29 October, 1998
Thursday, October 29th, 1998
Hello from McMurdo Station, Antarctica! I can't believe it...today was one of the MOST EXCITING days of my whole life. I don't know where to start...so get ready!
I didn't sleep very well, just had a feeling that we would be flying today. I was out of bed like a shot from a cannon when the alarm rang at 3:50 AM. As it turned out I didn't need my hotel wake-up call as a back-up...I was wide awake. I threw on my clothes and drove in the rain over to the CDC building near the airport. I was a little early (excited or what?) and waiting in my rental car until the place opened. As all of today's passengers for the flight arrived, they filed into the dressing rooms and began the process of layering up in their ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. I carefully re-packed what I didn't need into my large backpack~~for storage at the CDC until my return to Christchurch in December.
I made sure that I had the necessary required items either on me or in my orange duffle I'd carry on the plane. The next step was to haul, drag, or otherwise carry ALL of my bags to the building next door for check-in. This was no small feat...my huge black duffle (even though it had wheels) was very heavy. I received a boarding pass on a chain that I had to hang around my neck. I had to put both check-through bags (the huge balck one and one orange duffle) on a large scale and they checked to see that I wasn't over the baggage weight limit of 70 pounds. I was, but I think everyone else was, too. Next, I had to stand on the scale holding my other orange duffle and my computer case. They add all of the weight together because it is VERY important to know how much weight the plane is carrying. It helps them determine how much cargo can be loaded on the plane, too.
I had some waiting time now, so I went over to the Antarctic Centre to the 60 Degrees South restaurant and had a small bite of breakfast. I didn't want to eat too much...I had heard horror stories about the bathroom on board the airplane. When I was walking over I met a man who was at the check-in along with a bunch of tv camera men and reporters. He informed me that this was a special day, because Peter Hillary would be on board our plane. Let me explain to you that his father is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of Mt. Everest. He had a sherpa named Tenzing Norgay (I think I spelled that right) with him on this climb. He is a very famous mountaineer and explorer. Peter Hillary, along with two other men are starting a journey across Antarctica to the South Pole and back...I will tell you more about that tomorrow, because this journal entry is going to be a long one. :) Stay tuned!
Reporting time back at the CDC was 6:05 AM. At that time Air Force officials talked about safety and today's flight, and we were required to watch a video on Antarctica and weather conditions. I had already seen this video at our TEA orientation in Washington, D.C. back in May...but I was very glad to see it again. The information passed along is very important to making your stay in Antarctica a safe one. Before too long we were in line, having our bags x- rayed and passing through a security check just like a regular airport. Everyone boarded shuttle buses that took us from the CDC, across the street to the airport. We passed through several chain-link security gates and soon we parked right by the C-141 Starlifter cargo plane.
I knew these planes were big, but I'd never been this close to one. It is absolutely HUGE! The engines were gigantic, and the wings slope downward, unlike the Hercules planes I told you about the other day, which have wings that stick out straight. As people got in line to board the plane...men went first. This was because their bathroom was in the back of the plane. Women, (and there were not many of us), boarded last. I had heard from a new Antarctic scientist buddy, Rosie, that if you were the last one to board the plane, you got more room. (You were also closer to the bathroom in the front of the plane). I made sure I was the last person on that plane. Rosie was correct...I had no one sitting next to me on one side, and no one directly across from me. I could stretch out my legs during the whole flight. It was also easy for me to get up and stretch, since I didn't have to climb over anyone to do so!
The plane had a minor problem that needed adjusting and we sat for two hours before they informed us that we needed to buckle up and get ready for take off. Although this seems like a long time, it went pretty fast...I was very excited! At last they started the engines. We all put in our ear plugs that were handed out at check-in (some people brought along fancier ones~~more like headphones pilots wear). The plane had to taxi over to a nearby runway and wait for clearance. We were still for a few minutes and all of a sudden we started to move...quickly...very quickly...and we were taking off! Yikes! It was the most incredible feeling!
Since everyone was sitting on bench-type seats, with webbing for seat backs, we all leaned a bit as the plane took off. I have some pictures that may give you a little better idea of how we were sitting. I wish I could draw you a diagram of the inside of the plane. No frills on this monster...bare walls, wires and pipes visible, cargo on pallets in the back of the seating area, dim lighting, sack lunches. First class it was NOT, but exciting it WAS!
Soon we were at cruising altitude and were able to unbuckle our seat belts and move around a bit. People got up to stretch, while others read, slept, or ate their sack lunch. You couldn't really have much of a conversation, since it was loud and everyone had their ear plugs in. The trip took about 5 hours. As we approached McMurdo and the huge white continent, I was able to go up into the cockpit of the plane and take some photos. It was so bright...I couldn't believe the views below me of snow and ice, and mountains. AWESOME!
Up in the cockpit there were 9 people working. It was a small area for 9 people, but each person had their own little niche or work space. Back down on the main deck, I had the chance to speak with Rick, the Air Force Sgt. (from Travis Air Force Base in California) who was in charge of keeping track of the in-flight weather conditions at McMurdo. He assured me that we WERE going to land, not turn around. The weather in McMurdo was sunny, clear, and cold...a little above zero degrees F. It was a beautiful day in Antarctica!
The landing was very smooth, but we did bump a bit. Rick said that was because the sea ice gave way to the heavy weight of the cargo plane and it seemed like we were bumping down. We kept going quite awhile before the airplane finally came to a halt. It took a few minutes for them to secure the plane and allow us to get off. As the hatch was opened and the stairs brought down, the cool air streamed in and the bright light of the sunny Antarctic day came pouring in. I couldn't believe I was finally going to set foot on the coldest, windiest, driest, and highest continent in the world! So many months of planning and anticipation for me. Wow!
"Ivan~~the Terra Bus" , a huge snowcat/bus was waiting nearby. It held over 50 passengers and it moved us from the ice runway to the town of McMurdo...about 2 miles away. Within minutes we were in McMurdo and herded into the galley (where we eat our meals) for a short arrival briefing. We were given some instructions and I was very happy to turn around and see Gary Wilson, who had come to meet me.
I got my dormitory room assignment and moved my orange duffle and computer over to my new home. Our other luggage would be brought to town a couple of hours later after they unloaded the cargo pallets from the Starlifter. For now, I was happy to change into some light-weight clothing and get rid of my full ECW gear that we were required to wear on the plane.
Gary took me over to Crary Lab, where we will be working, and gave me a tour of the place. It's a very sophisticated lab for such a remote place. It is well-equipped and a very modern facility. It was completed in 1991, so it is pretty new compared to some of the buildings in town. I will tell you more about the lab in another journal entry as well...I still have more to tell about my day!
I was introduced to many new people...I can not remember their names, at least not yet. Gary and I picked up my other luggage and brought that over to my dorm room. I was finally able to change out of my "bunny boots" and into tennis shoes. That felt great! I had had the bunny boots on since 5:00 AM and I was tired of those heavy things. Gary and I walked over to the galley for dinner. It is just a short walk from the dorm, or Crary Lab. Meals are served in a cafeteria here...and there are a several choices for main dishes, salads, vegetables, and desserts. I probably will talk more about the meals and food preparation as time goes on. So far, so good, though.
Gary and colleagues (who are now my colleagues on the Cape Roberts Project) were going on a hike up Observation Hill at around 8:00 PM. This volcanic cone, (it's a little bigger than a hill you guys!) is at the edge of McMurdo. We hiked up (and up and UP) over snow, ice, and loose rock until we reached the top. It's about 230 meters tall...and at the top you get a 360 degree view of the surrounding McMurdo metropolitan area. Ha! It is all ice, snow, mountains...very beautiful. We could see the TransAntarctic Mountains in one direction, Scott Base (the Kiwi base) about two miles in the distance, the sea ice and landing strip we came in on today, and got a terrific view of the whole town of McMurdo. We could see Mt. Erebus (the world's southern-most active volcano) Mt. Terra Nova, and Mt. Terror nearby. I just couldn't believe I was at the top of an old vocano looking down on this indredible landscape below me. This was quite a day!
Also at the top of the "hill" there was a wooden cross errected on January 20, 1913 to honor the five men that died on their way back from the South Pole: Robert Scott, Laurence Oates, Edgar Evans, Edward Wilson, and Henry Bowers. I will be talking a lot about Antarctic exploration later in my journals. Hard to believe that this cross has been up there since 1913. It has been blown over by storms at least a couple of times, but most recently was blown over in 1994. It is now set in a concrete base.
Getting down Observation Hill was more difficult than climbing it because of slippery patches of snow/ice and loose volcanic rock. I really had to take my time...I didn't want to get this far and get hurt. When we were close to the bottom, some of us decided to slide down the snow/ice on our snowpants. It was FUN! I love sledding, and this was close, just no sled involved. A great end to a great hike!
I looked at my watch and it was 10:00 PM...broad daylight...seemed like afternoon. I think it will be hard to get used to going to bed early here. It doesn't seem like night time...my body will have to adjust. 24 hours of daylight...who can tell me WHY that is happening right now in Antarctica?
Remember, too, that for those of you back home in Illinois on daylight savings time...you are now 19 hours behind us...so if I'm writing you now at almost 12:00 midnight (which I am)...what time is it in Illinois? See if you figure it out and I'll tell you tomorrow! Are we on the same day right now?
Thanks for sticking it out and reading this entire journal entry. It was a marathon, but such a super day for me...one I will NEVER FORGET. I miss family and friends and I wish they could all experience this with me...you can in a way...if you follow the journals throughout my adventure. Talk to you tomorrow.
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