Now that all the drama of the first two weeks is behind me, I feel like I should catch up on everything up to my arrival….
[Written 08 October 2013]
I left California on the night of September 30th, after my godson’s second birthday party, where I introduced him to Stitch and made a chicken pot pie that he actually ate (!).
I drove north over the new Bay Bridge and up to just north of Redding, where I stopped for the night.
The following day, I did the rest of the drive to my parents’ place in Bellingham, WA where I did some repacking, visiting, and left my car with friends who promised to start it during the year. It was a great way to say goodbye to the open road for a year – not much driving where I’ll be going!
On the morning of the 3rd, I caught the shuttle bus to SeaTac airport. During the ride, I chatted briefly with a charming young man named Michael who was going to Ohio to visit family. When he disembarked at his terminal, he handed me a sheaf of small notebook papers – he had written me a story for the long plane flight that awaited me! I tucked them into my journal and promised to save them for the flight.
I got to my terminal, checked in and was gleeful at not having to pay anything for my bags (those who were packing with me know my anxiety surrounding overweight baggage when packing for a year in Antarctica). Then I called my childhood friend David who lives in Seattle, so that we could meet for coffee and maybe a quick bite to eat as I had loads of time before I had to go through security.
Why is this significant, you ask? Well, you see, David not only lives in Seattle but he is a C-17 pilot at McChord AFB. THE SAME PLACE OUR PLANES IN ANTARCTICA COME FROM. When I had realized this last year, I got in touch and demanded to know why he hadn’t been my pilot on my flight down. He explained that he’d been trying to get on that rotation for years but he was always on deployment elsewhere when it came up. Le sigh. However, this past summer, he had informed me that he was finally going to be doing some of the flights in November. Well, POO that he wouldn’t be doing my flight but YAY that he was getting to come down! And when he found out I was leaving from Seattle, not SF, we made plans to catch up a bit first. I love small world stories like this. Oh, did I mention that we knew each other when we lived on the island of Sumatra? Yeah, crazy stuff.
So the flight to LA was uneventful, I made the transfer to the International Terminal where I met up with Hayley, my friend and coworker from last year! Hooray! It was great to see her and we traded stories from our summers while we waited for our flight. I knew my friends Max and Justin were at LAX as well but they were flying United while we were flying Qantas. So while we were sitting together and simultaneously chatting online with our friend and coworker Joe who was already on the Ice, an email came through to us both from our Culinary Manager, Todd. The basic gist was that he didn’t know what would happen with the government shutdown but for now, all deployments were to proceed as planned, as we still had hungry people to feed. Then Joe forwarded us an email from the Station Manager, Steve, that said much the same thing. I fully admit I had been so wrapped up in last minute departure preparations that I hadn’t completely realized what was going on. The seeds of anxiety began to germinate in my gut, but I quickly persuaded myself to ignore them. I was about to get on an airplane for 14 hours, there was very little I could do. I turned off my phone and got ready to enjoy my “enforced quiet time”, as I like to think of it – nothing to do but watch movies, read books, listen to music, and daydream.
The flight was smooth and I slept for most of it and while I made the transfer in Sydney, I met up with Rachel and Nicole, two young women who would be working as Stewards – although I still think of them as DAs (Dining Attendants, remember) – and first timers to the Ice. So that was fun, telling stories and giving advice although they had read plenty of information in advance. I remember thinking they were so much better informed than I had been last year! Our flight to Chch (pronounced Cheech, it’s how we refer to Christchurch) was short and sweet and my arrival was very different from last year when we were a day late and were taken directly to the CDC for clothing issue and orientation. Instead, we were told we had the evening to ourselves and to make sure we were on the bus for pickup the next morning for all the orientation stuff. So I went to my hotel – not the one I was at last year, a new one called the Cotswold – dropped all my stuff, ran three miles, showered, changed, and met my friend Scott for dinner at The Brewer’s Arms, a bar/restaurant that is very popular with the USAP crowd. Mosher helped allay some of my fears as he was very optimistic an agreement would be reached before the program was drastically effected, so I was able to relax and enjoy my evening somewhat.
The next day, the 6th, was Orientation Day – we took shuttles to the CDC where we watched all the same videos as last year: protect the environment, be safe, protect the environment, be safe. Then we did the clothing issue, where I was reunited with my beloved Big Red.
I also advised the newbies to try on every single pair of pants they were issued because they do NOT all fit the same. [Real-time insert: I have been told multiple times that was great advice.] Then it was on to HR and the HR briefing which is the same all over the world – don’t harass people, don’t bully people, etc. Then we were turned loose until the next morning when we were scheduled to depart. I was doubtful, having seen snow forecast but I was also hopeful – I was ready to BE THERE already. I was due a 4 mile run that day so I mapped a route through the Botanical Gardens in Chch which worked out beautifully. As I returned to find Alex waiting for me to walk over to Brewer’s Arms again, she informed me that our 24 hour delay was official – we’d have tomorrow in Chch as well. Then the concierge informed me that all USAP personnel save myself and one other person would be moving hotels, nice one! I loved my room with the little kitchenette! By the time Alex and I got to the pub, we found Scott and Justin and Max there already, with two new firefighters, Todd and Chris. Then a whole bunch more galley folk from last year showed up including my sandwich-making partner Sarah, Shane and Christine. Eventually I moved on to Bailies, an Irish pub, with Mosher and the firefighters before we all headed home, enjoying an evening stroll through the streets of Christchurch.
The 7th was my entirely free day in Chch and it happened to coincide with my day off running, so I slept in, ate breakfast in my room (the breakfast consisted entirely of fresh fruit and non-powdered dairy products) and eventually headed out to wander around the downtown area – something I hadn’t done yet. I was shocked to see how much progress had been made in just six months – Chch was really starting to liven up again!
While I was visiting the site of the old cathedral, I spotted Alex with Rebekah and Jeremy – they had just arrived – and I snuck up and jumped on Jeremy, which very nearly got me a punch in the face until he saw who I was.
We proceeded to wander about together, enjoying the revitalized city and wondering at the “cardboard cathedral” that had opened in August 2013 to serve as a temporary replacement worship site for the city. The cathedral is named after the cardboard tubes that make up the A-frame roof supports. It’s quite an impressive structure.
Across from it was the temporary memorial called “185 chairs” – a touching and sobering reminder of the devastation to the city’s population.
Then the others went back to their hotel and I went to my favorite little restaurant in Chch that I had discovered last year – The Coffee House.
I love this place because the dishes are fairly simple but well-prepared and occasionally feature a little surprise. It’s never quite “perfect” – I always find myself wishing I could change this or that component a bit – but it’s the closest I’ve come yet to creative local cuisine in Christchurch so far.
This morning, the 8th, we got up and headed for the airport at about 0800. When we got there, we were told not to change into our ECW gear yet. That’s not a good sign. Sure enough, by about 1000 we were told our flight was a no-go. Once again, there would be some hotel reshuffling and, once again, my luck had held and I would be one of two staying where I was. When myself and the other lucky USAPer got back to the Cotswold, we were told our new rooms wouldn’t be ready for some time. As it was very rainy out, I decided to head back to the Irish pub, where I had some soup, hot chocolate, and now a pint and I’ve written all of this. My plan for the evening is to go back, check into my new room, go for my 4 mile run, and then check out a restaurant called Strawberry Fare for dinner. Some other USAPers have said it’s even better than The Coffee House. Then home to bed for an early night hopefully followed by an early flight!
[Written 23 October 2013]
Well, after I wrote all that, what actually happened was that I went back to check in and discovered that I had been put in the luxury suite, as it was the only room the hotel had available. I had no clue what it was costing the USAP but again, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a more efficient and cost-effective method of housing us in Chch. Surely a USAP only hostel would be cheaper. Either way, this room had a Jacuzzi bathtub – I’m sorry, a “spa bath” in local parlance – so dinner plans went straight out the window. I did indeed change and run a very wet and soggy 4 miles, then came home, ordered in dinner, and pretty much dissolved in a hot bath for the rest of the evening as I KNEW it would be my last in a very very long time.
When I got to the CDC the following morning, I was a little surprised that the only galley people on the flight were Matt (Midrat Sous Chef from last year), Alex, myself, and our new baker. Where was everyone else who had flown down with us? I remember thinking that was weird but they were on the manifest for the next day so I didn’t think too much about it. I was a little devastated to not be on the C-17 with the helicopters on it – how cool would that have been to fly to Antarctica while sitting in helicopter INSIDE a C-17? No, instead we got the Aussie Airbus crewed by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. But who was I kidding, I was just happy to be ON MY WAY.
I’d heard nothing new about the shutdown although I checked the news everyday, and I was just hoping once I’d get there everything would somehow be okay [we all know how THAT turned out]. On the plus side, the Airbus had super comfy seats – made even more so by the use of Big Red as a “nest” – as well as the cool flight tracking displays, just like you normally get on commercial aircraft, except I think they usually leave Antarctica OFF it:
My first views of the continent were heartwarming. It all looked so gorgeously familiar.
I loved flying over McMurdo on approach to Pegasus – the Sea Ice Runway wouldn’t open until a little later in the season – and when we landed, there was the good old Kress waiting for us as usual. Justin leaned forward from the seat behind me and whispered, “Welcome home!” and it was good.
Until the shit hit the fan of course…