Sunday, October 02, 2005
posted 10/02/2005 07:03:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Live, from New Zealand...

I'm in Christchurch (chch from here,) and have begun training for my job in Antarctica! The trip down went pretty smoothly, and I've really been enjoying being in chch so far. The fuels crew seems like a group of really cool, smart, sane people, so I'm pretty excited about that. I've got nearly $1500NZD in my pocket (travel fund!!) with one more day of training, followed by a day of orientation, then 3 days with no official duties in Christchurch to use it on if I please. Life is good.

So, in a bit more detail.

After making that last post, Molly and I went over to the hardware store and picked up a few random things; a lock for the duffel of gear that I'll be leaving in chch, an inline receptacle (think the jack end of an extension cord,) and I think something else but can't remember what it was at the moment. We then rolled back to her house to finish off a box of ice cream, pack stuff into the van, then head over to the bus stop. At the bus stop we said our goodbyes and all that, I caught the bus and was on the road!

Got the baggage checked with no issues at all, which was a big relief for me since I was checking a boxed bike. I had heard plenty horror stories about people checking bikes and being hit with seemingly random combinations of bike fees, oversize luggage fees, no fees, confusion, etc. This time, it just got an oversized baggage sticker and was loaded through a different conveyor without costing me anything since that's Qutantas' (the international carrier) policy on bikes! I went through security smoothly as well (incidentally, I haven't ever had a real problem with it since 9/11, don't see what the big deal there is) then grabbed a bite to eat and sat down to kill some time at the gate. Within an hour or so, a couple guys showed up and started talking like reunited old friends, and I caught a glimpse of a USAP patch on one guy's pack. So, I introduced myself and found out that I was talking to John Garbe (the friend of my friend Catherine's brother, mentioned previously,) and Doc, who is the fuels mechanic! We chatted for a bit, then more and more ice people started to trickle into the concourse to catch the flight to LAX. We had a good time visiting, then found out our flight out was delayed for 45 minutes, which sounded like a good opportunity for (overpriced airport) ice cream! Caught the flight to LA when it was ready, which went pretty quickly. At LA, we walked over to the international terminal, stopping on the way for (overpriced airport) beers and snacks, then on to wait some more! At the gate for our flight to Auckland, we met some more ice people, then boarded the giant Boeing 747-400 for the big flight!

My first step into the 747 brought back vivid memories of a really long, hot, stuffy flight between New York and Madrid several years ago. It felt like a solid 95 degrees in the plane - I was dreading spending the next 12+ hours sitting in it, but after a quick chat with some other people, it was established that the plane had already started cooling off and they had been assured that within in little while it would be down to comfortable temperatures. The aircrew was correct, and within half an hour of takeoff the plane was comfortable. A while after that it was just cool enough to justify wearing a fleece jacked - my favorite temperature for flying! Listened to music, goofed around with the in-seat entertainment system, talked with my neighbors, ate some decent airline food, and even managed to squeeze in a few hours of restless sleep before touching down in Auckland, New Zealand just before sunrise! I changed out all the US currency in my wallet to get some New Zealand dollars (NZD) and waited in line to get the passport stamped and pick up my checked luggage. The bike box appeared undamaged and my duffel came out unscathed as well, so I got them loaded onto a card and waited in line to go through customs.

Customs, the next step I had worried about, was a breeze as well. Didn't have to unpack and repack the bike after I explained that it was strictly a city road bike and it was run through the Xray machine, and none of my gear was fumigated/dipped after it was inspected and confirmed to be clean. After a nice walk over to the domestic terminal, I rechecked my bags and had to pay a $20NZD fee to get my bike shipped to chch, which wasn't entirely unexpected and I had no problem with after the excellent treatment I had received from Quantas so far. Up until this point, I had been traveling with several other people from the fuels department (fuelies, for short,) but after rushing to board the plane to chch (after being delayed with getting the bike checked and such,) I discovered that I was the only fuelie on the flight!? The plane was definitely headed for chch and I was definitely supposed to be heading for there, so it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was a bit of a surprise.

I arrived at the airport in chch no problem, met with a RPSNZ person, and headed off to the YMCA in a shuttle van. At the Y (where I would be staying for the next few days,) I found out that check-in wasn't until 2pm (this was at about 8am IIRC) so I left my bag and box, then headed out to explore the city and get some food. An hour or so later, I dropped by the Y and found my boss, Scott, getting out of a car and said hi. Apparently, the rest of the fuelies had been scheduled on the next flight and were also a bit surprised to discover that we weren't all on the same plane. Whatever, we all made it in without incident. Went for a short walk in the nearby botanical gardens (think big, really nice city park - will post pics later) and ended up napping in the grass for a couple hours. Walked around town a bit more, then went back to the YMCA again to 'move in.' The room was ready, so I got my stuff moved, unpacked a bit, assembled the bike (University Bikes did an AWESOME job packing it!) then ran into Seth aka 'The Swede,' one of the other fuelies, and we headed over to Bailie's (a local pub) to meet up with any other ice people who might be there. Met up with a couple other fuelies, had a couple beers, then left to find some food! Ended up eating kabobs at a neat little Turkish place, then heading back to the Y to catch some sleep.

This morning was training time! Caught a shuttle to the Antarctic center with a couple other fuelies and met up with the rest of the fuels department there. We all assembled in a conference room at 9:30 and introduced ourselves, then proceeded to talk fuels stuff for a bit. At 10:30, it was time to go get fitted with our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, so we all went over to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC.) At the CDC, I met with another RPSNZ person, who handed me an envelope with my name on the outside and a bunch of $50NZD bills on the inside - my travel fund that somebody forgot to put in with the material that I was given on arrival in chch yesterday. Yay! Since I hadn't been to the ice before, I had to watch a 10 minute video on Antarctic weather, cold weather clothing stuff, and the fitting process, then I joined the other guys who were trying on all the clothes in our two orange duffels. Unfortunately, my orange duffels weren't there, so I had to talk to a few people and figure out what was going on. Due to some weird paperwork stuff, my bags hadn't been assembled yet, so I got that taken care of and started playing dress-up! Got all the clothing figured out, had a quick lunch with John, then back to the conference room for more training stuff. The rest of our meeting went well as the first hour had. Everyone was really friendly, all the stuff said made sense, there were plenty jokes and ice stories to go around, and I learned a lot of stuff about what I'm going to be doing. A little after 3pm, we had covered all the material for today, so we were done with training for the day and let go.

I took my bike over to the CDC and tagged it so it could stay there while I'm on the ice. The CDC will hold stuff for people working on the ice while they're down there, so I brought some stuff to use for adventuring in New Zealand afterwards with the intent of leaving it there rather than taking a bike and stuff to the Ice and back. After signing the bike in, I walked back to town (probably 3 miles away) with another fuelie (can't remember his name - I'm really bad with those,) got back to the Y, organized some stuff, then went looking for a fish and chips place for some food. Before finding a fish and chips place, I ran into this neat looking Internet cafe, so here I am an hour later finishing up a post on the last few days. Going to head over to Baileys since it's right around the corner and see if there are any other ice people there, then see what happens!

**pictures and spellcheck will come later, need to get going now and don't have my camera's USB cable handy...***

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