After nearly 20 hours sitting in planes and 7 hours waiting around in airports, we finally arrived in Christchurch, NZ on Feb 3. Saturday was lost altogether in a travelers time warp as we crossed the international date line going forward in time.
It seemed like we had never left. Cathedral Square was still crawling with tourists and Dux de Lux still had great beer on tap. The one noticeable difference is that the American dollar is tanking even more against the Kiwi dollar, another sad indicator of our pathetic economy.
We did indeed watch the Superbowl live on TV at the Holy Grail sports bar, except kickoff was Monday 1pm NZ time. Of course, our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear issue time just happened to also be at 1pm Monday at the Antarctic campus near the airport so we missed the first half of the game and arrived to standing room only at the bar. Wow, what a game. As a football non-fan, someone who likes the sound of a football game in the background while I’m cleaning house but cares little about the game itself, I was riveted. I would have been on the edge of my seat, if I had one but actually after all of that sitting, I didn’t mind standing at all.
Tuesday morning we boarded the C-17 right on time with no such luck of getting any weather delays to strand us in Christchurch. Besides five of us heading to Pole, there were a bunch of McMurdo winter veterans and some high ranking Air Force brass on a boondoggle trip. We were squeezed around two large helium dewars and a fork lift while the brass sat up in the cockpit. It’s no wonder you feel like cargo yourself on these flights.
In McMurdo it felt like a perfect calm, wintry Christmas morning kind of day with gently falling snow. Not that I ever experienced those growing up in Tucson, but I've seen them on TV
We boarded our ground transport, Ivan the Terra Bus, which must have a top speed of about 10 miles an hour. The Air Force brass got on that private van which flew by us on the sea ice road back to town.
Thankfully we had to endure only one night in the big city and flew out to Pole the next day in an LC-130.
There was a four hour delay in takeoff due to a poor weather forecast that never materialized with poor weather so we took off in beautiful clear conditions that continued all the way to Pole.
We had a nice view of Mt. Erebus, the active volcano near McMurdo that continually puffs away.
And just like Christchurch, it almost feels like I never left South Pole. They were busy over the summer, making progress on the exterior paneling, preparing the old garage arch for a new logistics facility and more demolition. The place looks a little different, improved, in some places but mostly the same, just ridiculously crowded. There were over 200 people on station when I arrived but the summer folks are steadily redeploying and now we have 187 people here.
In one week we'll close the station and winter will begin. The crew number is expected to be somewhere around 60-65 or so but so many last minute changes happen that the number fluctuates crazily and you never know who you end up with until you count heads after the last plane leaves.
I'll work on wandering around to take some photos in the next few days...