I wrote a few blog posts while in the deep field, which I haven’t gotten a chance to post until now. There was quite literally no internet connection at Byrd Camp this year, so there was no hope of tweeting or blog posting, but here they are at last!
On Tues Jan 15, we were on the shuttle to go to the airfield for our flight to Byrd when our flight was cancelled. It was a huge disappointment since we were already 5 days behind. To add insult to injury, we were told that we weren’t even on a backup flight for the next day, meaning we would be stuck in McMurdo for at least another two days.
So I stayed up late drinking some of the wine I’d planned to take to the field and set my alarm for 7:15 the next morning, figuring I’d make the most of the situation. Imagine my surprise, then, when a friend came knocking on my door at 6:45am telling me we were transporting to the airport in the morning. My phone had been knocked off the hook overnight (it lives on the floor so this is common), and others had been trying to reach me with no luck. So he came over to let me know I needed to pack up my things and get to the terminal (i.e. the cargo/shuttle building).
Of course I didn’t believe him at first but finally he convinced me that we really did have a flight that morning. The flight for another (rather doomed) project had been cancelled once again due to bad weather where they’re heading. Some folks on that project have been trying to get to the field for weeks, so I try not to complain about our plight too loudly.
Packing up was simple since I hadn’t even unpacked from the previous false alarm. I suited up in my extreme cold weather gear, which is required for flying on the continent, and my friend was gracious enough to carry my bag AND grab me a sandwich for the flight.
Believe it or not, our transport to the skiway happened on time. When we got there, we jumped out of Ivan the Terrabus and straight into 2 pisten bullies. Pisten bullies are small, box-ish vehicles on tracks that are comfy to sit in, but not at all comfortable to ride in. They have a cab up front with a 6-person passenger compartment in the back. The window between the two is always open, not for socializing with the driver, but because, as the sign inside reads, “Windows must remain open for proper ventilation with passengers”. There’s a lot of that kind of directive in McMurdo. Don’t open the hatch or you’ll die of exhaust fumes! Open all the windows or you’ll die of exhaust fumes! Don’t open the back door or you’ll…fall out? I haven’t figured that one out yet. Needless to say, transportation around McMurdo is always an adventure.
Anyway, the bottom line is that we were on a C-130 Hercules in no time flat. We got a quick brief about how to don our oxygen hood (it seems like they could’ve figured out how to transition to masks by now) and where the “restrooms” are (be sure to close the curtain behind you!). The plane was mostly full of cargo, some ours and some meant as resources for the field camp where we were heading.
I was under the impression that the flight would be about 5 hours long, but was pleasantly surprised when, 2 hours in, the load master announced we would be landing in 30 minutes. No complaints here because my butt was cold. The chairs are made of mesh and apparently under them is a wind tunnel.
When we landed at Byrd, my first impression was that it was very white. Also, that I couldn’t see any camp. It turned up somewhere to the side of the skiway after a while, but we couldn’t stop just yet. Why not? Two words.
Sounds awesome right? Let me tell you, I was excited. They were going to offload, no — evacuate, really – all of the cargo on board without stopping. So we kept on taxiing up and down the runway while the ramp came down and the sunlight rushed in. One of the Air Force guys was busying himself with something or other back by the cargo. Then there was a hand signal exchanged and something dropped out the back, leaving more sunlight in its wake.
At that point only one large pallet was left up front – the one with our cargo on it. Couldn’t have asked for a better seat. At this point I had my camera rolling and was ready to watch our gear arrive at Byrd Camp in style.
A hand signal was exchanged, the pallet started to roll back on casters, then all the sudden it stopped moving. Was it stuck? The Air Force guy went back to work. He appeared to be re-strapping it to the floor, which confused me. But he looked like he knew what he was doing. Then another hand signal, only this time it was him beckoning the load master for help. Finally after some more fussing (okay, 10+ minutes of fussing in all), the pallet began to roll out the back of the plane, on down the ramp, and out into the sunlight.
Where it promptly fell over with a not-insignificant thud, crushing what I’m sure was nothing important in our cargo. Mission accomplished, boys.