Castle Rock Tanning Club #2

“He shot me down…bang bang…I hit the ground bang bang…my baby let me down.”

 Kill Bill just started. Uma Thurman is beating the shit out of some black chick. I’m just sippin’ some Fat Tire. Mike, Joel, Ken, and some other dude are here. Other dude just broke me off a piece of Toblerone. “Now that’s a fine piece of ass…looks just like Larissa’s ass” said one of them during a scene of Uma Thurman wearing tight jeans.  A discussion breaks out about Larissa being a masseuse.

“He’s not gay, he just eats his corn the long way”. says one of them. These dirty old men just don’t stop with the jokes. So, where was I with that my castle rock adventure…

* * *

I set my alarm for 10:15…I’m of the philosophy of trying to get to brunch at a reasonable hour. It’s hard to tell what time it is when you don’t have windows in your room. I woke up several times, as per usual. Partly due to drinking last night, and partly from having two roommates.

I throw on some sweats and a black and white palm tree shirt—one of like six shirts in my inventory here. Time to saunter down for brunch. I don’t even have flip-flops here. I had a little preview of brunch around midnight when they started serving midrats brunch. I was sitting at a table talking to some sous-chef who mentions she’s from Russia in every conversation.

The table we sat at was round, wooden, and full of galley chow. I saw she had a polaroid photo of some guy tucked into her clear gel iPhone case. The other girl at the table had a pink clear water bottle full of water—or what appears to be otherwise. It turns out that it’s just vodka. There’s also a polaroid of someone I carry, it’s just in the ID Pouch of my wallet. “He’s down at Pole” she says.

Enough midrats…back to real brunch. It’s 10:45 and I’m sitting at a table with my friends–basically just a bunch of fuckin’ dudes. There’s gotta be like eight of us all around one of those big wooden tables. Cheeses of every kind were out–per usual–and fresh berries—unusual. Got damn, were there ever a lot of fresh berries available at brunch. After I ate my fill I decided it would be tasty to make a berry margarita in my HydroFlask. I mix some fresh strawberries and raspberries, margarita mix, and that god awful Jose Cuervo together in my HydroFlask with some ice. Surprisingly, it tastes good

It’s another Castle Rock day with the Castle Rock Tanning Club (CRTC). Joel, Tim, and I are going out there per usual to do some snowboarding. Some other people raise an interest over brunch, and we recruit some people to slide down on their lunch trays in lieu of skis or snowboards.

People come and go from our busy table, but we agree to “Meet up at the hand-wash at 12:00”. It’s about 11:20 now, and I call it quits on brunch. I get ready, putting on my snow pants and packing my backpack full of goodies: four PBRs, a HydroFlask full of Berryrita, and a flask of tequila. I grab a to-go paper bowl full of French toast for the road. It takes me longer than you would think to get all of that together, and I’m hustling to get a move on.

We make it out the gate around 13:00, late as per usual. There’s a balloon launch planned for today at 20:00. We check-out of the station at the firehouse with less trouble than our first attempt and then head off down the road towards Castle Rock. We’ve got to walk up the hill and out of town again. “Let’s see if we can get a ride, we’re walking past shuttles anyways” says Tim. He runs inside as we pass Building 140, the building shared by shuttles and the post office. A minute later Tim bursts out of the building. “Load up!” he says. Sick, it worked—we’re getting a ride up that treacherous hill.

The Ford E-250 lumbers up the hill as we pass three people on fat tire bikes. “I bet Bernie’s involved” I say as we creep up on them slowly powering up the hill. Upon closer inspection I see a dude with white Oakleys on pumping away—Bernie. Called it.

Onwards. We get dropped off at the trailhead. We march onwards through the snow—much more manageable and packed down from last week. Tim found an NRK-9 strap for me to fashion as a board sling, so I’m not dragging my snowboard in the snow this time. Joel slips on a little ice, we all have some conversation. It’s a two hour hike up to the rock.

“Who’s the lone ranger, walking back” I say as we see a pale man walking our way. “Man, Is that Vinnie? He walks like him”. says Tim. As we get closer to each other we realize, shit, that’s Velcro Vinnie! We ask him what the heck he is doing alone, and the conversation goes as follows:

“Oh are you supposed to bring someone?”
“Did you even do a footplan?”

We ask him to come up to the rock with us, but he wants to get back for Sunday massage / self-massage class. Sayanora.

Icebridge DC-3 Basler

The first apple passes us by, but we stop at the second one for a little rest and chill-sesh. I crack a cold one and Joel opens a bottle of Scrumpy. I get the speaker going, we drag the chair outside into the snow. It’s a beautiful day in Antarctica, a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit. I shed my jacket and hang out in my cover-alls and t-shirt–It was pretty sweet out here. We pop the hatch in the apple and Tim uses a snowboard to prop the door open. We wave hello at everyone going past us.

Onwards. We close up the apple and head up to castle rock. We slog up the hill and up to the rock. We mount it and hang out a little on the ridge, our chill spot from the inaugural discovery expedition. About 15 minutes go by and we see Justin–from brunch–coming down off the top of the rock.  “Hey! What’s up dude, wanna come up again with us?” says Tim. “Yeah, sure”.

Ropes have been set in the rock, leading us up to the top. We get up there about 5 minutes later, finding our promised land awaiting. There’s no one else up here, just lots of rock. There’s a nice flat clearing with some nearly black volcanic rocks. It’s huge up here, you could have a whole camp site here. We set up shop, laying our bags down. Shirts pop off, suns out guns out. It’s nice and warm. There’s a flight coming in at 16:00, so we hang out. Drinks are flowing. We all lay down on our clothes—our own makeshift blankets. Justin brought his own blanket but I just didn’t have the cargo space.

We hear a plane coming in for a landing. It’s NASA’s Icebridge DC3 Basler. It’s painted red white and blue, making it stand out. I grab my camera and snap some photos of the landing. It’s pretty neat.

Groups of people come and go from the top of the rock.  “We don’t bite!” yells Tim at them. One guy was even wearing a big red. Meanwhile, we’re here topless. They look disturbed by our presence. At the edge of the rock we find a little ridge area we can hang out it that blocks the wind. Heck yeah. We end up migrating over there, piece by piece. It’s a beautiful thing. Meanwhile, all these people that are on the other end of the rock kind of stay up in that windy area, afraid to come down to us at the clearing.

“This is the firehouse announcing an uncontrolled landing. FROZEN11 will be landing at 1635.” Nice, looks like we got a little airshow. Uncontrolled landing sounds scary, but that just means that there’s no air-traffic controllers working right now. There was supposed to be some LC-130 Hercules landing today, this must be one of them. We take some photos posing in front of the beautiful mountains—the Royal Society range and Mt. Discovery–taking advantage of this beautiful day.

Brrrraaaappppppppp. We can hear the throaty sounds of a plane coming in over the sea ice. It’s that LC130, greenish with a red stripe on the tail. The Air National Guard flies those. It photographs beautifully, foregrounding the Royal Society Range.

30 minutes later and the same thing again–another LC-130. This time I grab the binoculars and track its landing—it looks even cooler, those binoculars much more powerful than my 55-250 lens. Watching a giant plane land on skis like that never gets old. I think it’s the only large aircraft that has skis for its landing gear.

LC-130 coming in for a landing. It’s got 5000 pounds of package mail for us.

The LC-130 joins two other LC-130s, two DC3 Baslers, and a Twin Otter.

I’m at that perfect buzz, just enjoying the beautiful weather. We’re getting ready to head out now, unsure if we should wait for the balloon launch at 20:00.

The fog gets thicker minute by minute back over the sea ice. It’s starting to come up over the top. The visibility that way has dropped to almost zero. It’s a good time to leave. We pack up our HQ and head back over the top of Castle Rock, to the rope routes down the rock. There’s a couple of people that have just come up—a little late for the party. They’re laying prone looking out into the fog as we depart the rock. Strange.

We climb down, feelin’ pretty tired. We strap into our snowboards and skis. Joel is having trouble with his bindings again. It’s kind of funny to watch, he’s kind of at his wits end with these cheap gear-issue alpine skis.

It’s way clearer than last weekend. Out over the permanent ice shelf it’s clear as day—a wall of fog behind us, now spilling over castle rock. I ride down, looking back at the stark beauty of fog flowing over Castle Rock, like cream over coffee, or dry ice and ice cream like they used to serve at Moxie’s.

Antarctic fog

It’s a nice minute-long ride down the mountain and then it flattens out. It’s what I would call the equivalent of a ‘green’ run in California. It’s not so fun after, hiking uphill until we can get to the next slope. We get over the ridge, and see the beautiful long run down to the ‘Kiwi Ski Hill’ and where the ‘green apple’ warm-up hut is. We peer over at the Long Distance Balloon Facility (LDB) to see if the balloon is launching. It kind of seems like it could be, so we walk out of the boundary zone and to this rock ridge overlooking the ice shelf. There’s some Pisten Bully tracks, so we figure it must be fairly safe.

Nothing is really happening down at LDB upon closer inspection. We strap in and get going down the mountain. It’s pretty fun…as far as McMurdo snowboarding goes.  I slalom down the hill between the flags–having a ball. And then we hit the bottom and that’s over. Hours of hiking for just those two little runs. Still, worth it. I would rate the second run a ‘blue’ or even ‘bluegreen’ on the California scale.

We rest a bit in the green apple (ol’ granny smith), hanging out before our long walk back. It’s about four miles back to base from here. About 1.5 – 2 miles until the main road. We see some shuttles drive by—damn it. They look so close, but they’re still another 30 minutes of walking. Long gone by the time we get there.

More walking, and then we finally are nearly at the main road. A slow ‘delta’ heads out the opposite direction we need to go. I get on the radio:

“Shuttleops, Castle Rock Rec Group”.
“Shuttles, go ahead”.
“Can we get a ride from the snow road?”
“uhhh..well we got a delta coming back from Willy in about half an hour, you can grab that…”.

Dang. So we walk another mile, walking past Scott Base and the pressure ridges. We see a dot off into the distance–that’s the Delta we saw earlier on its way back. We hang out atop some Concrete barriers and try to check out LDB again. Hard to tell what’s going on. Looks like a balloon or something is on the ground. Eventually the Delta drives by. The driver keeps driving. “Shuttle Delta” I say on the radio, and she stops–this lady is in a hurry.

We climb up those rough, metal, drop-down stairs into the passenger compartment. A delta has big fat tires that are nearly five feet tall and really puffy, it’s got like 8 of em, and the driver cab is separated from the back. We climb in, strapping into the bench style leather seats lining the sides. These things are bumpy as all hell and go about 7 MPH up the hill.

A grouchy National Guardman is the sole passenger, looking grumpy behind his Oakleys that they had to stop and pick us up. It strains up and over the hill, and half an hour later we’re back at McMurdo–starving. We drop our shit off and then stop by the galley.

I grab a tray, plate, knife and fork and start walking up to the food line.

“Dude, don’t we have to check back in?”
“What time is it?”

Visions of salty search & rescue team members and firefighters paged for no reason enter my mind. I just leave my tray with my plate on it by the food line in the galley, abandoning it on some ledge. We hustle back to the firehouse to check in, and when I go back to the galley my stuff is still there—oooh yeah baby. Nothing like chowing down on some food after a long day. We get news that they rescheduled the balloon launch to another day–perfect.

And I went straight to bed after that.

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