What could go wrong?

By Prof James Madsen

We were done getting our cold weather gear (CWG) by noon, so we took a shuttle back to our hotel. We decided to walk to downtown, the area most affected by the earthquake in 2010. While progress is evident from my visit last year, it still has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, heightened by emptiness because Monday was an official holiday honoring the New Year. We walked for about five hours, which accomplished three things. It kept us awake until a somewhat reasonable local bedtime, it tired us out so we could sleep, and we got to see the incredible after effects of a major earthquake, and how resilient people are, rebounding from catastrophe.

Robert and Laura relaxing in the warm NZ summer sunshine.
Robert and Laura relaxing in the warm NZ summer sunshine.

The next morning, we had a reasonable shuttle time, and headed to the clothing distribution center (CDC) to get our pre-deployment briefing, and redistribute any items into the appropriate bags. We got out boarding passes, gave up our boomerang bags, and then had a couple of hours to enjoy the sunshine since there were weather issues in Antrctica, and all flights were being delayed 2 hours. While we were eating lunch at the nearby Antarctic Center Café, we learned the weather worsened, and the flight was canceled.

No worries, as my UWRF colleague Suruj, who lived in Christchurch for about nine years, had suggested we go to Sumner if we had the chance. Another colleague, James Roth from the University of Delaware who had just returned from the ice the day before, joined us. It was a great day of walking again, this time along beautiful ocean front. We ended the day eating a hearty meal at the Brewer’s Arms, where we were watched James polish off a half kilo steak with a side of ostrich that he cooked on 500 degree rock at the table.

Robert, James, and Laura at a beachfront café in Sumner.
Robert, James, and Laura at a beachfront café in Sumner.

The next day was more streamlined as we didn’t need to do the preflight video. Things looked pretty promising as we boarded the plane on time, and taxied down the runway. About three and a half-hours into the flight, there was an announcement followed by the dreaded twirling of the arm, the crew member indicating we were turning back. We got boomeranged.

We stayed in the Sudima hotel this time, which is a shorty walk from the CDC. We were all tired from the flight, about 7 hours and right back where we started, so we had a nice dinner in the hotel, and called it a night.

Robert and laura ready to board, trial one.
Robert and laura ready to board, trial one.

 

Working on the front ski, an essential component!
Working on the front ski, an essential component!

he next day, we had try number three. Again, all was good until the final checkoff revealed a mechanical issue. We de-boarded and spent a couple of hours in the lounge. So far, as I write this on the plane, all is good. Next post from the ice!

Boarding, take two!
Boarding, take two!
Traveling first class!
Traveling first class!

Checking In

By Prof James Madsen

The path you follow to get Antarctica is fairly straightforward. We arrived in the Christchurch airport late Sunday night local time, and it was about 1:00 am Monday morning before we got our hotel. One of the peculiarities of long trips like this one is that it tends to dull my mind. So while I have checked into hundreds of hotels, the jet lag and strong NZ accent (I’ll give an example below) made answering the simplest questions a struggle. One key or two just produced a puzzled look in response from me. But we made it to our rooms, and got about 5 hours of sleep before heading for the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) to get our cold weather gear (CWG). I include the acronyms because that is all people tend to use.

Robert and Laura modeling some CWG  with the rest of our baggage in the foreground
Robert and Laura modeling some CWG with the rest of our baggage in the foreground

Getting our cold weather gear was another opportunity to test what was left of ever shrinking mental abilities. We needed to try on all layers of the CWG to make sure we had everything, and it all fit. Then there is an overwhelming number of bag categories to keep track of—four! We have our checked baggage that goes somewhere to be loaded on the plane. The key fact here is that stuff will not be seen again until we reach Antarctica. No big deal since we are scheduled to leave the next day. If there are issues (more on this later), we also pack a boomerang bag (not containing Aboriginal hunting implements but necessities like a tooth brush and change of clothes) if our flight is canceled or has to return to NZ due to weather or mechanical issues. Next we have a carry on bag, and then any luggage we want to leave at the CDC. The total weight allowance for each person for the each person for checked luggage and boomerang bag is 85 pounds. Since I have some additional equipment with me, I was close to this limit but Robert and Laura were way under.

Jim being solicited by an overly friendly penguin.
Jim being solicited by an overly friendly penguin.

So here’s an example of the NZ accent that makes it difficult to process instructions with a fatigued mind. They pronounce an “i” like an “e” and vice versa. Most of the time this is easily resolvable except when the switch makes another common word. For example, it is important that we know what time we should report, and what we need to bring with us when we report to get on the plane. Unfortunately, they like to use two words that are said close together so they sound like one. So they were saying check in, but what I heard was chicken. Tomorrow when you chicken, make sure you have the required CWG either on, or in your carry on bag. Chicken time is 8:30. The good news/bad news is that we have had a few days to learn the accent and routine*.   More on that in the next post.

*Editors Note: Prof Madsen and his team have discovered the short vowels used in some New Zealand words.

Antarctic Journeys 2016: On Our Way

By Prof. James Madsen

Our 2016 started with a long trip on the first day of the new year. Laura (Moon) Parmeter and I left from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport about 1:30 pm for Dallas-Fort Worth, and Robert Zill left Chicago O’Hare about 3:00 pm for Las Angeles.   After a roughly 4 hour layover, we boarded the plane for the long flight to Sydney. Laura and I arrived 3 hours before Robert, so Laura headed into harbor area to see the Opera House and Botanical Gardens while I waited for Robert.

Robert practicing his photography on the harbor bridge.
Robert practicing his photography on the harbor bridge.

The first good sign for the trip was that I found Robert, and we set off for the harbor district. We walked across the harbor bridge, but took the easy way staying at road level. Some crazy people pay nearly $200 Australian to work across the top of the bridge arches. The second was that we were both able to find Laura at the agreed meeting spot at noon, the Fortunes of War, the oldest bar in Sydney. So we decided that good fortune warranted a beer, and some good food. Robert ordered a kangaroo steak which tasted like really good beef.

Robert, Laura, and I relaxing a bit after more than 20 hours of flying
Robert, Laura, and I relaxing a bit after more than 20 hours of flying

After lunch, we did a little shopping, and then split up again as Laura had seen the Botanical Gardens but Robert had not. Robert and I ended up going to the museum of contemporary art because it started to rain heavily. Laura braved it out on the bridge. Robert and I spent the last hour walking around the iconic Sydney Opera House. We met up again at the train station, and returned to the airport where we are waiting for our flight to Christchurch. Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the cold weather gear fitting and any interesting nuggets from the orientation talk.

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