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28 October, 2003

As I saddled up for this morning's commute to South Base and points beyond to tag the newest pups, it occurred to me just how different my life is here on Erebus Bay compared to life in Carbondale, Colorado. Most of us commute to work, either by car, bus, on foot, or by bike. My commute here in Antarctica just happens to be by snowmobile.

On a typical morning at home I rise, brush my teeth and comb my hair, choose an outfit for the day, and have my breakfast of hot tea and cold cereal and toast. After breakfast I go out to the garage, start the car, and take off for work. If I'm riding my bike to work I usually layer-up with fleece and windproof gear to keep me warm during the 15-mile ride. Either way, it's your basic sort of commute.

Here in Antarctica it's much the same. I slither out of my warm sleeping bag and pull on warm clothes for the 2-second trek to the kitchen hut. After a mug of hot tea and a bowl of cold cereal, and perhaps some toast, it's usually time to get ready for the day. It's easy to choose an outfit-just put on the same 3 pairs of long underwear bottoms and 2 tops I wore the day before and pull my black wind pants on top of it all. Underneath my white bunny boots I cover my feet with 2 pairs of socks-a thin liner and a pair of thick woolen socks. On top of all that, I wear a radio, neatly strapped into a chest harness. I usually wear a fleece vest on top over all that underneath my red down parka. Oh yeah, don't forget the neck gaiter, balaclava, and hat, as well as the goggles and gloves.

So then it's out to the garage-oops, no garage out here in Antarctica, just a line of snowmobiles under their covers. We take off the covers, slide on the side baskets, put our ECW bags with extra clothes in the storage boxes, load tagging equipment and lunch in the side baskets, and get ready to start them up. This is the first aerobic activity of the day. Sometimes they start on the first pull of the cord-but that's usually only to fool you into thinking they will actually keep going. Most days it takes quite a few tugs of the starter cord to get them going while you hold onto the throttle to give them some gas so they won't die (meanwhile you're trying to pull on your parka that you took off during the repeated cord tuggings). While many commuters have cell phone hook-ups in their cars, our snowmobiles have GPS (global positioning system) holders instead, to use if we are navigating in a white-out.

Once your machine is warmed up, it's time to pull up your hood and put your goggles on over it and pull your neck gaiter up over your nose and tuck it under your goggles to keep your nose snugly covered. That's about when I remember that I really wanted to put in my ear plugs-so I must snake my hand in under all those layers to deftly place the ear plugs.

Everything's in place, everyone's ready, and off we roar over the sastrugi. The scenery for this drive is magnificent-if I can take my eyes off the path ahead of me long enough to take in the view. Mount Erebus rises 13,000' above us to the east. If the winds are calm, its smoke plume lingers around the top. We cruise along, bumping and bouncing over drifts and cruising across the flats. Don't forget to turn left at the next crack. Just your basic commuteŠ..

Daily Haiku:

Commute across ice

Bouncing over sastrugi

Watch out for the cracks

Ready for today's commute.

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