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Time doesn't slow down anywhere in the world, does it? It's hard for me to believe that I've been gone over 10 days now. Things have been moving along at quite a clip and there is much to tell. Please forgive any butchering I may do here of our fine language, as I've become a slave to the modern era and am without spell and grammar check (Kim, how do you spell...), and we must share the wares here, so time is limited.
There wasn't much time to see anything of Auckland. I hope to on the trip back home. We arrived in Christchurch about 8:00 AM on the 4th, greeted by weather very similar to Portland winters - chilly and rainy. But this didn't distract me from taking in the beauty of the place, or the excitement of being in a foreign country. As I'd heard, it is a lot like the Northwest - green and leafy, if you will. Yet it has a beauty all its own. The Kiwi's (New Zealanders) I spoke to don't remember it ever being so cold in the middle of summer.
We ate at a place called Oxford on the Avon (good beer and decent food cafeteria style) and to walk through a park near the place we stayed in Christchurch before we turned in for the evening. Those of you who know me well know how much I love trees, and the park we walked through had some of the most incredible trees I have ever seen in my life. Big Fern Trees and a particular kind of Sequoia that has very fine needles and gigantic branches that bow down to the ground, creating a large canopy you could ballroom dance beneath. It made we wish my sister Kim and her class could have been there with me (you all would have loved it). We were in Christchurch just for a bit over 24 hours before we headed down to the ice - the quickest turn around the repeaters had ever encountered.
We flew down to Antarctica on a US National Guard C-130 out of New York. This was quite an 8 hour ride. There were about 37 of us sitting facing each other on the sides of the plane, with our baggage between us and the rest of the cargo on pallets in the rear of the plane. It was a much more comfortable ride than the 12.5 hour flight from LA! We got to stretch our legs out and lay on the bags if we wanted. I don't know how, but some folks actually slept through most of it. I was much too excited...the open ocean and the first siting of the icebergs as we approached the continent! What a rush - it was difficult to determine their size, but you just knew they were enormous, bobbing around out there in the blue-green expanse...and then we reached the continent and the Transantarctic Mountains popping up through the ice sheet! And that was all you could see...no farmland or forests, no lakes or rivers or pools, no towers or buildings or pollution, no fences or roads...just snow and ice and a few sinuous ridges of rocky peaks. It was better than I'd imagined my first glimpse of Antarctica would be.
I was fortunate enough to view the landing from the flight deck and, well, that was kinda cool. There were white-out conditions (due to falling and blowing snow), but the crew landed the plane smoother than any flight I've been on before. It was funny because, flying in, you couldn't distinguish the ice from the atmosphere. The only sign that there was something to land on were the flags that indicated the landing strip, which we couldn't see until we were nearly right above them. Williams Field (the landing site) is 10 km from McMurdo Station, 7 km of which is over the ice of McMurdo Sound. The last 3 km is over the mainly volcanic rock and soil that make up this portion of the continent. And it's very dark rock - such a contrast to the ice and snow.
After going through a series of check-in and welcome meetings that first day and a good night sleep, I had to attend a waste management meeting. I learned that Antarctica recycles 70% of its solid waste (such as all of the solid things we recycle in the states), compared to approximately 23% of the average American city. That's a great record indeed, considering that all of it has to be shipped back to recycling centers off continent. All the people here do a great job to play their own individual part in keeping Antarctica as pristine as possible and it's a pleasure to see.
Everyone who is working in the Antarctic has to attend survival training, or "Happy Camper" school as it's referred to here. This consisted of spending a night out on the ice shelf and learning how to survive if caught out in the harsh conditions of this part of the world. We learned how to light a stove and pitch a tent correctly in the incredibly strong winds that can occur here. This usually means behind a snow wall which you construct with a snow saw that you carry in a survival pack. We also learned the correct way to dress in this environment and how to simply get around. First aid techniques were also taught. The most fun thing we did was to build a snow cave. This is done by placing all of your gear on the ground, covering it with a tarp, piling a great deal of snow on it, and packing it down tightly. Then you dig into the mound, at the base, in one spot until you reach the gear, which you then remove through the hole you dug. This leaves a great space beneath the snow to sleep in. After that, you start another hole somewhere else around the base, a meter or so any from the edge, and dig down and then up to the evacuated space. This becomes your entrance door. You need the opening to be lower than the floor of the cave so that the cold air can escape. You finish the cave by leveling out the floor and sealing the first hole you dug. I slept in this cave - and what a bizarre, but warm and exciting, place to sleep. I slept like a baby!
After survival training I attended helicopter training, which has come in handy since we have been flying around in one since coming to the Taylor Valley in the Dry Valleys - about a 40 minute flight from McMurdo Station.
I've spent some time on Canada Glacier with Andrew and Thomas (who is doing great and has been a terrific help), and we await the arrival tomorrow of the fourth member of our team - Martyn Tranter, a geochemist from the University of Bristol in the UK. He's a funny guy, who unfortunately came down with bronchitis upon our arrival at McMurdo and has been getting over it back in town.
We head out to Taylor Glacier tomorrow and I am so looking forward to it. Seeing the channels that I will be working on as we flew over them the other day gave me shivers. The helicopter picks us up early and I have a great deal to do, so I must be going now.
Sorry about running on and on...Stay tuned for more if you wish. We are all doing splendid (Martyn is on the mend) and I hope you are as well.