So, the story thus far.
After a very long day of traveling on Friday (?) I think it was Friday. I’m pretty sure it was Friday. Yes, it was Friday. Ok let me tell you how Friday (and Saturday, Sunday and Monday) went and what kind of crazy schedule I have been on.
Friday August 19, 2011 – We had a half day of orientation at Raytheon Polar Services in Centennial Colorado. We went over a BUNCH of safety topics like “Don’t wander away from paths that are marked, you may fall in a crevasse” and “If you see this label on a container, stay away from it” which was followed by “What this is and how this will kill you”. On the lighter side, we also went through a brief synopsis of how to sort our trash. Antarctica recycles 60% of all things thrown away. It’s rather impressive and EVERYONE has to sort their trash because the “wasties” (garbage people) don’t have time to sort it all. After orientation, the 109 people in our group piled into two shuttles and a huge passenger bus and headed towards the airport. It took about 80 minutes for all of us to get checked in at the airport, so for those who flew out at 4:30, they didn’t have too long to wait. I, however, was in the group that didn’t leave until 1930. So I got to hang out at DIA, which is not a bad airport to hang out at, and then flew on a smallish plane to LAX.
LAX, I don’t like you. The folks working the Qantas counter were terribly rude and the seating area was uncomfortable. We were supposed to have a two hour layover but it turned into a five hour layover. Five hours of sitting around, while you’re already tired, in uncomfortable chairs (at least I had remembered to wear really comfy clothing) and buying overpriced drinks from a drink machine… Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be flying through there again (if I can help it). Anyhow, we finally got onto the plane for our 13 hour flight (yes, 13) and I discovered that I was not in an aisle seat or a window seat…. I was seated in the middle row between a very large Kiwi and a very muscled firefighter (one of our group). To say I felt like a sardine is an understatement. I was squished.
The flight to Auckland New Zealand was… it just was. The actual plane performance part of it wasn’t bad at all, meaning there was little to no turbulence. I decided that since I was utterly exhausted, I would attempt to sleep. I couldn’t lean back in my seat without getting smothered, so I decided to lean forward and rest my head on the back of the seat of the person sitting in front of me. He is also in our group. Apparently he didn’t see me or feel me leaning my head on his seat because after around 30 minutes, he leaned his seat back. I had just fallen into the “twilight” of sleep and then my forehead was rammed by the TV display attached to the seat. I looked at the firefighter sitting next to me, asked him if I was bleeding and when he said no, I asked Alan (the guy sitting in front of me) to keep his seat like that because I was going to lean against it and sleep.
I was rather irked to realize it had only been three hours between the time I fell asleep and the time I woke up. I thought it had to be at least 10. Oh, also since I was sitting between these two thick armed guys, I had no room to put my tray when we were served dinner and breakfast. I had to lift the tray up and hold it with one hand while trying to eat with the other. Needless to say, I only picked at my food. During the flight, we got up and kind of shuffled up and down the aisles in an attempt to stretch our legs. At one point, I thought that I would not get back to my seat due to the number of people that were doing the same thing. So I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep total. I watched on our flight tracker as we went south of the equator and crossed the International Date Line. I know, I’m a geek, but I thought it was pretty cool. During the morning part of the flight, I had a conversation with the firefighter, Brook (yes it’s a guy named Brook) and it turns out that he’s from middle Florida. Most of our group are Fingees and he and I compared tales about how we decided to take this exciting adventure. He was actually considering taking a contract job in Afghanistan or Iraq but decided that, while the pay might be amazing, the living conditions might not be. I was, and still am, inclined to agree with him on that. When the captain announced that we were preparing for descent, several people started stretching their arms after putting their seat backs upright and that is when we realized how bad we smelled. Oh it was awful. The time was approximately 10am on Sunday (but Tori, you left on Colorado on Friday and flew out of LAX at about 0300 on Saturday)… Remember, I’m about 18 hours AHEAD of everyone in Brunswick thanks to crossing the International Date Line. I haven’t truly lost my mind.
The arrival in Auckland was interesting. We had been warned on the flight about making sure we declared anything that needed to be declared, and made sure we had no fruit in our luggage or caked on dirt on our shoes. We basically ran through the airport in order to get our luggage, get through customs and attempt to get onto our next flight. The flight was scheduled for 1340 hours. We were informed by the Qantas folks in Auckland that they would take all of our luggage (which was already tagged through to Christchurch but since we were flying a domestic flight, we had to retrieve and place onto trolleys) over to the terminal which was about a mile away. So we made it through customs and started bookin’ it to the Jet Star terminal. We arrived 45 minutes BEFORE our luggage did. We had to grab our luggage and go through the check in process again. THIS is when Tori’s bonehead move of the trip happened (I’m so glad to have gotten it out of the way early). So I go to check in. I was the very last person in our group checking in for the flight. The clerk (I guess they’re called clerks) told me that the flight was full and I would have to go on the next one. My supervisor, Lori, was standing next to me and asked the clerk if she could switch our tickets. I told Lori not to worry about it, I would be fine and wait until the 1740 flight. So Lori got on the plane and I was left in Auckland. I really didn’t mind the fact that I was there. They have a very nice terminal at Jet Star. I was able to exchange my money for New Zealand dollars. I had some excellent sushi and talked about rugby (which I know nothing about) with a few rugby players over a few beers.
After I went up to the seating area at my gate, I started looking at all of my travel information paperwork. THAT is when I realized that I didn’t need to follow the rest of the herd all the time. THAT is when I realized that I was SUPPOSED to fly on the 1740 flight, not the 1340 one. Did I feel like a moron? Yes. Did I start laughing hysterically when I realized it? Oh absolutely. The plane actually left at about 1800 from Auckland for the hour and a half flight to Christchurch. If you ever are in a place where you can fly on a Jet Star flight, I highly recommend their services. I thought I was the last person in our group to arrive but I had discovered that Safety Dan (people on the Ice don’t have last names but are often referred to as their job title and first name) was on the flight with me. Dan is a Kiwi originally from Auckland so he had gone to visit his family and had his flight changed to leave at the later time.
I arrived at the Christchurch airport and when I was walking down to the baggage area, I was greeted by Pam and Renae, my roommate and another one of our dispatchers. I was so glad to see them because even though I was told that the hotel was just a block away, I get lost easily and having not have slept for days, I needed a guide. It turned out that several people’s luggage was on my flight since it didn’t make the 1340 flight and Renae was one of them. After she grabbed her stuff, we loaded up our trolley carts and headed to the Sudima Hotel.
Why it didn’t occur to me that people here did not drive on the same side of the road that people at home are supposed to drive on, I don’t know. We almost got taken out by a Hyundai. Well, let me take that back. Our luggage ALMOST got taken out by a Hyundai. It is a pretty good thing that I learn quickly and have not made that same mistake again. We made it back to the hotel, and despite the fact that I was tired and smelly, I decided that I deserved a beer. Walking back into the lounge area, I discovered that I was being called “the girl that got left behind”. It actually bought me a few sympathy points though. Well maybe not sympathy points but I did get a free drink out of it. After I consumed said drink, I went back to my room, discovered that toilets don’t flush counter clockwise down here, rid myself of travel stench and passed out across the middle of the bed.
Monday morning I woke up at 0600, went and had an amazing breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, eggs benedict, lamb and sautéed mushrooms. After breakfast, Renae, Matt, Rudy and I walked over to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) in an attempt to get our ECW early. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us, so we walked over to the Antarctic Experience exhibit to check it out. After we realized we had to PAY to see the exhibits, we decided we would just check out the gift shop and head back to the hotel.
We returned, along with the rest of our group, to the CDC at 1300 to watch an orientation video and receive our clothing. Every article of clothing has to be tried on. My boots were two different sizes so I had to switch them for correct ones since neither was the size I needed. We all looked funny waddling around in our parkas and snow pants. Pictures of me in my stylin’ outfit will come after I get on the Ice. I also had my computer go through a second check for USAP standards and it passed (woohoo) So I will be able to use it on the system in Antarctica.
When we came back to the hotel, Pam and I went over the schedule (I think I have them convinced to go to the 12 hour 2 on/2 off schedule that we used to be on) and then I napped for about an hour. She and I met up for dinner at 1730 and decided that we would try to go to sleep early since we FLY TO ANTARCTICA TOMORROW!!!!
So here it is, 9pm on Monday, August 22, 2011 and I am fixing to attempt to go to sleep. We have to be at the CDC at 0400 hours to get dressed and check in our luggage. Our flight should leave around 0900 provided that the weather is all clear at McMurdo. If it isn’t, I hope they realize it early so we don’t boomerang. We’ll see.
Well, Goodnight! Hopefully my next post will be from Antarctica!