Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal - 26 July 2002: Cold feet, chocolate, and home cooking


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    Harold Hansen checks his email. Cookies and other snack items are on the table to his right

    Midday socializing

    (L-R) Gordon "Oz" Osinkski, Darlene Lim, Jaret Mathews, and Keith Cowing enjoy a nice sunny day. Photo: HMP-2002/Brian Crucian

    Victor Rundquist (L) and Brian Glass (R) prepare to go out on a long traverse in less than pleasant weather

    New folks arrive as others depart

    (L to R) Keltey, Quimmiq, and Sila sleep in the afternoon sun

    Gordon 'Oz' Osinski gives an evening science lecture on impact events. Photo: HMP-2002/Brian Crucian
    This morning we watched as three planes arrived - and then departed in quick succession with the Mars Society's single small Hab crew. Our interaction with them was minimal throughout my stay here. I did get to know the team members somewhat since we all flew into Resolute together. They all struck me as enthusiastic, nice dedicated people. Alas, I didn't get to spend much time with them while they were here.

    The HORSE team is making one last traverse today to get another demonstration of their technology in before they head out. The weather has been changing all day. At no point was the weather what I would consider 'tolerable'. As such, I decided to stay indoors and catch up on things.

    My business partner Marc Boucher is back at home in Victoria, British Columbia. After a long shower and some prolonged sleep he is back in the saddle again. This relieves some of the burdens on me such that I can now focus on collecting my impressions of this place.

    I am now sitting in front of one of the propane heaters in the Mess Tent. With the number of folks on the wane it is easier to get a seat nearby. I seem to be having a problem keeping my feet warm these past few days. This was not as much of a problem when I was outside moving around doing construction. But now that I sit in a tent most of the day with my feet on a thin plywood floor over permafrost the heat has been sucked out of my feet at an ever-increasing pace.

    I have been using a regular supply of disposable shoe heaters. They help to a certain extent (and I have a large supply of them) but nothing suffices for a nice hot heater. While the boots I have been wearing are very comfortable and were top of the line when I bought them a number of years ago, they are not going to be making a return trip to Devon Island. Next year I will be certain to have shoes with the robust added insulation to reduce heat loss.

    The Mess Tent serves as the focal point for most of the social life in Base Camp. At mealtime it can be filled with several dozen people. Think of a scene from M*A*S*H and you get some idea of the sort of interactions people have.

    In the evening we often watch movies. While I was here I watched "Moulin Rouge", "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", "Training Day", and "Red Planet (I left halfway through this goofy movie).

    We also had a series of lectures given by HMP participants. Topics ranged across on a wide range of topics - from astrobiology and space medicine to impact events and arctic geology.

    With the exception of those people who are out on traverse, everyone stops what they are doing to chow down. The food is good and hearty - what you need when it is cold and nasty outside. Victor Rundquist has joked however, that everything Ginger Howell our cook prepares "ends up as soup". This is often true - but like any good cook - she does this very well.

    There is always snack food lying around - cookies, fruit bars, nuts, dried fruit - plus the old standbys: Gatoraid, hot chocolate and, of course, Tang. While I have always managed to find enough good food to more that fill me up I do miss some things. A fresh salad or some real fruit juice would be nice. In particular, I really miss sushi. I am certain that when I get home I will be filling my face with sushi for a while.

    Socializing also goes on in the other smaller tents. Once a week or so an ad hoc party will spontaneously happen. At these times, everyone pulls out their one favorite bottle of spirits (if they have one). Only a small amount of alcohol is allowed on the island for each individual.

    Alas, I brought powdered margarita mix but never managed to get a bottle of tequila on my way up from the States. Marc brought a bottle of Sake he had bough the month before in Japan for the dedication of the greenhouse.

    On several occasions, a number of us found ourselves sitting outside at midnight under stunning sunlit blue arctic skies with the sun low on the northern horizon as we shared our precious cargo - and the day's experiences - with one another.

    Many people also brought sweets with them. I brought some Altoid citrus candies. My tent mate (and chocoholic) Brian Glass, who celebrates his birthday every year on Devon Island had a package from his family. We were eating the chocolate it contained for several days. Marc told me of an instance several years ago when he was out on traverse with several Europeans. At one point they all stopped and smoked oysters and crackers suddenly appeared.

    Quicktime panorama: Fortress and Base Camp at Midnight 29 July 2002. 270 degree pan. R-L The Fortress, von Braun Planitia (with fog rolling in), Base Camp, Maynard Hill. [Download]

    [Get Quicktime]

    Cargo weight coming up to Devon Island is at a premium so people tend to be very selective about what they bring - and share it with whoever happens to be around. These little luxuries, amplified by the bizarre environment, have the capacity to make a special time all that much more special.

    They also serve to life ones spirits when they have been worn down by the climate or the work. I would certainly recommend that whoever sets aside the special cargo allowances for a Mars mission pay close attention to this. A happy crew is a productive crew.


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