Our flight lands at 5:30pm, and we are shuttled to the "Chalet," or the main office, where we sit through a series of 4 Powerpoint lectures, all filled with abbreviations, acronyms, and the names of buildings I don't know. After this, they hand out our keys and arrival packets.
We have half an hour to pick up our linens, so we book it to another building just uphill, and someone heaves a big blue sack at us off a loading dock, which we carry like Santa Claus, back to the dorm we're assigned to. The bag contains sheets, a blanket, comforter, and pillowcase -- but no pillow. I'm told I need to go to the housing to request a pillow.
I'm assigned to Dorm 155. This is a good one -- centrally located, and with all the facilities right inside.
My dorm room has a twin bed, side table with drawers, a wardrobe and a mini-fridge. I have three roommates, only one of which I know (Rachel). A second one, Claire, from New Mexico, is in the room when I arrive. She is friendly and welcoming. She seems glad to have some company. She came alone a few days ago, she tells us, and she is studying seismology.
We'd love to stay and chat, but we have to go get our luggage. It is being unloaded off the plane and temporarily stored in another building. We walk there, locate all our bags, and begin to wonder how we are going to walk it all back to our room. Rachel has been here before, and has the good sense to ask if someone can help us. Sargent Misty overhears, and volunteers. She backs up a pick-up truck, which we load, along with help from Sargent Rob and Sargent Gary, and we climb in back for the short ride back to the door. People who have been around a while seem to be understanding of my newness and lack of knowledge -- they are patient in showing me the ropes.
We wait in our dorm room for Erin and Tiffany (the only two people I know) to pick us up for dinner. During this time, I meet my third and final roommate, Katie, from Massachusetts, who is studying the Dry Valleys.
Tiffany and Erin show up, but they want to go to a Grantee Social that they just heard about. Rachel and I are hungry and exhausted, so we decide to go to dinner instead. We walk down the hall to the cafeteria, but we've missed dinner. We can still get pizza or sandwiches from the grill. A couple of slices and a veggie burger later, we are back in our room.
Katie and Claire get picked up by some friends to go out for a quick drink. I decline their offers to join them, because I am ready for bed.
I walk down the hall to our shared women's bathroom with my toiletries in hand, brush my teeth, and take a quick shower. I haven't gotten the hang of the shower, because the water is boiling hot, and no matter how far I turn it toward cold, it gets hotter. I walk back to my room, my wet flip flops flapping on my heels, making more noise than I should be making. The dorms are a quiet zone, after all.
Housing was closed, so we have no pillows. I stuff the blanket into my pillowcase for tonight and climb in under the comforter. But one of my roommates has turned the heat down and I am freezing to death. There is always that one girl, right?
I wake up in the morning and head to breakfast, where I unsuccessfully attempt to make a Belgian waffle in the waffle-maker. I have to stand around scraping half my waffle off the top lid for about 10 minutes. A few friendly passersby commiserate with my plight, and advise me to use more spray-on butter product next time. They promise better results. I smile and thank them, embarrassed by my own waffle-making incompetence.
After wolfing down my botched waffle and some pears that came from a can, I run to the Chalet, where I have missed the start of my first meeting with the "implementer." This is the person that helps us get everything we need into our schedule. There is a quick break before we have to go to the library for the first orientation session, which is on Environmental Protection.
Another break -- I run my laptop over to the IT office to get connected to wireless and printers. Back to the library for orientation session #2 -- Outdoor Safety Lecture. This is followed by a walking tour of the Crary Science Center -- the lab where we have a small office to use for work. They give us our keys and promise us gold stars, because we paid attention on our tour guide.
Back to the cafeteria for lunch, back to the office to get some work done until dinnertime. I make a short detour to the housing office to get a pillow, and quickly look through the campus store to see if there are any nice T-shirts to buy for Mom and Dad. There are. I make a mental note to come back with money soon.
At dinner, I find out that wireless will work in my dorm, so I go back to my dorm to work on this journal.
Does this sound like my first day at college? I thought so too.
However, I did not dig up an old diary from the glory days in Wig Basement at Pomona... this is a chronicle of my first 24 hours at McMurdo Base, Antarctica.
After traveling for 5 days and 14,000 miles, I expected to step into a completely new world. Instead, I find myself back at college. While I am amazed and awed by the amount of ingenuity and engineering that went into making this most inhospitable continent feel like home, I wonder... will Antarctica will ever feel like Antarctica?