Friday, November 11, 2011

First Antarctic Update - the trip here!

Under a frozen sky

To begin with, it’s 12:45am out right now, and the sun is high in the sky. I’ve spent the last 5 days in Antarctica, but in some ways it has felt like months. I have had plenty of firsts already: flying in a C-17, snow & ice camping, snow wall&kitchen construction, sea ice traversing, penguin sighting, Weddell seal sighting, and all under the midnight sun. Let’s step back a week to where it all started.

A week ago, I got on a plane from Santa Barbara, California bound for Christchurch, New Zealand. My travel buddy, Emily, was a grad student in my new lab, led by Gretchen Hofmann out of UCSB. Joining that lab and getting to California is another story entirely. But, on November 3rd, Emily and I set out on a long journey to get to Antarctica, and our first stop was… LAX. Yes, an airport barely over an hour’s drive from Santa Barbara (w/out traffic) was our first destination with a brain-numbing FIVE hour layover. Sooo, I got to the airport in SB at 4pm, so that I could get to LA in time for my 11:30pm flight, when in actuality, I could have left 4 hours later, driven to LA and been fine. Thanks contractors for scheduling that little snafu.

Anywho, after a couple rounds of drinks at Chili’s Too - which reminded me of a cross between TGIF Also and Chevy’s As Well, with a hint of Applebee’s Furthermore – I did a little duty free (Whisky) and book (Dune) shopping to entertain myself during bright nights in Antarctica, then began a relatively pleasant, but achingly long, flight to Auckland – roughly 13 hours – followed by an uneventful but slow moving customs check and baggage claim and a trance inducing 3 hour layover in Auckland Domestic terminal (a terminal that lacks music, announcements, televisions, stores, or food options other than a vending machine offering 4 dollar coca-cola), followed by a soul-killing 90 minute flight to Christchurch where all I could think about was that I never wanted to be happily reminded how to use a seatbelt again in my life, until we touched down, got our bags, got a brief lecture from a US Antarctica Program Rep, hailed a shuttle and checked into our nearby hotel. If that run-on sentence made you uncomfortable because of its length, you begin to understand how I felt when I got to Christchurch more than 24 hours after I left, and “lost” an additional day because of the Int’l dateline.

Emily and I were in Christchurch for two days before we had to fly down. The first night we tried to find a thai place that had been recommended by Gretchen previously (the rest of the team was already down in Antarctica). We ended up finding a Vietnamese place instead, and found out that the Thai place was closed permanently. It was decent enough (I was also starving), and after good food and a fantastic beer – Monteith’s Black – combined with 4 hour time change and little sleep on the plane, I passed out by 9pm. The next morning, we got some breakfast and I did some orientation videos for Antarctica. As an aside, orientations must really make someone influential in Raytheon warm and tingly, because at McMurdo station, you are oriented to literally everything, but that story I’ll tell soon. After that we went to get milk. Yes milk. 6 liters of it, +2 liters of cream, for an ice cream social event at the station which wouldn’t happen without this milk. You see, McMurdo runs out of funny things you might think of as “essentials”. Milk, flour, red wine. None of these are available on station right now. So to save the social, we picked up Milk. After getting the lactose laiden load, we proceeded to the CDC. No, not the center for disease control, but the clothing distribution center. Where I get my famous red jacket, plus a myriad of other gear, that you can see here.

South Pole Stylin'

After that, we did a little sightseeing downtown including the beautiful botanical gardens and the devastated downtown. Most of the center of town is blocked off still from the earthquake in February. Military guard the condemned buildings and it gives you the feeling of a zombie scene, or at least that of a terrible outbreak. After successfully finding a thai place for dinner, we walked home (almost a 2 hour walk!) and saw our last sunset for a loooong time.

The flowers are a little bigger in New Zealand. Either that or my travel buddy is shorter than average.

We saw these signs everywhere - showing the date that the building was cleared and closed. In the reflection, a church has crumbled.

The next morning we got up, got a shuttle to the CDC (which doubles as the passenger terminal on the C-17 transport), and boarded our flight to Antarctica. This plane is BIG. After a 6 hour flight in a bulkhead seat with an awesome footrest, and a tour of the cockpit (!), we arrived at the ice runway in Antarctica! My icy journey was set to begin.

The most expensive footrest i've ever used - a helicopter.

Yes, that plane landed on ice, and yes, it is really that huge.

And with that, I will leave the story for now and get some sleep as I must be up for MORE orientating tomorrow on the sea ice, but I’ll leave you a little teaser picture of things to come. Enjoy!

Yeah, i'm friends with penguins now.


  1. Thanks for the update. I'm so excited for you and your new adventures!!!

  2. Riley says he'd like you to bring him back a toy. Is there a toy shop there? Maybe you can go to the local Toys R Us. Riley also wants you to share the penguins with him. So if you don't mind....I think it's Riley's turn. : )Love the blog and stories. I've started a wall in my classroom called, "Cousin Geoff Goes to Antarctica" - maybe the title of your next book. My students are now referring to you as Cousin Geoff. Stay safe and expect some email from my students - they're all writing since we read a news article about the amphipod and jellyfish they found down there!