There have been many times during this field season when I catch myself thinking "This is the most exciting/bizarre/adventurous thing I've ever done". I think I'm having one of those surreal moments right now.
As I write this, I'm riding an LC-130 back to Christchurch. It's a smaller, propeller driven aircraft that the USAP(abbreviation) United States Antarctic Program (United States Antarctic Program) uses to land and take off safely on the ice without breaking it. It has skis on the bottom for taking off on the ice, and wheels too, for when we touch down in Christchurch. It's also called a "Hercules", or just plain "herc" for short. In contrast to the larger C-17 cargo jet we took to get to Antarctica, this ride will be about 9 hours long – about twice as much time. You'll know that we made it safely if I'm able to post this journal once we arrive!
Inside, it is noisy and uncomfortable, but thoroughly worth it just for the adventure! It seems like its about the size of 2 classrooms put together. There are two rows of webbed seats that face each other, with cargo strapped between us. The props are very, very loud – conversation would be next to impossible here and we all have earplugs in. There's quite a collection of passengers too, about 30 of us from both McMurdo with the red parkas, from New Zealand's Scott base in orange, and a mix of both Kiwi and U.S. Air Force personnel.
This morning, my team-mates and I traveled out to the ice airfield in a gigantic people mover. The people mover alone is pretty strange too – I think it's designed to double as a boat in case it breaks through the ice. The only windows are way up high, and it has escape hatches in the roof in case you need to get out quick.
Once we arrived at the airfield, we needed to wait for (and watch!) the 2 Hercs before us to take off. It gave us a chance to get out, walk around, gawk at the planes and goof off with the photos a little bit.
Still... the mood of G-063 is melancholy. Just this ride on this Herc by itself is an adventure. However, we are all poignantly aware that it kind of marks the end of our epic field season and the thousands of moments we've had together, doing pretty awesome science in Antarctica.