What a morning. Last night, 007 style, we got our marching orders for this morning. Paper-under-the-door type information slid to us. Felt pretty cool. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t really. We were in a meeting yesterday that said we were supposed to be ready for the shuttle to pick us up at the hotel at 5:15 in the morning. Turns out the paper said 5:45. Didn’t see that, so I woke up at 4am. Wake up call, just in case, at 4:35am. About had a heart attack at 4 when the alarm went off. Groggily got in the shower and finished well before the wake up call. Then about had a heart attack when the 4:35 call happened. Did a last check of my emails, ‘gram, and updated my computer one last time (it has to be totally up to date with OS releases, virus protection, etc in order to use it on ice) and then headed downstairs at 5:10a.
My new buddy, Angel, was down there already. She and her husband were in the Air Force, now retired, and so she’s generally pretty prompt. We’ve been “what do we do in Christchurch?” buddies since arriving on the same date with the same shuttle and at the same hotel. She’s currently living in Dayton, OH…which, for those of you scoring at home, is where I went to college and BONUS POINTS I’m from Ohio for those of you who didn’t know. Anywho. She and I were the only people sitting around in the lobby at 5:15…5:20…5:30…then someone came down, and was like “we’re supposed to be down here at 5:45, right?” Thankfully, both of us were confused, but at least we were early.
Then the shuttle was late. That meant that I had time to go get a bacon and cheese potato thing from the gas station heat window across the street. That was the option that felt the safest for my future day of traveling in a military plane to the bottom of the earth. It was warm and honestly delightful. Nice to have a little food in my stomach and all of the ingredients felt like they were real enough. The shuttle ended up picking us up around 6 and took us to the Clothing Distribution Center, where we were yesterday trying on clothes. Only this time, our shuttle was last coming in, and I felt kind of rushed. So much so that I tried copying everyone as to how layers were supposed to work, what’s supposed to go where in which bag, etc…and by the time I figured everything out, I was one of two people left in the men’s changing room. Nerve wracking! Plus, I had to put both of my bags on the scale so I knew exactly how much they weighed. They could only be 85 pounds together. I came in at 80 pounds, so I was able to menacingly shove extra clothes into the checked bags to get them closer to 85 pounds and that included my shoes for space. Foreshadowing? Ended up being at 84 pounds, and the rest of my stuff was in my “carry on” bag.
At the time, I felt like I was being too slow, and there were three options for tags for the bags. First tag: Checked bag. Second tag: Boomerang bag. Third Tag: Carry on bag. So how it breaks out is that you can check as many bags as you want, as long as they weigh 85 pounds combined, or less. The boomerang bag, which I still don’t understand if that counts toward the checked bag weight or not, is the bag that comes back with you if you fly out of Christchurch, almost get to McMurdo, but get turned around due to weather. Foreshadowing? Then the carry on is…a carry on. In my haste, I labeled both bags that I weighed at 84 pounds as checked bags because we were at the airport and we were getting on the plane and weather was good and I was one of the last people and hurry hurry ohgod. I grabbed my two remaining bags that I was issued and stuffed my backpack and additional gear into and then got rid of the extra bag because I didn’t need it (?), and that was my carry on.
At this point, though, everyone was in line to go through security. This was military security so while I wasn’t necessarily intimidated, I was still self conscious about being one of the last several people in line from a group of just under 200. Security was different than normal security, as they just took my checked bags and weighed them, they came in at 83 pounds, great, then put them on a pallet and wrapped it up and drove it into the butt of the C17 plane we were flying to the ice on. Assuming we get to the ice, that’s the next time I’ll see them because I tagged them as checked bags. Foreshadowing? I’m now left with my carry on bag. Carry ons are different here and at security you hold your carry on with you and you stand on the scale you just weighed your bags, so they can know how much you plus your bags weigh together. I’m assuming that’s for the knowledge of weight/capacity of the plane, but I’m absolutely making that up.
Super pumped! Through security. Now we sit. Spoiler alert, the gear they gave is VERY warm. It’s chilly in the “terminal” but not ECW chilly. So I take off layers and sit. We get a briefing from the military dude and sit for a bit, and then we go through security again – this time, sending our checked bags and jackets and laptops etc through the xray machine. We get through that and there’s a little exterior bay where we were standing outside with our bag and we were waiting for buses to take us to the plane. Eventually get on a bus and taken across the street to the freakin mammoth C17 plane and when my bus, the last bus, gets there, the whole plane is full. I, magically, get an aisle seat – and supposedly this setup is unique in the way of military planes because there were actual seats like a normal plane, whereas sometimes it seems it’s very sparce with netting and it’s uncomfortable, etc. This was the most comfortable I’ve been on a plane because I had legroom! It was magical! The inside of this thing was HUGE. No bells or whistles, and the ceiling was probably 20 feet high? Every single seat was taken. When we walked in, also, they gave us sack lunches with a water. I thought that was pleasant.
We’re sitting in the plane! On the way to Antarctica! Holy crap. They give a modified version of the in-flight “how to buckle your seat belt” speech, and we wait. And wait. And wait. And so I ate one of my two sandwiches. I dubbed it “chicken surprise.” I feel like it was chicken salad, but it wasn’t chicken salad. The potato chips were potato chips, so that was good. The sandwich itself was good also, but it’s always interesting eating something and you don’t really know what it is. Not the Ritz, but more than I was expecting!
And we’re sitting. Then one person goes UPSTAIRS to the cockpit. And another. Then two more. And then the door opens again. Then they open the butt of the plane. Then the engines start. And stop. And it gets loud! And then not loud. Then we wait. Total time elapsed from sitting on the plane to this next moment was probably an hour or so for me, moreso for some other people. But they came on the mic and said that the flight had been cancelled and we’ll try again…
Turns out, this is a version of the “Boomerang” they’re talking about. Though this one, the plane didn’t move an inch.
They get us off the plane, and we get BACK to the “terminal” after another bus trip, and I observe everyone taking their gear off to get ready to go back to hotels. Turns out, we don’t keep it – it stays there. Got it. And we wait. We were able to get the same hotels we had last night. Nice. Wait a second…I wonder how I’m going to walk there? Remember that whole packing my shoes in my carry on that I was sure I was going to see in a few hours? Yup. Shoeless. I really wasn’t that worried, honestly. Moreso like, welp, this’ll add to today’s story. So I walk around in socks for a minute, because I took off the massive “bunny boots” that we were supposed to leave there until our next flight, and I went to the building coordinator dude who gave us the briefing on the FIRST day, and I asked to go to the SKUA to see if there’s a pair of shoes I could use. The SKUA is basically a room of old gear that people don’t want and you can go through and scavenge things like…pairs of shoes if you pack them and tag the bag wrong. Perfect! Also, I wasn’t the only one this happened to! Yay! We’re idiots together! I shuffle through the box of shoes (there were probably 20 pair) and I freakin’ found a pair that sort of fits! And I wear a 13 so that’s no small feet. he. hehe. ahem. Walk out with my brand new shiny old pair of shoes and get my gear and shove it in the bag again and we all leave for the hotels.
Grabbed some lunch, took a nap and now I’m sitting here in “Jimmy’s Bar” with a beer, writing about my idiocy. All in, not the day I anticipated / hoped for, but not bad! Hoping to leave tomorrow. Seems we’re working on a 10:30a pickup (thankfully it’s not as early as today was – I’ll get breakfast!) and a second attempted trip down to the ice. Wish me luck!
Lol- loved all the foreshadowing and a few of the parts made me laugh out loud. I’m loving hearing all about this stuff and living vicariously through your experiences.