On My Way
Dear reader, I shall spare you an account of the arbitrary nightmare of travelling on United Airlines: suffice it to say that thanks to incorrect information, I missed my connection and spent One Glorious Day in an airport hotel in L.A.; and that my equipment box, though checked through by United to its final destination of Christchurch, could not be accepted by Air New Zealand in Auckland because their maximum per-piece weight is 70 pounds instead of United's maximum of 100 lbs. Fortunately I am endowed with substantial reserves of patience, tact and negotiating skills, all of which were called upon. Suffice it to say, I and my equipment made it to the welcoming haven of the USAP facility in Cheech, like a serviceman returning to his unit's base after R&R, disoriented by the confusion and anarchy of the Outside World.
Much had changed .. "Gloria's" guest house (small rooming hotel) was no longer owned by Gloria .. she had moved away after mothering many generations of Ice People, gone south to the countryside and taken all her memorabilia, the emblems and insignia of countless Antarctic projects, the postcards and pictures all gone. The new owner was very nice, the place was certainly spruced up, but the old continuity of magic, the memory of muffled voices, the talismans of past heroics were swept away. It was as if they had spruced up Westminster Cathedral, put up sheetrock and painted everything white.
Fortunately Bailey's Pub was still on the central square, protected from demolition either by historical designation or the sheer weight of its ambience. There was still the unadvertised discount on a pint of beer for Ice People, and the 'Steak-With-Everything' now had even more of Everything on it, they had added 2 fried eggs to the pile of onions, mushrooms and french fries that smother it. Too many of those and I'd certainly fail the exercise stress test, but I then realized that beer is an excellent solvent for cholesterol, and worked as hard as I could to flush it out of my system.
5 AM. Still dark, birds just starting to sing.
Out to CDC and on with clothing, check in for the flight.
For some people, this is their third attempt to get to McMurdo, 2 "boomerangs" earlier in the week due to bad weather. 5 hours down, circle, 5 hours back. The loadmaster told us that conditions today looked GREAT and with luck we'd get there.
Out to the bus, out to the plane.
The flight was 5 hours of the usual mind-numbing windowless hurtling limbo, total immersion in white noise. But tolerable - or perhaps I should say tolerated. This implies either that it has got better (it hasn't), or that I've got more used to it, or that the neurons linked to whatever senses were so assaulted on previous trips, are now burned out and I simply don't notice anything anymore.
It gets to be time: we strap in: the plane dips and sighs and accelerates and swoops and we have no idea what's out there, since we have no windows. The engines roar - are we pulling out for a turnaround? - bump and thud and the wheels are down.
Applause and the door opens to the most spectacular, breath-taking Antarctic day, the view of dreams and postcards.
Onto the waiting giant bus .. only a short trip, we've
landed on the early-season 'Ice Runway' that's just in front of town on
McMurdo Sound. As the summer progresses, the ice will melt to open
water, the cargo ship will come in, and aircraft operations will transfer
to Willy Field.
After the reception briefing I stand outside and take in the view. It's unbelievable, here I am again. One of the announcements at the briefing was the science groups' meeting schedule the following day. The 'Hansen Team' is to assemble at 9 AM for logistics discussions.
'Team' ? I thought. 'Team' ???
I didn't tell them.