Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Great Nothingness

Before I went to bed last night I discovered the horrible thing about being disorganized: I had hastily packed my toothbrush, toothpaste, and all my shower things into my boomerang bag, which I had already rechecked without realizing my mistake. This was tragic! I had to borrow someone else’s toothpaste and brush my teeth with my finger before I went to bed. All night I barely slept because I was worried about how I would shower in the morning, and that my hair wouldn’t dry before I had to go outside and get on the plane (which would make it freeze). I’m only allowed 2 showers a week at the Pole at 2 minutes apiece so this shower was going to be my last nice one in a really long time! When I woke up from my troubled sleep (before my alarm clock rang) I decided to just use someone else’s shampoo in the bathroom. I felt really bad, but what was I to do? And I was still worried about my hair drying in time. However, after showering I discovered that our flight had been delayed by an hour. So I went back to sleep, my hair dried, I ate some breakfast, and everything worked out just fine (except for being extraordinarily tired after having barely slept in two nights running).

This time when we boarded the bus it was much smaller since not many of us were continuing on to Pole—maybe 15 of the 45 of us on the previous flight. It drove us to a different airfield, called Willy Field, which is on the other side of Scott Base from McMurdo. (Scott Base is the Kiwi base just next to the US base—much smaller than ours, but their gear was much nicer—it’s the orange stuff in the photos from yesterday.)

At Willy Field we had to wait for our plane to be ready (again) for about 20 minutes, so we were allowed to get out and take photos and stretch our legs before being strapped down again. This plane was also a C130 Hercules, but it was much cooler than the last one: this one had jump seats, and was on skis (unfortunately the toilet was not as well equipped for women…). The pilots of this aircraft were much friendlier than the last ones. They woke me up when we came to the most beautiful views and let me come up to the cockpit. They didn’t mind me checking out the back of the plane with all the cargo and palettes. And when I went to the cockpit, they did a nice job pointing out the best features. For example we passed over the biggest glacier in the world (or at least the pilot thought it was). (I’m planning to look it up, but the satellite is down now.)

About 15 minutes early, we started the landing process, and next thing we knew we had landed in the midst of Amundsen Scott South Pole Station with barely a bump--the smooth snow-ski landing was a big surprise! Before we could see anything else (there were only 4 windows on this flight, too) they had lowered the cargo hatch, so we could see the snow we’d kicked up behind us as well as the big forklift coming up to remove our luggage and cargo. We donned our ECW gear, which we all knew instinctively wouldn’t be quite sufficient (especially for those who were disorganized like me and put important things in the checked boomerang bag), and disembarked, making sure to go right (not left into the propeller). Now, you have to understand that we’re reaching the peak of the summer—it’s not that cold here, maybe only -15F. But I tell you, -15F and windy like this is enough to freeze your nose off. I immediately covered up every inch I could, and felt the uncovered bits going numb. We were greeted by a bunch of IceCube people and encouraged to hop on the mass-transit snowmobile to traverse the last 50 meters before we all froze. I do apologize, but I have no photos of those moments as I was worried my fingers really would freeze off this time (and if not my fingers, then certainly my camera)!

At this point, I realized that I felt like I was on the moon. There is nothing here but the station—no features, nothing. It’s one great expanse of nothingness—eerie, sterile white, as far as the eye can see.

As the snow machine started moving, I held up my fur hood and turned my face away from the wind, catching one last glimpse of our plane. The propellers were still turning. And then I remembered that planes can’t stop their engines at the Pole. Can you guess why? If they stop they freeze up and can’t start again (at least not without a great deal of assistance).

As soon as we made it inside the station (I decided it looks very sci-fi, but that could be a simple reflection of the feeling that I was on the moon) we were given room assignments and the new people sat through yet another orientation. I don’t really remember what this one was about as it was so similar to the others, but one interesting piece of news I picked up is that with our group of incomers the station is now holding more people than it ever held before. (We have 253-ish—40-some of those are IceCube people.) We then dropped our carry-on things and our big warm gear in our rooms and went for lunch, which was surprisingly tasty. After lunch, I unpacked my carry on bag, collected and unpacked my checked bags, found out where I’m supposed to be working, and explored the entire station before eating dinner and turning in.

By the way, my room is in the main station, not the summer camp Jamesways. This is great news and means that I’ll never have to tell you why I needed to pack a funnel!

Well, I need to stop writing because we just got an announcement that we need to shut off all electricity if possible because otherwise we’re going to have a power outage. How cool is that? Cool enough to freeze your nose off if you’re not careful!


1 comment:

Kathi said...

COOL---and I really mean that. Yeah that you are there!!!