my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Saturday, February 26, 2005

the first day of the rest of the winter

the day was so overcast and windy, nobody actually thought the planes would have enough visibility to land. it was the fourth or so day in a row of this weather--the first real storm of the summer. the skiway was getting so drifted over with snow, there were people in cats grooming it 24/7. i couldn't see very far when i was zooming around on my snomobile, and basically had to go by the flag lines to get to the telescopes.

one, two, then three planes gathered at the last checkpoint before reaching the south pole, and were all circling waiting for a break in the weather. i kept my radio volume high so i could hear if something changed. we were all planning on being at the plane to see the last of the summer people take off. lunch rolled around and the planes were still circling a 15 minute ride away, 20,000 ft. up. every once in a while, one would circle over the station, and we could hear it, but not see it. the wind was so harsh, i'm sure i wasn't the only winter-over wondering what i had gotten myself into. every walk outside was a challenge. it was -45F with over 20 knots of wind. i couldn't help but wonder what -100F with 25 knots of wind would feel like.

around 1:30, we finally heard the announcement that the passenger flight was going to try to land. everyone on station who could spare the time was on the flight deck in 15 minutes--about 30 with luggage, and the rest of us empty-handed. we wouldn't be packing for 8 more months. it was a huge flurry of hugging, picture taking, and goodbyes. most people were so bundled up, it was hard to tell who was who, and people kept looking at nametags to see if a hug was appropriate. by the time everyone's eyelashes were completely frosted over, the plane was ready to take the passengers. we all waved to the last people, other than eachother, that we would be seeing for a long time. we stood in a line with our arms around eachother after they boarded, some people crying, some laughing. we saw gloves waving through the few windows on the LC-130 as it began to taxi. despite the cold, we watched it disappear to the end of the skiway, and go by again as it took off.

then, for some, there was nothing left to do but go back to work. for others, it was time to move into new rooms, and a buzz of activity broke out in the new station as people rearranged furniture, moved boxes, and talked to their new neighbors. it felt different. the place was wired.

that night, dinner was incredibly smaller and quieter. it was refreshingly peaceful, but fun, and intimate. news got out about a couple different showings of "The Thing" going on that night--a South Pole tradition on the first day of winter. I watched it with friends in the bar, and then heard the announcement about the last plane of the season, a fuel tanker, taking off soon. comms had word from the pilot that he was planning to do a wing-tipping fly-over. i ran to the roof of the new station, which is technically off limits, and waited in the cold and wind. below us, the station was dotted with people waiting outside, all looking up for the fly-by.

The plane came closer than I ever would have hoped it could, and I swear it flew RIGHT over just us. It was like that feeling at a concert when you're absolutely sure the performer is looking right at just you the whole time. Excitement welled up inside me and I screamed and jumped up and down and waved goodbye. Seeing planes come and go here is so normal (we get about 6 per day) it was hard to imagine this was really the last one. I hugged my favorite person on station and we walked back down together. So that's what the last day before wintering at the south pole is like, i smiled.

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