Recap of R & R and other lessons learned (In babbling style)

Hey everyone,

So yes.  I am wintering over in Antarctica.  I still can’t believe it.

I started inquiring about wintering over back in November.  I spent several days speaking with my supervisor and co-workers and other people that have spent the winter season down here.  I received almost 100 percent positive feedback about wintering and overall, I felt my heart telling me to stay in this place. 

So, let’s see what’s happened recently…

I spent a week in New Zealand at the beginning of the month on R & R.  When I arrived in Christchurch, it was the first time I’d seen a dark nighttime sky in 4 months.  I stood outside of the airport terminal and soaked in the humidty and stared at the stars.  As I was walking to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), I wanted to tear off my socks and shoes and walk barefoot in the grass.  I’m glad I didn’t because it may have absolutely been sensory overload.

If you’ve never thought about it, imagine what it is like to go 6 months without grass, trees, day and nighttime skies, flowers, people on cell phones, shopping, washing dishes, grocery shopping, cooking, major holidays without the fam, driving, serious crime, drugs, fights…  There were things that I missed, and things that I didn’t miss.  There are people that I miss and people that I would miss if I weren’t here. 

On that note, there were a few times where I had to wrestle my own emotions regarding staying here.  Do I miss my family?  Absolutely.  Do I miss my own house (living with three other women has been interesting)…  I miss having the freedom to do whatever I want in my house and not worrying about waking up my roommates when I come in at odd hours due to my work schedule.  Would I have missed the “family” I have here?  Totally.  There are some people that I have met here that I hope will always be part of my life.  Also, I try to flip to the positive side of living the dorm life.  I didn’t go off to college, so I didn’t get to experience the college dorm lifestyle.  So, despite the fact that I’ve had some trials with some of my roommates, I’m still greatful for the opportunity to learn from living with them.  ***On a good note though, I will have my OWN room for winter, and I am very excited about having all that SPACE just for me!***

So, back to my sensory overload while in New Zealand.  My first day out and about, I went shopping.  I’m a girl, it’s part of my DNA code.  I hadn’t worn a dress in God knows how long, and that was the main thing I was looking for.  I thought it was going to be great wearing jeans all of the time, and it’s really not that bad, but I wanted to feel girly.  My darling Jillian shipped me some make up several months ago, so that helped, but I wanted a dress.  So I went and bought 2.  I also bought a skirt, and then I discovered the New Zealand version of the Dollar Store.  I bought fake flower leis, Mardi Gras masks, more wall decals, paper lanterns to hang from the ceiling…  I went a bit nutso in there, but its ok.  It’s all equivalent to a dollar.  Right?

I then went and vegged out at the hotel.  I stretched out across my big bed (oh yeah, imagine 6 months of sleeping in a twin size bed with a not-so-comfortable mattress) and I just relaxed.  I then had dinner at the hotel where I happened to run into the new winter-over dispatchers.  There will be three of us this winter.  The Thurmanns are great.  They’re from the Orlando area and Wes actually has a few relatives in Brunswick.  Small world, I know.  So after dinner, we sat outside near the pool and enjoyed the 65 degree weather.  It was so nice to be outside near trees and enjoy an actual sunset… ah… it was blissful.

Sidenote – There isn’t always snow covering the ground here at McMurdo.  It all melts away and the air is heavy with dust and volcanic ash.  Oh, I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but we’re located not to far from an active volcano.  In Antarctica. 

Yep.  It’s still exciting to say that I’M IN ANTARCTICA!

Ok, sorry about that.  It’s 0431 local time and I’m into hour 21 of a 24 hour shift.  “But Tori, I thought you were working 12 hour shifts?!”

I was, but now I’m on a 24 hour on, 48 hour off schedule.  It’s not that bad.  I just get a little… ok I get very distracted very easily at about hour 20.

Okie dokie.  So, after I departmed my first hotel (The Pavillions) I moved to the Sudima, which is the hotel I stayed at on my first visit to New Zealand.  Conveniently located to the airport, I was able to meet my friend Cindy as she came off the Ice for her R & R.  She stayed with my for two nights and we enjoyed a day of shopping and going through the botanical gardens before she left to head to Auckland. 

The day she left, I headed to my final hotel (oh, yes, hotel availability since the earthquake of Feb 22, 2011 has been greatly diminished).  The Elms hotel is situated near several shopping areas, and I was headed out to them, but took a wrong turn and ended up going for a 3 mile jog.  It was a gorgeous day but jogging in hiking boots is never a good idea…  But I made it to the liquor store (I needed to get gifties for my people on the ice).  I then stopped by a kebab joint, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed back to the hotel.

The next morning, I packed everything up (I was stoked to get back to the ice) and headed down to the reception area, which is located in a small trailer in front of the hotel due to damage from the earthquake).  I sat outside with a bagel and a cup of coffee (I had missed good coffee), and waited for the shuttle.  I had also came into the information that our new firefighter was staying at the same hotel, so I wanted to meet him and introduce myself to him.  He came out of the hotel shortly after I did and, in typical firefighter tradition, he was wearing a shirt from another fire department (this is a very common trend and I’ve gotten used to it).  I introduced myself and we chatted about who he was, where he was from, why he decided to come here, so on and so forth.  I decided that he would fit in with the group nicely.  The shuttle arrived and took us to the airport, where we met up with one of our Lt’s that I had spent a few months with in the summer.  I introduced the two of them and we put on our ECW gear and met up with the others in our group headed back to the ice.  I ran into several people that I hung out with over the summer season that I didn’t realize were on R&R at the same time I was.

Our highest population over the summer was over 1100, it’s ok that I couldn’t keep up with what everyone was doing. 

Our population over the summer is expected to be around 200 or less…  I’m super excited about this.

So we loaded up onto the C-17 with our bagged lunches and headed back home to McMurdo.  And THAT is when I discovered why people keep returning.  I had only been gone 5 days and the hugs and “Welcome back!”s I recieved were incredible.  I really felt like I was coming back home.   The entire crew out at station 2 met us and basically mobbed me.  I was so happy to see all of my A shift boys again.  They’re like a bunch of little brothers.

When I got back into town, I got a huge hug from Genevieve when I walked into dispatch and when I saw Lori at dinner, we went running to eachother for hugs.  Have I mentioned that I have had the best boss?  Oh and she’s left me for the winter season… This saddens me.

So at dinner I caught up with people and was bombarded with questions like “What was it like?  What did you do?  What did you see?”  My answers were “Green grass, trees, stars and dogs.  I almost got hit by a car.  Thousands of people I didn’t know, and it scared me.”

After dinner I went in search of my best friend Rick.  I had brought back a bottle of Scotch for him as well as a “nerf” style dart gun.  Yes, I bought one for myself too.  I got the best hug from him.  That’s when I knew that I was doing the right thing and felt like I was home.

McMurdo and it’s people have been good for me.  They’ve taught me so much about life and have helped me become more comfortable with who I am. 

I’m looking forward to the winter season.

Love to all – Tori

 

 

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