Monday, September 8, 2008

Christchurch to the Ice

Got up at 4 am Monday (local time) in Christchurch and was downstairs with all my luggage at 4:20 am. Boarded the shuttle to the CDC and donned my ECW clothing. Checked in all my baggage for the flight and went across the street for breakfast at the Antarctica Center. After breakfast, we watched a briefing on safety, caring for the Antarctic environment, handwashing, and the trip. At about 7 am we went through the x-ray screening of carry on bags and walked through the metal detectors. Everyone set off the metal detectors due to the hardware on our ECW. We had to be individually examined with the wand. We were then shuttled to the military transport section of the airport where a New York Air National Guard C-17 was waiting for us. This is a four jet-engine plane built to carry cargo on palettes. The forward-most palette was a palette of airplane seats. Most of us sat on those. Others sat in webbing seats along the sides. We were given a sack lunch during the boarding process. We wore or carried our ECW. The rest of the plane was filled with palettes containing scientific instruments, replacement parts, and other materials needed both at McMurdo and South Pole stations.

We took off at 8 am for a five hour flight. We landed exactly at 1 pm at Pegasus airstrip. This airstrip is make from compacted snow over ice. Prior to disembarking we had to dress in our complete ECW. We disembarked and it was cold and windy! I was prepared physically but not mentally for the impressive cold. We boarded "Ivan the TerraBus". This vehicle is a large bus on enormous tires. These tires seem larger than the ones on the monster trucks. We rode another 30 minutes to McMurdo Station. We went inside the main building (155) and waited a few minutes before receiving another briefing on, what else, safety, respect for the environment, handwashing, etc. Then the station doctor, Colin Muir, took the dentist and me on a tour of the medical facility. It is small and compact but very functional.

You might be interested in the reason behind the emphasis on handwashing. As Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class at Forest Elementary School can tell you, it is because bacteria and viruses that make us sick are transmitted primarily by way of the hands. We must wash our hands before entering the dining hall, before touching patients, after touching patients, after coughing, sneezing or just because it has been a while since we washed last. This is a closed community and the "Antarctic Crud" can pass quickly through the station if we are not vigilant about handwashing. We even have to sanitize our hands with something like Purell before and after touching community keyboards/mice.

Next, we got keys to our dorm rooms. I went to my room (room 219 in Dorm 209) and checked it out. It was a bit smaller than Meris's freshman dorm room, there is a sink in the room and two lockable wardrobes, a TV (old 21" model), a telephone, small refrigerator, and a shower/commode room shared with the room next door. After retrieving my luggage, I unpacked and found a place for everything purchased in Christchurch. I made my twin bed with the linens they provide. I don't have a roommate right now, but am sure to get one when the rest of the group (called Main Body) flies down in early October.

Then, it was off to dinner. Dinner here is from 5:00 - 7:30 pm. The food was very tasty and there were plenty of choices between entree (meat & vegetarian), salad, breads, vegetables, a wide variety of juices and drinks, and desserts.

The sunset at about 6:15 pm was gorgeous. The air clarity here is unbelievable. Seeing the mountains 70 - 100 miles away is effortless and they seem so close that one is tricked into thinking that they are much closer than they are. Another observation: facial hair on men is much more common here than back home. I think this is partly because of the cold and partly cultural. There are about twice as many men as women on station.

I've got a question for Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class: On what continent can you not find any frogs?

I hit the sack early this first night. The wind howled all night long and it got down to about -25 degrees Celcius with a wind chill temperature of -40 degrees Celcius. I was comfortable in my bed.

I've put together a collection of photos from my last day in Christchurch and the trip down to the ice. Unlike prior photos, I am actually shown in some of these.


Matt said...

Glad to see you got there Don. The pictures are great. Light one up and enjoy it for me. By the way-- No Ice Frogs???

Bubba's Sis said...

Great pictures! Looks like such an adventure! Is the timezone there the same as in Christchurch?

Polar Doc said...

The time at McMurdo Station is the same as Christchurch, NZ. I will put a header on the blog page showing the current time. Thank you.

Medic61 said...

Looks awesome, Dad! I can't imagine how cold it must be.

When I was at the Antarctic Center in NZ back in 2004, they had an Antarctic simulator, where you could put on ECW and go into this room that was supposedly the current temperature in Antarctica. I did, and boy was it cold! Do try to stay warm :)

ice_gnome said...

I was at McMurdo last summer as a firefighter. Great bunch of guys. One of the Lt's, Howie, is in Dorm 209 as well. Have a blast! Wish I was going back this year.

Fyremandoug said...

Now I see where Sam gets her Cool

dont get frost bite its not fun

JD said...

I look forward to reading your blog now that I found it = )

My dad was down there in the Navy as part of Deep Freeze 5 in 59-60. . .

Best of luck and enjoy!

pminkler said...

Hi, Don! We had a break at BRAC, so are checking in on you. Like Meris, we can't imagine how cold it is there ... I broke out a sweater yesterday, as the high was 64! My talk for AWOHNN went well on Tuesday night, by the way ... not that that's high on your list of concerns, but just in case you were wondering. Keep up the blogging -- it's fascinating for all of us back in the states!
Take care, Pamela, Marina and Jenny