Right after Girton’s, all winterers had the Saturday for a breeder and next Sunday we were shipped to the middle of Derbyshire county, to Thornbridge training facility. Winter in Antarctica is no picnic and we were entitled to more training to cope with all the scenarios that you can only get to in a proper Antarctic Winter.
We left Girton and Cambridge on Sunday morning, right after breakfast and got to the facility shortly after lunch. Thornbridge Outdoors is the facility used by BAS to provide initial field training to the Winter teams in the several Antarctic bases. As such we were divided upon arrival in three teams – Rothera team, the largest one, Halley team, yours truly and the Island team, which was composed by the smaller winter teams for Bird Island base and King Edward’s Point base. There was no competition at that point, it was just a way to get us familiarized with each other faster and to split us trough the various training stages.
Has proper winter field training that it was, we were supposed to camp around the place. We had a dinning room, a small common room with a very slow Internet connection and a set of bathrooms and showers. But the sleeping part was done in tents set outside in the grass.
It was during the whole sleeping setup that I realized how out of context I was at that point. I’d just come from two years of corporate bathrooms, chinos and more Lacoste polos that I could care about. And there I was, in the middle of the muddy trainers, ripped shorts and tents on the back of the van kind of people. Just for starters, most of the guys there brought their own tent to sleep in. I don’t even own one! Fortunately there was loads of equipment to spare and half a dozen of already mounted teepees, which were half empty since there was literally a little village worth of individual tents just outside. Everyone brought their clothes and stuff in proper mountaineering or canvas bags. Me? I looked like I was going to spend the night in a Paris hotel with my little carry on a low-cost flight trolley … In the end everything worked out and I was able to joke about it plenty of times as usual. I got my sleeping bag and assorted kit from the facility stores and spend the rest of the days there as a proper camper, dirty and savage as only the country side could make off you.
The rest of the days were spend on the proper country doing all sorts of field related stuff, like learning all sorts of knots and running around with plastic buckets on our heads to simulate white outs (when the wind blows the snow so hard that all you can see is a few meters ahead of you). It was mostly an opportunity to meet everyone properly and establish some early chemistry among the wintering teams.
Some of our field exercises involved sort of a jungle gym, which was a contraption made of vertical logs and a metallic rail running across it where we could strap our harnesses to it and prevent a gruesome and splashy death due to a gravity overdose.
We did all sorts of climbing exercises on it and trained a couple of handy knots but in its essence it was just fun all around, at least to those who don’t fear heights. In my case, I honestly had the impression that I wasn’t very fond of heights at first, but the thing is, once you got to trust your equipment, which happened after slipping a couple of times 10 meters above ground and realize that the whole setup is sturdy enough to save you sorry behind, I got increasingly bold with each go.
It rained the whole time we were there, which made living in tents a more muddy experience than normal, but other than that it was quite comfortable and interesting.
On our last day there, the instructors decided to throw a barbecue outside since it stopped raining after morning and it got quite nice in the afternoon. That night was the first “serious” night that I spent with my future Winter team. After a series of grilled items outdoors, we all went to the common room with some left over beer and spend the rest of the night just fooling around. Silliness was the standing order on that gathering. We decided who is going to be eaten first if we run out of food on base before the end of Winter and made potato week official, i.e, a week during winter were all meals on base are going to be potato or potato based. Someone tried to push for a cabbage week too but that was a stretch. We were trying to just see who could choke first while laughing at each others retarded jokes. It was also weird in the sense that we were all getting into base at different dates and only a couple of us would remain in Cambridge until the trip South. It was like “lets see where this goes since its going to be three months until we all get together again”. It was a great night though.
Next day was for packing leftovers and cleaning the site.Back to the minivans after that and four hours later I was back in Cambridge again.