I started today feeling very grumpy about having to go to Antarctica tomorrow. I missed my family as soon as I left for Christchurch, the strawberries in my garden were about to ripen, and I had a headache. And it was cold. What was I thinking?
I’m not surprised I feel like this. Going to Antarctica is so monumentally exciting for me, the fulfillment of a near-lifelong dream, that it’s just too much to process, and I think I short-circuited. I’ve done this sort of thing before when something is so big that I can’t quite engage with it while it’s happening. In that sort of situation I can become inappropriately chilled out or goofy. I don’t want to be like that in Antarctica. I want to make sure I can experience Antarctica while I’m there, rather than just store it all up to process when I get home. That said, I also don’t want to be a sobbing emotional wreck while I’m there. That would be foolish. I need to find some sort of happy medium.
Today I flew to Christchurch, then reported at 1430 hours (we’re on US military time now) to Antarctica New Zealand for a general briefing about the trip from our “on-ice escort”, communications manager Matt Vance. Matt briefed us about the week ahead then left us with logistics staff for a briefing on tomorrow’s journey and for our clothing fit out – thermals, fleeces, salopettes, jackets, gloves, hats, neck gaiters, goggles and boots that will keep our feet warm down to something insane like –100°C.
It’s funny. I’ve wanted to go to Antarctica since I was a geology student in the 1980s, but in all my imaginings of going there I’ve never really thought much about the cold. Putting on all those ridiculous layers of clothing – which was really uncomfortable in today’s 18°C heat – brought it home that it’s kind of cold down there. You’d think I might work it out after looking at the Scott Base weather forecast every day for the last week.
Do you think I should tell my on-ice escort about my mild-to-moderate fear of flying? Or shall I just surprise him with it when I freak out on the plane? We’re flying down courtesy of the US Air Force tomorrow on a C-17 Globe Master, a giant transport plane that usually does tours of the Middle East. The good news is that coming down to New Zealand to fly planes to Antarctica is kind of a cushy number for the Air Force pilots when they’ve been dodging bullets in Baghdad. The bad news is we are landing on something called the “ice runway”. It’s a runway, situated on about one foot thick sea ice. This enormous plane lands on it. With us inside it.
Anyway, tomorrow I hope to get over myself and go to Antarctica.