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1 February, 2003

February 1, 2003


When asked how many times I have been to Antarctica, I can now honestly answer "twice." Today, after already experiencing a day's delay, we took off from Pegasus Field and then experienced the famous "Antarctic Boomerang." Ours was the rarest of rare kind of boomerang, though. That is, being sent back TO the Ice! I heard that this is only the second time in three years that it has happened. (That's a "lunchroom talk" fact, so don't hold me to the truth of it!)

We traveled seven hours today, only to end up in the same spot. We were required to report four hours before our flight. Then we were packed onto "Ivan the Terra Bus" and driven an hour out to the ice runway of Pegasus Field. The "airport" is a small, orange trailer that holds about thirty people, but there were about 120 of us. It was extremely windy and the temperature was around zero, so we had to take turns going inside to get warm. People were dozing in chairs and sitting on the floor. Others were chatting and telling stories of their adventures on the Ice. Some were reading New Zealand guides and planning their trip itineraries, but Antarctica can be fickle. And today, she decided not to let us go.

We were finally boarded onto the 141, a huge army cargo plane. Men were boarded first to sit in the back near a bucket hidden behind a curtain, and women were given seats in the front near the latrine. We were strapped in, handed a lunch sack, and given safety instructions. The take-off was smooth and most of us read or began to fall off to sleep when suddenly we slowed dramatically and a voice asked for our attention. Those moments before we knew what was happening were hair-raisingly scary. We had just been joking about the demonstration of the life vest, and had said if we actually needed a life vest, the water would be so cold you couldn't survive long enough for a rescue anyway. Suddenly that joke wasn't so funny. The PA system is poor. It is full of static, so we couldn't understand anything other than, "Attention! May I have your attention, please?" So we spent a few tense moments wondering what was happening.

Eventually we got one of the crew's attention, and he told us that our landing gear would not come up so we would have to return to McMurdo to see if it could be fixed. They had us disembark, and about an hour later told us we would be spending the night in town. Ivan, the Terra Bus, returned and delivered us to housing where in their infinite wisdom and experience, they had not issued our rooms to the arriving passengers, nor had they picked up our sheets yet. We moved back into our same rooms and re-made our beds.

Here is another good life lesson: when things don't go the way you expect or want, smile and try to find the positive side. In this instance I was impressed with everyone's easy going nature. There was a lot of joking around, and no one got grumpy. We were all tired and had wasted an entire day, but complaining would not have changed anything. We looked on the bright side, that we could spend more time with our teams and the friends we had left behind. Eventually we will get to Christchurch, but it will be later than sooner.

The sun is noticeably lower in the sky now, and the temperatures are dropping. Summer is coming to an end, and with it is an urgency to get the planes out of here, full of scientists and support people returning home before the sun finally sets. Winter-over crews are coming in, and there is a frenzy of activity as groups of people close up this research season, and other groups prepare to face the winter here. I admire those hardy souls who plan to stay, but for myself, I want to be on the next flight north!

1. Karina Zavala, a geologist with Bruce Marsh's team from Johns Hopkins University, and me in front of Ivan the Terra Bus.

2. The 141 army cargo plane as the boarded us in groups of fives.

3. Amy Ebnet, glaciology student from Portland State University, Karina Zavala, Mike Weiss, TEA from Maine, and me trying to stay warm outside the airport trailer. Gloves don't fit well over my cast, so those fingers were freezing!

4. A sea of red as Regina sits with lots of folks napping, reading, and chatting, crowded in the little airport facility.

5. Karina, me with Chi-Chi, and Regina in close quarters as we ready for take-off. Chi-Chi makes the perfect neck support! Notice the orange nets which are our seat backs. The oxygen masks are in boxes above our heads, and our seats are simply wooden benches. Our big bunny boots touch the person's boots across the aisle, so when you adjust your position it affects at least three other people than just yourself!

6. It's hard to get a picture that shows the crowded conditions of the plane. There are two rows like this one on the plane. This shot looks from the front of the plane toward the back. Imagine sitting in the middle and having to wade through the knees, disturbing everyone's sleep to go to the latrine!

7. Almost eight hours after leaving McMurdo, Regina, Amy, Erin and Karina are still smiling as we head back to town in Ivan. What else can we do?

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