Thursday, December 06, 2012

Postscript from Sydney

I'm part of the way through my journey home. I'm writing this from the Air New Zealand lounge. I had a 7 hour layover in Sydney so I paid for a 4 hour pass and have been camped out here enjoying the Wifi, snacks, drinks, and relative quiet in a comfy chair. (I'd love to have gotten out of the airport for a couple of hours, but you need a visa to do that and I didn't know I'd have this lengthy layover until late Thursday night.)

We left McMurdo yesterday, mostly on time. Once we were in the air, everyone settled in the the either and a half hour flight. Things are much more casual on these flights. It's fun to watch people carefully pick their way through the piles of unwashed scientists, especially wearing their huge boots.
Once we landed in New Zealand, I got my luggage, cruised through customs, and followed the blue bootprints back to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Centre). I was the first one there at around 6:45PM, but it didn't do me any good because we ended up waiting until after 7:30PM for a shuttle to appear.

I finally made it to my hotel room, rushed out for a takeaway curry, and repacked everything for the trip home. After the requisite 15 minute shower, it was almost 10:30PM and since I had to catch a 4AM shuttle to make my 6:30AM flight, I crashed as quickly as possible.

It's almost 2PM, and my gate is on the other side of the terminal so I'm going to dash out of here in 20 minutes or so. I've got a 14 hour flight to L.A. then a two and a half hour layover, a 3 hour flight to Dallas with a three and a half hour layover, then finally a 2 hour flight to Madison which lands at 10:50PM. At that point I'll be simultaneously exhausted and wired, so I'm planning on being a zombie on Saturday.

After I recover from that, I'll spend a few days appreciating the daily showers, the humidity, and being back home!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Not close enough

At bag drag last night they told us to report back there at 8:45 the next morning, but to be sure to "check the scroll". Outside the galley there's a video monitor which cycles through a few pages of general interest like the current weather conditions and forecast, activities going on this evening, etc. For me, the most interesting of those pages is the Outgoing Flights page. When I checked this morning at 7AM, my flight was listed as "indefinite delay due to weather". At around 10AM they changed it to CANCELLED. So I'm stuck in McMurdo again.
Fortunately, no expense is spared in making sure we're as comfortable as possible. (Note the missing or stained ceiling tiles.) This room is more comfortable than the room I shared when I came through in November because now I'm in a six person room which only 3 people are sharing. All the beds are single-level -- in November I was in a top bunk.

We're in a dorm which is being remodeled. Our room is the last door on the right, just before the plastic divider with the sign saying "Do not enter". I was awake for a few hours last night with a tickle in the back of my throat, convinced I was coming down with "the crud", a general flu-like sickness that seems to float around Antarctica. I mentioned this to one of my roommates at breakfast and he said the same thing happened to him. We decided that instead of an infection it was probably just asbestos fibers from the remodel.
It's kind of windy and snowy today which is why we're not flying to Christchurch. There's not much to do except sit inside and enjoy the 24 hour Internet connection. That connection is probably the same bandwidth as a coffee shop's connection in the States, but here it's shared by several hundred people, so catching up on NetFlix videos is frown on :-)

I generally camp out in the library in Crary Labs. Crary is the main building for all science projects here. There are chemistry and biology labs, office space, and even a marine touch tank on the lower level. The library has WiFi along with relative quiet, a combination that's almost impossible to find anywhere else on the continent.
Here's the view from the Crary library window. This picture's a little murky due to the combination of dirty windows and a light snowfall, but if you squint you might be able to make out the helicopters between the Chalet deck and the base of Ob Hill. Further to the right there is normally a view of Mt. Erebus, the most southerly volcano on the planet.

I was surprised to discover this while poking around: a live webcam! Experience the gritty scenery of McMurdo from the comfort of your own home.

One step closer

I flew from Pole to McMurdo today!

Yesterday's flight arrived just before lunchtime, so I was happy to hear that my flight was delayed half an hour and I was able to grab some lunch (mac & cheese plus some melon salad.) We eventually took off at around 12:30PM

There were only three passengers on the plane, so there was plenty of room to stretch out. It was only a 3 hour flight, but the weather was windy when we got near McMurdo so it was a pretty turbulent landing.

Over the weekend they switched from the airfield near base to Pegasus airfield which is about an hour away. It took much longer than that to get to base, though, because we had to sit and wait for another group of passengers.

We finally made it into town at around 5:30. I hauled my luggage up the hill to the cargo building because I knew (hoped?) we'd be weighing in this evening and I didn't want to carry my suitcase, backpack, and gear bag all over town. At the cargo area I found that bag drag was at 8PM, so I stripped off the heavy-duty gear we're required to wear on the flight and left everything except my computer and overnight stuff in a big pile.

From cargo I went to housing and found out where I'm sleeping tonight, then went to the room and made up my bed. After that I headed to dinner where the main course was ... pasta and cheese! Fortunately, there was also a curry stir fry, so I had a big plate of that and then sat down to suck up some Internet time.

It's about an hour before bag drag, where I'll weigh in and find out what time the flight to Christchurch leaves. After that I'll likely head back to my room and collapse!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

We don't need another hero (shot)

Last full day!

I woke up at 7:30AM this morning after a fitful night's sleep -- sleep in a low-oxygen environment is often not good, I won't miss that part of the South Pole experience. I worked out then showered and had some banana bread and tea while going through my email. I've almost finished packing my bags and then I'll drag them to the Bag Drop area and say goodbye to them for a day or two

I have several more hours' work to do today and a few more meals ("Deli Day" for lunch, "Thai Night" for supper, and if tomorrow's plane doesn't get here before 11:30AM, "Mac and Cheese" for my final Pole lunch). After that, it's three straight days of transit: a 5 hour Pole->McMurdo flight on Tuesday, an 8 to 10 hour McMurdo->Christchurch flight on Wednesday, then the 30+ hours of travel time on Thursday. That last trip really does happen in a single day. Since we fly back across the international date line, I'll leave at around 10AM Thursday and arrive at around 5PM Thursday.

There's the remote possibility that I'll write something in McMurdo (especially if I get stuck there for more than a day), but more than likely this is the end of this season's blog. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Countdown to liftoff!

Yesterday we had the first visitors of the season. These people fly to the South Pole, tromp around for an hour or so outside, come into the station store for souvenirs, then fly back to the coast. The rumor on-station is that they pay $30,000 apiece for this one-day trip. Since it was the first tourist group of the season, I'd guess more people on-station took pictures of them posing at the Pole than they themselves took.
Those tourists are just lucky they didn't show up during the South Pole rush hour.

There are (I hope) less than 48 hours before my plane to McMurdo arrives! It's Sunday here, and while it's technically a day off, I'm putting in a few hours' work today before going down to clean my room and start to pack.

I'll need to have my "checked" bag packed by 3PM tomorrow for "bag drag". Fortunately, my room is roughly 25 feet away from the "checkin" point (which is really just a sign next to one of the main station doors. The cargo people pick up all the bags, weigh them, then shrink-wrap them on a pallet so they're ready to load onto the plane.

There are only 4 people flying out on this plane and I don't think there's a LOT of returning cargo at this point in the season, so I'm anticipating an empty plane. Should be an interesting flight.