Sunday, January 7, 2018

To the ice

The C-130 that took us to the ice
I rolled a small cylinder of yellow foam between my thumb and forefinger, then tilted my head and slid the earplug into my ear. Across from me, I could see my fellow trainees doing the same. I leaned back into the cargo net that served as the back of my seat. I was on board a C-130 and would soon be airborne, bound for McMurdo Station.

In the plane with James and Ewa. Photo by Harriet Alexander.
When you go to Antarctica, they say you are "going to the ice." We had been warned that the flight would not be comfortable, being in a military aircraft and all. I have to admit the conditions were not what I was used to, but I was perfectly comfortable. We sat with our backs against the side walls of the aircraft and faced each other in two rows. At first I was worried I would be too hot because we had to fly in all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, but I ended up just using my parka as extra padding for my back and it was fine. We were given earplugs and a packed lunch, and I was grateful for both because the flight was 8 hours and loud enough I couldn't hear anybody speak.

Sea ice seen out the window of the C-130
At one point, the Air Force crew allowed anyone who wanted to take a look inside the cockpit. I could feel the floor vibrating against my feet as I approached the front of the plane. The cockpit was up a narrow set of stairs, and the view out the domed windows was absolutely gorgeous. There were miles and miles of sea ice stretching in front of us, and the horizon was just a cloud of white. I had to blink and look away after a few seconds because it was so bright.

The shuttle bus that took us into town
We landed on an icy air strip just outside of McMurdo Station and filed out of the plane. Friends, I wish each of you get the chance to step out of a plane into the unbelievably gorgeous world of Antarctica, because there is nothing like it. The air was dry and cold, right around freezing. Everything was blindingly white, and the snow-covered ground sloped up to steep mountain peaks in the distance. I honestly cannot believe how beautiful it is here. We must have landed on another planet, because there's no way this place belongs on Earth.

A giant, hardcore-looking shuttle bus was waiting for us near the air strip. We climbed into it and headed into town, stopping at Scott Base (New Zealand's Antarctic station) to drop off a few Kiwis from our flight, then climbed over the hill to McMurdo.

Friends, I am in Antarctica. Somebody pinch me.

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