Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 9/9

[Note: This is the last in a series of posts adapted from emails I wrote while traveling to the South Pole for research in 2012--2013.]

This is the last entry from the South Pole. I just bag dropped for the flight back to McMurdo tomorrow (Jan. 4). The procedure here is even simpler than at McMurdo. The bag drop is at "Destination Zulu," the rear entrance of the station, so there's no need to drag bags outside. The cargo crew takes care of weighing so all you have to do is put a tag with your name on your bags and leave them there.

The most amazing thing this week was watching For All Mankind, a documentary about the Moon landings. There was no external narrator. Instead, the astronauts themselves provided all the explanation and commentary about what happened and how they felt. It was a great choice to show here because so many Polies are explorers. Every seat in the lounge was taken, and people were sitting on the floor. One of the astronauts said something like "There were many people as qualified as I to do this. I was lucky to be chosen."

The plane was delayed getting into Pole. The original arrival was 2 PM, but actual was 5 PM. I assume the problem was trouble with the runway at McMurdo. It's been too warm here, and the runway is slushy. The plane had Distinguished Visitors on it so it waited at Pole until 7:30 so they could get a quick tour. Then we piled in for the trip back to McMurdo. We stayed close to the ground so I got a few more pictures, but none to compare with what was coming next. At McMurdo it was T-shirt weather. I'm not sure of the temperature when I got in, but now it's an incredible +28 F. Walking out we sank about 6 inches into the runway. We trudged to the end where we were to find our unconventional transport.

It was Ivan the Terra Bus.
On a sled.
Pulled by a caterpillar.

The first few miles of the road back to McMurdo are so bad that they are not letting wheeled vehicles on it. So they are dragging the bus on a giant sled behind a tracked bulldozer-like thing. I thought it was a bumpy ride. Then they stopped dragging us, and Ivan drove on its own. That was really a bumpy ride. But the next thing I saw made it all worth it. There was an Emperor Penguin on the side of the road! We all took pictures furiously as we passed it. Unfortunately it was far away and it was facing away from us so the pictures aren't great. Nevertheless, it was my first penguin encounter.

With the poor road condition, it was after midnight when we finally got into McMurdo Station. Although there's no definite word, it looks like I'll be here until Monday (Jan. 7) at least. I hope I'll be able to get to New Zealand then and start my vacation.

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