After two days of delays we have finally made it to Antarctica! I know our journey was easy compared to the stories I have heard of past travels south but I was so excited to make it to the ice that the whole time I felt like it was the biggest struggle. After all the delays when we got brought in to the
CDC for the second time (Center for Clothing Distribution for the U.S. Antarctic Program) I was trying to not get my hopes up of arriving on continent that day, but no matter the effort I was still day dreaming about what it would feel like when we arrived in Antarctica the whole waiting period. When the Sargent came in and told us it was time to prepare for our pre-departure briefing I was still trying to restrain my excitement, knowing that even if we got on the plane we could be boomeranged back to Christchurch at any point… even if we had already made it to McMurdo airspace. Before I knew it we were all donning our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and boarding the bus to the C-17 that would be (hopefully) taking us all the way to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
As a quick aside, the ECW gear is bulky, warm and makes you feel like a real Antarctic explorer. It includes ‘bunny’ boots which you can see me wearing in the picture below. It takes a little getting used to before you can walk in them at a normal speed and even then you have a bit of what a ‘gangster-like swagger’ to your walk. The jacket is fittingly known as ‘big-red’ – it is super warm and cozy and probably my favorite thing in the collection.
In preparation for our journey I had spent a lot of time excitedly googling images of what things would look like including the plane ride. Because of that, when I got on the C-17, and it looked exactly like what I had saw in pictures, everything just felt right and it really hit me that 5-6 hours from then I should be stepping foot on the Antarctic ice for the first time in my life. I grabbed a seat up near the front, put in my ear plugs (the planes are not insulated so it is very, very noisy) and prepared for departure. The ride itself was a lot smoother than I was expecting and we even got a brown bag lunch with not one but two sandwiches. There was a small window on the side of the plane you could walk over to during the flight and look out at, once we got over the ice I kept walking over there because I thought it was so cool to watch how the sea ice changed in look the closer we got to McMurdo and there were cool islands and mountain ranges you could see.Towards the end of the flight they started letting us walk up into the flight deck allowing us to see the whole panoramic view of Antarctica. It was totally and completely amazing.
Once we were about 20 minutes away everyone had to put on all the ECW gear, and I started to get butterflies I was so excited. Landing on the ice was a different experience entirely, it took a lot longer to slow down and you could feel how much the wheels were skidding on the ice. When the plane finally halted, a Sargent moved over to open the door and I put on my sunglasses and grabbed my camera and bags.
I was lucky to be close enough to the front that I could see the door and I’ll never forget that first view from out of the plane door. I remember seeing the flaggers in the distance without a single inch of skin out, which made total sense to me once I felt what -20 degrees Celsius air feels like. I could barely restrain myself from running to the door I was so excited to step out onto the ice. When I was walking towards the bus that would take us from the Pegasus landing strip to McMurdo I just kept turning in circles looking at all the mountains and islands against the flat, expansive ice sheet. I felt like it was a hard thing for my brain to take in, the everything and nothingness of it all. I don’t think that has stopped yet, even as I write this I keep pausing to look out the lab window at the sea ice leading up to the Royal Society Mountain Range. Every time I look at it, it looks different. I guess that’s what keeps people coming back here over and over again. It is more majestic than my wildest imagination dreamed.