Sunday Morning I was not awoken by a phone call informing me that my flight to the ice had been cancelled. I had re-packed my bags the previous night, as I had been doing, so I grabbed them and headed down to the hotel lobby where there were a few other early risers lounging about. We chatted while we guessed if the flight was going to go. Weather had been bad in McMurdo, and it was a Sunday (day off at USAP stations). Would we leave? Would we boomerang? Was the flight even on, or had they just not called to inform us of cancellation because it was a Sunday? The shuttle pulled up in front of the hotel. They were at least trying.
The shuttle drove us to the International Antarctic Center, where we donned our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear and weighed in ourselves and out bags. I had 56lb of baggage (we're allowed 75lb), which I'm told is good for a new guy. Half a muffin and a video presentation later, they crammed us all onto an old school bus and drove us out to the airstrip.
If you've never seen a C-17 before, they are massive. There are bigger planes, but you really feel the presence of the imposing grey tube on the airstrip. And it only gets more so on the inside. A normal large plane is a big tube with a cramped interior compartment. A C-17 is a tube on the outside and a tube with a floor on the inside. They aren't exactly built for passenger comfort either. We sat on jump seats on the side walls of the plane, with lots of science palletized in the middle of the plane. I dozed off.
A couple hours later, ice was visible!
And a while later, mountains!
And then, with a big thump, the plane was on the ground. It taxied for a seemingly interminable period, and then they opened the doors. I stepped out onto an ice runway 14 miles from the nearest research station. I wish I could say it felt special, that there was something magical about it. But aside from Ivan (a massive bus), everything just felt like a cold winter. There were some hugs exchanged between the small welcoming party and some returning folks getting off the plane with me, and we all piled into the bus for the hour-long drive to McMurdo. And then, sitting there in the bus, it hit me.
This little outpost on the coast of the harshest continent on earth is my home for the next few weeks. And then, I move on to the harshest portion of the harshest place on earth.
'Dis gun be good.