Monday, 12 December 2016

The Clothes Horse Rides Again ...

The Clothes Horse Rides Again ...

When I was in year 12  this was a discussion that would quite often happen between my father and I (haven't let you down Dad managed to acquire something waiting for my flight the other day).

“So what did you do during your line off Friday afternoon this week young lady?” Dad
“A bit of study and then went to the Mall with the girls.” 17 year old Lauren
“Ahh the Clothes Horse.” Dad

Dad helping me in the Drive Thru in
Devonport on McHappy Day about 20 years ago
At the age of 15 I got a job at McDonald’s when it opened in Devonport in order to fund myself on my school French trip to New Caledonia. I worked there handing out brown paper bags and ice cream cones hanging out the window of Drive Thru until I left the North West Coast for University. In year 12 at The Don College (Is Don Is Good) I had a free line and the chemistry class I was in had our scheduled hour off Friday afternoon. This often resulted, probably once a month, in a trip down the hill and to the mall to the shops where the Clothes Horse was in her element. It’s okay I did study as well otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today, Mum knew I did as she taught at the College I attended, no hiding there.

To this day this  statement of Dad's still holds true statement.  If you were to delve into my wardrobe and drawers you’d find the following all segregated on a shelf or in a drawer (yes I am a bit OCD when it comes to segregating my gear, makes it easier when I’m in a hurry): hockey uniforms (playing and umpiring) plus training gear; running clothing; yoga wear; cycling attire for both road and mountain bike; swimmers for both pool and beach; gym wear; skiing kit; hiking stuff not to mention my every day wear and dress up attire – yes I occasionally might wear a dress but it’s a rare occurrence. So where am I going with all this well the one category I left to the end was all my warm clothing that I have and get issued for heading down to Macca or Casey.

Meet Mana who'll kit you out from head to toe! 
Let me introduce to you Mana Inoue, provider of all your Antarctic and sub-Antarctic clothing attire. But I’ve known Mana before her days hidden in the depths of the clothing store. I first met Mana during my season at Casey in 13/14 where she was a PhD student and part of the Aurora Basin campaign. Mana’s main focus for her PhD was the interpretation of a 97 year climate record from an ice core from Mill Island. This core was 120m drilled in 2009 and is from one of the most northern locations in Antarctica. Due to this site's extremely high snow accumulation it contains a very high resolution climate record, pretty amazing stuff hey!

Quick peek behind the doors of the field store 
Mana is heading down on V2 which departed Hobart last week and will be assisting with the marine science component of the voyage. V2 is also the resupply voyage for Casey station so hopefully I’ll get to see Mana across on station when the Orange Roughy rocks into Newcomb Bay a few days after I arrive on the RAAF C-17A Globemaster III, I’m a plane nerd for those of you who weren’t aware but that’ll be saved for another blog. I had a ball sitting waiting for the bus recently at Newcastle airport right next to Williamtown RAAF Base, just a bit of plane spotting – 2 airborne F/A-18 Hornets as well as those resting in the shade under their shelters (seen from inside the plane as I landed), one C-17A Globemaster III preparing for take-off, an airborne C-27J Spartan and a couple of E-7A Wedgetails on the ground. If you‘re interested in some more information of the planes in the RAAF check out RAAF Aircraft. While Mana is away Luca Vanzino will be looking after everyone’s kitting needs. Luca, along with the wonderful Sue Hillam, works in the field equipment store which manages and looks after all the gear required for the field. From tents, to sleeping bags, packs, survival kits for the various aircraft and all essential pee bottles these guys keep things ticking over.

Just one of the rows of kit in the clothing
store at Kingston
I should stop digressing from what I’m here to do and get back to the task at hand – clothing and kitting. What to wear when you’re faced with temperatures which are at the opposite end of the spectrum to the 40 degree Bikram room. Now working for the Australian Antarctic Division we are very fortunate that we are provided with gear that has been carefully selected to suit the work we do in the temperatures we work in. As we’re not able to be able to trap air between layers of feathers or fur and don’t have a thick layer of blubber to protect us from the cold like the animals which live down here do. Instead the secret to us keeping warm, no not staying inside in the warmth of the red shed, is indeed the age old trick of layering. I definitely prefer lots of thin insulating layers, don’t ask me how many thermals, thin merino tops, mid fleeces, light insulated jacket then the higher rated outer jackets I have because there are a few. Comes from running the gauntlet training for hockey in the middle of a Tasmanian winter when the pitch can turn into an ice skating rink, and for those interested yes I have trained, played and umpired whilst it has snowed. 

What's in the red survival bag
So what do we get issued with? Well that does depend on the work which you are heading down for.  One of the important items that is uniform issue to all expeditioners is the red survival bag and its contents. So what does this contain - well instead of me writing out I’ve taken a picture of the card which is found in the outside pocket of the bag. As with all good layering systems it starts with a good set of merino thermals, followed by a mid fleece layer (rest assured the pants will never take off in the world of fashion) and then to top it off you have a water and wind proof outer layer. You then also have what are called bear paw mitts, a balaclava (remembered that most thermal heat is lost through your noggin) insulated boots and boot chains - my feet like my height are not long enough to fit into the Baffins usually issued so I’m issued with good ol’ Sorels.

Now back to that final outer layer if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to dress up as one of the Bananas sans their Pajamas then look no further – may I introduce to you Lauren the human banana and no I don’t chase bears or have a friend called Rat in a Hat. When getting kitted it’s important to try on all these layers to ensure all the sizes are correct – too big and you’ll lose heat and if at Macca have gaps for the rain to come in, too small and it’s uncomfortable. This can be a bit of chore in itself as layering up inside a 20 degree room soon gets quite warm and you just want to get dressed and undressed as quickly as possible. Also found in my survival bag is my essential survival food – Ye Ol’ Spikey Bridge Peanut Butter, thanks Ash and Terri.

Ever wanted to look like a Banana sans pajamas
then look no further. Geez I have short legs!!!
As I mentioned not everyone gets exactly the same items. Trades are issued with Carhartt jackets and pants which are robust insulated gear great for working outside, while scientists get down jackets and if you’re on marine science you’re going to need a whole lot of different water proof gloves and clothing for conducting work on the ship. We all get trusty Hard Yakka pants and florescent orange hi-vis work shirts and vests, oh so attractive but essential for being visible to the plant operating in and around station. So once you’ve tried things on and are happy with sizes you have the joy of packing everything into bags and then signing your life away for items you have received. Some of the items such as thermals you get to keep but many items are returned to the field store at the end of the season where they are inspected and cleaned ready for issuing next season. When I saw Mana for kitting she had kitted some 350 expeditioners, the total number for this season is somewhere between 500 and 550. Now that’s a lot of kit to get ready and a lot to receive back at the end of the season and sort!

Packing at home - all laid out ready to go into bags.
Note magical blankie all ready to go - enables good night's sleep
But let’s be honest no one really wants to wear thermals, work pants and hi-vis at the end of the work day, I only choose to wear hi-vis when umpiring hockey (hmm that's not so much a choice really either), so taking some casual gear down with you is always advisable. It’s amazing how putting on your own gear from home can make you feel more like you’re at home. In my case it’s a matter of deciding what to take and what to leave behind at home. There’s the obligatory jeans and comfy trackies (pair of much loved Roots Canada pants from my friend Bec), my snuggly Tigerlily jacket, a few dresses (yes believe it or not I own more than one), and t-shirts of various colours and patterns. I also got a new pair of felted slippers with corked rubber soles for this season which will come in quite handy, my beloved ugg slippers are a little to worn and battered. A little side story about my new slippers/shoes the lady that was looking after me in the store when I was looking at them actually wintered at Casey in 1990 as the station chef, it’s amazing who you meet.

Merrimaking Hood -
 An Arctic Fox in Antarctica

For those that know me I like to have things all organised even right down to how I pack my clothes. I have a multitude of different coloured dry bags in which different categories of clothing gets pack – one for sports/gym/yoga wear (not Bikram unfortunately), work gear, casual lounging stuff, nice stuff for special occasions, socks, gloves and beanies all in one, then an important one that contains my blanket. Yes that’s right I take my mohair blanket down with me. I’m convinced it has magical powers as soon as I pull it up over me I can fall asleep. Also in my bags you’ll find my runners (2 pairs one for the gym and the other for running outside), a plethora of cables and chargers, swimmers for the spa and Australia Day, a couple of furry animal hoods like the one in the picture from Merrimaking in the UK and my toiletry bags - yes there are multiple this is me we’re talking about after all!

Extra bits and pieces going down on V2 - Peanut butter and
Tadhg the toucan safely packed in top left box.
But wait I can hear some of you say – what about that pink hippo costume? Well late in October I packed a few boxes and consigned them in on Voyage 2, the Casey resupply voyage. These contain: some dress up costumes (pink hippo onsie, thank you Danielle) for parties on station; bulk toiletries (I suffer from eczema so take things in I know I won’t react to including clothes washing detergent, thanks Brendan); bulk vitamins and supplements; 3 tubs of Spike Bridge Peanut Butter to get me through the season (I’ll leave one for the winterers at the end of the summer) and some bits pieces for a secret Santa present. There might also be a rather large inflatable toucan by the name of Tadhg in there as well … watch this space for his appearance. I’m trying to remember what else I packed but am struggling, it will be like Christmas when the boxes turn up. Funny thing is they will turn up around Christmas time as resupply at Casey commences not long after I arrive, the big orange ship will rock up into the bay and it will be all stations go for about 7 days while the station is restocked, refuelled and return to Australia (RTA) cargo is loaded. If you’d like to follow the progress of the Aurora on her way down you can follow the site reps and track in this link here.

H gives Tadhg Toucan the thumbs up for comfort factor

I can hear my Dad saying though, “Where are your cameras and lens Lauren?” Don’t worry these precious items along with my work lap top will be safely packed into my small backpack (the one most of you have seen me lug around Hobart so maybe not that small) which will travel with me and along with my survival bag. My replacement field weight as I call it, my new Canon 7D Mark II (the Mark I’s shutter mechanism died earlier this year), will make its maiden expedition this season and is completed with a couple of lenses plus my little point and shoot. Oh and a couple of hard drives to store the pictures on (second is for a back-up, lessons learnt while writing a 300 page plus thesis). They also contain viewing material to keep me entertained in the evenings when I’m not writing this blog, as well as any documentation which I might need – recipes, knitting patterns, random information I have stored away!

So with that I think we’ll leave all things clothes and kit related there, please feel free to send me any questions you may have about what we wear down on the continent and why.  I’ve currently just returned from a wedding of a close Antarctic friend in the Hunter Valley and am in the process of doing the final packing of my bags, they are mostly packed. Actually they have been for over a week, I’ve been doing what I like to call fine tuning.
Bags nearly all packed ...

I’m going to end with this little rhyme, it contains shoes, but really it’s more about you being the one who decides your own adventure and no one else and I’m about to embark on my next one.

“You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own, and you know what you know.
And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Dr Seuss

So get ready people the next adventure of the Pocket Rocket is about to begin - up next “See you when I see you, not if I see you First! - the never ending goodbyes” (Yes I stole this line from the movie Gallipoli)

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