I think this is the most difficult blog I've had to write yet. Why, you ask? I have to tell you about leaving when I'm not sure I was quite ready to leave. While Louise and Reiner were out with the penguin colony the rest of the ARISE team was packing and saying our farewells. Robin and I managed to sneak in a hiking trip to the top of Observation Hill. It rises a little over 900 feet above McMurdo Station and is one of the few places in town that usually has a tremendous view of Mt. Erebus. Much to my dismay, the day we climbed "Ob Hill" was one of the days that the volcano was socked in with clouds. But it's still a great view from the top! Kate has been busy writing an Ob Hill Trail field guide for us all to use- too bad we didn't get to test it out that day, but I'm anxious to have a look at it.
Most of the day on Monday was spent collecting all of our belongings, doing the last loads of laundry and packing all but the clothes on our backs and ECW gear into suitcases and orange duffel bags. The process for leaving Antarctica is the reverse of arrival. Everyone has to wear ECW gear on the plane and are only allowed one small bag to carry on, everything else has to be checked in ahead of time and loaded on as cargo. The day before scheduled flights back to McMurdo everyone has to bring checked luggage to the transport office during "Bag Drag". All checked items must weigh less than 75 pounds and be left there overnight. Robin, Joanna, Bob, Ken, Graziano and I had to report for Bag Drag at 8pm that Monday evening. Fortunately I had mailed home four boxes of books and gift items I bought for family members so all of my remaining gear weighed in at 68 pounds. Everyone in ECW gear and carry-on items also had to be weighed. I had my big red pockets stuffed with fruit for the flight back, along with a couple of books. My carryon bag contained my laptop, two cameras, a dozen rolls of film, my jeans, a couple pairs of shoes, sunglasses and a bottle of water. I stepped on the scale with all of that and laughed to see I weighed 205 lbs! But it felt great to leave most of the luggage behind knowing that someone else would have to drag it around and all I needed to worry about was getting to the ANDRILL End of Season party.
It was a very good party.
By now, through all sorts of bonding experiences, we had formed so many friendships and everyone was together enjoying each others' company. Many of us danced the evening away. Robin and Joanna took a breather in the cooler air outside.
I finally had to stop dancing at midnight! As I left to go back to my dorm room, I tried not to think about saying goodbye, it was easier to say "see you later" in hopes that I would see everyone later.
Fortunately, our flight was scheduled for early afternoon and we could have one last trip to the cafeteria and a real lunch instead of a snack box on the plane.
We then loaded ourselves onto Ivan the Terrabus- or the MART (McMurdo Area Rapid Transit) and bounced along the sea ice "highway" out to the "airport".
There actually is a very small passenger terminal at McMurdo International Airport, but it was such a beautiful spring day we all enjoyed our last hour out on the sea ice with a clear view of Mt. Erebus (too bad I couldn't zap myself to the top of Ob Hill for a photo of the view!). Once all the cargo was loaded onto the C-17 we clamored aboard and found seats along the sides of the plane.
This flight was much more spacious than the C-130 and we could get up and walk around. We even went up in the cockpit for a good view of the mountains and ice slipping away beneath us.
I have to say, it was a very emotional trip back to "civilization". Antarctica has changed me. It's made me stronger, weaker, older, and younger. It has also made me wiser and claimed me as a permanent resident in my heart.
After a very short five hour flight we landed in Christ Church and changed out of our ECW gear, no longer needed in the New Zealand summer evening. We took all of our borrowed gear back to the clothing distribution center and looked more like tourists as we checked back into the Windsor B&B. Once again the friendly voice on the PA system called us to breakfast at 7:30 in the morning with the distinctive "wakey, wakey". I had just enough time to skip around the corner to the art museum before Robin and I had to catch our flight. We were happily surprised that we could spend some of our wait time at the airport outside on the rooftop observation deck.
After three plane flights and two December the 5ths I woke from a nap on the flight coming into Dallas to see the most spectacular sunset I can ever remember. Of course not seeing a sunset in two months might have made this one all the more spectacular.
I'm back home now trying to figure out what day it is, and why it seems so dark at night. It still seems like it should be time to get ready for Thanksgiving. Even though I'm a little disoriented, I do know I'm really glad to be back together with my family and am looking forward to sharing my amazing adventure with the kids at school.