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24 November, 2002

On our way at last!

Date: 11/24/02

Time: 2300 local time

Latitude: 80 degrees, 21 minutes South

Longitude: 118 degrees, 12 minutes West

Temperature: -17C( 1F)

Wind speed: 4 knots

Wind Chill: -19C( -2F)

Wind direction: East

Meters of ice collected:

Packing, securing the loads, some final farewells and we are underway at last! At 14:00 today we pulled out of the last real camp we will see for about a month, Byrd surface camp. Since arriving here by Hercules aircraft a few days ago we have had a chance to set up our experiments, test our gear and to make final adjustments to our shelters. All this work has taken place while we camped at Byrd surface camp, a small permanent camp where there is a Jamesway shelter for cooking and eating, an outhouse and several tents. This camp was the site of the first deep core in Antarctica and has been maintained ever since as a stopping point for scientists going into the deep field. The ITASE team's gear and sleds are stored at Byrd camp. We finished the majority of our packing and securing by 5 pm yesterday, which gave us time for a ski on the runway and time to relax at dinner in our relatively luxurious accommodations.

This morning we put the final loads onto the trains and checked over our gear one last time. Around 11 everyone was finished with his or her work, we gathered in the kitchen and dining shelter for one last meal. Spirits were positive and excited to be moving out into the big white emptiness. When the lunch dishes were completed Paul announced, "Who'd like to go the South Pole?" with a big grin on his face. The first two hands in the air were Jim's and mine. For almost a month now Jim and I have been traveling, packing and preparing for this moment. There was a good laugh, and the group suited up to head out to their places on the train. All aboard! The radio signal came we would be moving in 30 seconds, everyone sat down for the initial jolt as the tractors powered up to drag the twenty five thousand pounds of gear into motion. As we began moving I once again had the sensation of disbelief that I was really here experiencing this. We are driving to the South Pole! We pulled out of camp and moved for about 15 minutes. At this point in the trip we have heavy loads of fuel on our sleds and the tractors are struggling to pull us through the deep fresh snow. Several times just outside of camp, we had to stop and pull the small-track tractor train out of the snow with the wide-track tractor. We progressed all of about one kilometer in our first two hours of traveling! Then we switched tractors. We now have the wide-track tractor pulling the heavier train with the fuel loaded on it and are moving along at a nice steady pace of about ten kilometers an hour. We stop every 10 kilometers at pre-designated locations called "waypoints"; this allows us to check the Cats and sleds on a regular basis. At every other waypoint (i.e. every 20 kilometers) a member of the surface snow sampling crew (Dan, Susan, Paul, Eric, and Markus) walks 100 meters upwind from the trains and samples the top 2 centimeters of fresh snow. These surface snow samples will be returned to the U.S. for chemical analysis.

This leg of the trip will be 270 kilometers. At an average speed of 10 kilometers an hour we will be moving continuously now for the next thirty hours. While the train is moving we can sit in our bunks, reading, sleeping or watching movies on our computer screens. The ride feels a lot like being on a boat on the ocean, but with bumps! I am sitting in a bunk bed surrounded by down pillows and sleeping bags, with my slippers on. We have the stereo playing some mellow music; Susan, Andrea and Dan are reading books and magazines. We have had dinner and are relaxing before trying to get some sleep. Tonight's dinner menu included tuna sandwiches, cup of soup, carrots, hardboiled eggs, cookies, oranges, hot tea and coffee. Our shelter is also the kitchen module so we can warm things on the small propane stove we have in here.

There are two trains, each pulled by a challenger tractor. We travel one train in front of the other separated by about a kilometer. The front train is made up of the kitchen module where three of us sleep, the weather haven where tools are kept and another four team members sleep, a cargo sled of ice core boxes, another small weather haven with Markus' science experiments and the Polar pooper (our outhouse). The second train, traveling behind us is pulling the Blue Room a science lab and another sleeping shelter for 7 team members, the fuel sled, a sled with two snowmobiles, more science cargo and Brian's radar sled. Brian sleeps in his own small sled. Each train is equipped with rescue and safety gear for emergencies, iridium phones, and radios for keeping in contact with one another. We are a self-contained science camp gliding over the ice. My guess is there is nothing else quite like this in the world!

If you look closely, you will see the radar crevasse detector on the front to the Cat on the right. Another radar instrument is attached on the side of the left train.

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