Sitting on top of a flatbed cargo delta with chevron tires larger than most small cars is a water tank,
on top of that are Tobi and I looking out at the Royal Society mountain range with mount discovery glowing in the mid night light.
We chatted about life at McMurdo Station while sipping coffee, waiting for the 1,000 gallon water tank to fill.
Like everywhere in the world, water, is a precious resource in Antarctica. As stewards of the environment we conserve water in every way possible. McMurdo has 3 reverse osmosis desalinators, each capable of producing 40,000 gallons of fresh water per day. Salt water is converted to fresh water using reverse osmosis. This reverse osmosis process converts salt water to drinkable water.
On average Tobi delivers 3,000 - 5,000 gallons of water weekly to two of the field camps located on the Ross Ice shelf. “On a good day, when everything goes right it takes about 6 hours” to deliver water to the outlying field camps of Nasa’s Long Duration Balloon site and Williams Field, one of Antarctica’s largest airfields.
We giggle as Tobi explains the process of what it takes to deliver water on the harshest continent on Earth. “Here at McMurdo it seems normal, however, anywhere else in the world this would be a very crazy, abnormal process.”
The water tank must be attached to the flatbed cargo delta, using a forklift to lift the tank.
Next, Tobi climbs onto the delta and secures the tank with chains.
Then hoses and pumps are gathered that will be needed to transfer the water.
First stop out of the cargo yard is the water plant where it takes about 15 minutes to fill the 1,000 gallon tank. After the tank is filled Tobi leaves Ross Island and drives on compacted snow roads onto the ice shelf to deliver water to the balloon launch site and Willy Field.
Tobi works for a department called Fleet Operations, there are about 40 people in the department. She explains Fleet Ops “like a county road and bridge department. We move or rework dirt, snow, ice and water. Almost anything that needs to be moved from place to place requires a call to Fleet Ops.” When not delivering water Tobi helps groom and maintain snow-roads and ski-ways, where the skied aircraft land, and the apron where the planes park. She operates a fork-lift to move supplies and equipment around town. “Last night I had a lot of fun at work running a dump truck to move dirt down to the ice pier.”
Tobi loves studying people’s life stories “and this is a great place for it” she says,
her face lighting up as she tells me about her favorite parts of McMurdo. “All the crazy people! I love the fact that everyone has other talents, they might be here driving a big bus or a loader around, but everyone has an amazing story behind them.” She likes to seek out the most unique of people and friend them. She has a more random assortment of friends than anyone I have ever had the pleasure to know. Tobi is easy to talk to, and clever, always having a new story to share, and always delivered with humor. Like the story of the time she lived in an igloo at 9,800 feet in Colorado for a winter just to prove she could.
A couple of years ago after a white water rafting accident she thought a lot while she recovered about what she might not be able to do anymore and what she still wanted to do. Leading her to the realization that coming to McMurdo was her top goal in life.
Now, 2 years after entering the United States Antarctic Program Tobi realizes her next number 1 goal in life is to go on the South Pole Overland Traverse.
As she works with the Fleet Ops team to attain her goal she is gaining the skills she needs to make it on the South Pole traverse. This season one of her favorite highlights is traversing to marble point, about a 4 day journey round trip to deliver fuel and cargo to a helicopter refueling station. Taking a moment to sit, resting against an active glacier, it felt as she could feel it move, while feeling total isolation, and a sense of contentment and wholeness. “ I felt honored and a bit like a badass to be sitting in a place that not many will ever see.”
Another highlight of the season for Tobi was the opportunity to be the guest blaster of the day. The master blaster also a part of the Fleet Ops team has been busy blowing things up lately, looking for riprap material to protect the shoreline of McMurdo from further erosion. With views of Mount Erebus, the world’s southern-most active volcano in one direction.
McMurdo station in the other direction,
tucked in a bomb bunker made of recycled tires , Tobi yelled “BOOM” as she pushed the button,
the earth rumbling and volcanic dust filling the air.
Tobias Summerhayes a woman of the Antarctic