Hi all. I hope one or two of you were wondering if I’m stuck in New Zealand or if I made it to Antarctica. Well, here it is, my first post from Antarctica!
I don’t know what it’s going to look like, really. Because I tried to get onto wordpress and it’s such a beefy site that the internet here didn’t like it. Right now, I’m on a shared computer. Suffice it to say my Outlook 2016 is one of the most up to date items on it, so until I get my laptop connected to the network, this is what we get! Supposedly, they’re getting starlink installed within the month, so that’d (hopefully?) have a significant impact on accessibility and speed.
Sorry if it seems that I’m out of breath, I just found the “big gym” and was shooting hoops for a while on the basketball court. It’s right next to the helicopter pads and I got to see a helicopter close-enough up. I’d like to help out with that crew maybe. I guess there are a number of opportunities to volunteer for other groups. There’s a “Mass Casualty” group which sounds more dramatic than it is – but it’s put on through the Medical staff and it’s to prepare everyone for any type of big scary event. They said it’s a lot of fun – people volunteer from various parts of the crew and there are actors who are trained to pretend they’re hurt and they need to be saved, or other people volunteer to “administer shots” or “pick up people on gurneys and take them to safety” and things like that. It’s basically a station-wide training that happens once a week for “x” amount of time and then at some undisclosed time and date, the “event” happens and everyone’s supposed to jump into place and it’s I guess a big thing. Might sign up for that. Among other things.
Yesterday was a trip. So you knew the first flight got cancelled when we were already on the plane. Had the debriefing, etc. I guess there was a mechanical issue that they couldn’t address because it was raining like cats and dogs and they had to access the issue from the top of the plane. Then, overnight it freakin’ snowed! We got word, though, that the shuttles would pick us up from our hotels at 10 to be at the Antarctica Passenger Terminal by 10:30. We ended up getting picked up at around 10:15 and were there around 10:50 or so. This time it was much more smooth for me. With my fancy new (old, used) kicks, I found all my gear, put it on, and we went into “holding.” Waited a bit, then went through security again. Got on the buses again. Got sack lunches again. Sat down on the plane again. Only THIS time, there were a lot of happy noises happening, and the crew (Air Force members) looked light and downright jovial. Good start. As opposed to the previous day, where we were waiting and waiting and waiting, yesterday we got on, sat down, they boopityboopitybooped and we were in the air. Flying! In a Cfreakin17!
To be completely honest, it was the smoothest flight I’ve ever been on. I had the epiphone that it’s like if you’ve ridden on a jetski in the ocean versus being on a cruise ship. Little plane, more bumps, big plane, no bumps. Lots of leg room. More head room than I could possibly fathom. It was awesome. Got a couple nappers. Took a couple walks. There was even an in-flight “merch stand” run by the Air Force members, with proceeds going to local charities. If you want a post card sent to you from my purchases IN the C17 – the first two people to email me their physical address to my personal email I’ll send you one! It’s giveaway time! Have you ever gotten a postcard from Antarctica?!
The flight ended up lasting about 5 hours and 30 minutes – give or take – and at about 4 hours and 50 minutes, I kind of started noticing a person or two moving to the back of the plane. This is the part of the plane where the butt opens up like a clam shell and they freakin’ drive stuff up into it. So the ONLY windows in this plane where we were sitting were 1) by the entrance where we walked up the steps – which was kind of blocked, 2) by the “downstairs copilot” which I have dubbed the woman sitting on our floor – it was a two-floor plane with the cockpit up a floor – I don’t actually know what she was doing, but she looked more important than the guy sitting on the large brass tiger monkey thing that looked like a statue, 3) back right and 4) back left of the plane. None of which were close to me, so I went to the one in the back by where the merch stand was and looked out and there was freakin’ white forever. As far as I could see was white with “little” blue cracks that was probably water. I tried to see a penguin, but it was only ice, ice, and more ice. I would’ve also settled for a whale. Didn’t see one of those either. Unfortunate. I’ve got 5 months though. So I got a couple crappy pictures because the outside window was frozen over at this point, but I’ve got pictures to prove it.
Then, the woman sitting next to me was approached by one of her teammates with her phone. It was so loud in the plane that we were all wearing some sort of hearing protection. I wore squishy earplugs – other people wore badass over-head noise cancelling Bose earphones, but it was loud. I eaveslooked at the phone and the note to her coworker said “You won’t be able to pee for about an hour after we land. Might want to go now.” Thank you, eaveslooking, for your perfect timing. I popped up as they all popped up and we all got in line for the single lavatory at the front of the plane. It was exactly the same as a regular plane’s bathroom, only there was one bathroom for 200+ people, so the line took a while. As I got to the front, they said that we were beginning our descent. Did my thing and got back to my seat in plenty of time to get situated.
We were descending! Onto the ice! Freakin’ Antarctica! Oh wait, why are we ascending again? Oh no. No no. Wait, okay, descending again. Yay! Yay? Good. Annnnnd descending forever. Keep in mind, I have NO clue when the “ground” or “ice” or barge or whatever we’re landing on is going to be here because of the aforementioned “no window” thing. Then all of the sudden we land! We landed on freakin’ Antarctica! Holy shit.
Then there’s some movin’ and shakin’. People are buzzing. The crew starts moving around. People start standing up and getting their gear on. Pulling out more gear. Finding more and more gear. As a side note, as I get older, I’m proud of myself for being able to observe. I feel like when I was younger, I didn’t pay the kind of attention to things that I do now, and the more I have observed, the better I’ve felt about what I’m doing. I haven’t done this before, and I’ve made it to the ice by copying people. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
They open the hatch and it’s just white. All white. Get to the front of the exit line and we go down the stairs and I’m stepping foot on freakin’ Antarctica. I got a couple selfies that I’ll post when I can. We walk a while behind the plane to this big bus-type thing with gigantic wheels and we shove in there like sardines. I sat next to a guy named Patrick and we had a nice conversation. This is his fifth year and he’s helping with loading helicopters. The last few years he helped with fueling. Speaking of – we drove and drove and drove – past the New Zealand base (evidently we’re friendly) and we came over this giant hill and down past OUR fuel…of which there is SO MUCH. Then we came around a (very slow) corner and saw McMurdo for the first time. It’s pretty cool. If you’re interested, there are live webcams to check out if you want to see what the weather’s like.
They dropped us off at the dining hall – called the galley. It’s building 155. Giant and blue. I briefly met my boss and then we all dropped off our jackets and went up for a welcome briefing. What a trip, we’re in Antarctica. Some normal do’s and don’ts and then they gave us keys to our rooms. People grabbed their keys and then they were BOLTING which made sense because we all have multiple roommates, so they were going to their rooms first and setting up shop. I was set up for the same building, so it was a short commute. Works out because I am working in this building, and this is kind of the main hub area, so I’m pretty happy with the straw I drew. Turns out, when I did that, evidently my boss was trying to find people to give them a tour of the kitchen. I did not get that non-memo. Then the phone rang in the room and I about jumped out of my skin because why would I be getting a call? It was my boss saying that he didn’t see me after the briefing and he’ll give me a tour in the morning after another briefing.
I get my room set up and then I went out and got my baggage, which sort of just arrived in one building up the hill from us. Hauled those down to my room (it’s 10:30pm at this point, and still sunny) and then I went for a walk. Sorry mom! Turns out, the only time you need the buddy system is if you’re doing an excursion or leaving the base. I was doing neither of those things, so I found the official “McMurdo Station” sign and it was overlooking the freakin’ most beautiful sunset (albeit -9 degrees) so I selfied without freezing, walked around a bit more, and then finished up. Headed back to the room and fell asleep.
Today I woke up at 5:20, which worked out because breakfast started at 5:30. Went down and hung out for a while watching the sunrise (even though the sun didn’t really set, which is going to mess with me) and eating breakfast. Sat in a briefing. Met my boss / the executive chef. Got the tour and the rundown – including needing to trim my beard, sigh. Then he’s like, well, you have the day off today, so I’ll see you for your shift tomorrow. And I’m like…so, what do I do? And he’s like, get settled and just enjoy the day. So that’s what I did. I unpacked all of my things, got settled a bit by the time lunch was ready, then I grabbed lunch, went upstairs, and went for another walk. Found the “big gym” which is about 5 feet bigger than the basketball court itself on three sides, and there’s a ping pong table, climbing wall, free weights, etc on the other 20 feetish. Oh, and the helicopter landing pad beside the gym was pretty cool.
ANYWHO. Rambly rambly. Time for dinner now. I just wanted to make sure you all knew I made it to the ice!