I have arrived on the ice! I am now holding over in McMurdo. It is truly amazing here.
Our flights from CC were cancelled three days in a row, luckily they were all cancelled early enough that we didn't have to go down to the terminal to find out. Finally on Saturday we made it down there for our first "bag drag." We are allowed only a certain number of pounds of checked baggage, so before the flight we all have to get weighed in. I have four checked bags--the two army duffles brought with me, full of my own stuff, and two of the orange bags I was issued, filled with ECW (extreme cold weather [gear]). I also have the third orange bag which is my carry-on bag, which has no weight limit. (this is both good and bad--good, in the sense that if I'm a bit over I can bleed over into the carryon, bad in the sense that I can easily make it too heavy to carry!)
Bag drag wasn't so bad for me--I had left all my checked bags at the CDC (clothing distribution center), which is in the same building as the terminal for antarctic flights, so I just had to drag them around the corner. My checked bags weighed in at 132 pounds, 13 pounds under the limit for winterovers. After we checked in we got to wander around and have breakfast. Then we watched a video about safety on the ice, and had an interesting Air National Guard version of the standard airplane safety bit--about how the seatbelts work and the oxygen masks. Our loadmaster wasn't as practised as most flight attendants, but we all paid attention because the equipment was a sight more complicated.
The flight to McMurdo was on a 141, so it was only about 5 hours long. There were 4 long rows of webbed seating, two pairs of facing seats. There was actually enough room between the rows that our knees didn't have to "zipper" together, but I couldn't stretch my legs out. Aside from stiff knees I was actually really comfortable. The web seating was nice, and there was more elbow room than on a normal flight! I think I am about the luckiest person going to Antarctica--we didn't have any problems with the flight. Many of the flights "boomerang"--about halfway to the ice the weather report from McMurdo is bad enough that the flight turns around. One woman I spoke with said that happened three days in a row to her. It is also common to have to arrive at the terminal at 3 or 4 AM, do the bag drag, load on the plane, and then get off after just sitting there for a few hours.
We arrived in McMurdo and were bussed to a smoky bar for "oreientation." It is important to get us all some general information, unfortunately I don't think that was the optimum time. The bathrooms on the plane were hard to get to (climbing over 50 people to get there), so many of us needed to use one now that we were off the plane, we were all tired, and they started spitting names and phone numbers at us. I'm sure what they said was important but I wasn't really able to listen. At any rate I got my room key, left my bag there, and had some dinner.
Sunday a group of us walked down to Discovery Hut, the hut R. F. Scott built for his 1901-1904 expedition. Its only about 1/4 mile from building 155, which houses the galley and my room (and many other things, of course!). The walk back was pretty slow--a very strong wind had picked up and was blowing directly at us. However, I can report that the ECW works great!! I wasn't cold at all!
It is incredibly beautiful here. I cannot quite believe I am actually here. I am scheduled to fly to pole on Tuesday (its Monday here for me)--two flights of people left for pole today. We'll see how the weather holds up and if they made it. I'll be doing another bag drag tonite--I'll have to drag them up a hill in the cold weather. I'm anxious to get to pole and to get settled in, but I am happy just to be here. /andrea
copyright 2000 andrea grant
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