I got up early Wednesday morning in McMurdo and made sure that all of my stuff was out of my room. I went over to the galley for one last breakfast, said goodbye to Sean, and then walked up to the Movement Control Center, where we were supposed to show up at 7:15am.
|Decoration in the MCC.|
The Pegasus airfield is out on the permanent ice shelf south of McMurdo. For the first few miles, the road to the airfield is the same as the road to LDB, so we got one last glimpse of the LDB camp.
Once we got to the airfield, we got a good look at one of the Kenn Borek Basler aircraft. These modified DC-3s are what we hope to use to recover the Super-TIGER payload. I'm not sure where this one, which was closest, was going that day but the other had another successful flight out to BLAST, where Elio and the recovery team got everything but the aluminum frame.
We didn't go inside the passenger terminal building, so we basically waited around outside for a while and watched the goings-on of the airfield. It was a pretty nice day, so there wasn't much going on for a while.
Eventually, though, a whole group of people started walking away from the passenger terminal. We weren't sure why, until we saw that they were going to get a better look at an Emperor Penguin that was standing around next to some equipment.
We watched as the penguin lay down, then got back up again and waddled all around for a while.
Since this was the only Emperor Penguin I saw the entire time I was in Antarctica, I took a lot of photos.
The penguin started walking kind of towards us, so I got much closer than I'd expected by just standing still.
Eventually, a van showed up to shuttle us out to our plane. Just as we were getting in, a Skua, evidently sick of the penguin hogging everyone's attention, landed next to someone's carry-on bag and stuck its head in a plastic bag that they'd packed their lunch in, looking for food. Someone nearby noticed and scared the skua away, but then it decided to land on top of the van as we were loading up. Once it flew off again, we drove over to our plane.
We flew out in a New York Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules. This is a modified version of the C-130 military transport that has skis and so can land on the Pegasus skiway. The larger C-17s that just have wheels haven't returned to the ice yet.
The LC-130 is notably a propellor plane, which means that it doesn't travel as fast as the C-17 we took down here. We were told that our flight would probably be around 8 and a half hours.
Inside, the plane was pretty full, so I only had about 2 inches between my knee and a pallet of bags brought on board by all the passengers.
We settled in for the flight, which ended up taking a little under 8 hours. I wasn't able to sleep or do much other than read.
Eventually, though, we touched down in Christchurch and they opened up the back loading hatch of the plane. It was there that I got my first glimpse of a living plant in three months, the trees around the airport.
We hopped on a bus for a quick ride over to the terminal, went through Immigration back into New Zealand, then collected our bags and went through customs. I took off all of my required ECW gear and put on regular tennis shoes, because it was nice and warm in Christchurch.
Then, I had to walk over to the Clothing Distribution Center to return all of the cold weather gear I'd been issued back in October. I pushed my luggage cart down the sidewalk all the way to the CDC, through some nice warm and sunny weather. I didn't mind that the walk was long, because I got to enjoy it.
After returning my gear and picking up my forward itinerary, I waited around for JohnE and Thomas. Thomas was staying at a hotel closer to the airport, so he just walked over. JohnE eventually showed up still wearing his wind pants and ECW boots, so he did not have nearly as pleasant of a time in the 86 Fahrenheit/30 Celsius weather.
By the time we got to the hotel--JohnE and I were at the Pavillions again--it was 7:30pm. After showering and checking email, we went over to the pizza place we'd gone to the first night in Christchurch back in October and I once again had a delicious lamb and veggie pizza with rosemary mint sauce. We also stopped by Smash Palace, the bar near the hotel with scaffolding and plastic sheeting for walls.
Our taxi to the airport left the hotel at 5:15am Thursday morning, so I didn't get a chance to get too much sleep (JohnE and I were still used to our night shift). The internet had been out at the hotel after we got back Wednesday night, so I hadn't seen an email telling me that I was now flying through Dallas/Fort Worth instead of LAX. This lead to me getting very confused when I checked in and was told that I'd have to collect my bags in Dallas to go through customs.
The flight over to Sydney wasn't too bad. We had a 6-hour layover there before continuing on to Dallas, and it was there that we said goodbye to Thomas, who left on an earlier flight through LAX.
We got on the plane to Dallas and were greeted with an announcement telling us that not only was the seatbelt sign off, but we all had to actually keep our seatbelts UNfastened for the next several minutes while the plane was refueling. After a safety video by Ricky Ponting and other members of the Australian cricket team, our 15-hour flight got underway. Among the many movies I watched was a documentary about Felix Baumgartner, who jumped out of a high-altitude balloon at 127,000ft in October. Looking at the view from that altitude was pretty amazing, and I got a good sense for just how high up Super-TIGER has been flying.
After a short layover in Dallas, we made it back to St. Louis Thursday evening, and I went out to meet up with a few friends that night (also, my apartment was at about 52 degrees when I got home, so I didn't mind being out while it warmed up a bit).