I've been in the US for a few days now, adjusting to life back on Earth. Some adjustments have been easier and quicker than others, but it's good to be back. At times the memories of Pole seem so distant, dream like and at times I feel like part of me is still there. The dreams are a constant, at times not allowing me to sleep very well. I'm sure that as time passes and I settle back into routines things will balance out. A couple of interesting observations since being back have been; the sun rises and sets daily! I wear shorts all time even though I see most wearing "winter" apparel already, the night sky is a very familiar one with the Orion constellation right were I remember it, the smells of fall are very strong and 75% humidity feels good, I can breath! The oxygen 10,000 feet up is one third less than at sea level and the internet is lightning fast! I could go on and on, but deprive yourself of everything that you know and are used to for 10 months and then walk right back into it and you'll begin to have an idea of what it feels like.
Last Saturday I was still standing at the bottom of the world with temperatures hovering around -57 F, 24 hour sun light and negative humidity with light winds and clear skies. That was the day I left Pole and I was again fortunate to fly out on a DC-3, one that was built in 1942! The C-130 Hercules transports commonly flown were not yet on the continent due to weather and mechanical issues so the DC-3s were pushed into action bringing crews in and taking us out.
Five of us left for McMurdo Station on that flight, a flight that took us across the Polar plateau, through the trans Antarctic mountain range and over the frozen sea ice to Ross island.
Although Mcmurdo station has an odd feel to it I realized that it was growing on me and I enjoyed the few days there taking in the scenery, warm temperatures (-4 F) and the crowds of people. There were about 700 people on station when I went through and the dinning facility was ground zero for gatherings. It was nice to see new faces and some that I had seen there before.
On the day of our departure from McMurdo we all boarded the Terra Buss called "Ivan" for the one hour slow drive out of town to the the ski-way were we would board a whale of plane.
While waiting for our ride we had plenty of time to take in the surrounding beauty. In the above picture you can see Mount Erebus, the second highest volcano in Antarctica and the southernmost active volcano on earth. McMurdo Station sits at the base of the mountain volcano. Asking for trouble?
Soon after arriving we got word that our plane was inbound. It was amazing to see such a large plane (C-17) land on an ice runway.
The Terra bus went over to load the incoming station crew and take them into town. Cargo was unloaded and the plane was reloaded with outbound cargo to include our luggage and other large containers before we were allowed to board.
If you ever wondered what it would feel like to be in the belly of a whale this appears to be very close.
We settled into our less than comfortable seating for the 5 hour flight to NZ. Everyone was pretty exited to finally be escaping Antarctica after the long winter season and to temperatures above zero.
During the flight I managed to catch a glimpse of something that I had only seen months earlier, a sunset! During the past 10 months at the South Pole we saw the sun set once and rise once. The everyday occurrence of the sun's path across the sky was just a memory.
Once we were at cruising altitude some spread out on the floor of the plane's cargo hold for a nap since the floor was more comfortable than the bench seats. By the time we arrived in NZ it was midnight and dark. The sights, sounds and smells of the city were a welcome change to the sterile environment that we had become so accustomed to. Some of us were scheduled to depart that morning and needed to be back at the airport by 5 am not leaving much room for rest. In all, I flew for thirty hours before arriving back on the east coast of the US traveling roughly 15,000 miles. I wont be getting on another airplane for some time.
Being at the South Pole for an entire winter season has been by far the hardest thing that I have ever endured. I have accumulated memories and experiences that will last me a lifetime. Although this will be my last official post about my time in Antarctica you are welcomed to ask questions. I'll get an email alert and will answer them promptly.
What's next? Maybe some mountain climbing in the PNW, or maybe jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, maybe the North Pole? All of the above!