Monday, November 28, 2011

Next Stop - Antarctica

Many months before this chilly adventure began, I made a decision that may have been overly ambitious: I wanted to visit the Arctic and the Antarctic in the same week. In my mind I imagined a direct flight from Barrow, Alaska all the way down to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. This mythical flight would serve lobster tail instead of peanuts. The flight attendants would be Swedish bikini models and the pilots would be the guys from Daft Punk.

From Mike's Bi-Polar Adventure

The crying babies you ask? Well they would still be long as their mom's were also Swedish bikini models. Tough but fair, I know.

In reality, the flights down from the Arctic to Antarctica were slightly less edgy or sexy. But only final image from Alaska was this:

From Mike's Bi-Polar Adventure

The Northern lights, which I had only seen twice in over 2 months in the arctic, decided to show off in all its psychedelic green glory, just one last time.

By necessity, my stay in Tucson was short lived. In just 3 days of arriving home from the arctic, I once again found myself at the airport, this time with a one way ticket to Christchurch, New Zealand. I left LAX airport on October 30th. When I landed in Aukland, NZ 13 hours later, it was November 1st. We had flown over the International Date Line on Halloween, making it officially the shortest day of my life, about 2 total hours. I hope on my flight back I can have Christmas for 2 days straight in compensation. And yes that requires double presents!

Christchurch was our one-stop-shop for all things Antarctica. Upon landing at an airport that was literally nestled amongst fields of roaming sheep (way to live up to your stereotype New Zealand), we were shuttled immediately to the Clothes Distribution Center (CDC). I had heard rumors of this magical place. Apparently you could show up to the CDC with nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and you'd leave decked in outlandishly warm winter gear. I obliged them by wearing a shirt of some kind AND pants. I'm happy to report that they lived up to their reputation. I was given 2 orange bags when I arrived at the CDC. They were filled with my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear: snow pants, sweaters, hats, mittens, long underwear, neck warmers, moon boots, ski goggles, and a huge, red down jacket which from here on out will be called Big Red.

A night on the town in Christchurch proved surprising. Last February, Christchurch was rattled by an earthquake which ravaged the city. Everywhere you looked there were buildings supported by anything from shipping containers to ratchet straps. It was a beautiful city in ruins. The biggest surprise of all was randomly bumping into a NASA friend I hadn't seen in years. I had always imagined that I'd bump into someone I knew in some far off place at some point in my life. On November 1st, 2011, here comes Jon Rask just walking along in Christchurch, NZ. It's a very small world.

From Mike's Bi-Polar Adventure

The following day was the day of reckoning: the flight to the chilly continent. Everyone crossed their fingers as they boarded the C17 that would take us to the Antarctic continent. Occasionally flights will "boomerang", which means that as the plane gets close to McMurdo, it's forced to turn around due to poor weather which moved in during the flight. It's a harsh continent. Decked in snow pants, my moon boots, and Big Red, I boarded our C17. In the past week I had flown through Barrow, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Seattle, Tucson, Los Angeles, Aukland, and Christchurch. The final leg of my week of travel was about to begin. Next stop...Antarctica.

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