November 16, 2012 Over 30 Hours of Travel ... Almost there.
Tuesday, November 13 - Thursday November 15! Talk about a long travel day! Getting to Antarctica isn't easy. It took 32 hours, one car and five different airplanes to travel a total of 15,862 KM (9856 miles) just to make it to Christchurch. I left home in Shippenville PA at 5:50 AM on Tuesday November 13 for the Pittsburgh International Airport. The flight took off on time at 9:50 AM for Chicago and didn't miss a beat from Chicago to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Auckland, and then to my resting destination Christchurch new Zealand arriving on Thursday, November 15 at 9:30 AM New Zealand time (Wednesday 3:30 PM Pennsylvania time). The most amazing thing of all ... no missed connecting flights and my luggage made it! That doesn't happen very often these days.
My flight from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand! Check out the video at
I've learned a bit through my travels too. First when the New Zealand Customs agent asks you, "Kiwi, Ausi or other?" the proper response is NOT, "No, I'm not bringing any fruit into New Zealand." You see ... New Zealanders are referred to as Kiwi's which was news to me. In addition, if you are coming into New Zealand they are very cautious about non-native invasive species. That means if you are bringing any kind of boots, outdoor gear, etc. be sure to clean those items thoroughly before packing. If not, odds are they won’t be allowed into the country. Like most places around the world, New Zealand is suffering from new species of plants and animals being introduced into an environment where there are no natural predators. During my flight from Auckland to Christchurch I sat next to a Kiwi and he was telling me about this snot like algae that has made its way into the water ways. The algae gets so thick that fish can’t even survive in the water.
Christchurch is a coastal community in southern New Zealand. It’s a quite modern and the people are definitely friendly. New Zealand is right next do to Australia, so they speak with the typical Australian accent (to my ears that is … I’m sure the Kiwi think otherwise). But here’s an example of just how helpful and friendly they are. The battery in my computer failed … dead as a doornail! I went to the electronics store near my hotel … a place called Noel Leeming. The store didn’t have anything, but the attendant, called all around Christchurch trying to find a place that had a replacement battery. She finally found one, but the store was about a 15 minute drive. When the woman standing next to me, Theresa, found out I didn’t have a car, she piped up, “Well then, I’ll run you over there. We can’t have you taking a taxi that would be too expensive.” This is a person I never saw before in my life, but she had a heart of gold. Theresa and I made it to the store only to find it was the wrong battery. But again … the store attendants were wonderful and called around and found a battery at the YOOBEE store about 15 minutes away. For those of you that don’t speak New Zealand … YOOBEE = The Apple Store. So Theresa and I were back on the road. She took me through downtown Christchurch ... well what’s left of it anyway. New Zealand is on a subduction zone … a place where two ocean plates are colliding and one is being pushed down underneath the other. Cracks form in the ocean plate and over millions of years magma rose to the surface to form the land mass we call New Zealand. As a result of all this geologic activity earthquakes are very common in Christchurch. But about 18 months ago they were hit by a massive earthquake … a shallow quake nearly 8.0 on the Richter scale that damaged many of the buildings. As we drove around Theresa repeated herself again and again … “They are getting ready to demolish that building”, or “You see that empty lot, there used to be a restaurant there.” I remember hearing about the quake, but never realized the extent of the damage that was done. It seemed to me that close to 30% of the structures in downtown Christchurch were either in the process of being torn down or had already been demolished.
I learned a lot about Theresa too during our battery quest. She grew up in an orphanage here in New Zealand and she and her husband have been retired for a number of years. They have friends in the US, and she had just returned from a trip there three weeks ago. We talked a lot about kids and teaching and the challenges that kids face growing up in a world where parents are often absent, and how teachers have both an important and sometimes challenging job because of the lack of that guiding hand. But Theresa found that guiding hand in an orphanage, and she turned out to be this wonderful person, and a great ambassador for the Kiwi. Theresa dropped me off at my hotel with my new battery in hand, and we agreed that if she and her husband ever made it back to the States they would visit the farm back in Shippenville, PA. I hope they make it.
This morning I headed to the US Antarctic Program Clothing Distribution Center. This is where you get to go shopping … well sort of! Antarctica is a pretty hostile environment and the weather can be pretty unforgiving, so anyone traveling south goes through here first.
Prior to arriving everyone submits paperwork to the Distribution Center describing their research activities and providing your typical clothing sizes. When you show up gear specific to your research project is waiting for you. It’s important that all clothing is tried on to ensure proper fit and to make sure everything is working properly. You don’t want to get caught in -30 degree weather 300 miles from anything and discover the zipper on your coat isn’t working properly.
After getting my gear all checked out and exchanging some stuff for an upgrade we headed back to the hotel and I went out to do a bit more shopping. From what I hear you need to eat 3 or 4 times your normal calorie intake while working in the field in Antarctica just to maintain your current weight.
Tomorrow is an early morning. The shuttle will pick me up at the hotel at 5:30 AM which means the alarm gets set for 4:30 AM … yuck! I go back to the Clothing Distribution Center to do my final packing and to get into my gear. It’s sort of like a Halloween Party … if you’re not dressed up you’re not allowed on the airplane. We’ll leave for the Antarctic Coast and McMurdo Station around 8:30 AM on a military transport plane. Depending on which aircraft is flying tomorrow it will either take us 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours to travel the 3864 KM (2415 miles) from Christchurch to McMurdo.
Once I’m at McMurdo it will take about 3 days for me to go through the necessary training … including snowmobile training (can’t wait for this!). From there I head out into the field!
The Field … There’s been a change since my departure from the US. Rather than heading directly to the South Pole, I will be heading out to spend a couple weeks at the Penguin Colony in Cape Royds. I’ve seen pictures of the place, but never thought I’d get to see it. But not only will I see it, I’ll be living with these guys. Eat your heart out all you Penguin lovers … but more importantly stay tuned for what’s next!
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