Monday, October 8, 2007

Getting Kitted Out at the CDC

Arriving at the CDC (USAP Clothing Distribution Center)

Packing and organizing my ECW gear was perhaps the most stressful process I have gone through – mostly because I know I will be depending on the gear that I select and pack to keep me warm and safe in the harsh Antarctic environment. A large group of us (more than 70) arrived at the CDC for a 1pm ‘start.’ The first news was that the plane ‘was broke,’ and that they were going to be ‘fixing it,’ and that they might use a Hercules (8 hr flight) instead of the F-17 (? 5 hr flight) we were scheduled to fly in. We were then debriefed on bags, weight limits, and general procedures.

The Bags
There is a maximum of 75 lbs per person, which includes ‘checked bags. ’ One can have any number of bags, as long as the weight does not exceed 75 lbs. This weight also includes one’s ‘Boomerang Bag.’ The Boomerang Bag has one’s street clothes in it, plus any toiletries. The boomerang bag gets put on the pallet with checked bags, and is the only bag one gets back if the flight has to turn round (‘boomerangs’) because of not being able to land in Antarctica as a result of weather or other conditions – one does not get one’s ‘big’ checked bags back until one reaches the ice. There is also a carry-on bag – a bright orange bag, that one puts any ECW gear one is not wearing in, along with a laptop and a camera. This bag has to meet size guidelines. We also have to put the correct tag on each bag.

Sorting out our ECW Gear
We arrive at the CDC with ALL our bags (even the bags of stuff we want to leave at the CDC while we are in Antarctica).
We then have to go through the two orange bags of ECW gear that we have been given, and test it all. This was quite overwhelming. First of all one has to make sure that it fits – we can change sizes, but we have to take our gear checklist to the window every time we swap something out. To test it properly, one wants to try everything on in order.

This means that one is trying to make rational decisions about cold weather gear when one is trying it all on on a warm Spring day, packed in a room with 20-30 other women, all going through the same process. Checking and double-checking all the zips and velcro was really time-consuming.
I finally seemed to have all my gear fitted and in working order, and I was able to sort through my bags and repack everything in a logical manner, but by that time it was too late to put my computer through security clearance – so I was told I would have to do that in Antarctica.

Reorganizing my Bags

With my bags sorted out and the ECW gear organized I was much more relaxed. We leave the bags carefully labeled, ready for any final adjustments around the edge of the changing room. We have to wear our ECW gear on the plane. There is a mandatory requirement of 6 items, but after asking around and talking to people I realized that I would really need to wear my long underwear and top and fleece as well as the mandatory items. This means that I will need to scrabble through my bags again when we check in at the CDC before our flight, and get my long underwear and shirt. Now, I will just need to wait until early Tuesday morning, when we will probably fly out.


Some of the Coon Rapids Middle School and Talahi Community School classes wanted to make predictions about how long it would take me to get dressed in *most* of my ECW – why don’t you make a prediction? Let me know what you predict via the email link in this blog, and I’ll time it for you. The items include: ordinary underwear, long underwear (top & bottom), liner socks, thick wool socks, fleece pants, fleece top, wind pants, outer fleecy top, balaclava, neck warmer, wool hat, goggles, Big Red parka, liner gloves, and outer gloves. I also put my small digital camera in my Big Red pocket and put my daypack on my back (and put whatever I am taking to or from the lab into my Parka). What do people in different professions wear to protect themselves in their work environment? How do you prepare for a long journey or a short trip?

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