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Back in New Zealand

Posted February 12th, 2009 by celene.carillo@oregonstate.edu

Date: Feb 1, 2009
Location: Devon Hotel in Christchurch, NZ
Time: 11:30am
Latitude: 43°31′43.04″S
Longitude: 172°37′58.15″E
Elevation: 75 m (246’)
Temperature: 25°C
Wind speed:  4 km/hour
Clouds: Partly cloudy
Relative Humidity: 44%
Precipitation: None so far
Animals: Lots of birds

Sunset on the tarmac, New Zealand

Sunset on the tarmac, New Zealand

I made it back to New Zealand!  The flight was on a much larger C-17 this time.  The C-17 is different from the LC-130 in that the inside was easily twice as large, it had jet engines instead of 4 propellers, the seats were much more comfortable, it was quieter, and it had fully retractable wheels for landing gear.  This plane is a lot faster than the LC-130 and the trip from McMurdo to New Zealand was only 4 hours instead of the 8 hours it took to get down there!

Throughout the flight I was thinking about what it was going to be like when I got off the plane.  We took off at about 5pm and were scheduled to land at about 9pm, and the thing I was most curious about was the sun.  Since we were flying north, and it was getting later in the day, I was wondering if I was going to be able to see the sun set while I was on the plane, or if it was going to be dark when we landed.  The sun has not set, or gotten even remotely close to the horizon in the past 64 days, and I was extremely curious about how I (or my body) would respond to it.

The other thing I was thinking about was the temperature.  When we left McMurdo it was just below freezing.  As a rule, anytime you fly in Antarctica you have to wear all of your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear which includes your Big Red down jacket, ski pants, huge bunny boots, hat, glacier glasses, and gloves in case the plane were to crash and you had to survive on your own.  A well known trick is to wear your regular clothes underneath your ECW gear, and in the middle of the flight, everyone stripped off their ECW gear in preparation for getting out of the plane in the summertime heat and humidity of New Zealand.

The one disadvantage to a C-17 is that it has very few windows and I had to get out of my seat if I wanted to look outside.  Every time I did this, the sun was still high in the sky.  Finally we started our landing approach and I couldn’t get up any more, so I tried my best to not think about it, telling myself that I’d know soon enough when they opened the door.  We touched down and then taxied for what seemed like an eternity.  I could already feel the humidity increasing in the plane, even though the doors were still closed.  We finally stopped and began filing out, and when I got to the door and began walking down the steps I was hit with the answers to both my questions in quick succession.  At the door there seemed to be an invisible thermal and humidity barrier, and crossing it was like getting off the plane in Dallas in summertime after vacationing in the mountains of Colorado.  As soon as I got off of the steps, I looked up at the sky which was glowing orange with what seemed to me at the time to be the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen.  I was enthralled and the people behind me had to nudge me forward towards the shuttle buses that were waiting for us.  I got on the bus, and sat down, still trying to soak in as much of the sunset as I could.  It was at least a full minute later, after the shuttle had started driving that I was again struck by something that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  My gaze had drifted to what was right below the sunset and quietly I gasped: “Look at all those trees!!!”  They were everywhere, huge and majestic…I felt like I had left the moon and was once again surrounded by Life!

The shuttle bus ride was as short as the plane taxi was long, and in no time at all we were dropped off at the terminal, and we had to go inside.  By the time we collected our bags and got through customs, the sun had set and it was dark outside.  The darkness felt remarkably normal to me…this is the way its supposed to be, the way its been for my whole life, and I felt very comfortable with it.

Back in my hotel that evening Spruce and I recollected on our time in Antarctica and what a fitting, almost storybook ending we had.  WAIS Divide already seemed like a faint memory, even though we were drilling ice core on 24 hour shifts only 8 days ago.  Now I’m looking ahead to a couple of weeks of vacation time in New Zealand.  I’m going to meet up with an old Kiwi friend and go mountaineering near Mt. Cook for a few days, meet up with some other friends on the north island, and just be a tourist for awhile.  Beyond that, I’m looking forward to when I return home on February 18th, to when I’ll get to see my family and friends again whom I’ve sorely missed.  These next couple of weeks, they are
going to be good.

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