My documentations of my time traveling from Salt Lake City to New Zealand are vague. My experience in New Zealand and, subsequently, to Antarctica was vastly documented. I feel like the two will even out eventually. Hopefully within this post I’ll be able portray why that is.
As I left Salt Lake City for the last time in months, possibly more than a year, I couldn’t help but feel a certain contentment of being back on the road on my way to a place I worked so hard to get to. I got to the airport early enough to have a meal since they suggested not eat too much right before I got on the flight to Australia. I wandered around the airport until my flight was close enough to boarding and took pictures with my new camera. I didn’t quite know how to use it yet so I didn’t get very good shots but it was still fun roaming through my home airport.
My flight to LAX was relatively short but was actually about 20 minutes late. I had to rush to get on the bus as we drove through the lanes and roadways of the tarmac. As we reached my gate, I was more depressed than I probably should’ve been that I didn’t get more than an hour to get to my gate. I like to explore airport gates while I’m in them but this time, I just barely made it to my plane on time. There was a huge number of people outside the gate, randomly fidgeting in their seats or staring at terminal boards making sure they were at the right gate.
The plane was packed. I really didn’t mind my flight to Australia, though. The plane was immense and I got a window seat, which I loved. It gave me more room to stretch out while I slept and they had entertainment screens framed behind every chair making the 14 hour flight a little more bearable. Even though everybody was crammed into the plane, I didn’t feel too squished. All the flight attendants were extremely nice and they provided 2 meals on top of a random mix of all-you-can-eat snacks throughout the flight. My first view of Sydney was pretty glamorous, being in the early morning sunlight. It’s a lot bigger than I thought. When I landed, I had to rush to my next gate again. They had me rush through another immigration and security line, which took forever but I saw several USAP red baggage tags in front of me so at least I knew I was going in the right direction.
As I boarded my flight to New Zealand, I met a few people that would become good friends while I was in Christchurch. The flight was uneventful, as boring as you’d expect a 4 hour flight to be without any kind of entertainment provided. As we reached Christchurch and made our way to retrieve our luggage, we quickly found out that the airline lost most USAP participant’s checked bags. It wasn’t too much of a problem for me since I packed a couple days worth of clothing into my carry-on but some people were really hurting a couple days later. We all piled onto a shuttle without our luggage and got dropped off at each respective hotel. My hotel was pretty swanky with a full view of the southern half of the city and up 12 floors.
Even though I couldn’t figure out how to turn any of my lights on in my room for the first half of my night, I still managed to get a shower in and make my way down to the lobby to see if anyone wanted to get dinner. There was one person, we’ll call him Fabio, who was waiting for anyone that wanted to get some food. We wandered around downtown Christchurch as he explained the earthquake-stricken city, explaining the difference between pre- and post-city earthquake and that he was in the library when it struck a few years back. I became obsessed with the city and it’s beautification process of the havoc. They hired companies to paint, print, and plaster artwork all over the city epicenter that has the most damage. I spent hours just walking the rubble-strewn streets taking pictures of this artwork and with my friend’s help, I was able to get the back story behind the buildings I was taking pictures of.
My first official day in Christchurch was filled with meetings, trainings, and paperwork. Whenever someone wasn’t talking to us, we were trying on and exchanging our ECW’s, basically a few big orange bags full of cold weather gear that the USAP thinks we should have, for items that fit us better. I got back to the hotel at around 3 PM and found my lost luggage waiting in my room for me, completely relieved. I met up with some friends I met during the meetings at the CDC (Christchurch Deployment Center) and went to a few different places to get some things that they said we wouldn’t be able to get while in Antarctica and eventually ended up in an outdoor pub. After the earthquake, many different stores were condemned so this particular pub parked a few buses over their property, built up waterproof vinyl walls on steel poles and surrounded their area to make an enclosed place. They proceeded to sell pub fare out of it, making it an integral part of downtown Christchurch in my eyes.
After we got back to our hotel, we promptly went to bed. Waking up at 3:30 AM came early, as we all had to be back at the CDC by 4:30 for baggage check-in and screenings. As we got dressed for the eventual flight and made our way into the waiting room, our group was told that we were all on a 5 hour weather delay. After sitting around for hours, we were shuttled down to the airstrip, handed a bagged lunch, and herded up a precarious looking ladder onto our plane. As they fired up the engines, they informed us that we were on a 60 minute weather delay and that we were free to wander around the cabin. After that hour was up, we were finally in the air flying to the desolate continent of Antarctica at the start of our 5 hour journey. The flight attendants passed out drinks and everybody had a relaxed time. Everything was finally going smoothly until half way through the flight, we ended up being “boomeranged”. This means that if the weather is too bad at the air field in Antarctica to land, they “boomerang” us back to New Zealand. Our flight ended up being 5 hours which we eventually found ourselves back in our hotel rooms in the center of Christchurch without any of our luggage again since it was all checked onto the C-17 awaiting approval to fly.
The following day was the same ordeal but instead of even boarding the plane, we got delayed when we were on the bus being shuttled to the airstrip, luckily. For about 7 days after that, we were delayed with what ended up being a much needed paid vacation in a beautiful country in the middle of a very interesting town. They also eventually ended up letting my plane get into their luggage to get some much needed clean clothes for such a long delay. My friend “Fabio”, myself, and many others explored almost every square inch of the “Garden City”. We went to every restaurant imaginable, found a free concert or two, and took pictures of the beauty that is Christchurch. I even ended up buying a travel Ukulele since I knew I’d have withdrawals on the Ice. We met amazing locals that were all too keen to tell us about cool places that were usually our next day’s adventure. We hung out with hundreds of delayed USAP people stuck in Christchurch. The best part about all of this was the hotel gave everyone their own room where we could unwind after traveling all day.
On the ninth day in Christchurch, we did end up getting a flight out with a very small 8 hour window in the weather. They did end up bumping our entire plane’s luggage off the C-17 cargo plane that left right before us for a helicopter, from what I could piece together about the whole situation. That made for a very angry group of USAP participants but I don’t know of anything more awesome for our luggage to be bumped off so I’m ok with it.
I’m going to stop here for now. This has already been a pretty detailed and elaborate post since I came down with a horrible stomach cold and was bed-ridden for the better part of the last 3 days. This post is the culmination of that sickness and random, drawn out hours of recovery. As I’m finishing this post, I’m almost coming into a month from flying out of the SLC airport. It definitely doesn’t feel like that. This 4 1/2 month stint is going to whizz by, considering Halloween is right around the corner. Also, some more updates on me is that I’ve come to a conclusion that after this contract is over and I don’t end up staying the winter, my future is unclear. From about 2 years ago when I started this journey to get on the Ice, I revolved my entire resume around making it here. After it’s over, I can pretty much throw out into any direction and be happy where I end up. I’m looking into backpacking through New Zealand for a month or 2, maybe going back up to the Arctic working for Sukakpak until next summer, or going back to school to get some kind of degree. I’ve also thought about going up to Michigan and Wisconsin to find work for a few months. I know quite a few people up there and the weather suits me quite a bit more than 105 degree Utah during the summer. Soooo many possibilities. Suggestions? Comments from my community? Direction of any kind? Please comment if you can think of anything I would enjoy. Thanks for reading, as always!