Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where Cold Performs the Effect of Fire

"…a frozen continent
Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storms
Of whirlwind and dire hail…
The parching air burns frore,
and cold performs the effect of fire."

-- John Milton, Paradise Lost II:587-595.

'Frore' refers to frostlike.

And below, a link to Electric Sky, who currently distributes "The Deadly Glacier", the documentary of my 2000-2004 expeditions to cross Iceland's Vatnajokull ice cap, alone, in winter; the clip can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The first page of my opening chapter in The Best Travel Writing 2009.

You can read the whole thing in the book, or in this PDF file. I've inverted the scans so that the type is white on black; for me, it fits the mood.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pressure Restraint Gloves

Completed prototypes of the pressure restraint gloves (PRG) and fitted to them to the pressure glove bladders (PGB), which are currently fastened to wrist wrings simply with hose clamps (above, one of many sketches that preceded construction.) Pressure restraint garments fit over the pressurized garments to prevent unwieldy 'ballooning' that comes with pressurization of a full-pressure suit.

In the photo below, the PRG's fitted over the PGB's. Now to fit the wrist wrings permanently, and with an airtight seal, to the pressure suit arms.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You'll Get Killed Doing That

After 48 hours down with a tooth infection, I'm finally up again and swinging away at half a dozen projects. There is no time to lose! I can't worry about prudence, I can't worry about avalanches or polar bears, I can't worry about "You'll get killed doing that!" (I think, "And you're going to live forever?"), I can't worry about anything but the life energy that flows in me right now, the energy that puts me on my feet every morning thinking about altitudes, pressures, and temperatures; thinking about the things I have assembled before me; the things I will do and not do; how I treat other people; how to stay on track with meaningful things, how to remain serious in a civilization bent on trivia; how to keep my dignity in a civilization that hacks away at dignity. And lowest on my list is prudence. There is no time for that ingredient!

Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea

"Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea" (c) 2008 by Judith Barrington; from her recent collection of poetry (of the same title) based on "...her fascination with the ocean and the currents of her imagination..."

It's dark here except for the odd lampfish.
You wouldn't like it--walking's a chore;
trash twenty feet deep and more drifting down
from the oil rigs. Sometimes, although it's rash,
we float up to gaze at the flash of a passing propeller
or sunlight on yellow scum floating far from the shore.

And below, the fifth movement of Berliozs' "Symphonie Fantastique." This is what Michael Collins listened to while orbiting the moon alone as his companions landed on the surface.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pressure Glove

After about a year of fascinating research into the design and building of pressure suits, I'm not just making sketches and drawings of my own any more: I'm building it, I'm assembling the items that will take me as near to space as I can get, by means of a high altitude balloon.

Today, a 'proof of concept' for the gloves. An airtight seal is made by binding a heavy rubber glove to the wrist wring; a low-pressure gauge sits where I plan to mount it to monitor suit pressure at altitudes over 30,000 feet. Several elements of this assembly will actually be made of different materials, but for the moment I'm working to prove, in material terms, my concepts.

Looking past low clouds the other night, the sterile vastness of open space seemed to draw at me, the draw you feel when you stand on a cliff edge. Standing there I wanted to leap out of my sneakers, straight up, and an intense frustration with the fact that I cannot simply vault away from the Earth overcame me. We are aware of a whole universe to explore, just up there beyond those puny wisps of condensation--the Universe is right there in front of you, you can reach out and damned near touch it--and yet here we remain, still hacking each other to pieces over religion, oil, or what have you.

Well, for the moment, more building; integration of the pressure helmet and the construction of the pressure restraint garment, and custom cutting and sewing of the flameproof Nomex coverall, to be insulated with aerogel. And then, build the balloon and the capsule. Two, three years; slowly, slowly, and finally up to the Arctic to fly.

But plenty before that; soon to Nevada, to fly the paraglider in preparation for Alaska in December, then Ecuador to dive, dive, dive in search of who-knows-what in the greens and greys of Salango Bay.