Travels With Oso con Migo

Is There Life After Antarctica?

OAE On The Road Again, Ross Island to Austin

March 16, 1997, last letter February 17, 1997

Gentle Readers,

February 20, 1997 --I think this is what he meant he thought he said...

Text of message sent to the ISlist the day the summer manager left: "I am manifested to leave tonight, and Kent Atchley, the winter [over] Information Systems manager, has been delayed and cannot get to the ice until the day after tomorrow. In the interim, Rex Cotton will act as point of contact for Information Systems. Rex is scheduled to arrive tonight, but if he is delayed for any reason, Steve Comstock will coordinate activities until he or Kent gets in."

I sure hope somebody, namely me--or them, gets to where they be going before this game of musical managers spirals down to me.

February 21, 1997 --The ice is out!

There has been some pretty strong winds for a day or so, a little snow but mostly just windy, and the annual sea ice in the entirety of McMurdo Sound has gone out. Quite spectacular. Even the iceberg that has been parked by the shortcut iceroad between Williams Field and the Pegasus Aerodrome since about 93 or 94 went out and took the road with it. Looks like maybe as much as a hundred feet of the permanent ice of the Ross Ice Shelf, from Scott Base, around past the end of the Willy Field skiway towards the Pegasus Autobahn, has broken into a number of small tabular bergs. Shades of Global Warming--this might be enough to raise the level of the sea by a millimeter.

The iceberg, a must-see attraction for the local tourists during the past couple of years meandered out into the sound nearly as far as being abeam of the chapel--well at least as far as on a line between McMurdo and Black Island--before the wind and the tide changed and drove it back nearly to where it was in the first place.

Somewhere along here the floating ice pier broke in two parts sending waves of concern over personnel that the next thing to go just might be the tidal zone transition where the Scott Base gravel road on Ross Island becomes the Willy Road on the Ross Iceshelf. Or even worse, that the ice pier might break up further--or that the iceberg might try to tie up at the pier and expect to be off-loaded. You can see that there is a lot more concern here this week about ice than just the size of the chunks in my Gin&Tonic.

February 22, 1997, Saturday, Its The Last Plane to Christchurch... I'll meet you at the airport... It really isn't, there is one more, the LSD flight. But this is the last chance for me. I've postponed this departure from day to day for a week trying to get the last few bugs out of my code. Everything looks good now. Time to go.

On the drive out to Pegasus we pass by a working crack not four feet from the edge of the road. There are no life preservers nor Gumby Suits on the Airporter bus. Not far away, fluttering in an icy breeze on a berg floating where the short-cut road used to be, we can see trail flags marking the edge of a road that is no more. XD-01 arrived a little early, they had a good tailwind flying south--that can only mean that my flight will have a bad headwind on the way north. The c-130 is hot-refueled while we PAX are briefed about ditching in the dark icy water and about not sleeping on the cargo pallets. The props are still spinning when we finally board and I note with delight that at least seven litters are in place in the upper reaches of the passenger cabin. No place cards are in evidence but I take it as a good sign that my seat is favourably located for quick ascent as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off. The plane's wheels leave the ice at 21h24 and we climb round for a wing waggling pass over McMurdo--this is supposedly the last c-130 flight this year and marks station closing. The LSD flight in a fortnight will be a c- 141. As we begin to level at cruising altitude I note a few of my fellows beginning to eye the litters so its time to make a move. I manage the top one in the center aisle and settle down to a nine hour nap.

I also noted upon boarding that on the outside of the aircraft where it is stencilled who flies this bird and who owns it the word Research is in the name of the programme. National Science Foundation Antarctic Research Programme. I wonder... has the research finally been returned to the purpose we are all here?

February 23, 1997, Sunday, Happy Birthday Mum!

Hey--I just took a shower. Not so unusual in and of itself but this time I took out the knot from my beard. Besides there being enough loose hair and birdnest parts to give a bald man pangs of jealousy I found the longest strands still anchored in my chin long enough to stretch all the way to that other place where curly hair grows.

It would be so easy to just stay here I have to remind my Self that one reason I didn't want to winter again, for now at least, is cos there are several things I have been wanting to do in New Hampster, not the least of which is clean out a storage shed full of stuff I've not seen for ten years and is costing me 600$US a year to store.

. o O (The hardest part of that job will be knowing that every thing I toss in the tip increases the intrinsic value of every thing else in the pile that remains. Can you imagine me ending up with one 3000$US sweater and a case of mouldy books?)

. o O (Some of the items ought to be put in a museum... --This pair of boots was stored for ten years by some fool who had the audacity to believe they might still be worth wearing.)

Late follow-up news from the Bladderologist... "This is to certify that, as a result of microscopic haematuria on several occasions, the above [I think that means moi since my name is the only above] has been fully investigated with an IVU, ultrasound and PSA, as well as flexible cystoscopy, all of which show no sinister cause for the haematuria." (I could have told them that--its cos I'm dexterous.)

. o O (ooh! I wonder what an *in*flexible cystoscopy must be like?)

March 1, 1997, Saturday, Two Concerts and Two Movies Later...

>If you guesstimated the number of miles you have to your credit... All my miles? Or only the ones United Airlines gives me credit for? My old yellow van, the one known as Willshedoit (which must only be whispered in the ear, never to be spoken aloud) had 330,000, that's about half way *back* from the moon, when she was switched off for the last time. The outline map of the lower-48 painted on her side had all the states filled in and about the only piece of original equipment remaining of the vehicle at that point was the steering wheel. I still have the lug nuts from when they were all replaced at 250,000 miles, in a little sack, waiting for me to have them silver plated. The van before that, the red one, had a hundred thousand and then some. Then there were two piddling motorcycle trips crossing the states--one coast to coast twice in one summer, the other from Seattle to Montreal via Texas and Florida--together they amounted to not more than 30,000. ... lets see ... Once around the world by plane and train, once a third of the way round by vessel, then umpteen trips to McMurdo and Palmer... Maybe there is a million miles there but its not all miles I have driven or ridden; I think I slept through the greater part.

Stephane Grappelli, jazz violinist, played at the Town Hall last night, Beethoven played tonight. Grappelli, a wizened old critter who's been around longer than I, and plays a damn sight better, bowed from his wheelchair to the delight of an enthusiastic audience. Willy Kong, a local OAE who went with me and Tony to see the Beethoven concert said he saw Grappelli play twenty years ago in London and he was good then too. Beethoven used a stand-in. Diedre Irons played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Opus 37. Beethoven's hearing was already deteriorating when he played this concerto from memory at the concert where it was heard for the first time 1803; Irons played it from memory at this concert with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

March 3, 1997, Monday... Its *still* Monday?

My journey, at least the first connecting shuttle, is to come at half noon to meet a 14h30 domestic flight CHC to AKL. I've made one last run to the internet email store for a fix that will tied me over the next 24 real hours despite the implementation of a virtual time warp that will have me arriving in San Diego *before* I leave here.

There is a frenzy of last minute details. I have really tried to get the weight of my trunk below the 32 kilos or 70 pounds limit and give up with it still above 80. Then I take apart my fine blue bike and wrap it and pack it and stuff some cloths in the bike box that won't fit in the trunk. Ready-set-go! Click my Limmers together three times and ...

...home before I know it? I am not sure about that. After all this travel, and even with the fatalistic outlook that I may not pass by this way again, a feeling that I have not experienced on my previous departures from Christchurch over the past few years, I still have not got a grasp on where home is. I call this planet home but only cos I am bound to it, but I seem not so bound to any particular place on her surface more so than any other particular place. I have lived in many communities now, since I started looking for home, participated in diverse societies looking for the family of man. I find us every where, but many I have met who still think in terms of we and they leave my quest incomplete.

The first delay was at the domestic terminal, Christchurch. Eric said after looking at my ticket --There's been a Major Delay with your connecting flight between AKL and LAX.

What means major I asked from under my travelling hat. Not only was there a delay in my AKL-LAX flight but it was such a delay that the CHC-AKL didn't leave for four hours just so there wouldn't be such a big pileup in Auckland. It didn't matter. By the time we got to Auckland three hundred assorted travellers and tourists were on queue at the United Airlines check in counter and the jumbo 747 was no where to be seen. Rumor control was running amok and the dispatch board said flight 842, scheduled for 16h30 (long past) was rescheduled for 04h30 (tomorrow morning). My bike box took up as much space on the queue as three luggage trolleys--I had to have a "Wide Load" sign. The queue inched along, flight 842 worked its way to the top of the dispatch board and then got stuck at the top, and new rumors rippled back from the front. The plane from Los Angeles to Auckland had been diverted to India? I thought that was kind of ironic since I'd originally planned to go to India.

Now I have more time to write. I'm at 32,000 feet, above the clouds on a line between Auckland and Los Angeles. The day is still Monday, or Monday all over again by the local clock. My plane is twelve hours late but that may work out ok--at least it is still in the air--and the flight is now in the daytime so I am more or less awake, rather than at night as it was originally scheduled.

The rumor about India turned out to be idle gossip when United Airlines announced the real diversion had been to Fiji. It seems that the number four hydraulic system on the 747 had indicated a failure during the flight over the Pacific southbound towards New Zealand so they landed at Fiji to see what the matter was. Once on the ground it became apparent that it was an indicator problem not really a hydraulic problem but it still needed to be fixed before flying. In the meantime the weather was getting bad at Auckland so they figured to take on more fuel in case they had to orbit a while or get diverted again but through all this the so-called crew clock was still ticking and before repairs were complete it ran out and so the crew was not allowed to take off until they'd had their contract rest period. So now there are 300 folks waiting in Fiji coming south and 300 more waiting in Auckland for the plane to come in so they can go north. Eventually UA flew another crew to Fiji to man that plane and by the time it got to Auckland all the folks waiting there had been put up in hotels--I got a room at the downtown Sheraton--on the airlines bill. That's Ok... it was on the news recently that Boeing makes NZ$30,000,000.00 profit on the sale of each new 747.

Vera was cool as a cucumber under her frazzled exterior by the time I'd worked my wide load through the cattle class queue control to the UA CheckIn Counter. I'd changed my sign to read "Do Not Pass Bicycle Making Wide U Turns". She didn't like my trunk being 12 pounds over so I had to do some rearranging right there on the scale. --What have you got in there? she asked. Lot's of books, I said, and some wine and dirty cloths. --No roses? --No roses.

I'd never been on a flight that got delayed so far that the airline gave accommodations to its PAX. This was a new experience. Starting with the 30NZ$ it takes to travel by taxi from the airport to the Downtown Sheraton where I found the most fabulous showerhead. Like a giant sunflower raining huge drops of warm water. I could have stood under it for hours but it was already after 22h00 and the wake-up call would be at 03h00.

March 4, 1997, Flying into LAX from over the sea...

I arrived in LAX last night and am now ensconced in a comfy bed in San Diego recovering from jumbojetlag and terminalitis. --Drink lots of OJ and call me when you wake up, my hosts Angie and Susan said. My twelve hour flight was twelve hours late. Sunset had been a couple of hours further west over a bed of cauliflower clouds; a weak green flash at 32,000 feet. Flying into LAX from over the sea one could see, from a half-hour out, the gangrenous grey smudge under-lit by the sodium vapour glow. As we got closer the orange glow began to differentiate and patterns emerged, some of the lights became tenebrous snakes moving between rows of other lights of different shades that resembled streets. I'll bet as many people live in greater Los Angeles as inhabit both islands of New Zealand. The plane descended into the murk and a distinct odour of burnt toast pervaded the cattle-class cabin.

March 5, 1997, Chubby Hubby, Cherry Garcia, Coffee-Coffee-Buzz-Buzz

My second night in San Diego. My hosts took me on a foray to the little grocer around the corner and we returned with five pints of B&J. An orgiastic ice cream experience followed by the fire--five pints, three spoons--we dug in for the big eat. YUM!

Chubby-Hubby is a fascinating flavour that I'd not seen before. Reminiscent of Chunky-Monkey, it contains chunks of *pretzel* of all things! Every now and then there is a distinct hit of salt--not just a pervasive salty flavour, which I'm sure would be ruinous in an ice cream, but a giant salt crystal, intact, that lands on the salt receptors of your tongue and wakes it up like the salt you might sprinkle on the head of a beer. Wham! and then its back to the thick sweet cold ice cream flavours that wrap and twist and inter-mingle. I kept looking for the mustard. But my favourite of them all was another new flavour--Coffee-Coffee-Buzz-Buzz-Buzz.

March 6, 1997, Thirteen and 42 at the Golden Triangle

James's 13th birthday was yesterday and his party is tomorrow but Jim and I are taking him to dinner tonight. His choice? In & Out Burger. Supposedly they use fresh potatoes for their chips/fries but the place was too hectic for me to take a moment and ask. In&Out used to be fast but like everything that grows they take as long as any of the "fast" food places. At least they are not as ubiquitous as the Golden Arch place. The burgers were good, first time I've had a burger in years it seems; fries were good too except they had no vinegar. Oh Well--what can you expect for southern California, eh?

What is especially significant and mystical about this evening is that the call number for our food order at In&Out was 42. Gabe knows what that number means but Jim and James don't; maybe someday they will figure it out. I gave James a couple of my favourite books: _The Collected Works of Robert Frost_ and _The Spell of The Yukon_, poems by Robert Service but in real paper. 

         Nature's first green is gold,
         Her hardest hue to hold.
         Her early leaf's a flower;
         But only so an hour.
         Then leaf subsides to leaf.
         So Eden sank to grief,
         So dawn goes down to day.
         Nothing gold can stay.

The price tag for the two books also contained the number 42.

March 7, 1997, Friday, What Price Freedom?

This morning started out fine enough sampling the San Diego Trolley system for a ride around the downtown area and then a walk about the bookstore block. The San Diego Zoo is around here someplace--Jim's father recently retired from his position there of Keeper of The Bears, Dr. of Bearology.

Then to Margarita's at Ocean Beach for a Tipico Desayuno with Angie. We are back in that part of the world that has lots of signs, even signs telling you that you must *read* the signs! Most of the signs are in two languages except the signs in the Greek and Japanese restaurants--they are in three languages. At Margarita's there is a sign over the front door, typical of most businesses in California it seems: "This door to remain unlocked during business hours." Why Angie? Why is that sign necessary? Why do people have to be admonished that the door is to remain unlocked during business hours? Angie says --Its to remind the employees that if they want any business they need to keep the door unlocked so the customers can get in. Later, that afternoon, at the Santa Fe terminal whilst checking my trunk and bike for the rail ride to Austin I note that three of the five doors going out to track side are locked. One which is sort of in the "most convenient" location for the prevailing traffic pattern through the lobby even has a large hand-lettered sign saying "CLOSED". No matter, the trains are late.

Another delay. This one is a Colonel Delay. There's been a bomb threat/scare on a southbound train at Oceanside so all the trains from Los Angeles to San Diego have been held up while the bomb squad spars with the media squad. The passengers were sent on ahead by a couple of passing Greyhounds and the word at first was the northbound passengers may have to be bussed around the circus but before that became an issue the bomb squad blew up the "device" and we were on our way after only an hour and a half.

About two stops north the conductor announced that if anyone left anything of value in the yellow suitcase on the platform back in San Diego they best make their presence known right quick cos the station master was about to call the bomb squad.

March 8, 1997, These Sandals Are Made For Walkin'

Each of these Amtrak Superliner cars is about 86 feet long. As we move west to east my compartment is on the north side, about a third of the way from the end of the last car of the train, on the upper level, and the diner is forward three coaches and the lounge.
 oo    oo oo    oo oo    oo oo    oo oo    oo oo    oo oo

That makes about 860 feet round trip per meal or other excursion. The little `s' is where a man was selling silver at his seat from a traveling display case of many drawers. The `L' is the lounge car and in the Lower Level of the Lounge there is a geedunk. In the lower level of my sleeper there is a shower. There is another sleeper forward of the `D'iner. In San Antonio, America's tenth largest city it says on the Sunset Limited Route Guide, this train will split. The forward sleeper continues on as the Sunset Limited to Miami (I traveled that route a few years ago) and the aft sleeper goes on to Austin and points north as the Texas Eagle.

Along the way here are telephone poles, Joshua trees, tumbleweeds, fence posts, barbed wire, rusty bailing bands, old tyres, two brown cows, a water pumping windmill, a "COW"xing sign, two black cows, a high pressure gas line is buried under the red earth, a freight train going the other way, stuff everywhere!

Deming, home to the world's only duck races, is the next stop. We have just past the continental divide, 4,587 feet, its all downhill from here. Time for lunch.

Ciudad Juarez is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. The river does not look very grande looking down on its winding muddy waters from the south side of the Observation Lounge as we arrive at Union Station, El Paso and the length of my Sleeper would easily span the international border at this point. A Border Patrol officer watches from a vantage overlooking a bend in the river where children play in the brown water. It is amazing to me that two cultures so close in space can be so far apart in quality.

We are forty minutes at Union Station--a smoking break, a walk around the train. Trading new passengers for old. I walk forward along the platform to the baggage car and see that my trunk and bicycle are there. They are but the bike box is standing on one end with the UP arrows pointed toward the back of the train. A freight goes by slowly, the faded names on the boxcars read like a litany of American railroading history: Aberdeen & Rockfish, Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Boston & Maine, Southern Pacific, Golden West Service, Cotton Belt, SeaLand, TrailerTrain... Out through the rail yards, engine wash, fuel pits--a grizzled man squats behind a warehouse beyond one of many grade crossings, the waist of his dark, dirty trousers, bunched at his knees--the squalor goes on in waves of broken glass and old tyres between islands of grey cinderblock houses and rusted mobil homes--groups of boys wave at the train from where they play in redoubts of cardboard crates and wooden pallets. Further out of the city the rows of houses with the occasional tree give way to rows of trees with the occasional house. What kind of orchard is this with no leaves and no fruits I wonder.

It just occurred to me that I am getting six meals per mile.

March 12, 1997, Rainy Season--Flood Warnings...

Right now I am in Austin where I will visit with Keith and Erin and the fat black farting cat who lives with them. This cat has been around for a few years and is getting so big he can hardly get through his cat-door now. They have an electric bubble gun that makes bubbles of deodouriser and shoots them out at the clouds of black cat fart gas which hover as a noxious green cloud so evil that they cause news anchors on the telly to break extra for commercials.

Keith and Erin live in the Lakes Region west of the City of Austin. There are two lakes right in the front yard, one of them is right where the paperboy launches their daily copy of the _Austin American- Statesman_ and their riding lawn mower has outriggers and pontoons and deep sea fishing tackle, which is handy for reeling in the news.

I reassemble my bike (which interestingly enough has survived the "special handling" of United and Amtrak despite the extra fees they extort) for a pedal around the dog infested streets while Keith dons  hip waders for a walk-about the yard where he disperses this poisonous stuff called Dursban, which appears to be some sort of building material the fire ants use to make their mounds impervious to the rain. Then, while I'm fine tuning the height of my seat, Keith makes another round with weed killer, which causes the prickly pear cactus to spread like horseradish, and fertiliser, which makes the buffalo grass grow so thick you canna see the fire ant mounds until you trip over them. One might say this Urban Gardener is Chernobylising the Chad.

Probly this explains the grotesque appearance of my toes. Probly he should retain the services of an anteater rather than a black farting cat. Probly it is time to get this letter in the mail and go shopping for a truck.

For as long as this journal is incomplete, it never ends.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Love, ajo

 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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