6 January, 1997
Hi! I arrived in Christ Church, New Zealand on January 2, 1997 ready to travel South. The first plan is to get outfitted in winter gear. The Clothing
Distribution Center is very efficient in providing all the necessary items. When I arrived for my appointment, I was handed two duffle bags full of winter gear. On the advice of the Arctic Support Service folks, I tried on all the items as they were to be worn. It's a good thing that I did since I did find that sizes were all mens and I had to change several items for smaller sizes. The items were then repacked according to what would be worn on the day of departure. That day turned out to be Sunday, January 5th. I arrived at the passenger terminal ready for a 12:00 noon departure time. In the changing room were lots of other folks going to the ice for the first time. There is much excitment and anticipation about the trip. Should I wear this? How many pair of thermal underware do I need to wear? Is the plane heated? What was it they said about the bathroom on the plane? What! An elevated potty for women with a shower curtain around it and next to the bunks for the service men? You must be kidding. How long
can one hold it? An eight hour flight you say? Well that's about how long we all can wait. Lots of laughter and teasing about this. When we are all dressed we move through the dog sniffing check for drugs, file the passports with the New Zealand folks and get a briefing about the flight. Then we setting down in a huge waiting room for further instructions. We wait - and wait - and wait! It seems that they are having some engine trouble and have been working on it for hours. They are now testing the engine. Everyone says "just take all the time you need! We don't mind the wait at all." At 4:00 someone comes in to the lounge and announces that we are released for an hour but be back by 4:00. Everyone wanders to the cafe to eat some, but not to drink very much. At 5:30 someone comes in again and calls for attention. Then the magic words - we're going - pick up your gear and get on the bus! Cheers and we are off.
This Hercules 130 is an amazing plane. It seems quite small but holds an incredible amount of gear and people. The seats are hung along a frame that runs the length of the front half of the plane with web backs and canvas seats. We are about 34 in number and all dressed in heavy gear and huge red parka and bunny boots. When finally seated, noone can move unless everyone moves. Does that remind you of a camp song? ; ) As we get on the plane, the flight crew gives us each a huge sack lunch and takes the carry on bags from us. They are piled on top on the cargo in the back of the plane. Then the ear plugs are given out. The engines rev up, the plane vibrates creeks and groans and slowly moves forward. There are small windows at just the right height for some good observations. The flight gets underway at 6:30P.M. and is scheduled to arrive 8 hours later. Only one more hurtle. If the weather is good at the 4 hour mark, we can go all the way. Again we are lucky with the weather and continue forward at 10:30. Everyone is checking their watches at this point. I am reading quite comfortably with the bright light from the sun as it streams in to the plane for the entire flight. Then at about 12:30 A.M. sudenly we can see snow covered mountains! They are beautiful. There is real excitment on board as everyone turns for a better view. You can see the glaciers and flow paths between the mountain ridges. There are shadows and shades of pink that make the sight simply amazing. I can now see why the commercial airlines have started fly over flights for passengers who want to see the Antarctic for themselves. I held my video camera up to the window and with some luck, I'll have some video of this spectacular sight. One just does not realize how large this continent is until you see the hundreds of miles of snow fields, glaciers and mountains.
I wish everyone could experience this spectacular sight! More later.
After The Landing
Imagine landing a plane on snow. You hear the engine roar as the wing flaps change position followed by sudden lurching as passengers move in unison first forward, then back all the while trying to watch through the small windows. The flight has been very smooth up until this point. In fact, there were no bumps dips or drops in altitude along the way. Then the doors open and the cool Antarctic air blows in. Someone calls out "oh, I packed the gloves in the hand carry bag. Will I need them now?" Chuckles from the others are heard as all the "new to the ICE" folks hurry to see the real thing. All of what the other teachers have said is true. It's breath taking beauty is real! Folks wander off the plane looking around when one of the staff soundly reminds everyone to walk around the props always! It looks and feels much like mid-day in ski country. The snow is great. Clean and crunchy, not like the wet slopy snow I see in Seattle. Cross country skies are definately in order here. The sun looks like about 2:00 P.M.at home.
Someone is now trying to organize this group and get us to pick up bags off the snow, put them in the big bus and load ourselves in as well. The locals here call this the bag drag. However, we are all much more interested in looking around in collective appreciation of the place and the scenery. It is really fun to experience this with a group of novices who are all in awe of this place.
The plane has landed at Willy field several miles from McMurdo Station. The ride takes us past the active volcano and Scott Base mentioned by the other teachers, then on to McMurdo. On the way, room keys are distributed and insturctions given. The folks working with us have had to get up in the middle of the night to help us. We forgot about that. The folks in charge break the tradition of an immediate briefing session since it is now 3:30 A.M. and say to meet at 12:30 P.M.tomorrow. Someone jokes "Do you mean today?" Everyone laughs. In high spirits we all find rooms and sleep. My room mate has just arrived to begin her job as lab manager. I will have to find out more about her work. Stay tuned for more later. Bye from the ICE : )
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