I must apologize for the delay in getting this blog up and running, but between adjusting to the culture/environment in Antarctica, learning new procedures/equipment, and getting the clinic ready for the long winter season, my free time was rather limited.
My journey south started in Denver with some last minute training and administrative issues. It also provided the opportunity to spend time with my sister (Annette) and brother-in-law (Robert). Unfortunately, Robert was struggling with pancreatic cancer and I was very concerned this would be the last time I would see him, in this lifetime at least. We were able to spend a few hours together in his hospital room and for that I am thankful. Sadly, he died a few days ago. As humans we have a tendency toward linear thinking…we think our lives today will continue on along a straight path. The death of a friend and/or relative serves as a poignant reminder life is precious and fragile. Our circumstances can change forever in an instant. Every day of life truly is a gift and it must be lived to the fullest. Rest in peace Robert; I will miss you greatly. I am a better person for having known you.
From Denver, I travelled to Auckland, New Zealand via Los Angles International Airport. It has been a few years since I travelled through LAX and I was surprised by how outdated and third world it seemed, especially at 1030pm. Between movies and sleep, the 13 hour flight to Auckland passed quickly. Since we crossed the International Date Line, I arrived 2 days after I left the United States. I have often heard how friendly New Zealanders were, but have to say Auckland has the world’s most pleasant immigration & customs officials. After a short connecting flight to Christchurch, we were deposited in our hotel rooms for a couple of days R&R before heading south.
Christchurch was devastated by a major earthquake last year and signs of extensive damage are still clearly visible. As a result, available hotel rooms are at a premium in the downtown area. My initial impressions of Christchurch are of a rural version of the United Kingdom. In addition to vehicles driving on the left side of the road, I passed parks where people were playing cricket and the houses exuded a definite quaint British cottage charm.
Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing was drawn from the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) in preparation for the flight to McMurdo Station. Since our flight to Antarctica was delayed because of a severe snowstorm in Washington state (our Air National Guard C-17 was stuck in Tacoma, Washington), we went to the USAP office at the International Antarctic Centre to draw some extra travel funds and spend another 24 hours enjoying Kiwi hospitality.
We finally boarded our C-17 for the 6 hour flight to McMurdo with the hope that we would not have to “boomerang” or return back to New Zealand because of sudden poor weather at our Antarctic landing site. This is not an uncommon occurrence and it sometimes requires several attempts to finally land set foot on the continent. Through luck or divine providence we made it on the first attempt, for which I was most thankful.
It was snowing when we arrived. I was obviously thrilled to set foot on my 7th and final continent! The view of the great white expanse with the distant mountain range was spectacular. Upon exiting the aircraft we got some much needed exercise by walking about 200 yards to board “Ivan the Terrabus” for the 45-minute transport from the “Pegasus” airfield to McMurdo Station. A lone Emperor Penguin was standing by the side of the ice road flapping its wings in what I assume is an Antarctic welcome as we drove past. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to get a shot.
My first impressions of McMurdo Station were that of a mining town with prefabricated buildings and dirt roads. Despite not having much sleep on the airplane, I set out on foot to explore my home for the next week and ensure I knew the location of the essential things…the head (bathroom), galley (dining facility), sickbay (medical clinic) and plan for excursions from the Station during any free time I might have over the next few days.