Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christmas on Ice, Part 1

It's been a little while since I last wrote. And so much has happened in between now and then. Christmas, New Years, Antarctica, visiting family, how ever does one fit it all in?! Well, I've done my best and now I'm trying to catch up. I'll start at the beginning, but it might take some time. I promise you won't miss a thing.

We were kitted out with the gear over a period of days before departure. I went in early on the Thursday morning and tried on boots, snow pants, jackets and tuques. Eventually, after all the right sizes were there, I motored back to school to finish up my work. Then it was home to pack. We were allowed 70kg in total, 20kg of which was the clothing and gear we'd just been given. I really struggled to acheive this goal, but I think I flagged around 40kg or so. There are just so many pairs of socks and underwear one can bring.

Friday whizzed by with more packing and last minute preparation. Early Saturday morning Stephen shoved me out of bed at 5am, into the shower and then into the car. He had thoughtfully made up some cinnamon buns the night before, so we munched them in the car as we drove through the rain out to the Antarctic Centre where I would be processed, scanned, briefed and put on a big, big plane.

At 6:30am, I along with my 18 other students and tutors, as well as a lot of American military personel, were bustled through the check and weigh-in and were ushered back out until boarding time at 9am (I guess it takes a long time to do this). We all kind of mingled around the cafe at the Antarctic Centre next door until we were called in for our briefing movie on the flight. Squished into a large curtained room, we watched as images of snow and ice and big, big planes flew by. A calm voice reassured us that our flight would go well, but in the unlikely event of something untoward happening our crew were all well trained to take care of it. It then went on to tell us how lucky we were to be travelling to this amazing place and that we should follow the rules and all would be well. As the lights came on and the images faded we piled out of the room wearing our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear (this is mandatory - the voice told us so) and through the sensors and scanners that made sure none of us was going to blow up the plane or knife someone else. Everyone gathered outside in the grey, dreary parking lot out back and the feeling of excitement grew.

Two yellow school buses pulled up (the first time I've seen them here as schools use city buses, not yellow school buses - I guess they're reserved for the American military) and we piled on. We were driven round the buildings, across the road and into the runway right up to the biggest plane I've ever seen, a C-17 Globemaster. With a light spattering of rain falling on the pavement, we hurried into the belly of the plane.

It was like being in a warehouse. Pipes, wires, crates and very basic seats lining the walls and up front. I fell into a side seat and unburdened myself of bag and coat. The noise was amazing so I quickly put in my little orange ear plugs and watched as everyone settled into their seats. Eventually, the noise got louder and we lurched into movement, without windows this was really all there was to tell us that we were going. As such, I couldn't quite tell you when we left the ground which made the whole experience an interesting one. The idea of travelling to this distant continent that I'd only ever dreamed of going to didn't seem any closer, it didn't feel any more real since I wasn't even sure it was happening. In geography, there's a term for that feeling of 'in betweeness', of having left but not yet arrived - liminality. The whole flight was just like this. We had spent so much time building up to the departure that getting onto a windowless, warehouse-like space was kind of confusing. You expected something more spectacular, more different. After an undefined and unknowable amount of time spent writing, dozing, reading and knitting our movement changed. We dipped forward and turned. We were finally arriving.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't liminality kind of like life? We're not certain where we came from and clearly unsure of where we're going, so most of the time we stand around and feel, and often look, confused. So we play games, read books and doze, occassionally pretending that we've arrived somewhere and celebrate. Look forward to arriving for dinner later this evening and celebrating our time together.