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7 October, 2003

The stars lined up, the weather cooperated, and both scheduled flights to McMurdo were able to make it. We were on the second flight, with a reporting time of 11AM at the CDC to get suited up in our ECW gear and check our baggage for the flight. The 4 of us were joined by 136 other southbound travelers as we separated into the men’s and women’s dressing rooms to find our orange bags left after last week’s orientation and put on our ECW gear for the flight. Because flights had been delayed for the past 4 days, the dressing rooms were a sea of orange bags. The first trick was to find your two bags— luckily they were arranged in some sort of alphabetical order. Luckily, too, the bags had name tags on them written in nice large letters. Once bags were found, we suited up, putting on redundant layers that felt a bit like overkill when we walked out into the sunny spring day outside the CDC. After dressing, we proceeded to the USAP Antarctica Terminal, exchanging our checked bags (which were weighed, along with our carry-on bags to insure that we had not exceeded the 75 lb. per person limit) for a boarding pass. By then it was only 11:30 and we had 45 minutes until our flight orientation was to begin.

We headed over to the International Antarctic Center (a tourist museum next to the CDC and Terminal) to browse the cafeteria and have a little lunch—and made sure NOT to sit in the sun since we had on enough clothing to keep us warm in sub-zero conditions. At 12:15 we reported to the air terminal for a brief video orientation to give us a hint of what might be in store for us once we reached McMurdo.

Then it was time to board the busses that would take us to our plane. At the airfield we received our sack lunches for the plane ride. The bags weighed about 5 lbs each and made me wonder if this additional weight had been factored into the total plane load. We were herded onto the plane, stowed our orange carry-on bags under the bench seat, and strapped in for the 6 to 6 1/2 hour flight ahead of us. I’m sure that everyone aboard was hoping that we wouldn’t be boomeranged and turn back at the halfway point.

To say that the flight was loud would be an understatement. Even with earplugs firmly inserted, the roar of the engines and ventilator system provided a consistent background to my thoughts of what was to come. I read my book, browsed through my ample snack bag (2 sandwiches, 2 small bags of chips, 1 chocolate cookie, 1 chocolate bar, 1 granola bar, 1 pastry, 2 pears, 1 bottle of orange drink, 1 bottle of water, a napkin, and a towelette for cleaning up after eating), and tried to imagine the scenery outside the plane since there were no windows to peek out of.

We began our approach to the McMurdo airfield about 8 pm. As we suited up in our ECW gear the plane made a few swooping entries and finally touched down and taxied along the runway. Once the doors were opened we stepped out, finally glad to have all that warm clothing on. Wow—Antarctica!! The Transantarctic Mountains were glowing in the evening sun as we were hustled into ‘Ivan the Terra Bus’ for our trip from the airfield to the base.

Our first orientation session began immediately after dinner, when we received keys to our dorm rooms, and were given the orientation schedule for the next few days. We retrieved our bags, settled into our rooms, and went to sleep.

Which bags are mine?

Boarding our flight

In the plane

We made it!

McMurdo airfield transportation

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