Home Sweet Home
When I received my assigned schedule for my time in Antarctica, my first day on the ice was Wednesday, November 1 with my last day being Friday, November 24. Of course, this was the schedule in an ideal world. I had been warned about the ever-changing weather conditions at the drop of a hat that could interfere with this schedule and, adding to that Murphy’s Law which states, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, there was a strong possibility that the proposed schedule would not proceed according to plan. My first thought was my ice date. I would arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand and then be stranded there because of cancelled flights into Antarctica. I have learned that, flights going to Antarctica are much more likely to be cancelled than flights leaving Antarctica. But, as it turned out, on our planned departure date, the weather was favorable, both in Christchurch and in Antarctica, and the flight occurred, landing at Phoenix Airfield approximately five hours later. Since this was the leg of the trip most likely to be impacted, then I was out of the woods and nothing could possibly go wrong… or could it?
As you read in my journal entry before last, the scheduled flight out of McMurdo on Friday, November 24 was cancelled due to weather. OK, fair enough. There is always tomorrow, right? In this case, no because Saturday, November 25 is the date that Thanksgiving is celebrated at McMurdo, and it was a holiday so no flights or shuttle service to the airfield for that matter was occurring on Saturday. Sunday is a day of rest and relaxation for residents of McMurdo Station so again, there were no flights leaving for Christchurch. The soonest I would be able to leave would be Monday.
Monday came and my obsession with the weather forecast was, once again, in full swing. After walking to the galley and washing my hands, my first stop before entering the food service area was the monitor. What I saw on the monitor shocked me! The flight was on. Of course, it was scheduled for later that evening with a report time to Building 140 at 4:15 pm and would be dependent on whether the plane was able to leave Christchurch to come to Antarctica to take us back on the return flight. But, that’s OK… it’s all about baby steps. At least the flight was displayed on the monitor without the “Weather Delayed” notice next to it.
After eating breakfast, I once again returned to my position in front of the monitor and was pleased to see no changes. Once I got to Crary Lab, I opened up the McMurdo intranet page where anyone could access a wealth of information regarding McMurdo Station, including current weather conditions, a weather forecast throughout the following day, and updated information on any and all flights arriving into and leaving Antarctica. I think I knew this flight would definitely occur in the midmorning when the flight had departed Christchurch and was on its way to Antarctica.
In anticipation of the upcoming flight, I notified Carol that it looked like the flight to Christchurch would happen and I would be leaving later that afternoon. I started to collect all of my supplies around the office and then went back to my dorm room to begin the checkout procedure. All of my bedding was placed in a blue duffel bag and left outside of my door. I cleaned out all of my drawers and took accumulated trash to the Galley for proper disposal. I returned to the dorm room once last time to grab all of my luggage and then proceeded to Crary Lab where I would remain until it was time to head to Building 140 to catch a shuttle ride to Phoenix Airfield. As the time passed, I wanted to get one last photo with Carol.
I was incredibly fortunate to have been selected for this opportunity and I learned so much from Carol. It truly was a bittersweet moment and it would be hard to express my true appreciation for all that she has done with a simple thank you. It was then back to the office to suit up with my bib, bunny boots and Big Red and again wait for the final countdown. At about 3:30 pm, I began the walk to Building 140 with my backpack and duffel bag with the remaining gear that came with my ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing bag. As I approached the building, I noticed someone waving at me. Of course with Big Red and other ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing on, everybody looks the same but as I got closer, I realized it was Mark. Mark and I flew to Antarctica together and it was nice to see a friendly face around McMurdo and enjoy dining with him on several occasions. As we talked, I told him that I was on my home and, being the nice guy that he was, helped me carry one of pieces of luggage up the flight of steps to the door of Building 140. I did want to get a photo of us to remember the great times and even better people I got the opportunity to meet during my time in Antarctica.
In I went to wait to check in and wait until 4:15 pm for the call to board the shuttle to Phoenix Airfield. Promptly at 4:15 pm, we were given parting instructions and directed outside to board the shuttle. There are, in effect, two primary vehicles for transporting individuals between McMurdo and Phoenix Airfield. The first vehicle is the Kress (the vehicle that brought me from Phoenix Airfield to McMurdo) and the second vehicle is nicknamed Ivan the Terra Bus (the vehicle we would soon board to the airport).
The vehicle is legendary in its own right, partly because of its name and partly because of its legacy, but I considered it somewhat of an honor to ride in this famed vehicle. Phoenix Airfield is 11 miles away and I was told that the trip would take about an hour. Yep, you heard correctly, about an hour. We did have to make a pickup of New Zealanders at Scott Base before we were on our way but the snow/ice conditions combined with regions of road on the side of a mountain that bordered a straight drop without any railguard barriers mandated slow speeds in order to arrive safely at Phoenix Airfield.
When we arrived at Phoenix Airfield, the driver made an announcement. Shuttle Bob, who had been driving in McMurdo for 11 seasons, stated that this was his last year and looked forward to retirement. He was extremely well-liked and received an ovation from those on Ivan the Terra Bus. To mark this occasion, I asked Shuttle Bob if he would oblige for a photo and he readily agreed.
Everyone on the shuttle stepped off, grabbed their baggage, and huddled around the terminal building to wait for the flight from Christchurch to arrive.
When it did arrive, it took about an hour to unload the passengers and their luggage as well as to refuel the plane. We were then given the word and everybody slowly made their way to the plane to begin the boarding process.
McMurdo Station, Antarctica – Christchurch, New Zealand
The first phase of the return trip began on Monday, November 27 with a flight from McMurdo Station, Antarctica to Christchurch, New Zealand. I do not have specific information about the time and mileage of that flight. However, anyone going to Antarctica quickly learns that there are two types of planes that ferry passengers between Christchurch, New Zealand and Antarctica. One type of plane (which is the one I took coming to Antarctica) covered the flight in approximately five hours. The other type of plane (which is the one that I would be leaving Antarctica) covered the flight in approximately eight hours. You are probably thinking that eight hours on a plane is not such a long time given the spacious overhead baggage compartment to place our carry-on luggage, the extra legroom provided to each passenger, the opportunity to get some sleep in a quiet cabin and the flight attendant pulling their cart up and down the aisle providing us with a meal and beverage of our choice. Well, as you can see from the photos below, our accommodations were slightly different.
By the way, do you notice the green-colored drape pulled back toward the right-side of the above photo? That is the bathroom with the drape serving as a means of privacy. Anyway, once we were all seated and provided safety instructions, we were on our way and landed at about 3:30 am in Christchurch. As we entered the airport, we each secured a baggage cart and quickly removed and placed our bib, bunny boots, and Big Red into the ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing duffel bag. We then went straight to passport control and onto baggage claim where we retrieved our checked baggage. Following passage through customs, we all went to the CDC(abbreviation) Clothing Distribution Center (or Centre as they spell it in New Zealand) (Clothing Distribution Center) to drop off all of our checked ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing gear.
After turning in all of the ECW(abbreviation) Extreme Cold Weather clothing gear, we were then given our reservation to a nearby hotel, Sudima Hotel, which was a short walk from the CDC(abbreviation) Clothing Distribution Center (or Centre as they spell it in New Zealand).
The problem was that it was now 4:30 am and my flight from Christchurch to Auckland would leave from Christchurch Airport at 12:00 noon. I did not want to risk oversleeping so after a much needed shower and checking e-mails, I simply stayed up and met other colleagues in the lobby at 8:00 am to get breakfast and then move on to the airport to check in and get boarding passes for the remaining flights of the day.
Christchurch, New Zealand – Auckland, New Zealand
The second leg of the trip started at 12:00 pm on November 28 with a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to Auckland, New Zealand.
Auckland, New Zealand – Houston, TX
The third leg of the trip started at 7:19 pm on November 28 with a 13 and a half hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Houston, Texas.
Houston, TX – Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
The fourth and final leg of the trip began later that night on November 28 with a 6:00 pm flight from Houston, TX to Dallas-Fort Worth, TX.
Just as I had done on my expedition to Antarctica in documenting the major stages with pictures of my footsteps representing a series of firsts and lasts, I decided to do the same thing on my return trip to Texas.
Starting in the lower left-hand corner, these are my first steps as I got up in the morning of November 27, 2017 followed to the right by my last steps in Antarctica before boarding the flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. In the lower right-hand corner are the first steps in Christchurch, New Zealand. Just above this photo are my last steps in New Zealand taken in Auckland prior to boarding the flight for Houston, Texas. In the upper right-hand corner are my first steps in the United States upon arrival into Houston, Texas, while the photo to the immediate left are my first steps in Dallas, Texas. The final photo in the collage in the upper left-hand corner depicts my first steps upon entering my home and the last of the whirlwind expedition to Antarctica.
And so I complete the journey as I began, ending where I started but still maintaining that sense of amazement, curiosity, and wonder about the scientific secrets and wonder of the seventh continent. Since I have been home, I have had the chance to reflect on the past month and created a short video to convey my thoughts. The video can be accessed on YouTube from the following site: Video Reflection
I hope you enjoy the video! I would like to express my sincere appreciation for taking the time to read my journals and accompanying me on this life-changing journey.