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)

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Long Road Back

I’ll warn you now this is a long entry and as my Dad always reminds me “You started talking at 3 months and haven’t shut up since” – welcome to my blog, South of 54.

I’m Lauren more commonly known as Wisey in some circles. A short, curly haired energiser bunny, a chemist who works at the Australian Antarctic Division and can’t sit still, well not very often and it’s a challenge. I have a pretty amazing job that not only allows me to do what I love, being a chemist, but also has allowed me to travel and work in a couple of amazing places – sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island (the Green Sponge) and Casey Station, Antarctica. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been south and I’m about to embark on the next adventure back to Casey. But before we start on that journey I’d like to share with you my journey back there, the long road … So let’s begin.

Post 10km KBA Memorial Cup Run, Casey  2014
On October the 20th 2013 I ruptured the posterior cruciate ligament in my knee playing touch football 4 weeks before I was due to fly out to Antarctica for work. I can still remember the pop sound when the ligament tore as I went over the top of two players, lying face down on the field with the words “Greg’s going to kill me” coming out of my mouth. The outside of my calf felt red hot and throbbed. It was so warm I asked my friend Doug “Is the bone sticking out?” Of course it wasn’t. I remember the feeling of beginning to go into shock while I waited in the club rooms on a stretcher for the ambulance to arrive to take me to emergency. It wasn’t until the MRI a couple of days later and then a follow up with the orthopaedic surgeon that I got the news I had completely torn my left PCL (Grade 3) - I'd done it good and proper. I’d still be able to go south with intensive physio and a brace, this would come to be known as my crustacean exoskeleton. So I was a good girl and did what I was told, physio exercises and wearing my brace. In late November I was cleared to go south to Casey Station, Antarctica – the first time I had gone to the icy continent. But that’s not where the story ends.

So I got back home late February and pretty soon I worked out that something was still not right. Back to my physio who encouraged me to see the orthopod again – this time I got a not so great response, “you need surgery but I’ll refer you to my colleague in Melbourne”. So mid-April I headed to see Mr Trivett in Melbourne where I was told that he would reassess the situation some 5 months on and then determine if I still needed surgery. In the meantime he wanted me to try and build up more VMO and quad strength even though he said “you already have really good quad muscles”. I was also told no more running something which had become an important part of my life, I was clocking over 110 km a week prior to the injury.

n+1 rule for bikes, there's another inside on the trainer ...
So what did I do?? I purchased a road bike, got back into the pool, hit the gym and on the 20th of May 2014 I did my first ever Bikram yoga class at the Bikram Yoga Tasmania studio. Now the reason behind me originally going to Bikram was that I didn’t want to lose my flexibility. I’ll never forget my first class with visiting teacher Andrew (T is for yummy Tim Tam and no room for light or air like a Vegemite sandwich – these will always stick with me and of course Mumma give me money). I had to miss hockey that year but the team sure didn’t miss out on me being there. I was at every training picking up balls and doing stick skill work and was still part of the team, even if it was partly for my cupcakes - Bec, Hannah!  In those 5 months I did everything possible that would give me the best outcome in preparation for surgery or not, that was in the hands of my surgeon. Now some would say I probably over cooked it and yes I probably did in hind sight but I’m never one to back down, determined my mother would say.

I went to my appointment in September where it was confirmed the draw (technical term there) on my tibia was so bad that reconstruction was the best option. On the 1st of October 2014 I went into Cabrini Brighton for my third ever surgery (first was wisdom teeth removal, the second was to realign my nose after a collision with a hockey ball – who’d play sport I tell you). Mum said I was apparently the talk of the theatre prep area because of my Antarctic and sub-Antarctic adventures (Not only have I been to Casey I’d also spent two long summers at Macquarie Island). Needless to say that the Antarctic circle is small and the team at Cabrini Brighton asked if I knew of Dr Anne Waterhouse who not only works at Cabrini but has also worked as an Antarctic medical practitioner. I was a bit amazed at the number of people in the theatre: Mr Trivett (orthopod) and his assistant, the anaesthetist and her assistant, theatre nurse and her assistant, an orderly and an observing orthopod registrar – PCL reconstructions are a rare occurrence. I can still taste the metallic taste in my mouth as the anaesthetic did its work and I drifted off to sleep.

Check out my Cankle!
About to be released from Cabrini
Waking up after the op and it was now time to face the reality of the road to recovery, the surgeon and anaesthetist saw me that evening. I was told the pins and needles in my leg were normal given they’d given me a nerve block as well as a general and that my temperature dropped during the operation but what I wasn’t ready to hear, and the words still resonate with me, was “The operation went well but we need to talk about some things we found when you come for your check up.” I wasn’t to see Mr Trivett for another 6 days just before flying back to Hobart. For the next two days I was mainly confined to bed, I think the staff and Mum were happy that the pain medication made me drowsy in that respect as I’m an extremely bad patient. I was only up and about for physio. Have you ever tried to step up and down a box correctly with crutches? Talk about frustrating but that was only the start, later on I would need to learn to walk again – I still grimace at the memory of someone who will remain nameless taking the piss out of my weird walk, lucky my hockey stick was not in reach! For once the Lauren that went at 110% had been slowed right down. Out of hospital and into accommodation nearby Mum soon learnt that there was no way I was staying put. I did numerous laps of the main drag in Brighton which must have amused the locals and even caught the train out to Brighton Beach making my way to the headlands looking over the beach houses.

Check-up day, the day before returning home – so Cecelia, practice awesome nurse, trimmed the stitches (best and neatest surgical stitches I’ve seen) and put new dressings on them before Mr Trivett came into see me. I forgave Mr Trivett for the Geelong footy poster on his surgery wall only because he did such a great job. The news he wanted to tell me was about the extensive cartilage damage he had found in my knee during the surgery, I’ve got pretty pics taken inside during the op if you ever want to see and your stomach can handle it. Some of the areas of missing cartilage are the size of my small finger nail, that’s large for me! It was the end of my long distance running days, especially on hard surfaces – “What’s the shortest distance you will run to get what you need?” I said 5 – 6 km, knowing from the look in his eyes he really didn’t want me to run again. I would be allowed to play hockey again but the key to my recovery and longevity would be cross training. To this day I still do the following: Road cycling and Mountain biking (as much as I can fit in), Bikram yoga (3 times a week), yin yoga (once a week) swimming, (2km 1 -2 times a week), gym cycle class (once a week), Meta fit – high intensity interval training (2 times a week), a couple of weights sessions and yes I still run (1-2 times a week).

Meet Skinny and Fatty, at one stage a whopping
4cm difference in circumference.
I returned home the next day and within two days had released Mum from her Lauren care. A week later and I was back at work terrorising everyone! But now the next challenge began the lengthy rehab – weekly visits to my awesome physio Dave, new exercises, measuring the difference between fatty and skinny (the names I gave my quads) all while trying not to tire myself out. I got known as the girl who would get around the neighbourhood and to and from work on crutches, so much so about a year later I got a cab and the driver asked if I was the girl who got around on crutches - he is without a doubt my favourite driver in Hobart! I’d got back in the pool and was water walking and by the start of November, one month post-surgery, I was back at Bikram – it was a challenge. But what I found most frustrating was learning to walk again and being told to stay on crutches for 8 weeks. I’m glad my surgeon never saw what I got up to at home – climbing the shelves to be able to reach things and not using my crutches. But the day came and my physio released me from the sticks, they did have their uses but were restrictive.

For the next few months it was the same saga – physio once a week, measuring fatty and skinny, how far could we bend, how was the draw on the ligament? It was small steps but eventually I was allowed back on the trainer, then swimming laps in the pool and then …. I was allowed to start light jogging on the dreaded deadmill, the two of us have never seen eye to eye and I refuse to get on one and run, I’d prefer to run outside in the pouring cold rain any day! With that also came change of direction work which coincided with the start of the hockey season. Yes I would be missing another season, well half of one. So instead of collecting balls I was doing change of direction work and then skill work – the change of direction worked I’m still not convinced about the skill work.

Pre umpiring the 2016 Premier League Grand Final with Alissia 
At about the same time I reacquainted myself with my roadie and yes it was like just getting back on the bike, even if it was in cleats which I still get nervous about! In my rehab program I acquainted myself with the bike rider rule of n+1 and somehow a mountain bike was added to my family. If I could no longer run the distances on the trails I may as well ride them instead. In June I took to the hockey pitch for my first game in one and a half years, heavily strapped but my physio and I were ready. It was a step by step progression and towards the end of the season I was nearly back to full games and was umpiring as well. The 2016 season just gone I was back playing full games and umpiring  Women's Ones and Premier League including the Premier League Grand Final plus a few games at the National Masters Championships – not bad for a comeback kid. The coaches still keep an eye on me and I hate the heavy strapping I have to wear for every game, think I need shares in a tape company.

 Just a bit of yoga on my beach at the Rock
All the while I’d still being going to Bikram, the standing balancing series was a real challenge but with persistence, perseverance, practice and the support of my Yogi family I’m nearly back to where I was before the surgery. Actually on reflection I’m further in some postures the fact I can balance on one leg and sometimes get my head to my knee reminds me how determined I was to not be beaten, maybe there’s a hint of stubbornness thrown in there too for good measure. I practice 3 times a week plus one Yin Yoga session a week and it’s not just about the physical aspects any more for me but the mental strength, the ability to let go and accept things are the way they are, not to judge, be present and do the best I can with the body I have today. I’m now in my 3rd year of practise and can certainly attest to that every practise my body and mind are different.

Stronger, fitter, smarter, just not faster
So let’s come forward to now – it’s just a month out and all things going well, no tripping whilst running in the Murrell, no flying off my bikes, no falling off elevated objects (those that know me well know I’ve always had tendency to dance on elevated surfaces) and I’ll be heading back down to Casey. I’m excited to return but with me there is a slight feeling of empty as I leave behind so many people who have been there and helped me on the journey back to where I am today. And that’s why I’m writing this blog so you can all be part of this next chapter, so you can see what I see and be part of what I am doing. It’s my way of thanking all of those people, and there are way too many of you who have supported me over the past three years to get back to where I am today. So I invite you to ask questions, set me challenges (yes yogis seal pose with a seal in the background somewhere is on the list, keep them coming) and be part of this adventure.

I'll bring this to an end with two quotes from one of my favourite movies - Lola Rennt, Lola is one of my nicknames given to me at Macca due to my running obsession and my red wig. The quotes below are actually from German footballer Sepp Herberger but I find they sum up how I approach things in my life today

“Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten”

“Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” 

Look out Casey the Pocket Rocket/Mighty Mouse is coming back … stronger, fitter, smarter but not faster - well maybe not as fast as I used to be.
"Christmas" 2013 at Casey Station Antarctica. Photo Credit: Lachlan Mason
Coming up next - The Return of the Human Clothes (thanks Dad for these great quotes, I never knew they would come in so handy)

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