Getting to Antarctica
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Part One: to New Zealand
Christchurch, New Zealand
Tuesday Jan. 28
I packed all my equipment into 4 big boxes. Each had to be clearly labeled "Do Not Freeze", and painted black. There are several categories of freight and equipment for shipment to Antarctica, according to whether they have to be kept in heated warehouses (most scientific equipment does not want to freeze); whether they can be left outside to freeze in the cold (bulk materials, construction supplies etc.) or whether they do in fact HAVE to be kept frozen - such as returning scientific samples of biological material, or ice cores drilled from deep down to study conditions in Antarctica many thousands of years ago. The "Do Not Freeze" category is painted black for identification - so I will go to Oakland airport with 4 ominous black boxes. It would be scarcely more threatening if each were labeled "Bomb - Do Not Drop". But they checked me in, no problem.
Our cat came and sat on the computer keyboard for the last time. It will be hard to work without this kind of supervision: pets are not allowed in Antarctica so I don't expect to see a cat for almost a month! (Note: just as there are Protestants and Catholics, PC and Mac people, Serbs and Croats, early-morning and late-night people, there are also Cat people and Dog people.)
The flight from Oakland to Los Angeles was delayed, and packed full: two flights combined into one. Rush through LAX, get to the departing gate for the flight to New Zealand just in time. It too was delayed and double-packed: a crowd of bewildered Australians was wondering how they were going to get home. Finally we are all wedged onto the 747 like cordwood. 16-inch centers are fine for 2x4 wall studs but not for breathing room on a 13-hour flight. I had a window seat - the only salvation. But next to me was a giant of a man: his hairy arms sticking out of his short-sleeve shirt were bigger than my legs; his collar size would probably be loose on my son's waist. Once he wedged himself into his seat, he was clearly immovable: his stomach bulging out from his untucked shirt almost touched the seat in front.
" Jaizus Croist" he said, and then pried of his shoes, one foot with the other. I was very glad when the ventilation air came on. His wife, Mrs. Big Bird, sat in the aisle seat. I hoped that I wouldn't have to try to get up and go to the bathroom in the next 13 hours.
The plane departed at about 10 PM, so after dinner it was night. Fortunately,
I managed to sleep. Breakfast posed an interpretive challenge for my seat
neighbors. The United Airlines leaflet offered the following New Age esquisitos:
1. "Chow Mein Crepes, filled with barbecue chicken, sliced mushrooms, bell peppers and carrots, tossed with angel hair pasta and sesame seeds"
2. "Fluffy Soufflé, baked with apples and walnuts, complemented by a vanilla sauce".
"Wodja gen airve?" asked Mrs. Big Bird
"Gor" was all Mr. Big could say, until I asked for crepes.
"Sime azim" said Mrs. Big Bird
"Air" said Mr. Big
Last Cultural Note: Tea and coffee were served on the plane, as usual: however, the flight attendants asked if you wanted Milk, rather than Cream as is the usual question on U.S. flights - even though in fact it is neither. They have probably learned that Australians prefer fewer rather than more subtleties.
I am carrying a barometric altimeter, which measures the absolute pressure and interprets it as an equivalent altitude. Years ago, one's ears would always 'pop' on a flight, due to rapid changes in cabin pressure. Nowadays, the cabin pressure is programmed for a very gradual change, to avoid ear discomfort. The cabin pressure is less than sea level, but of course does not relate to the actual altitude of the aircraft. I took readings of the cabin pressure 'altitude' after take-off: it changed from 0 feet to 4200 feet very smoothly over a period of 30 minutes. When I awoke, the pressure had been further reduced to an equivalent altitude of 6000 feet: I have heard that they reduce the pressure on night flights to induce the passengers to sleep, thereby placing less demands on the crew.
I awoke at about sunrise: we were flying through a luminous pink mist, somewhere over the central Pacific Ocean. I don't expect that the picture came out.
We landed at Auckland in the early morning (there are plenty of stories of little old ladies confusing Auckland with Oakland and having a surprisingly long flight). It was green and lush, almost tropical, though from the air the small fields and rolling hills looked like England. My luggage arrived safely, and I checked through NZ Customs with just enough time to run from one terminal to the other for the connecting flight to Christchurch. Hurrah for the invention of the wheeled trolley. The next flight was just over an hour; approaching Christchurch we had a great view of the snow-capped mountains of the South Island. The countryside here looks more like California: dry and somewhat brown at the end of summer. The U.S. Antarctic Program local manager met me: I am to report back at 2 PM this afternoon for clothing issue, and I depart for The Ice tomorrow morning at 6 AM. What little I have seen of Christchurch looks exactly like a small English town with the vegetation of California. I shall try to send this dispatch with pix from the USAP this afternoon: my next message will be from McMurdo!
Back to Tony's Antarctica Interactive Trip
Prepared by Tony Hansen and Tod Flak; last updated 27 Jan 1997