Today (Monday, Nov. 16) was a long day. I got up at 4 a.m., checked out of my room at the Quality Inn in Christchurch, and rode a shuttle with two astronomers to check in for our flight to McMurdo at the Antarctic Center. After having our bags weighed (mine, with the extra gear they’d given us, came to 83 lbs. which is a good thing, since the limit is 85!) we assembled in a room for a pre-flight briefing with information about how the general rules of conduct regarding waste disposal, energy use, contact with wildlife, etc. Then we boarded a military transport plane that was large enough to fit a big metal storage container and lots of pallets of supplies. All the pipes and cables that are hidden in a commercial airplane were exposed. There were a number of US Air National Guard people on the flight; they fly some of the planes to ferry people around here. We were handed earplugs as we got on, and once the engines started I could see why. So there wasn’t any conversation. I managed to doze for the first couple of hours with the white noise.
The flight was about 5 hours. We’d been instructed to pack a “boomerang bag” in case the plane encountered bad weather and had to turn around and fly back to Christchurch. The bag was supposed to contain items we’d want if we had to spend the night in Christchurch. At some point, I looked at my watch and realized we’d been flying more than 3 hours, which meant we were going all the way, for which I was glad.
We touched down on an airfield called Pegasus on the sea ice. A videographer from New Zealand named Rachael, who’d been sitting next to me, took my picture and I took hers. Then we all boarded the bus known as “Ivan the Terra Bus” for an approximate 90 minute ride to McMurdo. It isn’t that McMurdo is that far away, but vehicles can’t ride more than 25 mph on the packed snow, and Ivan was loaded down so was even slower, especially when we started climbing hills. We dropped off the Kiwis (New Zealanders) at Scott Base and continued on to McMurdo.
I was greeted by Elaine, my logistics coordinator from Lockheed Martin, which does the logistics for the program. There was another briefing, then I went up to my dorm room, which is pretty much like a college dorm room, with two beds, beat up furniture, and a bathroom that we share with the room on the other side. My roommate turned out to be a young woman who is a volcanologist and post-doctoral fellow from the University of New Mexico, who arrived on the same flight as me. This is her second trip to Antarctica and she expects to leave for the volcano Mt. Erebus by the end of the week.
Tomorrow I start field training bright and early — a 7:30 briefing, snowmobile training all morning, and an indoor field safety class all afternoon. At 7 p.m. I’ll have another lecture to attend. Wednesday will be an easier day, with only an hour’s worth of trainings in the morning. Thursday I have sea ice training all day. After that, hopefully I can join Sam Bowser’s team at New Harbor out in the field.
It’s amazing to actually be here. Almost hard to process after all the anticipation and planning that I’m really here.