Well, I’m not sure what day it is and especially what time it is but I have made it to Christchurch, New Zealand in one piece WITH all my bags which is, unfortunately, not the case for everyone in our little group.
Let’s see, when I left off, I was back at SFO for attempt #2 at getting underway. Fortunately, the second attempt was successful and a mere 13 ½ hours later, we touched down in Sydney. It’s not often I can say it’s the first time landing on a continent, so that was pretty thrilling to me and really made me look forward to the next time I get to say that, which will hopefully be in the next day or two! Troy and I parted ways with promises to stay in touch with updates as he moves to Hong Kong and I have my little “icecapade”. I proceeded through the transit security checkpoint easily and as I approached the transfer desk, I met my first fellow USAP contractor. Patrick (Carpentry) and I then also picked up Jonathan (Supply) whom I had actually spoken to at SFO when trying to figure out the hotel/floor-sleeping situation but hadn’t actually met. Both men have been to the Ice before – in fact Jonathan was just back from a 60 day vacation in between the Winter and Summer seasons. They chatted about people they knew and tried to keep me in the loop by explaining things and then answering my questions as best they could. There was much speculation about what would happen to our Orientation schedule in Christchurch since we’d been delayed 24 hours– whether they’d try to push us through everything in one evening so we could proceed with our scheduled Ice Flight departure on the 22nd or if they’d just push everything back a day. I think we all hoped they’d push it back just so we could have a little down time in Christchurch but as I’m quickly learning, there’s a lot of unknowns to factor in and being flexible and rolling with the punches is the name of the game.
So the three of us hung out and got to know each other in Sydney and then proceeded on to Christchurch. During that flight, I met Michelle and Denise, two more USAP contractors. Once we landed, at Jonathan’s recommendation, I picked up a bottle of Bushmills in the Duty Free shop before Immigration. Apparently, you can’t buy liquor at the store at McMurdo, only at Amundsen-Scott. While I’m not sure one bottle will get me through four months on the Ice, I was worried about the weight if I bought anymore so it’ll have to do. Once we were all through Immigration and Customs, we were met by USAP personnel who informed us that we were going to keep our scheduled Ice Flight the next day and would be immediately proceeding to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to get our Extreme Cold Weather Gear (ECW) and watch a few informative videos; so much for down time. And I have to say, this part could have been better orchestrated – there wasn’t much information or guidance given to the newbies. I think partially that was because there were only three of us and it was assumed the experienced personnel would help us…which they did to a certain extent, but…ah well, I managed.
Incidentally, I’m SUPER glad I didn’t pack the two pairs of chef’s pants as I received 6 pairs in ECW. Fortunately, Jonathan had given me a great tip before we went in: other than the stuff required to be worn on the Ice Flight, everything else was optional and we didn’t have to take it if we didn’t want it. So I only took four pairs of chefs pants and one pair of the wooly socks and turned in the thick, fleecy long underwear pants that didn’t fit well ‘cause I have Tiffany’s pair. The red parka is exactly like you’ve seen in dozens of pictures. I’ll try and get a picture in it tomorrow maybe. Being dazed and confused from traveling for so long has made it hard to remember that I should be taking pictures. So what are we required to wear (or at least carry-on with us) on the Ice Flight? The red parka, either a wooly hat or a balaclava, wind-proof snow pants, leather gloves, snow goggles, and the bunny boots. The rest is up to us so I’m planning on wearing the lighter ECW long underwear and a fleece top under the required stuff. I’ll let you know how that works out for me (i.e. if I freeze to death).
After trying everything on, I repacked things so that tomorrow morning, one ECW-issued orange bag and my two personal suitcases will get checked onto the C-17 (Joe, I checked, it’s a C-17. The C-130s are for Amundsen-Scott). I also have my boomerang bag labeled and packed with running clothes and sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt, clean underpants, pajamas and basic toiletries. Then the other ECW orange bag contains the stuff I will be wearing/carrying on the flight to McMurdo. When I get to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), I will put all that stuff on and then place my carry-on backpack into the (now-empty) orange bag as it is designated my “official carry-on” bag. I weighed EVERYTHING together and it weighed in at 132 lbs. My limit is 150. Too bad I wasn’t going to have a chance to check out the cool mountaineering stores in Christchurch…
On the shuttle on the way to our hotel, a woman who had clearly been to the Ice many times before commented that there was a 75% chance of snow at McMurdo tomorrow, so it’s very likely our flight will either be postponed a day or we will get boomeranged. So I might get a chance to check out more of Christchurch after all. As it was, once we got to our hotel and got checked in, I headed straight upstairs and put on my running shoes and took myself out for a solid 3 miles. I figured I was already gross and smelly from traveling for so long, what was another 30 minutes of sweating going to hurt? Besides, it might be my last outdoor run for awhile and the path I was directed to was really beautiful and green. The shower I took afterwards though….it was almost a spiritual experience. And then putting on clean clothes?? I can’t remember the last time such a simple thing felt that good. Then I headed out and wandered around the area the hotel is in – very quiet and residential. I grabbed some takeway for dinner and came back to my single-occupancy room to relish the quiet and alone time in preparation for the dorm living that awaits me.