Final Thoughts

Sorry for the very delayed post. We spent a few weeks in Texas visiting family. Posts to come include our trip to Hawaii and Big Bend National Park in Texas.

After a year on Ice I am still scared of driving in snow and I still get cold in positive temperatures. This makes me wonder if the whole thing was a long dream.

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The photos on this post were taken during our two days in McMurdo on our way home. 

But really, after over a month off the Ice, I am finally ready to tell you how great isolation is. Maybe that is not what you expected and honestly towards the end of my Pole experience I cannot describe to you how ready Max and I, plus most of our friends, were to finally get back to the real world. Now that I am here, there are some things I really miss. For instance, I never realized how many words people say, and how little meaning some of those words hold. I don’t mean this to offend anyone, but after so long with so much silence and meaningful conversation, it is weird to come back to small talk and introductions.

The options! Max really enjoyed walking through grocery stores. I think that was his favorite thing. I like it, but sometimes I am still a little overwhelmed with how many options there are for very simple things (ex. shampoo). I don’t think it is necessary. Although I extremely enjoy being able to pick the food I eat and drink real organic milk.

The little things that stuck out to me within a week of returning (I kept a list):

Long showers- Different than I expected. After being so used to two minute showers, I now continue to take short showers. I dreamed of a long shower or bath, but now I get in and I get bored! Kind of funny that I still feel rushed without having a time limit.

My window is not my freezer- I noticed this when Max and I got a box of ice cream bars in NZ. Super silly, but in our minds we bought the ice cream bars and were going to put them in our hostel window in Nelson! So then we tried to each eat two bars and ended up throwing some away. Frozen windows really come in handy.

Stop and smell the roses- It was not until I got back to NZ that I realized the thing I missed most was being able to walk to destinations (more than just a few hundred yards). I was raised in a town where you can walk or bike everywhere and I was used to that. It was so great to walk and move my legs again. Plus, it was the spring and there were so many beautiful flower gardens all over town.

The real world is still cold- People keep commenting how cold it is in Oregon and then adding a comment like, “well I bet it is not cold for you” and “Are you hot in this weather?”. Nope, it is still cold. We just dressed much warmer down there. Plus, it is a very dry cold at Pole and so it is completely different than this.

Dark to light in one day?- I expected the normal daylight schedule to feel really weird after the five months of darkness and five months of light plus the month of sunset and month of sunrise. I hardly even noticed because the daily sunsets seemed so normal. The thing I did miss was not knowing the stars like I did at Pole. The stars moved during the winter, but you could almost always see them and I knew many of the clusters and bright stars. Thanks you, Robert for our astronomy lessons. 🙂

Fashion- The fashion has changed, which always happens, but to not see any of it for a year it feels really different. Not in a good way or bad way, just different. Think about it, no T.V. no commercials, nothing like that. Media really does have huge impact on what we think of as “in style” and we noticed that upon arriving in Hawaii.

Stuff- Why did we spend so much money on a storage unit to keep our stuff??? I had plenty of clothes for a whole year away, and now I am overwhelmed by how many clothes I have in storage. We could have gotten rid of our couch, beds, dressers and clothes and would have saved $1,500. It is so easy to keep collecting things and never get rid of them. My advise is to really think about what you “need” before a trip and only keep those things. Makes things a lot easier and cheaper upon returning.

MY BIGGEST RANT OF ALL!- Technology. It is constant. I told myself I would not give in and get a smart phone since I enjoyed not having one for a year, but there is no way around it! I don’t know how people lived without google maps on their phone! I am sure I could get maps of every location, but it seems unnecessary and unavoidable to go without technology in our generation. I do appreciate the year I had without a single cellphone being on the table during meals. That was one of the best parts.

All in All. . . I spent way longer avoiding this post than I thought I would, but it was hard to think about coming back without complaining too much. There are pluses to both life styles and now that I have been home for a while I feel like I can truly appreciate both ways. I do feel more likely to do another winter than I did at the end of the season. Max and I are both trying to figure out what we want to do next, looking for a place to live and trying to find jobs. We have some figuring out to do!

*** If you are in the Corvallis, Oregon area, Max and I are doing a talk about our Antarctica experience at the Corvallis Public Library. It is on February 22nd, at 6:30. Please check the library website for details.***

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This cute Adelie penguin walked with us to the plane and will forever be my last memory in Antarctica… Until I return! 

Nelson, NZ (Nov 7th & 12th-16th)

I am slowly trying to catch up on blogging our trip. We have officially been home for one week and are so glad to be back. Let the house shopping and job hunting begin!

When we got off the ice, we had one night at a hotel and one night at a hostel in Christchurch before going north. We met up with some Polies to enjoy beer on tap and hear about everyones plans. Most of us seemed to be traveling in different directions. Some trips include Wanaka, Queenstown, the north island, The Cook Islands, Thailand,   Japan, sailing and much more. We are an adventurous bunch! How else would we all have ended up at the bottom of the World???

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drinking beer with friends

And of course we went to the botanical gardens in Christchurch.

As well as a very yummy first meal at Pegasus Arms. To be honest, our real first meal was Subway after our plane landed at 11 pm and we were desperate for something open by our hotel. I hate to admit that, so I will stick with this delicious burger being our first meal.

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So, after our two days in Christchurch, we were off to Nelson. We took a six(ish) hour bus ride near many sheep fields, wine country, a mountain range, and along the ocean. It was a beautiful, but very windy road which now has sections destroyed by the earthquake.

We arrived in Nelson and stayed at a Backpackers hostel. We spent our day walking around the city and I made sure to stop and smell the roses. Nelson is a fairly small city that is close to the size of Corvallis (my home town). I was so happy walking downtown and looking at the shops. We only stayed one night before beginning our hike on the Sabine Circuit(see last post).

Then, after we completed the Sabine, we came back to Nelson for two nights. Those two nights turned into five because of the earthquake and our bus not being able to travel back to Christchurch. So, we stayed in another Backpackers hostel. Since we did not have a car and were worked up from the earthquakes and aftershocks we decided to take it easy. We did a lot of walking in neighborhoods and downtown.

We went to a church that is downtown built in 1842. It was so beautiful with lots of detail.

We also walked in the Japanese Garden.

And we found a market downtown. We ate a whole loaf of garlic bread for lunch while we pondered how we would ever get home. Max and I realized we were just ready to go and tired of making plans. So, that was when we decided to take a plane to Christchurch instead of waiting for the bus. I am really glad we did because we might still be in Nelson!

The next morning we got on a flight to Christchurch. People were very nice about letting us cancel because of the circumstances. We canceled a car rental, two AirB&Bs, a campsite, and our bus ride. We changed our flight date so we left New Zealand the next morning (November 17th) for two extra weeks in Hawaii. That was a great decision!

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We spent our last night in New Zealand at this place called Jucy Snooze. It is a hostel right next to the Christchurch airport. It had just opened a few weeks ago. I give it two thumbs up! The same price as your average hostel, but included a much nicer facility and more privacy. The sleeping pods close so no one can watch you sleep, there are lockers with codes so you don’t need a lock, and each room with eight pods has a hotel key so no one else can go in. Plus, there is a big room with chairs, table, hammocks and a kitchen for meals and relaxing.

Sabine Circuit (November 8th-12th)

Bags are packed and ready to go!

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Started by Lake Rotoiti at the trail head

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at the trailhead

Day 1: walked 17.3 miles (28 Kilometers), camped at 807 meters (2649 feet), 20 river crossings (5 of those with bridges), 11 am- 8:15 pm, stayed at the John Tait Hut

  • Max and I arrived at the trailhead about noon. We were dropped off by a very kind friend of someone from Pole. We were not keen on the hitch hiking idea so we decided to pay someone to drive us an hour from Nelson to get to the hike. We did not weigh our packs, but I would guess mine was 45-50 pounds (I will go into detail in a bit). We started off following the St. Arnaud ridge route, knowing that the trail was well marked we did not pay much attention. After 2 miles in we began to question ourselves since the map showed that we should be walking along a lake. It was not a good start… We got out the GPS and map, which showed us our mistake and then we continued on the day hike loop to get back on track. That added two miles to our already long day. Once we got on the right path it was slow walking, and I fell stepping down on wet roots, which gave me a gnarly bruise and a soar knee for the rest of the trip. Hard to get back into the grove of backpacking and the packs were already feeling heavy. We had a strict schedule in order to do the 4-7 day trek in 5 days. We skipped the first hut at 3 miles in and continued on to the second hut. The scenery was very beautiful and the sun was shining. We arrived to the John Tait hut as it was getting dark at 8 pm. There were three other people in the hut. We were very hungry and sore so we ate, drank hot beverages and went to bed.
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    eels in the lake

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    many bridges

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Day 2: 4.17 miles (7 kilometers), climbed 510 meters, camped at 1,320 meters, 32 river crossings (4 with bridges), 10:30 am- 2:45 pm, stayed the night in the Upper Traverse Hut

  • We woke up, ate oatmeal and were on our way. It rained heavy for most of our hike. There was a lot of uphill and we were really sore from our packs and the long first day. We did not take any breaks and got to the next hut. We were so tired. The group of three were also at the next hut, plus another couple. That was November 9th, which was the day after election day. Everyone else was from Europe and were curious of our thoughts on the candidates. We had many good talks about politics and were eager to know, but were fairly curtain about who won. Just to confirm, Max got on his iridium GPS (that has texting with an app on your phone and tracking) and messaged his parents to find out who won. Because of the time change they did not respond until the next morning. It was a very shocking text to wake up to! I will not go into details since that is not what this blog is about, but it honestly made me very eager to get back to internet and find out details on what happened. So, looking back we should have just waited, but I was not prepared for that outcome.
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    morning after our first night in the hut

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    following directions

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    One of the many river crossings! We made a great team helping each other get across without slipping on rocks and soaking our boots. I took the photos with the water smudges on the gopro, which also includes some of my thumb. It is a very wide lens!

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    side view of the cabin before the summit

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    two separate rooms for sleeping and this common room

Day 3: went back the way we came, so same distance as day 2, 11:30 am- 2 pm, stayed in the John Tait Hut(again)

  • We woke up and looked out the big windows to discover that the weather had still not cleared. And we could not even see the beautiful summit we had seen the night before. I was a little nervous because it was a very steep climb and even steeper downhill. The summit is known for its amazing views, so without the views and with the added danger of rain and a very slippery trail Max and I decided not to attempt the summit. I was a little embarrassed to tell the others, but from all my outdoor school I knew I had that gut feeling climbers often ignore that gets them in trouble. Turns out the other groups did not attempt either, and we all went to different huts the next night. Max and I decided to go back to the hut we stayed at the second night. We messaged our ride and asked her to come a day early so we would not just be sitting in a hut. We ended up having the hut to ourselves and spent the day drying out our clothes and enjoying the fire. I forgot to mention that it rained most of this day also.
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    same hut for the first and third night

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Day 4: 9.10 miles (15 Kilometers) , 10: 50 am- 3:08 pm, stayed in the Lakehead Hut

  • Took our time waiting out the rain, which never stopped, and left at 11 am to the first hut that we skipped on our way in. Our backpacks were getting lighter without so much food and since there was so much rain, we decided not to carry any extra water. At the hut, there was a guided group with two guides and three clients and a couple. The group was very nice and clients were from the US. They were very interested in our Antartica experience and of course we talked about Trump.
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    Our favorite water crossing. The bridge was not very sturdy and required both hands.

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Day 5: 8 am- 11:30 pm 6 miles (about 10 kilometers)

  • Hiked out to meet our ride at the trail head. We really enjoyed the hike and were glad we did it. Although, we realized we were still pretty warn out from readjusting back to the real world and would have enjoyed a few more days relaxing before jumping into a difficult hike.

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    We did it (kind of)!

From our hike we learned three things about tramping in New Zealand:

  1. The hiking times they tell you are very accurate. In the States when they say a hike will take 3 hours, Max and I would probably finish it in under two hours. On this hike, the trail sign said 4 hours and 30 min and it took us 4 hours and 45 min. We usually took the exact recommended time or even longer.
  2. Trust the huts- We each paid $90NZD ($63USD) for a 6 month hut pass and it was totally worth it! The hut passes can be used on most of the trails except for the Great Walk hikes. You can get individual hut tickets for single nights, but we were planning to do another hike in Queenstown so it was worth getting the pass. The huts contained an inclosed shelter, mattress pads, stove with fire wood, water (they recommend sterilizing, but guided tours did not sterilize and they were fine), nice kitchen area and dining table, and big windows with beautiful views. It was so great to be able to get out of our wet clothes and dry everything out. Where we went wrong was being extra cautious. We did not want to rely on the huts, so we brought our own stove, sleeping pads, tent, multiple GPSs, and bladder full of water. We probably each carried 20 pounds of stuff that we did not use/need. I would bring a stove since they do not guarantee firewood. One GPS was fine, but the trail was really well marked with blazes (markers on the trail) in sight in both directions.
  3. There is not much wildlife in The woods- I am used to looking out for cougars, bears, deer, wolves and other animals at home. Since NZ is a relatively new country they do not have any big predators. The only things we were warned about were possums and rats. We saw possum traps on the first few miles of the trek, but that was it. I was still looking over my shoulder when walking to the outhouses at night even though there was nothing to be scared of. It was nice not having to worry.

What we ate- I am not proud of this and my Outdoor leadership professors would judge me harshly, but…

Since we only had one day of prep time from our hotel room before leaving on the hike we were pretty desperate to find food for 5 days that we could rely on. Our food actually worked out really well except we got very tired of it all by the last day.

Food List for us- 5 cans of chicken (for me), 5 cans of tuna(for Max), two sleeves of crackers, oatmeal, luna bars, peanut M&Ms, dried apricots, almonds, pringles, freeze dried meals, plus lots of tea, hot chocolate, and Max carried 3 cans of Guiness (which he regretted carrying and drank the first 2 nights)

Breakfast: I had oatmeal and Max had luna bars

Lunch: we ate our chicken and tuna cans on crackers

Dinner: freeze dried meals, which were mostly pastas and curries

The rest were snacks, and all lasted until the last day. We gave three extra freeze dried meals to our driver since we were so tired of them.

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The summit that we did not conquer. When we arrived at the hut near the summit we could see the top, but the next morning we could not see above the tree line.

SNEAK PEEK!

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Max and I are really enjoying being in Honolulu! More pictures soon and still pondering thoughts for my “processing the real world” post. I will start writing soon!

I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet

I had decided that I would write one last post reflecting on my year at the South Pole and then end my blogging career, but things have just continued to be exciting so my mom and sisters have convinced me to keep writing. 

I had a new experience that made me question the security of the ground below my own two feet. I have never experienced an earthquake before and I can honestly say that I would be very happy if that was my last. Max and I are very lucky to have been out of avalanche terrain and in a safe city. There are many people in very terrible conditions without a house, stranded on the streets of kaikoura. We passed through kaikoura on the bus and walked around during an hour break just a week ago. Hard to imagine the city now. Over one thousand trapped, homeless and hungry tourists are being evacuated by helicopters and a navy ship. Even three cows are stranded on a hill top, with a helicopter rescue in the works. The whole thing is very scary, but it is actually extremely lucky that it happened at midnight. The tunnel that is now completely covered in a land slide and many other damaged parts of the road were very heavily trafficked during the day and the landslides could have killed a lot of people. Plus, many more people would have been on the roads and in those dangerous places, not in their homes, which is often the safest place to be during an earthquake.

Since the first earthquake, according to an article in the Guardian, 1,823 subsequent quakes have occurred throughout New Zealand. Max and I felt movement 24 hours after the first one and reports say they will be felt for weeks. The magnitude has been revised for the first quake, which is now measured at 7.8. 

This is the road that runs along the east coast. The bus to Nelson went along this road.

Here is our story of the events while we were in Nelson, NZ (top of the South Island)-

I woke up with the shaking in my dream. It took me a little time to process what was happening. I really felt like I was on a boat in very tall waves. I reacted before I figured out what was happening in my half asleep state of mind. Max and I woke up at the same time with the bed rocking and slamming into the wall. There was also an opened door outside of our private room that was banging very loudly. I immediately opened the bedroom door and stood under the frame. I am proud that I remembered my elementary school training and practice drills. 

 Max was still on the bed and I made him stand in the bathroom door frame, but at that point the shaking had mostly stopped. The main movement lasted about three minutes. I was really freaked out. But, compared to many of the other people in the hostel who were outside screaming, we were cool as cucumbers. We started to process what was happening and my adrenaline was going at a million miles an hour. It did not take long before the after shocks started to hit. The first one felt as rocky as the main one, but lasted a tenth of the time. We continued to have many very small ones and about eight more pretty big ones that shook the bed. Max went back to sleep, but I was too panicked to feel like I could fall asleep. So instead I kept my eyes glued to my iPad refreshing the news and watching the live chat feed for information. Then people started posting about being in tsunami warnings, so I found our street on the Nelson tsunami map and found that we were in the red zone since we were in a hostel by the ocean. I found out where we needed to go and was completely prepared to get our hiking gear and sleep on the hill. Luckily, about this time being panicked and alone (since Max was sleeping) my mom woke up in Texas and I was able to text with her and calm down. I went to sleep at 3:30 am and woke up at 6:30 am to catch our bus. Of course, our bus was canceled for many days, so at the moment we are on a plane and just landed in Christchurch.

The tsunami zones. Some areas, including Christchurch, had very loud sirens going all night throughout the town.

Our hostel was on Weka street. So we could have walked up the hill pretty easily.

With all of this craziness and our plans continuously changing and costs adding up, we decided to go back to the states early. So tomorrow we are leaving on a flight to Honolulu. It is turning out to be a great idea. Max has a cousin who has offered us his apartment since they will be going out of town. We will have ten days in Honolulu and then Maui at last!

What I learned that I should have known- read the fine print. I had no idea I needed to look at earthquakes in our travel insurance policy when we purchased it. Turns out our $5,000 each of “trip interruption” on our insurance policy covers trip changes if we have to get home because of an earthquake that happened at home, but does not cover travel changes because of an earthquake that happens while we are away. So, unfortunately we each spent about $500 in flight and housing changes, but we decided it was totally worth it. 

Back To The Green World

After three days of weather and mechanical issues, we were finally off to McMurdo! 

Max and I spent two days in McMurdo. A group of us did the castle rock hike. We were very surprised by how sore we were after 7 miles of walking, and spent a lot of time realizing how little we actually walked at Pole. We mostly walked the halls with a very small amount of walking outside.

We also did two more trips to the Ob tube. On our second trip we saw and heard a seal for about an hour. They make the craziest noises underwater! It was so loud with many different pitches. 

We also ate way too much 24 hour pizza before it was time to go. 

We finally saw our first penguin up close!! He was so cute. When we were walking up to the C17, this penguin started waddling up to us. There was a big group taking photos of him and he just stood there and laid down. When we were leaving he was watching us walk away. So cute! I took many more photos of him on Max’s camera, but we do not have a computer with us to get the photos. All of these photos were taken on our phones. Better photos coming soon.

We arrived in Christchurch at 11 pm and went to bed. The next morning we woke up and took all of our extra stuff that we did not want to travel with to the CDC(clothing distribution center) . While we were there, rescued huskies arrived across the street at the Antarctic Center. We were so excited to see dogs! You are supposed to have a wrist band and pay to see them, but the owner let us since we wintered. 

Maya was our favorite to pet. 

Finally, it was time to get down to business and find out what we packed for ourselves a year before. We spent time sorting our bags and repacking. Max forgot a cup, but besides that which was easy to get, we were ready for backpacking. We spent the day walking around Christchurch (12 miles) and getting food for our upcoming trek. It was a long day, and ended with getting together with other polies for dinner. 

The next morning we took the intercity bus to Nelson, which is at the top of the South Island. We have been here for five days doing the Sabine Circuit trail, which I will talk about in another post. Tomorrow we leave on a bus back to Christchurch before getting a car and heading to Wanaka. 

Looking Back

Today marks 60 years since the first plane (a Basler) was flown to the South Pole. Hard to believe that it is relatively recent since the first explorers made it to the South Pole a little over 100 years ago traveling on foot with sleds. Amundsen and Scott both had very different approaches to getting here, but arrived about a month apart. It is amazing that this place I have been living at was the last unexplored continent in the world, and yet life here currently is so modern. We have internet almost 6 hours a day, plenty of food, and a very comfortable station with very few people ever needing to go outside in the winter. To read about Roald Amundsen’s journey go here, and to read about Robert Scott’s journey go here. There is also a lot of information about the competition of both journeys here. And to look at pictures of the first plane to the South pole, check it out here.

I found these photos on the common drive from 1960-1961.

The old cold weather attire. The program still provides the same bear paw mittens as they did 50 years ago.

Since I was supposed to leave today, which has now been canceled because of weather, I wanted to write about the beginning of my own experience. We just got photos from our team building time at Estes Park. That week was much harder for some than others, having to work together and get close and comfortable with people we had just met. For me, it was very simple since I am a strong believer in team building, have a degree in Outdoor Leadership and worked on a challenge course. The work I did with many groups at Oregon State University was very similar to what we did during that week. Here are some pictures of things we did.

One of the longest projects was being assigned to a five man team and having to build a boat out of cardboard, plastic, and tape. It was the first time we got together and showed our skills and what we could contribute to the process.

Once the boats were complete we had to name them and tell the other teams what was so great about our boat. Then, each team had to pick someone who would be the captain and potentially get wet.

Of course, there was a catch! We had to be the captain of a different boat that we drew from a hat.

I made the boat in the picture above^ and had to pilot the boat from the picture below, which was actually the boat Max helped make. My boat made it to the end, but my paddle stopped working soon after I started so I used the old hand paddle method.

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We also had to get each person through the land mine without hitting cones. If you were not in the mine you could see and talk to people who were inside. Once you were inside you had to be blind folded and collect one coin while you were making your way across. This is a very common team building activity, but can be done in a variety of different ways.

We had to figure out which loop of string was not connected to the rest without touching any of the strings.

Our least favorite activity was this pipe. We started with the pipe, struggled a lot, could not get it, and then went back to it on the last day before we finally succeeded. The object was to use the bike pump on one end to blow up a balloon on the other end. There were about 150 holes along the pipe so we all had to hold our fingers over the holes so the air would not escape. If one person had their finger off one hole, the balloon would not budge. We tried many techniques. The rumor is that after day one someone went into the room and blew up the balloon a few times to stretch it out and make it easier. Technically cheating, or maybe just using an extra secret recourse..

Our final activity was a geotreck. There were 6 different teams and way points all over. Some teams went many miles and only did a few points, while others did many caches staying close by. Our team was right in the middle, so we went as far as a mile out and found 6 or 7 caches. Each team was given a list of coordinates, a map, a gps and a radio. We called back to comms when we found a cache so we were not all looking for the same ones over and over. It was a really fun and active activity outside in the woods before heading down to a sheet of ice.

It is so funny to look back at the photos and see how much we have changed. Men have grown out their beards and hair. Some have lost a lot of weight. Some have started to grey or lose hair. And we have all gotten very pale.

Hopefully my next post will be sometime in New Zealand, where I will reflect on my year at the South Pole and the things that have been hardest to readjust back to in society. I will try to get Max to write on the same topic and post his as well. We are both eager for what the future holds, travel, school, and more! Thanks for reading my many posts throughout this experience.

Volleyball

Tomorrow should be my last night of volleyball if all goes well and we actually leave on Monday. We have been playing volleyball every Wednesday night all year long. Last week was one of our best nights yet with many hard hits and intense rallies. We pick random teams by drawing cards and playing high versus low.  There are six regulars who play every week and then about five others who show up occasionally. The only thing missing is my mom in the stands cheering me on like she did at all of my high school games years ago. Miss you mom!

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Max going for the big block against our PA, Scott

 

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A nice picture of the gym. We can play the ball off the ceiling as long as it does not go over and before the third hit. That makes games very exciting. We are not allowed to play off the wall of the basketball hoops.

 

*photos taken on Robert Schwarz’s camera

Basler: The plane has still not made it and is four days late. We still have a lot of snow blowing on the ground so visibility is low. There is a small chance the Basler will make it tomorrow and if not the first LC-130 Herc will probably beat it here on Friday.