Saturday, March 13, 2010

My First Two Weeks Off the Ice

A duckling in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

I'm not sure if my first two weeks off the Ice were a wash or a roaring success. My original idea was to run off to a Pacific Island for a little R&R before training for ultimate got started. I wanted to rest up from a long season on the Ice and add a little spunk to my travels because I was mostly going to be in New Zealand and Australia where I've already visited. There were lots of cheap options, like Tonga, but I thought something that was really expensive from the states but cheaper from New Zealand, like Fiji or Tahiti, might be the way to go. On more of a whim than anything else, I was settling on Tahiti. I think I was sucked in by too many pictures of sea kayakers returning to their overwater bungalow (photo on the above).

Hydrangea in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Giant trees in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

After I had agonizingly chose Tahiti, I started talking to others for ideas and looking to book flights. Cara informed me that Tahiti was one of the two places in the world that you could fly to Easter Island from. The other is Santiago, Chile. A Pacific Island seemed cool, but Easter Island was EXACTLY the type of adventure I was looking for. The cost was a lot, but the payoff seemed huge!!! Going on big travels is why we go to the Ice isn't it? It would be be tough to get back in time for when my ultimate team expected me, but it was doable. Ten hours of flights there. Ten back. Doable, if not agonizing. I tried to book flights.

A purple dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

A fancy dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Unfortunately, booking flights from Antarctica was not that easy. I was supposed to leave Antarctica on a Friday and wanted to fly to Tahiti on Monday. If there were any delays on the Ice, I might miss my flights. I finally decided to risk it. However, the Internet had other ideas. After five tries, I couldn't book my flights. I have no idea why and was too tired to fight it. I just figured it was some kind of satellite lag and I'd book it from New Zealand.

A yellow dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

A pink dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

When I arrived in New Zealand, I felt confident that I'd be able to get my flights so I set to work on finding lodging. Unfortunately, my get up and go, got up and went somewhere between Antarctica and New Zealand. After two days of looking, I realized that I had lost all motivation to deal with logistical challenges. I was just too tired to deal with any of it. The reason I was heading to a Pacific Island was to spice up my travels and for some R&R. After a lot of back and forth, I decided I could save a ton of money and just take my R&R in Christchurch at the flat I had already rented. Yeah, I'd be missing out on an adventure of a lifetime, but I also realize that I'm not done traveling. I can visit Easter Island and Tahiti later and it will be a lot cheaper with a little more planning.

Another fancy dahlia (who knew there were so many types?) in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

A yellow rose in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

So after ten days of research, I was suddenly settling into two weeks of no plans in Christchurch. I just milled about. I wasn't even online much. I really did do pretty much nothing. I definitely wasn't productive. My first two weeks were pretty much wake up, eat breakfast, read, train for ultimate, eat, bike into the Botanical Gardens or Mona Vale after lunch, run an errand like getting my cellphone, meet an Ice friend, chat it up until dinner, go to ultimate practice and then head home. It was a pretty stellar two weeks, which is surprising. Normally, I want to explore as much as possible, but I didn't even make it to the Port Hills or the beach. The second week, I started to get antsy, but managed to make it work.

An orange rose and bee in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

A pink rose in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

On my third week, I finally got off my bum. I got back on email, started writing the blog again, trained harder, and even left town. It was amazing, but in a different way. I think I underestimated how much the Ice took out of me this season. I really needed most of that two weeks to get myself right again. I also needed most of that two weeks for my body to stop hurting from ultimate. While I had been training on the Ice, I hadn't been playing hard ultimate. I did in Christchurch and my body had a lot to say about it. I don't think I've had muscle ache like that since the start of training for high school soccer after a summer of nothing. After two weeks though, it was gone. I was able to play a tournament (we took second by a point) and come away without any new major pains!!

A red rose in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

I saw a lot of Ice folks go dashing out of Christchurch to explore New Zealand in those first two weeks. I did the same thing after my first season and loved it, but not this time. I let myself relax and was able to thoroughly enjoy it. I might be letting myself start to slow down, but don't worry, I'm still me. I still get antsy without a purpose or direction to go. I still have Easter Island on the list.

A duckling family visits Jude, who recommends custard donuts, in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Day off Antarctica

Back on green goodness!

My first day off of Antarctica was brilliant. I was in Christchurch, NZ at the peak of the their summer. I stuffed myself with free breakfast at the Windsor and was loving it. It wasn't that different from what I was getting at McMurdo, but perhaps it was like going out to a new restaurant. It was just something different. Nature's finest candy, the fruit, was already chopped up to throw in my granola. I think that was the only major change. Actually, the food wasn't the best part of breakfast at all. It was Winnie. Winnie is the Windsor's dachshund hound coming over to beg for a little food. I'm a dog lover and hadn't seen one in months! I was loving it. Winnie wasn't loving it because she was begging for food and I wasn't offering any up. She has lost weight since I saw her last, but it wouldn't take much to make her big enough to lay down by just lifting her legs.

The Avon River horseshoes its way around the Botanical Gardens

Roses in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

After a quiet breakfast, I headed over to sample nature's best eye candy, the trees and flowers at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. I'm not sure how much time I spent there. It was a lot. The smells were intoxicating. The ducks were endearing. The sounds were still overwhelming. I just laid there and soaked it all in. It was a gorgeous 65 degree day. I couldn't have ordered up a better day. It even drizzled a little bit to remind me how great it was to have water falling on my face again.

Roses in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

Roses in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

I feel like in the every day bustle of life we ignore so many of our senses. Unless something is so in our face we can't ignore it, we just rely on what we see as we bustle through life. However, my first days off the Ice aren't like that. They were all about shedding my A-type personality and doing nothing so I can soak up the little things. It didn't hurt that I was unbelievably exhausted from so many goodbyes on the Ice. Whether napping or just laying there, I was super happy to do nothing in the gardens. I watched kids plays, dogs romp, ducks beg, leaves blow, heard insect wings rubbing, kids scream, and smelled everything.

Roses in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

A dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

This year, I made plans to hang out with Ice folks on my first couple days back. That was a mistake. I'm not sure if it was because I was so tired or if I just need time to myself, but I just wasn't able to enjoy it as much as I could have if I had had a day or two to myself first. On the other hand, that was the last chance to see a few of those people before they left New Zealand. Someone told me that it is always someone's last night or birthday and that attitude would bite me in the bum. It didn't this time though. I was able to spend the next week or two balancing out spending time with others and getting myself rested up.

A yellow dahlia in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

A red dahlias in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our Flight to New Zealand


More Antarctic goodness.

One of my favorite parts of working for the United States Antarctic Program is traveling to and from the Ice. We get to see parts of the continent that we don't have a chance of ever seeing otherwise, unless we hire a private charter. It is such a special time, the photos always get their own post. I'm not sure how high we were flying, but since we were so high I can only imagine how big some of the features would be to stand next to.

Even more Antarctic goodness below the engine of a C-17.

I love how the glacier almost looks like a river flowing downstream

This flight wasn't much different than my one down to Antarctica. Sitting with friends, chatting, napping, eating, getting antsy, and running to the window to get as many views as possible pretty much sum up the trip. The plane was full so I wasn't able to stretch out in the middle and sleep like I did after my winter. Some others felt the pain of this and came up with more creative ways to get comfortable.

There are all types of ways to get comfortable on the plane.

When we touched down in Christchurch, we waited for our bags and milled our way through customs. When we finally left the airport, it wasn't as shocking as when I came off at the end of winter. It was a cool night and the sounds were what overwhelmed me the most. At the end of the winter, the smells got me. I'm not sure why the smells weren't as overwhelming. My heightened sense of smell was definitely letting me smells things that I can't smell now. Smell is one of the strongest senses. Maybe I was ready for it this time and don't remember the sounds as much from last time because the smells were so overwhelming.

Yeah, more mountains.

When I got to my favorite hotel, the Windsor, I dropped my bags and headed out for a good roll in the grass. It was a little since it was drizzling and that was wonderful too. After soaking in not nearly enough green goodness, I set off about town to meet up with friends. It turned out to be a wild goose chase but it was really nice because it was drizzling on and off and that was the first time I'd felt water hitting my face outside of a shower in almost six months. I love the joy of rediscovery when we come back from Antarctica. I'm still going through some of that over a month later.

The continental edge.

Me on the flight home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Last night and day on Ice

Mt. Discovery on my final night.

My last night on the Ice this year was exactly what I was looking for. The friends were right. The lighting for my walk home was right. It was time to go and I was able to be present. I was able to concentrate on the good and not worry about the bad and the uncontrollable. It was a rare moment for me when there was stuff to swirl about. I just might be learning a few new things.

For the start of my last evening, I went to bag drag. Bag drag is when you weigh in yourself and all of your gear for the next day's flight. You also drop off all your checked baggage. The trick about this is that if the plane gets delayed a day, or a week, or even a month like it did for some poor WAIS Divide people in the beginning of the season, you don't get your checked bags back. You are stuck with whatever you have in your one carry on and with what you can scrounge up from Skua Central. I was a little disappointed at my bag drag. I had managed to come down with one bag, but was now going back with two. I have no idea what I accumulated.

After bag drag, I got on to doing what I do best - chatting with friends and drinking chai. I spent a lot of my last night in the Coffeehouse soaking up the goodness of friends. After things wound down there, I visited some other friends and their home theater system. Yes, they have their own home theater system set up in Antarctica. It is better than most systems I've seen in the states. I am constantly amazed at the way we pamper ourselves on the Ice. When I went down for the first time, I thought it actually was a harsh continent instead of just a cliche.

My flight off the Ice lands at the Pegasus airfield.

The day of my flight on the Ice was a bit of a let down. I wanted to visit more with friends, but those friends were working. I had a long breakfast, last hike up Ob Hill in the snow with no visibility, ate lunch, got a sandwich to go for an in-flight meal, and then I was off. On the way out to the runway, we saw a few emperor penguins on the road. Once we got to the runway, we had to stand outside for an hour and wait for the plane. When I left at the end of winter, I think we had a place inside to wait and we didn't wait long. It was a lot more efficient, but that might have been because we left on a mostly empty plane too. This plane was full. Anyway, standing around wasn't fun. However, after a little bit we got distracted, found a few friends coming in for winter, and threw the frisbee around and those were fun. After an hour of waiting, we hopped on the plane to wait for another hour and then we were off to New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Weddell Seals at Hut Point

A Weddell seal at Hut Point.

The Weddell seal keeps an eye on me walking the ridge above him.

For some reason the department I worked in this year gives us two days off instead of one before we fly. That, combined with the fact I have so little stuff, meant that I was done packing well before I had to fly. On my next to last day, I took care of a few odds and ends, but mostly I was left for a lot of time for goodbyes to old friends and old places and just plain mucking around.

Weddell seals being cute.

Weddell seals at Hut Point with Mt. Discovery in the distance.

Some of that mucking about sent me down the Hut Point with Jade. It was both of our next to last days on the Ice and our final hike down to Hut Point. Unfortunately, it happened so long ago, I don't know what to write anymore. We had to take the roundabout way because the road was closed, but it was worth it because we were the only ones around. It is such a treat to able to experience those places we share with others so much as a small group, especially at McMurdo in the summer where we are always surrounded by so many people.

A curious Weddell seal?

This particular visit yielded a couple Weddell seals playing, resting, and swimming. I don't think I have ever seen them spend so much time near the point that way before. It was a pleasure to see them on one might end up being my last full day at McMurdo. I've applied to return, but am going to make a final decision later. It is a beautiful place that I'll always carry with me.

Taking a drink?