Off Yonder – Adventure Travel Stories - Seeing the world for what it is

STS-133: Discovery’s Last Launch
Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States

It’s been a childhood dream to see a Space Shuttle launch and only with the threat of the program ending have I put a concerted effort towards actually getting there to see it. Last fall I spent a week on the Space Coast in Florida waiting for STS-133, the Shuttle Discovery to fly it’s last mission. Each day they delayed the launch until finally I couldn’t afford to spend more time in Florida and they scrubbed the launch for at least a few weeks.

After months of going over the leaky fuel tank and related components the launch was scheduled again for 24 Feb 2011 and I was there, again.

As I suspected, after having so much time to get ready for the launch, Discovery was ready to go and lifted off without a hitch, much less any major holds in the countdown sequence.

At the range of about 7 miles on the 5th floor of a condo complex where some friends have a unit I got to see, hear and feel the excitement of witnessing humans breaking away from the grasp of gravity into space. It is awe inspiring.

STS-133 carried a storage module to the International Space Station as well as a new and permeant crew member: Robonaut 2. Click below for more photos.

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Pole Position
South Pole Station, Antarctica

Life at the pole has become routine. From the outside, it might seem that being at the South Pole could be anything but routine. But when you live and work here… much less work nine hours a day and six days a week, it does eventually just become where you live and work. Granted, it does dawn on me every now and then that I am right on the axis of the earth, and that is still very cool.

We do make occasional use of the pole with our recreational activities. Like on Christmas Day we have the annual Race Around The World. As long as one defines going around the world as crossing every line of longitude, then that’s just what we did. Some took the race seriously and made a good run around the three kilometer course. Others were dressed in costume, on skies and even on stilts. While others spent time in the weeks before building floats to be towed behind snowmobiles. The plumbers for instance, built an open air bathroom complete with a few toilets, sinks and even urinals. The carpenters pumped up the handle bars on one of the snowmobiles to Harley-Davidson style ape hanger handle bars and had a black bearded driver who fit the profile. In tow, they had found a hot air balloon basket and they tied a large weather balloon to it. On the front of the snowmobile they painted “South Pole Choppers.”

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Snow Stakes Run
South Pole Station, Antarctica

Every year since 1990 the meteorological (MET) department goes out to measure how much snow drift has accumulated over the previous year. About half a dozen “snow stake lines” radiate 20 kilometers out from the station in all directions to get away from the swirling influence of the buildings and other structures that cause wind […]

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Pole Happenings
South Pole Station, Antarctica

Things are really swinging here at the Pole now. I’ve joined the South Pole Station Fire Brigade and we’ve had a few fire alarms, but no fires thank goodness. I’m working in the station greenhouse. And oh yes, there’s still plenty of snow shoveling. But the shoveling has declined as other projects start to demand more labor.

Windy Work

Last week we had a change in the weather. The winds shifted about 30 degrees and picked up speed. From what I gathered from the meteorologists, a low pressure system formed or moved into the Weddell Sea and due to the lay of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, it influences our weather. Opposite the Weddell Sea from us, a high pressure system started flowing towards the low pressure system and we were caught right in the middle of the exchange. That exchange included a fairly constant 25 knots of wind with peaks up to 32 knots. I was assigned to work outside in the Dark Sector that day, and it was glorious.

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Getting to the South Pole
Ross Island, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Mine may well have been one of the fastest trips to the South Pole. Amundsen, who led the first party to reach the South Pole ever in 1911, took 15 months and 9 days from Norway via ship and dog sled. Byrd got to the South Pole by ship and by plane in 15 months and 3 days (he had a particularly slow ship hauling his plane and, like most, dealt with weather delays).

Just as these explorers piggy-backed on the transportation technologies of their day, I did, too. My trip from the US to the South Pole made use of the most modern of aircraft and took me 69 hours – not quite three days.

Three days is an impressively short time to get to the pole. Most trips involve some sort of delay, if not many delays as they compound upon each other. The first leg – a flight from Los Angeles to Christchurch, New Zealand – is pretty straight forward. What Antarctic travelers truly dread is when their flight on the military C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from Christchurch to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast “boomerangs.” They get part way, if not all the way (5 hours), to McMurdo only to find the conditions are too poor to land, “boomeranging” them back to Christchurch to await better weather.

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River Geology
Deschutes River, Trout Creek, Oregon, United States

My Uncle Eddie has been rafting for many, many years. I remember when I was young, doing 15 miles down the Santiam River (san-tee-AM), a tributary of the Willamette River in Western Oregon with him and a bunch of our family. Well, since then, I’ve started joining him on more trips and have been helping him guide trips.

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Turtle Talk
Takanabe & Kagoshima, Japan

In keeping with what has turned out to be somewhat of an island fetish, my trip down south to Kyushu, the southern most island of the main Japanese islands, I also visited Kagoshima, a small island even further south! The main purpose of the trip was to see another friend from college teaching English in […]

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The Hunt for Sea Turtles
Monterey Bay, California, United States

Patience is key in scientific research and no one knows that better than Scott Eckert and Peter Dutton. The two scientists and their crews have been researching the lifestyles of huge ocean faring sea turtles for years. On trips out to sea sometimes they find the giants sometimes they don’t. But they press on. When […]

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