off a cable at a Ukranian base.  This channel was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen and I was very happy and felt very luck to go through it.  Huge mountains on both sides rise out of the cold ocean while penguins and whales cruise about.  One humpback whale even swam with us for about 20 minutes.  Back and forth under the boat.  We could see the white underbelly as it turned its belly upwards as it swam under the boat and we all rushed to the other side.  It was a remarkable place.  If only for a day to stop and explore on foot!

 The ride home we cam across "Drake Lake" as it is known when it is calm.  We were very thankful for an easy ride home.  Antarctica continues to be an amazing place to explore.  Palmer was no exception.  It was amazing to be on the boats, to see elephant and leopard seals and penguins up close.  Continuous on the job laughter made the already exciting work lots of fun.  I hope to go back next spring, but will have to wait and see if my number gets picked again.  Here are a few time lapse videos I made while down there...Enjoy!

Working on a 100 foot tower.

Building a 40 tower.

There are more if interested on my YouTube channel.  Thanks for reading and watching!

Saturday, April 05, 2014


And so we took to the boats!  Our rigging work requires us to go to some islands a few miles away to service weather equipment and radio repeaters, so we had to do some boat work.  Yesterday we finally had good enough weather to take a spin, check out the local area, get briefed on procedures and the like.

Soon after we left the dock, our trainer asked if anyone wanted to take the helm.  I volunteered and at last I was doing what I have dreamed about for more than a decade - I found myself steering a boat through the ice!  It doesn't sound like much, but after reading so many antarctic sailing stories, though we were not in a sailboat, I was very excited to finally be able to share this task, small as mine might be.  Palmer Station is small, there are no outside runs to be had.  I run on the treadmill and have been gazing longingly outwards to the islands across the sea.  We took to the boats and I found my freedom.  

We go slow through the brash ice, but are able to go full steam ahead when there's little ice chunks.  Sometimes they require weaving about, sometimes you can surf down the swell at the same time.  I love the task and steered for as long as I could morally steer before asking if someone else wanted to share in the task.  I came to realize, perhaps more than I ever have, that I love driving boats! 

Along the way, Antarctica did not disappoint.  We saw 50 gentoo penguins swimming at us, a huge leopard seal (we have reinforced tips of the stern inflatable tubes because these types of seals have taken to biting the zodiacs there), fur seals, carcasses of penguins that leopard seals have eaten.  The training offered many times that we relished in the fact that we were getting paid for this.  One of those amazing Antarctic days.
Palmer Station.
To be followed by another.  I was elected captain of the boat, three of us riggers and three others who came along for the ride out to Halfway Island to replace a wind anemometer.  Bashing our way through the brash ice, then weaving through the larger chunks, then more brash ice.  It eventually was snowing and visibility dropped at one point where we couldn't see land in any direction.  I love it.  They were all content to ride as passengers, I couldn't believe my luck.  Penguins again swimming to investigate us.  A huge leopard seal napping on an ice flow upon our return.

In my suit, I was ready for more, so I went out again with some others to see the sights.  We stopped by a few islands, the old Palmer Station, saw many many seals, a few penguins, and some glorious ice bergs.  All in all a fantastic few days of boating.  I love the sea, I love being on the helm.  And I'm happy to be here.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrival to Palmer Station!

Day 4, 2130 hours.

Day four, and thankfully not Day 3 anymore.  Overall, Day 3 was not too bad, but I’m glad it’s done.  Glad I have my body feeling normal again.  We are only miles from the first Antarctica islands.  On the same chart with Shackleton’s Elephant Island.  It’s now just around freezing.  Snow has started to fall, some have seen icebergs.  I have seen seals.  We are getting close.  We’ll be there tomorrow at 1100 hours. 

Day 3 had 6-10 foot swells with some twelve footers.  The wind peaked in the morning at 60 knots (I think while I was asleep or trying to sleep).  The rolling, the pitching…as I lay in my bunk, with each big roll my internal organs would shift and then my mattress would follow.  I spent the day reading, watching a movie, sleeping.  I got on the rowing and bike machines during Day 2 for a good bit, but when I tried the bike machine again yesterday, after a few turns, I thought, I need to get off this thing. 

Most of the time, I loose track of time.  Not sure what day of the week, what day of the month, what time.  I eat, sleep, read, watch, and experiment with some electronics. 

I am now on the station, having safely made it here.  It is nice to be here, finally.  I awoke early on the last day to see the islands of the Antarctic.  They are beautiful. 

So now I have been here a week.  We’ve been collecting our gear and equipment, scouting our towers and antennas, doing trainings, and settling into the routine. 

The ship, and the noise of it’s generators, finally left this morning.  I partook of the tradition of when the ship leaves and is northbound, people jump off the pier into the water.  It is cold!  But then…to the hot tub!  Yes, Palmer Station has a hot tub.  It felt excellent and a dunk and a tub seemed to be an excellent way to start the day.

So far, it’s been grey and windy for all but one day that I’ve been south of Chile.  Icebergs float by.  Seals are our neighbors.  Today on my day off, I worked on my electronics kit (making an infrared sensor to alert me if my roommate beat me to bed in a dark room).  Then ran on the treadmill, skied up and down the glacier in the “back yard.”  Learned a bit about soldering from the comms guy.  Cleaned the kitchen (our turn for the week).  That’s about it.  Got to hit the sack soon. 

The beautiful conical monipole antenna.  We call it a Coni Moni.

Bye Bye! 
Just before jumping in!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Approaching the Drake

21 March 2014
Drake Passage
Day 1, 1900 hours

Smooth “sailing” so far.  I’ve taken a meclizine for the first time to keep the green faced sea sickness at bay.  I do get sea sick if in rough conditions.  It is miserable, indeed, and I want to be able to enjoy this passage as much as possible.  We’ve been underway for around 7 hours or so, very little rocking.  Maybe 5 degrees to one side or the other, maybe less.  We’ve had our safety briefing and even got to get into one of the little orange rescue boats that was featured in the movie Captain Philips.  I really hope I never have to get in one of those. 

And so I wonder, will it get really rough, is this the calm before the storm, or will it be like this?  I try my best to keep tabs on my body, to stay healthy and keep all systems working properly.  Anything to avoid being seasick.  There are many factors: food – type and amount, exercise, hydration, sleep.  Got to stay functional.  So far so good.  A run yesterday and this morning, granola for breakfast, rice and veggies for lunch and dinner with a little cheerios for snack.  Not too much, not to little, no sweets.  A nap this afternoon, and lots of water.  So far so good.  Tomorrow may be another story…

Most folks hang in their bunks or the lounge or take a quick visit outside while we still can.  Right now some folks are watching Anchorman 2 in the lounge as others read or check their email.  Not being part of the ship’s crew, we don’t really have work to do, and so the most important messages from the Chief Mate are Don’t get hurt, Take your sea-sickness meds, and Don’t leave the toilet running!  Basically our job seems to be survival. 

Day 2, 1700 hours.

We’re now almost to the Drake Passage.  Much of the day was beautifully sunny and calm.  Continued rollers from behind, gently roll under, gently roll through, little motion on the ship.  No placemats needed in the galley.  Sunny outside.  A bunch of us gathered on an inflatable dinghy, some in tee-shirts, as if we were out for a little cruise in a small boat.   A group of mostly Antarctic veterans, many know how to make the most of good weather, and always in the back of our minds is that we’re headed for cold, ice, wind. 

Now, however, we are near the horn, the seas no longer only come from behind.  We have turned further south and the seas seem more confused than the quiet rollers from the stern.  Beautiful land masses on both sides now as we skirt as much south as we can through the southern end of Argentina.  The rolls are bigger, but mostly we’re pitching now, which is better than rolling.  The frequency is shorter, I imagine some are starting to feel queesy.  I can feel the accelerometer in my stomach and brain…measuring the G-forces both higher and lower than our normal 1.0.  I must be careful now.  Pay attention to the body.  Be on the lookout for the burps…, often my first sign.  Had an afternoon nap, feeling a little zonked.  But soon for dinner.  The endless stream of movies have taken a break, I imagine as people nap.  Today’s highlights included The Dark Knight and Office Space.  I busied myself by making a little sonar unit with my electronics kit.  It now lights one LED if it detects something less than 4 feet away. Two LEDs if it’s something less than 3 feet away, and three LEDs for less than 2 feet, and the all four if it’s under a foot.  Very entertaining for me.  Two burps. But still feeling alright.  Walking the corridors becomes a game.  Walk through without touching the side rails.  No V8 for me today.  Pictures come later.  Shipboard data allowance is 50MB a day.  Words for now.