The adventure has begun.
My trip to Pole is broken into three legs: Chicago to Christchurch, Christchurch to McMurdo, and McMurdo to Pole. Right now I'm in Christchurch. The flight to get here is fairly standard stuff. It's three flights over two days, and with amusingly good timing such that I leave on Monday and arrive on Wednesday, but cross the international dateline right around midnight so I skip Tuesday completely. For all you haters who don't believe in time travel, Airbus would like a word with you. I arrived with one of the first big "pulses" of USAP personnel to come through, and so I was able to entertain myself during airport layovers with a fun game called tag-spotting. Most folks traveling with USAP are given two luggage tags, but only check one bag. This means they leave their second tag on their carry-on, and so I would wander the terminals looking for fellow Antarcticans. In Chicago, I found one. And then a few more in LA. And a few more in Sydney, and by the time I landed in Christchurch there was a whole group of us. Everyone converges on Christchurch, and it's a lot of fun to watch it happen.
Christchurch itself is an interesting place. Generally, whenever I'm visiting a new city I like to walk around and feel it out. My hotel is right in they city center, so I had good access. But Christchurch feels tired. A few years ago they had a pretty big quake that damaged the heart of the city pretty severely, and so massive amounts of it are still fenced off and under construction. It's saddening to walk around and see the old buildings come down, or even older ones being supported by massive steel exoskeletons to keep them from coming down. I can tell this place used to be very much alive. There's still some of that in the air. But it's a painfully long road to rebuilding and restoring, and in the mean time the city is missing its soul.
I wandered back to my hotel to see if I could figure out where to get food, when I ran into a few of the folks I'd been chatting with in Sydney. We ended up getting Chinese food near the old cathedral and talking about pine trees and beetles (both of them work for the forest service back in the normal world). I haven't yet found my compatriots who have grease permanently worked into their skin, but I'm sure I will. I've only interacted with a small sliver of the folks who will be flying down to the ice with me, but I'm already getting a sense of them, and there's already a community forming. There's little division between the folks who are returning for their tenth season and the new guys. Sitting around and chatting over a beer, the difference between a 19 year-old engineering student, a 40 year-old radio operator, and a 60 year-old firefighter hardly matter. We're all just happy to get on the ice.
My internal clock is currently somewhere in Tokyo, but I expect it will eventually catch up with me. Today is clothing issue and orientation, and then probably more wandering and re-packing and shuffling of bag contents. And then the day after that, if the weather holds, I'll end up in Antarctica. It still hasn't quite sunk in that I'm actually going, but I'm sure it will once I land.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm up at a rather inconvenient hour and I'm going to go in search of some coffee.