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24 November, 2002


We arrived at McMurdo on a runway carved out of pure ice late Friday night. I was a little anxious about landing on ice, but it was actually one of the softer landings I've experienced. I'm not sure how they stop the plane. If they didn't reverse the engines I believe it would drift for quite a while.

This is truly an amazing place. It is cool here; daily highs in the upper teens, generally, but not uncomfortable. One doesn't notice at first, but after a while one realizes that nothing is alive here. There are no plants, and the only animals we've seen are large birds, called skuas, that feast on trash. There aren't even plants in any of the buildings as decorations. There are no children in McMurdo either. It's hard as a teacher to adjust to not seeing anyone under 18 years of age here.

What makes this place amazing is that it is a vibrant community. Three major groups populate McMurdo, scientists, support staff, and military. The scientists are people like ANSMET, most of whom are just passing through on their way to another site, although, McMurdo has complete lab facilities for any scientific group. The military is here to handle the transport of goods and services to and from Antarctica.

But, perhaps, the most amazing group is the support staff. Over 1200 people work here to make sure that the science can be done. The majority seem to be young, in their 20's, but they range quite a bit in age. They work all sorts of jobs from maintenace, to the galley, to communications, and so forth. What's more, is that most of these people will never leave McMurdo, yet have worked very hard to get here. There are numerous stories of medical doctors who worked here as truck drivers just to see Antarctica. Or a story of a woman who was a powerful lawyer who came here and worked in the cafeteria just so she could see Antarctica. Without the support staff, our expedition would probably not be possible.

One of the first things we did in McMurdo was familiarized ourselves with the town. To do this, Dan, Dante, Cady, Diane, and I got certified to drive the vehicles they use here. These are not normal vehicles. They use jacked up 4WD Ford F-350's and 4WD Econoline vans. We took one of the vans for "a spin" and filled it up. Not even a fill-up is normal in Antarctica. Everything is paid for by the NSF, so we simply pumped the gas, and drove off. I kept checking my mirror to see if we were being pursued.

There are constantly helo's (helicopters) flying in and out of town, along with the C-130's that take off and land right on the ice sheet. By mid-December, that will stop as the ice begins to break up, and they'll have to land on Ross Island, where McMurdo sits.

In many ways, McMurdo reminds me of a mining town high in the mountains. It's kind of like Leadville with the climate and atmosphere of young people. McMurdo has the basic requirements of a town with two places to get "carbonated beverages," a coffee shop, and even a bowling alley (one more than we have in Castle Rock). It even has a chapel, the southernmost in the world.

As I spend more time in McMurdo, I'm sure I'll write more about the town. Yet, sometime, I'll have to talk of our preparation for our upcoming field experience.

Ivan the terrabus ready to transport us from the landing strip to McMurdo.

C-130's on the ice.

Helo's ready to go.

Extreme machine (similar to a ride at the Antarctic Experience in Christchurch) Too bad I'm not qualified to drive this one!

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