Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Farewell to the Land of Ice

I promised to write one last post, but didn't think it would take over two months to do it. No excuses, so here goes.

As I said in my last post, during the last week in McMurdo I transitioned back to days and got prepared to go.  I was scheduled to leave the Ice February 15, but due to mechanical problems was delayed two days.  No big deal, especially remembering how the season began.  My trip out to Phoenix Field was memorable as I saw a group of Emperor penguins along the way, and I got to ride in the cab of the Kress with Shuttle Monk.  It was my first ride in the Kress.

Standing next to the Kress at Phoenix Airfield.

I was excited about flying back to Christchurch in a C-17.  The plane brought a large excavator, and it took a while to drive it off the plane.  Then they loaded a Kiwi helicopter before we were able to board.  We stood outside for almost an hour;  I was glad to be wearing "Big Red" and my "bunny boots".  

There were about 70 of us heading to Christchurch.
Preparing to load the helicopter in the C-17.

Once onboard, I found a jump seat on the side of the plane and settled in for the five hour flight.  My view was of the securely stowed helicopter.

The big passengers (cargo) get priority.

It took a while for the inside of the C-17 to warm up, but once it did I was able to shed "Big Red" and use it as a seat cushion.  The inside of the plane was very spacious but also very loud.  I was thankful to have my noise-cancelling earphones.  When we reached our cruising altitude we were able get up and move around.  The only windows in the cargo bay were on the doors.  I got a few pictures as we left the Ice.

One last view of the Ice.

The flight crew was very accommodating and allowed us to visit the cockpit, which was up a stairway on a second level.  Pretty cool.

Glad I was driving a van and not flying a plane.  So is everyone else.

It was a quick and comfortable flight, and we arrived in Christchurch around 8:30 pm.  We quickly got through immigration and customs and headed over to the Clothing Distribution Center to turn in our gear.  Goodbye Carhartts and "Big Red", you served me well!  I picked up my extra bag with my traveling clothes and headed off to my hotel a couple of blocks away.  After a quick bite of food, I hit the sack.  As I laid my head down on my pillow, I thought to myself, "Mission Accomplished!"

People along the way

But I can't end my story quite yet.  I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize some of the people I met along the way because they added to my McMurdo experience.

I will start with my fellow Shuttlers.  It was a great group of folks.  Shelley, our fearless leader, was incredibly supportive throughout the season, particularly at the beginning of the season when I was trying to get my footing.  She kept telling me it would take time to learn the names and locations of places in McMurdo, and all the procedures we needed to follow.  I did eventually get comfortable with everything but dispatching.  Again Shelley, thank you for your support and understanding.

The 2018-19 Shuttle Crew.

My other real supporter was Shuttle Bill.  He says this is his last season, and after nearly two decades of service at McMurdo, I think he deserves to hang up his Big Red.  That, and he turns 80 this year.  What an inspiration!  He is one of the best story tellers I've run across.  Whether or not all of the stories actually happened exactly as he recalled them or were embellished a little, they were always entertaining.   I appreciated his insights and suggestions.  Thanks Bill.

Shuttle Bill next to the Kress.  Happy retirement!

To the second half night crew of Jimmy, Bex, Darcy, Rick and our super lead Geoff, thanks for being such a great team.  Everyone pitched in and we got things done.  We worked hard but had fun along the way.

To Shuttle Jodie and her husband Windy, thanks for being such good friends.  I enjoyed the many meals we shared together.  Have fun on your trip to Alaska this year in your T-Bucket.

To Ryan, Monk and Dr. Harnish (Colin), thank you for helping me feel more comfortable driving our vehicles, especially the Deltas.  Once I understood the air brakes would automatically lock up if there was a problem, I felt much better driving over Scott Base Hill.  And another shout out to Colin for all the great photos he shared with me.

One of Colin's great wildlife shots; a pair of skuas.

And another of an Emperor penguin.

And to the rest of the shuttle crew of Rob, Colleen (thanks for the flannel sheets), Renee (hope you are mending okay), Kathy, Stephanie and Claire, thank you for a great season.  We were able to accomplish a lot, making approximately 8,900 runs and transporting over 34,000 passengers!

I want to thank Geoff and Arneta, my hiking partners, for all the great hikes.  They are some of my fondest memories of my time on the Ice.  Best of luck this year on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Two of the most wonderful people you could meet.

Oh, I missed someone.  How could I forget my roomie Eric.  Probably the biggest concern I had going into the season was who I would get as a roommate.  We met in Christchurch, and after spending a little time together, Eric asked if I'd be interested in being roommates. It turned out to be a good move, hopefully for both of us.  We were both respectful of each others space and having time alone in our room.  It helped that we worked opposite shifts for most of the season.  The only picture I have of Eric is one I took of him in is Halloween costume, a greenish zombie, and I promised I wouldn't post it on my blog.  So thanks Eric for being a great roommate and fellow shuttler.

It takes a lot of people with different skills to make McMurdo run to support the science research.  Janitors, cooks, servers, dish washers, carpenters, people to maintain the buildings, utilities and roads, electricians, vehicle mechanics, and the list goes on and on, all play an important role.  I heard it takes anywhere from four to seven people per scientist to support the Antarctic research program.

The New York Air National Guard played a key role in delivering people and supplies to remote research camps and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.  Flight crews and ground personnel were equally important in the success of the program.  Add to them the air traffic controllers, weather forecasters, and airfield maintenance personnel.  Ken Borek Air was another air services partner with a fleet of smaller but nonetheless important aircraft.  I feel fortunate to have met and talked with a lot of these people during my runs to and from the ice airfields.

A flight crew heading out to their plane.
DC3 operated by Ken Borek Air.

But there is one group I want to especially recognize, and that's the cargo crew.  Shuttles and cargo work in same building and are both a part of Antarctic Terminal Operations, or ATO.  While shuttles handles people, the cargo crew handles everything else, both big and small.  They work their butts off, but they know how to have fun!  They were a joy to be around.  

As with shuttles, we were split into day and night shifts.  I worked mainly with the same cargo crew all season.  At the risk of forgetting someone, I want to recognize and thank Shannon, Jeremy, Kevin, Cody, Stephen, John, Nikki, Toni, Melanie, Blake and Yote.  A special shout out to my favorite Santa and the King of Scott Base Hill, Oak!  Although on a different shift, a big thank you to Andres from cargo and his fiancĂ© Katie for being such wonderful dorm neighbors.

Many of the cargo crew I mentioned above.

For many you're wondering if this is ever going to end.  The answer is "yes"- but not quite yet.  I have one more Antarctic adventure I want to tell you about.  I promise it will be in the next few days.  And I'll also give you some of my takeaways from my time on the Ice.


Madmariner said...

You are a great inspiration to all, Rex. Especially your little brother. ;)

Gianni alsoknownas John said...

What a great tribute to the amazing team with whom you worked so closely and depended on to make the McMurdo Machine work so smoothly. Without a doubt, they were grateful to have YOU join them for 4+ months and do your part. I'm almost a little sad to see your blog ending soon, but I'm happy you are home safe and sound after your incredible adventure to the Land of Ice. Welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere, Rex!

One last Antarctic Adventure

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