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18 December, 2002

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

10:10 AM NZ time

Flying above the clouds on a Hercules C130 is a whole new adventure in itself! As we took off and banked hard right, I was able to see out of one of the little high porthole windows and take a glimpse of Christchurch from the air. We sit along the sides of the plane inside the huge belly and are loosely strapped into orange cargo nets with our coats stuffed behind us for a cushion. Being that we are flying first class (tee hee), we were given a gigantic lunch packed in an only slightly smaller size than a grocery sack. As we took off from Christchurch, even though we were strapped in, the force was so great that I began sliding into Ryan, who was pushing on Jen, who was only held back by an army guy. If he fell to the floor, I think we all would have rolled to the back of the plane like runaway marbles, and only stopped when we piled into the cargo stacked to the ceiling in the back. At cruising altitude, we finally began to level off, and I was only listing slightly toward the rear for the rest of the flight.

For those of you who have seen my presentations with the cooler of animals, you know that I have stuffed models of six of the seven Antarctic penguins, but am missing the chinstrap penguin. Yesterday I found one at the International Antarctic Center! The best news, though, is that it is the perfect neck rest for me. He curves around and fits at the base of my neck, and is also cuddly and makes a soft pillow. He'll be the only one of my collection that has traveled to the Ice! I think I need a good name for him. Any suggestions?

The engines are probably no louder than a commercial jet's, but there is very little insulation on the C130, so it is a constant droning pressure in our ears. Everyone is wearing earplugs or large headphones, so conversation is impossible. That's sad, because each of these people has an interesting story to tell. About half of the flight is going to the Kiwi Base, Scott Station, and the rest are going to the American stations: McMurdo, South Pole, or like me, to the remote field stations. You can tell the Kiwis from the Americans by the color of their Antarctic issue clothes. The USAP issues black pants, white boots, and the standard giant red parka. The Kiwis are wearing very cool purple and turquoise uniforms!

I'm surprised at how warm it is. The aircraft is heated and without my coat and fleece I'm comfortable. My feet are even a little hot, because we are required to wear the bunny boots and insulated socks under our wind pants.

A funny thing just happened. Ryan pulled out his potato chip bag, and it looks like it is going to explode from the air pressure inside. Thank goodness I thought to pack all of my cream and suntan lotion products in a Ziploc bag!

Checking in this morning was a long involved process. We had to store the bags we were leaving in Christchurch and repack our gear into the two orange bags. You are limited to seventy-five pounds which includes your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear. Because of the cameras, computer, and solar panels I need to send my journals, I had applied for, and was granted, an excess baggage allowance. That's another "thank goodness" because I wouldn't have made the weight limit otherwise. We proceeded to the check-in where we each had to stand on a scale and be weighed in with all of our clothes and our hand carry bag. I hit a new high on the scale!

The flight will take approximately seven and one-half to eight hours. Cross your fingers that we don't "boomerang!" (that's where you fly halfway, they radio ahead for the weather, and if it's bad, they send you back to NZ like a boomerang--UGH!)

1. Loading the cargo plane with Kiwis and Americans headed south. Can you tell from the uniforms which is which?

2. Louise getting ready to board the Hercules C-130. Can you see the four and a half penguins on the plane over my left shoulder? Each whole penguin means the number of safe flights the plane has made to Antarctica this season. The half? A "boomerang" flight--UGH!

3. Louise's new chinstrap buddy--and the best neck pillow in town. Everybody, including the army guys, wanted one!

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