Sunday, January 24, 2010

To New Zealand and Beyond!

I'm writing this entry on the flight from Christchurch to McMurdo. More on that later, first let's catch up.
My flights went well. I watched Julie and Julia and The Hurt Locker. Both were good films, altough I was a little confused about why The Hurt Locker had gotten so many raves. Maybe because it's about soldiers, it automatically becomes extra high quality. Other than that, nothing really significant to report, except that I was actually able to get some sleep (yay!). My arrival into Sydney was delayed by 10 minutes, eating into the already plentiful *40* minutes I had to get through security and onto my next flight to Christchurch. The margin was close enough that there was an agent waiting for me at the ramp when I got off the plane. He led me through one of the those doors covered in red warnings to what appeared to be a secret security gate, where I was promptly singled out for extra screening. It seemed like a totally reasonable thing for the security personnel to do, especially considering that I'm already so late for my next flight that I had an escort. Fortunately I was able to make it onto my flight to Christchurch (they were also waiting for another few people from a different flight from LA). The whole thing made me really glad I only had carry-on luggage. I doubt checked luggage could have gotten on that plane.
Once I got to the airport, I headed for the Antarctic Program building. Fortunately, since I was probably not at my best after 16 continuous hours of plane flight, the path to the USAP building is marked by painted blue footprints. On the way there I spotted the plane that I am currently on.

Beyond saying it's a military plane I don't know much about it. Only that it's big.

It's about a five minute walk to the center, which apparently also markets trips to Antarctica for tourists as well (their slogan is "Antarctica: Visit For the Day"). The Antarctic Program building is actually quite nice looking. The front part is a museum and it's all rounded and blue with lots of glass windows (and penguins). Scientist don't go in that part, though. We go around the back, through a parking lot (and through a shrub wall, but only if you get a little lost, not that I know anyone like that) to some smaller more business-like buildings. My goal was the Clothing Distribution Center (or CDC as everyone calls it. Personally I always think of the Center for Disease Control, and it makes me want to steer clear of the whole place). The CDC is where you get all of your clothes that you will need for the extreme cold. It's referred to as ECW (for extreme cold weather, I guess gear is left off because ECWG is just one letter too many). When you first enter the locker room, the gear is in two innocent looking orange duffel bags (shown below with my valiantly overstuffed carry-on luggage for scale)..

Here's what's inside the bags, every piece of which has to be tried on.
It consists of (this list is even more impressive if you say it all in one breath):
Pair of Goggles
Hat (with earflaps and a drawstring, so styling)
Neck Warmer
Parka (the red jacket in the center, affectionately known as "Big Red")
Fleece Jacket
Another Fleece Jacket
Insulated shirt
Ski Pants (lying to the right of Big Red)
Fleece Pants (the gray things)
Medium Weight Pants
Light Pants
Two Pairs of Wool Socks
Air-Insulated White Boots (called "Fluffy Bunny Boots")
Two Pairs of Insulated Leather Gloves
A Pair of Woolen Mittens
A Pair of Leather Mittens (which go over the wool ones)

Here is what it looks like when it is all on:

Let me tell you, it is really hot! In the time it took me to walk over to the mirror and (successfully) take this picture, I was covered in sweat. They keep the locker room at a reasonable temperature, but I think they should crank it down to freezing temperatures so you actually want to try on all that gear.

Thinking about where I'm heading makes me glad I'll have all this stuff.

I want to pack all of my gear into these orange duffels (including the ECW). The weight allowance has been increased to 150 lb., so I wasn't concerned about that. However, I feel like bringing too much stuff to Antarctica would be sort of vulgar, so I plan to go through my luggage that night and filter out some stuff.
Fortunately there was still a few hours of sun after I finished everything, so I had a chance to walk around Christchurch a little bit. My flight left the next day at 9 am, but I had to be at the center at 6 am, so I headed to bed early.

Now I'm in-flight over the Southern Ocean, headed towards McMurdo. The plane is really cavernous and only about 1/2 filled with seats. The rest is usually taken up with cargo, though it only appears to be about 1/2 full as well. There are 55 people on my flight, which is enough room that we aren't crammed in like sardines. Most of the people I've talked to are planning to winter-over (they stay the whole winter in Antarctica, crazy as that sounds). The usual training for winter-overs is to send them to Antarctica at the beginning of the season (early November), get them trained up and then send them back to Christchurch for some R&R before their long, dark season begins. Many of them are returning on this flight, which is why there's such a large number of people flying so late in the season. I'm super excited about going to Antarctica, but I think it takes a special kind of person to stay there for the whole winter.

I'm going to go eat my sandwich now (they give you a brown bag lunch for the flight). Antarctica ahead!

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