Day Four – Condition Two!

Greetings from the cold cold south!

Today we hit condition two weather.

 

From Wikipedia –

Condition 2

Windspeed of 48 to 55 knots (55 to 63 miles per hour)

Visibility 1/4 of a mile to 100 feet (402 to 30 meters)

Wind chill of -75 °F (-60 °C) to −100 °F (−73 °C)

Description: Unpleasant conditions; outside travel is permitted but not recommended.

 

What does this mean for a girl from south Georgia?  IT’S FRIGGIN COLD!!! But so cool.  I love it here.  Really I do.  If I hadn’t made promises to return at the end of the summer season, I would consider a winter contract.  I say that now, but it’s only been four days.  I’m hoping that I still feel the same way towards the end of the season.

I keep running outside to see if there are any nacreous clouds in the mornings and in the evenings, but I’ve been told they should be good towards the last two weeks of Winfly.  I really hope they are.  I’ve also been running out late at night in an attempt to see the southern lights.  No luck yet.  Today, before the weather hit, I was walking over to lunch from the firehouse and could see the mountain range off in the distance for the first time and I was thinking “It is a gorgeous day!”…

Today I get to attend the outdoor awareness lecture over at Crary Lab.  I’m excited about this for two reasons.  1)  I will get to venture out from the “city”.  2) I get to go into Crary Lab where all of the research that goes on down here is completed.  The part of me that wanted to be a marine biologist when I was younger is still there.  I love the sea.

So the condition two weather meant a couple of things at work.  It meant more vehicles started checking in with us and recreational travel was halted.  But it also meant when I asked one of the FFs to go take my camera out and go take some pictures for me, my boss looked at me and said “You can go out and play!”  So we did.  Not for long, but we walked around in it for a bit.  Pretty soon I will have to give into the urge to go fling myself into a pile of snow that is located outside of the medical building, which is located across from building 155 (where I live).

Hope everyone at home is doing well.

Love-Tori

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Better late than never

I know it’s late but right now I’ve been CRAZY busy with work and still getting settled in. I’ll do better in than never.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

 

Today was my first full day at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Started out today with a quick step outside to check out the weather (at 530am) and I ran into David from the power plant.  Since this is his third season on the Ice, I asked him when would be a good time to see the nacreous clouds.  He told me that they are best seen, this time of year, around 4pm.  He told me that they would best be seen in front of building 155 (my home, the galley, the art room, the EVERYTHING building) and he knew of some really good places to see them but before that, I would have to go to the outdoor awareness and safety talk.  That’s the plan for tomorrow evening, after I get off work and after dinner. 

 

After I spoke with him, I came back to my room and attempted to sleep a few more hours.  Brunch wasn’t until 10 and I didn’t have to go to the “dirt tour” until 12 so I thought I could sleep in.  My current roommates started stirring around 645 so I just ended up staying awake and talking to them.  I say they’re my current roommates because I expect to switch rooms on Monday, August 29, 2011.  For some strange reason, Renae and I were not put in the same room.  I like my current roommates but Renae and I are going to be doing shift work, working the same hours, so we’ll be able to relate to each others’ schedules pretty well.  The girls I have in my room now, one is a DA (Dining assistant) and she doesn’t know what schedule she’ll be on and the other is one of the housing staff who will be working the normal 7:30 to 5:30 schedule that most of the “town” keeps to. 

 

Brunch was pretty good.  The galley is set up buffet style with several different food bars to choose from.  Today’s breakfast had somewhat of a mexican theme along with the standard (well, what I presume is standard) Sunday omelet line and waffle line.

 

After breakfast was the “dirt tour” which is a quick walking tour around McMurdo.  We didn’t hit all of the areas but we were shown the main places we need to know.  He did show us where the Ob Hill (Observation Hill) trail is as well as the Hut Trail.  I’m looking forward to hiking those once I get my outdoor safety clearance awareness thing… Our tour guide, Mike, had icicles beginning to form on his mustache after about 5 minutes, and by the end of the tour, he had a few full blown icicles.  It was kind of crazy.  Of course, me being on the uphill slope of having the crud with a runny nose, was kind of entertaining too.  I won’t go into detail but so far, no snotsicle pictures have been taken of me.

 

After the tour, Renae and I had to report to work at the Firehouse to start learning the ropes.  Basically, this is going to be a lot of telephone operator type duties along with contacting “utility” departments.  It won’t be bad or too hectic.  Definitely no worse than a 2-10 shift on a training day at GB-911.  We were only at the station for a few hours, then we were released to do whatever we wished for the rest of the day.  I took a few more pictures and came back to the room to write.  A few of the firefighters were talking about going to Gallagher’s (One of the bars) tonight but I don’t think I’m going to join them.  Work starts at 7am tomorrow and I’m sure it is going to be a very busy day.

e future. I promise.

Greetings from Antarctica!

Hey everyone – I arrived in Antarctica yesterday at approximately 4pm. 

First impression – WOW! 

I don’t have much time to write about it all right now but I just wanted to let everyone know that I have safely arrived and thank you all for the “well wishes” love and support.

I’ll write more later, with pictures!

Tori

New Zealand, I love you but… – Postponement 3 & 4

Still Friday, August 26, 2011.

So Thursday August 25 and today we met our 3rd and 4th postponements.  I have come down with a case of the crud.  Hopefully this will pass quickly and I’ll be able to fly with no problems.  The crud is a general term for colds and such in Antarctica but I seem to have gotten it early.  Not only have I gotten it early, I seem to have passed it to Pam.  Thankfully, no one else that was sharing the water bottle on Wednesday’s expedition has gotten ill.  Personally I think it is due to the new room that Pam and I were placed in.  We were once in the luxury side of the hotel and now we’re in the ghetto.

Thursday consisted of doing as little as possible other than resting and staying hydrated, only venturing out for food and beverages.  Today, Friday, Pam and I went down to Sumner since she didn’t go on the first trip.  We had lunch at the same indian restaurant that I did on Tuesday with the other group.  The tide was high (but I’m holding on – oh sorry, ADD again) so we didn’t get to walk on Scarborough Beach, but we did manage to get up close to the cargo containers that are stacked two high along the road to prevent rockslides from reaching the main roadway.

So New Zealand, you have my heart and I love you so but… I’m ready to go to Antarctica!

New Zealand, I love you even more – second postponement

I’m behind a few days, being that today is Friday, August 26, 2011 but oh well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 our departure to McMurdo was again postponed.  After having to transfer rooms on Tuesday morning after the announcement of the postponement, I woke up to another chilly morning.  I dressed quickly and headed to the dining room for breakfast, only to discover that breakfast wasn’t served for another hour.  I decided to walk about for a bit and headed south to enjoy the cold air.  After about 30 minutes, when the night started giving way to dawn, I turned back around and headed for the hotel.  I met up with David, who works at the power plant, outside of the hotel and asked him how he felt about all of the delays.  He told me that he was ready to get on the Ice.  He had messaged several of his friends who were/are currently down there working at the power plant and they told him that the weather was condition 2 in town but condition 1 on the runway.  Since the weather on the runway was so poor, we would have to wait for the weather to clear and for the runway to be cleared off before we could depart.  Lovely.

After a quick bite to eat, Pam (another one of the dispatchers and my current roommate) and I waited for Matt, Keith and Pat to join us.  The trip for the day was to the Sign of the Takahe.  From Wikipedia – The Sign of the Takahe is today a restaurant and function centre built in the style of an English Manor House. Designed by J. G. Collins, construction was carried out between 1918 and 1948. The Takahe also provides one of the better panoramic views of the city of ChristchurchNew Zealand, the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps.  ***Actually, today the Sign of the Takahe has a chain link fence around it due to renovations.  The need for renovations, of course, was caused by the February 2011 earthquake that occurred in Christchurch.

Anyhow, Keith bailed on us and told us he might meet up with us later, so Matt, Pat, Pam and I headed for the bus stop.  Now, we weren’t going to the closest bus stop because it costs 7.50 to leave from the airport area, so we trekked down just over 2 miles, crossing busy roadways to the bus stop, which is right next to a cemetery.  Then we waited…and waited…and waited…  Then an elderly gentleman came to the bus stop and told Matt that the bus was only five minutes away.  He also told us about living here during the earthquake.  His story of what he was doing and his memories of the quake are his to tell.  I won’t go into detail because it was a very traumatic experience and to see him relive it through telling us was hard enough.  I will say though that he and his family are all ok.

When the bus arrived, who do we find on it but Keith.  He caught it at the regular stop paying the full $7.50 while we walked to Timbuktu and only paid $3.20.  We also discovered that this bus would only take us to the park where we would have to switch busses.  We waited an additional hour for the second bus to arrive after being dropped off at the park and were glad to be on our way again.  Our driver told us that there was really nothing to see at the Sign of the Takahe, but we chose to ignore him and rode until the last stop on the bus route.  At first, it didn’t look like much, and the most interesting thing was the signs for Victoria Park.  Pat and Matt took off the steep pathway to the park, while Keith and I decided to hang around the lower area.  Keith had knee surgery in April and can’t place that much exertion on it and I, well, I’m way out of shape and decided to take a look at the actual building.  About the time I got to the fence, Pam came to us and told us she found a path to an overlook behind the sign.  So the three of us took off up the path, searching for hobbits, elves, and who knows what else.  After all, we are in Middle Earth.

At the end of the path was a large observation area.  What we saw took our breath away.  From where we stood, we had a great few of Sumner’s coastline, the city of Christchurch and the Southern Alps.  Using my higher power lens, I was able to see much of the area that was affected by the earthquake.  I know I mention it a lot but once you see something like this, it is hard to get over.  the devastation is positively mind-blowing, as is the strength of the people of New Zealand to rebuild and move on.  The southern Alps are incredible.  Had I known that we would have this much time in NZ before going to the Ice, I would have taken a trip to see them closer.  Perhaps I will have a chance to do this when I redeploy from McMurdo.  Our timing to the observation area was perfect because a tour guide was there and explaining different sites to his patron.  I’d also like to take one of his wine tours when I get off of the Ice too.

After we left the observation area, we met up with Matt and Pat and headed down the hill to have lunch at a little coffee shop overlooking the city.  The lunch was excellent and afterwards we waited another hour (we did a lot of waiting this day) for the bus to come and take us back to the city centre.

It was another fantastic day in New Zealand.

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New Zealand, I love you – First Postponement

Greetings all!

I am still in New Zealand.  Today is Thursday, August 25, 2011.  Our original flight out was supposed to leave on Tuesday, however, the weather conditions were poor so our flight was postponed.  I am glad for the postponement rather than a boomerang.  So here is what I have been up to.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 – I woke up at 0200 hours and walked outside barefoot for one last chance at walking on grass before heading to the ice.  It was cold and the grass was wet, but I didn’t mind.  Another one of the dispatchers, Pam, came and knocked on my door at 230 to make sure I was awake.  I started getting all of my things together and loaded onto my luggage trolley and then there was another knock at the door.  “Tori the check in time is delayed until 0700”  Excellent!  I could sleep longer.  At around 630, Pam came and knocked on my door again to inform me that the flight had been postponed and we were going to be here for 24 hours.  Woohoo!  A free paid play day in New Zealand.  I wasn’t going to argue with that.

I joined the rest of the masses in the lobby at 0800 to meet with the USAP rep who would be distributing our per diem funds.  After getting my money, I went to the room and collected my cameras because hey, I was in New Zealand and I wasn’t going to waste the day sitting in the hotel.  I stopped by the front desk to ask the receptionist if there were any good areas to go site seeing.  She brought out a few bus route maps and pointed out a few locations that I might be interested in seeing.  I then ran into Pat, Keith and Matt.  Pat is a nice older lady from Colorado who will be the pharmacy technician on the Ice.  Matt is from Larabie Wyoming and he’s going to be doing something with machinery and Keith is from Louisiana and he is with the safety department.  I told them that I was going down to Sumner and they decided to join me.  So off we went.

We took Bus 3 down to the shore.  The route took us through parts of Christchurch near the devastation downtown, but the actual downtown area is completely blocked off from the February 2011 earthquake.  I’ve never seen an area affected by such devastation.  Sure, I’ve seen pictures and such online and on the news, but actually being there is completely different.  Despite the devastation, the continuing demolition of buildings and the obvious toll it has taken on the citizens and local economy, I have never been to a more beautiful, clean place where everyone is polite.  New Zealand, I love you.  I love your beauty and uniqueness and the way your people treat each other.

On the bus to Sumner, we met an elderly gentleman named Joe.  Joe is an American who met his Kiwi wife on-line ten years ago, sold all of his possessions in the US and moved here.  He loves it here.  I understand his sentiments.  Joe told us much about the area and pointed out several areas that were affected by the quake.  Before he did this, I’d been looking at the cliffside homes in awe but when I started seeing the destruction that was caused to them, I felt sorry for the people who owned the homes.  I can’t imagine working your entire life and putting all of your money into a dream home and then, one day, a major catastrophic event occurs and your dreams are literally crumbling out from under you.  I know it can happen anywhere and at any time, but actually seeing this saddened me.  When we arrived in Sumner, Joe directed us to an indian restaurant where we should eat due to the delicious food and reasonable prices.  We thanked him and hopped off the bus.

The restaurant was called IndianBlues.  I had the Chicken Frankie which is a lot like a grilled chicken wrap from any restaurant at home, if you added curry to it, and a Kingfisher Premium beer (not to be confused with the Kingfisher Strong).  I like indian beer.  I need to find some back at home when I return.  The others in the group had excellent food as well.  I believe there was a chicken kebab, naan bread and some buttered chicken (which looked like chicken curry).  After we ate, we started walking towards the Scarborough Beach.  On the walk to the beach, I made a huge error in judgement when I saw an old white VW beetle.  I ran up and playfully punched Matt in the arm.  From that point, the game was on.

The water at Scarborough Beach is a beautiful blue and it reminded me much of the water in the Turks and Caicos.  Normally I would have kicked off my shoes and ripped off my socks to take off down the coast but there were contaminated water signs up.  Due to the problems with the sewer systems after the quake, a lot of sewage and waste went into the ocean.  In fact, most of the houses in Sumner have a “Port a loo” in front of it due to the ongoing issues.  I can’t imagine paying a million dollars for a home and having to use an outhouse.  We walked down to Cave Rock and Matt immediately decided to scale up the side of it.  He does a lot of rock climbing at home.  I freely admit that I am clumsy and thought it best not to attempt to do such a thing.  Pat, Keith and I wandered around towards the entrance of the cave, not going in of course, and watched as some smaller rocks fell into small piles along the cave floor.  I just hoped that Matt would come down from there quickly.  After he finally came back down, we went walking along the beach where we found dozens of perfectly broken sand dollars and other shells.  I stopped every few minutes to take pictures of something because it was all so beautiful.  The tide was coming in, so we walked up one of the beach access paths and headed towards the clock tower.

The clock tower was just that, a big tower with a clock.  While walking around the tower, I heard the sound of rustling and footsteps quickly approaching me.  The next thing I knew I heard “PINK PUNCH BUGGY!” and Matt nailed my arm hard.  The fact that he saw it and ran to do this made me laugh instead of feeling too much pain.  Yes.  We brought the game to New Zealand.  Why?  Because we’re awesome like that.  By the end of the day, the count was like 15 to 7 with Matt winning.  But that is because he was seated in front of the bus.

We continued to tour the town a bit, and then caught the bus back to our hotel.  Overall, it was a fantastic day.

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The toilets don’t flush counter clockwise in New Zealand.

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The water actually goes straight down.  Just a tidbit of interesting information should you need it.

So, the story thus far.

After a very long day of traveling on Friday (?)  I think it was Friday.  I’m pretty sure it was Friday.  Yes, it was Friday.  Ok let me tell you how Friday (and Saturday, Sunday and Monday) went and what kind of crazy schedule I have been on.

Friday August 19, 2011 – We had a half day of orientation at Raytheon Polar Services in Centennial Colorado.  We went over a BUNCH of safety topics like “Don’t wander away from paths that are marked, you may fall in a crevasse” and “If you see this label on a container, stay away from it” which was followed by “What this is and how this will kill you”.  On the lighter side, we also went through a brief synopsis of how to sort our trash.  Antarctica recycles 60% of all things thrown away.  It’s rather impressive and EVERYONE has to sort their trash because the “wasties” (garbage people) don’t have time to sort it all.  After orientation, the 109 people in our group piled into two shuttles and a huge passenger bus and headed towards the airport.  It took about 80 minutes for all of us to get checked in at the airport, so for those who flew out at 4:30, they didn’t have too long to wait.  I, however, was in the group that didn’t leave until 1930.  So I got to hang out at DIA, which is not a bad airport to hang out at, and then flew on a smallish plane to LAX.

LAX, I don’t like you.  The folks working the Qantas counter were terribly rude and the seating area was uncomfortable.  We were supposed to have a two hour layover but it turned into a five hour layover.  Five hours of sitting around, while you’re already tired, in uncomfortable chairs (at least I had remembered to wear really comfy clothing) and buying overpriced drinks from a drink machine… Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be flying through there again (if I can help it).  Anyhow, we finally got onto the plane for our 13 hour flight (yes, 13) and I discovered that I was not in an aisle seat or a window seat…. I was seated in the middle row between a very large Kiwi and a very muscled firefighter (one of our group).  To say I felt like a sardine is an understatement.  I was squished.

The flight to Auckland New Zealand was…  it just was.  The actual plane performance part of it wasn’t bad at all, meaning there was little to no turbulence.  I decided that since I was utterly exhausted, I would attempt to sleep.  I couldn’t lean back in my seat without getting smothered, so I decided to lean forward and rest my head on the back of the seat of the person sitting in front of me.  He is also in our group.  Apparently he didn’t see me or feel me leaning my head on his seat because after around 30 minutes, he leaned his seat back.  I had just fallen into the “twilight” of sleep and then my forehead was rammed by the TV display attached to the seat.  I looked at the firefighter sitting next to me, asked him if I was bleeding and when he said no, I asked Alan (the guy sitting in front of me) to keep his seat like that because I was going to lean against it and sleep.

I was rather irked to realize it had only been three hours between the time I fell asleep and the time I woke up.  I thought it had to be at least 10.  Oh, also since I was sitting between these two thick armed guys, I had no room to put my tray when we were served dinner and breakfast.  I had to lift the tray up and hold it with one hand while trying to eat with the other.  Needless to say, I only picked at my food.  During the flight, we got up and kind of shuffled up and down the aisles in an attempt to stretch our legs.  At one point, I thought that I would not get back to my seat due to the number of people that were doing the same thing.  So I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep total.  I watched on our flight tracker as we went south of the equator and crossed the International Date Line.  I know, I’m a geek, but I thought it was pretty cool.  During the morning part of the flight, I had a conversation with the firefighter, Brook (yes it’s a guy named Brook) and it turns out that he’s from middle Florida.  Most of our group are Fingees and he and I compared tales about how we decided to take this exciting adventure.  He was actually considering taking a contract job in Afghanistan or Iraq but decided that, while the pay might be amazing, the living conditions might not be.  I was, and still am, inclined to agree with him on that.  When the captain announced that we were preparing for descent, several people started stretching their arms after putting their seat backs upright and that is when we realized how bad we smelled.  Oh it was awful.  The time was approximately 10am on Sunday (but Tori, you left on Colorado on Friday and flew out of LAX at about 0300 on Saturday)… Remember, I’m about 18 hours AHEAD of everyone in Brunswick thanks to crossing the International Date Line.  I haven’t truly lost my mind.

The arrival in Auckland was interesting.  We had been warned on the flight about making sure we declared anything that needed to be declared, and made sure we had no fruit in our luggage or caked on dirt on our shoes.  We basically ran through the airport in order to get our luggage, get through customs and attempt to get onto our next flight.  The flight was scheduled for 1340 hours.  We were informed by the Qantas folks in Auckland that they would take all of our luggage (which was already tagged through to Christchurch but since we were flying a domestic flight, we had to retrieve and place onto trolleys) over to the terminal which was about a mile away.  So we made it through customs and started bookin’ it to the Jet Star terminal.  We arrived 45 minutes BEFORE our luggage did.  We had to grab our luggage and go through the check in process again.  THIS is when Tori’s bonehead move of the trip happened (I’m so glad to have gotten it out of the way early).  So I go to check in.  I was the very last person in our group checking in for the flight.  The clerk (I guess they’re called clerks) told me that the flight was full and I would have to go on the next one.  My supervisor, Lori, was standing next to me and asked the clerk if she could switch our tickets.  I told Lori not to worry about it, I would be fine and wait until the 1740 flight.  So Lori got on the plane and I was left in Auckland.  I really didn’t mind the fact that I was there.  They have a very nice terminal at Jet Star.  I was able to exchange my money for New Zealand dollars.  I had some excellent sushi and talked about rugby (which I know nothing about) with a few rugby players over a few beers.

After I went up to the seating area at my gate, I started looking at all of my travel information paperwork.  THAT is when I realized that I didn’t need to follow the rest of the herd all the time.  THAT is when I realized that I was SUPPOSED to fly on the 1740 flight, not the 1340 one.  Did I feel like a moron?  Yes.  Did I start laughing hysterically when I realized it?  Oh absolutely.  The plane actually left at about 1800 from Auckland for the hour and a half flight to Christchurch.  If you ever are in a place where you can fly on a Jet Star flight, I highly recommend their services.  I thought I was the last person in our group to arrive but I had discovered that Safety Dan (people on the Ice don’t have last names but are often referred to as their job title and first name) was on the flight with me.  Dan is a Kiwi originally from Auckland so he had gone to visit his family and had his flight changed to leave at the later time.

I arrived at the Christchurch airport and when I was walking down to the baggage area, I was greeted by Pam and Renae, my roommate and another one of our dispatchers.  I was so glad to see them because even though I was told that the hotel was just a block away, I get lost easily and having not have slept for days, I needed a guide.  It turned out that several people’s luggage was on my flight since it didn’t make the 1340 flight and Renae was one of them.  After she grabbed her stuff, we loaded up our trolley carts and headed to the Sudima Hotel.

Why it didn’t occur to me that people here did not drive on the same side of the road that people at home are supposed to drive on, I don’t know.  We almost got taken out by a Hyundai.  Well, let me take that back.  Our luggage ALMOST got taken out by a Hyundai.  It is a pretty good thing that I learn quickly and have not made that same mistake again.  We made it back to the hotel, and despite the fact that I was tired and smelly, I decided that I deserved a beer.  Walking back into the lounge area, I discovered that I was being called “the girl that got left behind”.  It actually bought me a few sympathy points though.  Well maybe not sympathy points but I did get a free drink out of it.  After I consumed said drink, I went back to my room, discovered that toilets don’t flush counter clockwise down here, rid myself of travel stench and passed out across the middle of the bed.

Monday morning I woke up at 0600, went and had an amazing breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, eggs benedict, lamb and sautéed mushrooms.  After breakfast, Renae, Matt, Rudy and I walked over to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) in an attempt to get our ECW early.  Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us, so we walked over to the Antarctic Experience exhibit to check it out.  After we realized we had to PAY to see the exhibits, we decided we would just check out the gift shop and head back to the hotel.

We returned, along with the rest of our group, to the CDC at 1300 to watch an orientation video and receive our clothing.  Every article of clothing has to be tried on.  My boots were two different sizes so I had to switch them for correct ones since neither was the size I needed.  We all looked funny waddling around in our parkas and snow pants.  Pictures of me in my stylin’ outfit will come after I get on the Ice.  I also had my computer go through a second check for USAP standards and it passed (woohoo) So I will be able to use it on the system in Antarctica.

When we came back to the hotel, Pam and I went over the schedule (I think I have them convinced to go to the 12 hour 2 on/2 off schedule that we used to be on) and then I napped for about an hour.  She and I met up for dinner at 1730 and decided that we would try to go to sleep early since we FLY TO ANTARCTICA TOMORROW!!!!

So here it is, 9pm on Monday, August 22, 2011 and I am fixing to attempt to go to sleep.  We have to be at the CDC at 0400 hours to get dressed and check in our luggage.  Our flight should leave around 0900 provided that the weather is all clear at McMurdo.  If it isn’t, I hope they realize it early so we don’t boomerang.  We’ll see.

Well, Goodnight!  Hopefully my next post will be from Antarctica!