Sunday, December 25, 2011

On The Ice Again...

Unfortunate choice of post title-- now I have Willy Nelson playing in my head...

I didn't put as much effort into getting ready to deploy as I should have. Last year, I was "bumped" due to overpopulation at McMurdo. This year, the reports were that it was a similar season, so I really didn't think I'd make it down to the ice. The expected e-mail never came, and when it became clear that I was going-- I had to get ready in a hurry! Mimi is watching the house and cats, and Conan is staying with some friends in Boulder. When he saw me packing things up, he knew. He was so mopey for the last few days-- he rode all the way from my house to Boulder with his chin 0n my arm, looking up at me with those big, brown puppy eyes that dogs reserve to tear your heart out... I knew he would have a blast, but it was tough. Sure enough, when we got to my friend's house, he acted like he had been there a thousand times (though he'd never been). He couldn't wait to get inside. They have a new-to-them 5-month-old tricolor corgi, and it was a perfect arrangement. Conan would have a playmate, and the new pup would have a "big brother", at least for a month or so. Mimi says the cats are doing well-- as long as they get a certain amount of human contact, they'll be fine. Conan's keepers said that he's having a blast. (I just hope he's okay with leaving once I get back...)

The flight down is always brutal-- dropped off at the airport four hours before flight time, then a four-hour flight, a five hour layover, a twelve hour flight... and that's just to get to Aukland. Then we have to get our luggage, go through customs, and get on another flight to Christchurch. I didn't sleep well on the trans-pacific flight, and was completely exhausted by that point. We checked into our hotel in Christchurch, and I actually got a good night's sleep. Since the time difference is twenty hours now, the sleep cycle isn't too bad of an adjustment, provided you can sleep on planes. I did nowhere near enough of that. The shuttle picked us up at the hotel, and took us to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) at the airport. We picked up our cold weather gear, and had to endure another several hours of orientation videos and waiting before we could get on the US Air Force C-17 for McMurdo. We took off around 10PM. It would have been gravy, but the jump seats on the plane hit my tailbone just right, to where I never got more than 10 seconds or so of sleep before the pain would wake me up again. Sometimes there are ways to sleep on the floor, but there were just too many of us. I could get up and move around a little, but not much. The big, yellow hardware was the cargo pallet that I was staring at, strapped to my jumpseat for six hours or so.

Veteran Ice Folks will scold me for my whining-- a C-17 is like a soak in a bubblebath compared to some of the other transport to the ice. I just had a particularly hard time due to the lack of sleep. Very few things are as miserable (to me) as being completely drained, but unable to catch even a wink. A lot of folks like the jumpseats, but mine was not my tailbone's friend. It's still sore, a week later.

Enough whining about the trip-- I got here, and I'm in a nice groove of sleeping and working. I have run into a ton of old friends, and it feels a bit like home. I got a great roommate assignment, an OAE (Old Antarctic Explorer) who was a SeaBee in the Navy down here in the '70s. He has a lot of great stories to tell. The weather has been great, with only one day of snowstorms. The snowy, industrial picture is the view from my office window on last Thursday. I have plenty of photos of much nicer weather, which I will post soon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dear Broken Christchurch

Sorry blog followers-- I haven't had reason to post in a long time. Life in Denver has been great-- Conan's well, I'm in month nine of a fabulous relationship, the cats are entertaining in that psychotic way that only cats can pull off, and in general life is good. I've been slated to deploy to the ice for a five-week stint, but frankly doubted that I would actually go. Population at McMurdo has been high, and only essential personnel are allowed to go. It looked so doubtful that I slacked on a lot of my pre-deployment paperwork and prep work-- I was pretty confident that I'd be bumped in favor of more essential activities. The days ticked down, and I realized that I'd better get it together! The last week in Colorado was insane, making preparations for Conan's boarding, paying bills, and all the other crazy stuff that happens when you're about to go off the map...

Mimi is watching the house, Conan is in good hands with a friend in Boulder, and (I hope) I managed to take care of all the loose ends before leavin' on the jet plane.

The trip down is always a grinding, laborious process, taking days of layovers and trying (often unsuccessfully) to sleep on planes. I don't need to go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that I ended up exhausted in Christchurch, New Zealand, with a day to kill before the night flight to the ice. Downtown Christchurch was devastated by last year's earthquakes, and I was more than a little reluctant to see the worst of the damage. Ice folks by definition spend a lot of time in "Cheech", and the city is near and dear to us. The people there are awesome-- Christchurch is one of my favorite cities anywhere. I knew it would be traumatic to see whole blocks of familiar buildings reduced to ruin, but I needed to see it.

As luck would have it, the day we had available to walk around was Sunday-- the only day when the "Red Zone" in the Central Business District was open for the general public. A fenced cordon leads all the way down to the front of the cathedral-- the heart of town. The cathedral itself is pretty much completely destroyed, but the crumbling ruins haven't been razed yet. A huge metal framework holds the front wall up, preventing it from toppling into Cathedral Square.

The damage is amazing, but it wasn't as emotionally wrenching as I expected it to be. Since the cleanup efforts have been going on for months, most of the rubble has been removed. Still, it's eerie to stand on a familiar street corner, trying to find bearings when so many of our familiar haunts are just... gone. So many buildings are gone that it is a completely different place.

The Cashel Street Mall was recently upgraded with granite paving stones, and trolley tracks running down the middle. Evidently most of the buildings along the mall were damaged beyond repair, and were razed long ago. In their place, freight containers have been stacked up, and turned into (quite stylish) replacements for the missing stores, cafes, and shops that died in the quakes. Painted in bright colors, the containers make an odd, European-looking hodgepodge of funky urban post-apocalyptic design. I like it.

The Kiwis are the most amazing people I've ever run across. They just keep their chin up, no matter what. I think a lesser folk would have curled up in a corner, crying. They talk about the devastation like it was a particularly rainy weekend. It's inspiring.

There's a Maori saying, "Kia Kaha", which roughly means, "stay strong". Kia Kaha, Christchurch.