The Journey to Antarctica

After a stop in Tampa for the night with dear friends, I boarded the flight to Houston. From there, I flew to Auckland and finally to Christchurch, New Zealand. It took twenty-four hours of flights and layovers to reach Christchurch. The next day I was in training all day, with Covid testing, zoom meetings, a stop at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to get fitted with all my extreme cold weather gear, and more meetings. I was scheduled to fly to McMurdo the next day. I was exhausted and still dealing with the stress carried over from the storm. I was going through the motions. I felt like I was still on high alert. When I learned the flight was postponed a day, I was so relieved. To have one day to rest was a gift.

Flight delays to McMurdo are common. As one supervisor said, “Antarctica is easy. Getting there is hard.” One veteran employee told me the shortest time he had spent in Christchurch waiting for the flight was twenty-one days!

The American Airforce C-17 we were scheduled to fly on had mechanical issues, so our flight was postponed day after day until finally, on October 10, we boarded a Royal New Zealand Air Force 757 and started our flight south. Three hours into the four-and-a-half-hour flight, the pilot announced we were turning around and returning to Christchurch due to a mechanical issue. This is known as a boomerang flight. So I laughed out loud when the flight attendant announced, “Welcome to Christchurch.”

I had more downtime to enjoy Christchurch. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. We continued to test for Covid every 72 hours. I got so much rest. It is Spring in Christchurch, and everything is in bloom. There is a beautiful botanical garden. I bought a New Zealand bird book and spent hours in the gardens watching birds, adding to my life list. I had a bit of seasonal allergies kick in, but nothing major. On other days, we went hiking on beautiful trails up and down seaside cliffs. My body ached a little from the hikes, so I took some ibuprofen and Tylenol. I felt like maybe I was getting a cold.

Finally, on October 17, I passed the fever scan at the airport and boarded an Australian Airbus A319 for McMurdo. Finally, after almost two years of planning and preparation, my flight landed at the Phoenix Airfield at McMurdo. I stepped onto the ice for the first time, smile beaming, eyes moist from the blistering -18 degree air and from pure joy pulsing through my veins. I was in Antarctica!

Once on base, I was immediately ushered into training, got my room keys and bags, and settled into my room. By 7:30 the next morning, I was clocked into work and met my teammates. I was in training all day. My cold was still bothering me, and I wanted to get some decongestants from medical. As it turns out, I did not have a cold. I had Covid and likely had it for a couple of days before I flew down. What I thought were seasonal allergies were probably the beginning symptoms. Since we were tested for Covid within 72 hours of our flight, somehow, I got it between my last test and my flight. And since I had taken Tylenol for my aches, the meds had likely hidden a fever when I was tested at the airport.

So, within 24 hours of landing in Antarctica, I landed in quarantine for eight days of isolation. I am enjoying a room with a fantastic view of the Ross Sea and the Royal Society Mountains in the distance. And for those wondering, yes, I was fully vaccinated and double-boosted with the multi-variant booster. I will not go down that rabbit hole, but you are welcome to draw your own conclusions. But yes, since this is a government position, we follow all the CDC guidance.

I called my supervisor and told her the news. I volunteered to clean the bathrooms in the quarantine dorm since I am a jano (janitor), and I feel fine. The only thing that was missing was the mop and mop bucket. My supervisor said she would bring one over at 11:00 am. At 11, there was a knock on the exterior door, so I masked up and headed down the hall. The door opened. There, to my surprise, was my supervisor and four of my co-workers in masks bringing in a gift bucket! It was the mop and bucket I had requested. But it was wrapped in a clean bag, filled to overflowing with bags of cookies, a pot of artificial grass (my favorite item!), coffee beans, food bars, drink mixes, and a pair of jano coveralls. Then they presented me with a huge handmade card signed by everyone on the team, wishing me a quick recovery. It was awesome. I was overwhelmed. It was such a nice gesture. It almost made me cry. It is going to be an incredible experience to work with these folks.

Here is the location of the building where my dorm is. The quarantine building I am currently in is the next building over to the left. Pro tip: the blue tank on the right with the NSF logo is an easy reference point when looking at McMurdo images.

McMurdo photo

You can view this image of McMurdo and see real-time weather conditions on the USAP live webcam. Go to The image defaults to the Arrival Heights cam. Click on the tab at the bottom of the image for the Observation Hill cam, and you will see the image I used above. Below the picture is the weather report for the day.

Fun fact: I did laundry here in the quarantine dorm. I split my washer load into two half loads to separate colors and whites. I put the first load into the dryer to hold until the second half of the load was finished. When I put the second half of the clothes into the dryer, the first half was frozen stiff. In the dryer. Welcome to Antarctica.

There is so much more to tell. But this should get us caught up for now. In the end, I see the Father at work in so many details. His care is astounding. I am grateful. I am so grateful for how I see the Father taking care of me. He is so kind.