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February 3, 2003

Still Here Part Billion

The story continues.

Where am I? I'm in McMurdo. Still.

I am back in the 'office,' with my laptop again set up, listenning to Paul Simon's "Rhythm of the Saints," which is the only C.D. I didn't pack.

This is what happened.

As I stated, the flight was cancelled on Friday due to weather between here and Christchurch. They would try for Saturday. On Saturday, the weather looked good. Our scheduled transport time was 11 AM. It takes about an hour to get from McMurdo to Pegasus, the runway for wheeled planes on the permanent sea ice. As I was heading up from Crary (science building) to my dorm room to call it a day, I learned the plane had been delayed. It had not yet left Christchurch. Transport time was now "TBA." Rumored reason for the delay was mechanical difficulties. Not long after, the transport time was set for 2:30 PM. The plane had supposedly left Christchurch.

We were on. At 2:30, I headed to the MCC (everything has an acronym and darned if I know what half of them stand for), where we had done bag drag, and checked in and boarded a Delta. We all wore our ECW (puffy warm issued clothing). There were about 120 of us. The 141's capacity is 140. It would be a full flight.

I napped on the way to the runway. I had conveniently not gotten sufficient sleep the night before--a good strategy for making a journey pass quickly. Why would I want it to pass quickly? Before we left McMurdo, I was already gone. I tried looking out the back window of the Delta, to take in a last impression of town and to reflect upon it, but the view was limited and the windows quickly steaming. I let go. Not here, not there, but in transition between the two. Limbo. I like this travelling limbo. And, I generally like to be left alone during this travelling limbo. I'm my most antisocial while travelling; it is a time to reflect, to contemplate, and to rest.

I was in the same antisocial mode when we arrived at Pegasis. The day, though cold, was beautiful. I spent a bit of time outside looking for one last (?) time at Mt. Erebus before entering the passenger terminal. Inside, I dozed.

["Ivan" the Terra Bus. In case you can't read. Wait a minute...]

[A delta and a van, our other forms of transport.]

[Clouds over Pegasus.]

[Mt. Erebus, presiding.]

[Our 141.]

We waited to board until almost 7 PM. As with the Herc, they took us in fives and loaded us into the 141. They put the men in the back and the woman in the front, based on the distribution of bathrooms. They gave us each a sack of food. Strapped in, up against the red webbing, same as the Herc, four long rows stretching through the belly of the plane: two on the inside facing out, two on the outside facing in. I was on the outside facing in. We ate, we put our earplugs in. We closed our eyes.

[View down the aisle.]

At 7:20 PM, the plane took off. I was very aware during the take-off of the lack of windows. Nothing to see at all. No reference to how fast we were going, where we were, how we were angled. Just a pull towards the back of the plane that had to be resisted. Was it more settling to have my eyes closed, or open? I couldn't tell. I tried both. Neither felt quite right. Eyes shut.

Twenty minutes into the flight, several members of the flight crew standing at the front of the plane motioned towards the back. Despite the deprivation of hearing and sight, we all somehow seemed to know to open our eyes, to take out an earplug, to look and listen to see what was going on. One crew member got clumsily up onto the bar backing the inner two rows of passenger seating, in his bunny boots, and made his was to the back, dismounting the bar to look out of one of the plane's few windows. Shorly after, a voice came dim over the speaker system, almost drown out by the noise of the plane's engines and muffled through earplugs. One of the crew members pantomined the same information for us from the front. The landing gear would not come up; we were headed back to Pegasis.

We were twenty minutes out. I dozed for the return flight, which seemed significantly longer. My calculations say thirty minutes. We landed. We looked to the crew for the word. Word was, take your carry-ons and your lunches with you; we're going back to the passenger terminal. We're going to take a look at the plane and see if we can figure out the proplem, and then assess whether we can fix it from here. If we can't, you'll be headed back to McMurdo and Scott Base.

To the passenger terminal. Waiting. Close to 9, there was an announcement. We have a departure time, they said: 22:30. (Oh, we're going, we thought.) There will be an announcement at 22:00 regarding whether the plane will be taking passengers, they said. (Oh, we might not go, we thought.) If we can't get the landing gear up, the plane will be headed back to Christchurch without passengers.

Another hour to wait, just to find out? No. About five minutes later, the same man called again for our attention. You're heading back to McMurdo, he said. We can only take about 50 people now, and will have to wait for another Delta for the rest.

It was important to me to get on the first round of transport. I had a birthday party to attend.

I made it on, but barely. I took the second to last seat. 'This is so funny,' I said aloud, and the woman across from me said, 'Oh, you like this?' I had to explain myself. 'Well, I kept extending and extending and extending my stay, and then I was finally set and ready to leave on Tuesday, and I got bumped. Then, cancelled on Friday, and now this.' And yes, I did kind of like it. But I didn't dare add that.

We made it back to McMurdo around 10:30 PM. Changed quickly out of my ECW. Vowed to drink lots of water before going to the party. Was offered a margarita in the hallway and drank that instead. Then, on to the party. Everyone in McMurdo was quite amused by our boomerang. It's quite common to boomerang coming to Antarctica from Christchurch, but not at all common the other way around.

They didn't even try to get us out on Sunday. Or, if they did, they didn't tell us about it. We're scheduled to leave tonight: Transport at 6:15 PM, take-off sometime around 10 I think. Which means we get into Christchurch around 3 AM. We'll see, though, what really happens; I'm guessing the departure is dependent on whether they get the plane fixed. I've given up on saying goodbye to people. We might leave, and we might not.

In the meantime, it's nice to be essentially done with my work and to be able to just chill out, work on the blog, relax, and reflect a bit. AND plan my travels in New Zealand. If you have recommendations or contacts, please send them ASAP! Yeah New Zealand! I'm ready for the next phase.....

Posted by beth at February 3, 2003 8:53 AM


beth, i do NOT want this blog to contain stories of what an antarctica winter is like!

Posted by: wilma, mother of beth at February 3, 2003 12:18 PM

Winter over ??? !!!!

And why the Hell not ........ !!!

Posted by: Cold & Dark at February 3, 2003 4:29 PM

hmmmm...do i suspect correctly that "Cold & Dark" is one of beth's amusing climbing-cave-lounging buddies who is wintering over and would welcome keeping another amusing personality around? why not beth winter over? because i would miss her. and i don't want to wait that long to see her antarctica movies made with her new camera.

Posted by: wilma, mother of beth at February 3, 2003 8:04 PM

New Zealand, where do I begin..... there is so much to see and you will be there in the best time to do it. Be sure to spend lots of time on the South Island if you like the Mountains and stay off the beatten track, although you have to see that too. I recommend that you venture through the Cave Stream on the way from Christchurch to Arthur's pass and go kayaking/swimming with the dolphins in the little town of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. In Fiordland go up the Gertrude Saddle from the head of the Hommer tunnel to see some spectacular views and be sure to go to the North of South Island "Abel Tasman" national park. That's my favourite. The Farewell Spit and the Golden Bay by Takaka are fun. There you can collect the biggest mussles in the world at the low tide. 4 km before Takaka there is the Panes Ford climbing area, swimming hole and the campground for climbers called Hang Dog. If you go for a walk towards the climbing cliffs at night the glow worms will glow at you. While in Christchurch be sure to go to the Dux and have a ginger tom or two. Yum. There is also a great little Thai restaurant on Manchester and a fantastic breakfast place called "The Globe" with the muffins out of this world - on High street. And ofcourse the pancake rocks and the west coast are not to be missed. These are just a few ideas. I wish I was there with you. Have fun!

Posted by: Aga at February 4, 2003 6:00 AM