Saturday, January 30, 2010

The End

I'm home for real! The whole end of my trip seemed very surreal, but I guess that's what happens with a head cold and sleep deprivation, mixed with a little international travel. It took me four days, yes, FOUR DAYS, to get home from Antarctica. I left on Monday (NH time) and didn't get home until 3pm on Thursday.

But before I left, I had a chance to say goodbye to some people and have just a little more fun. On Monday, the night before my flight, I hung out with my airforce buddies one last time and even got to go to my last mid-rats!! I had obtained a mid-rats card from someone who left a week earlier. If you have one of those special cards, you get to go to midnight rations at midnight instead of waiting until 12:30 like all the day-timers. I think the idea is to let the real night-shift people get food before all the drunken moochers come in looking for a midnight snack. But nobody ever even asked for my mid-rats card! It was apparently a rule not often enforced.

Mid rats!! Proudly eating a falafel sandwich with my mid rats card in the background...

The sign sounds threatening! But they're just bluffing.

The next morning I woke up early to get a tour of the USNS Paul Buck, the fuel tanker that was in port at McMurdo at the time. My army guys had a private tour set up and they invited me along. It was an awesome ship! It wouldn't even really be that bad to live on it for six months at a time. The rooms were more spacious than at McMurdo! And the food even looked better.

Bridge of the ship, looking out over the deck.

Mostly all of that equipment is for the fuel: pumps and plumbing to deliver the cargo ashore. Different color codings painted on the pipes mean different fuel. They carry gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, whatever. The tour guide had some impressive numbers about pumping capacity and pressure but I can't remember them. I do remember that it's double-hulled, which was a fuel tanker requirement after the Exxon Valdez debacle.

Big ships need big engines. The room it was housed in was at least two stories tall!

The Oden (Swedish icebreaker) was docked right up against the Paul Buck for refueling purposes. And yes, the tour guide's fly was open... I don't know why!

Despite my fear of oceans, I think I could take a ride on that one for a while. It seemed big enough to not sink or flip over. The guide did say that it was smooth sailing, but he hadn't been aboard for a hurricane yet. He told us how the whales and dolphins will come swim right next to the ship which sounds like an outstanding experience.

After the tour, I headed up to the mail room with all my luggage to catch the ride to my plane. We all took a caravan out to the airfield at 11:45am and waited for the plane to arrive. It was a little sad to be leaving... there are some good people I met that I will miss a lot, especially since I'll probably never see them again. I had less than a day in Christchurch but I at least got to sleep in a real hotel bed one night. The next morning I checked out and headed to the airport to catch the first of many planes bringing me back home. I went from Antarctica to Christchurch, NZ to Sydney, AU to Honolulu, Hawaii to San Francisco, CA to Detroit, MI to Manchester, NH. A few of those flights were very empty so I got to lay down across a row and get some real sleep. But not much at one time. Overall, I went two full nights without a bed. I felt like a total zombie when I got home. But the upside is that I met a nice, cute USAP guy and we decided to go to Waikiki, a beach in Honolulu, for just one hour during our layover. It was spectacular! I wish I had more time there, but it was worth it even for the short visit. I felt sand between my toes, walked in the ocean and drank a Mai Tai while gazing at the beach.

A real beach! So refreshing after all that ice...

Sarah picked me up from the airport once I got back and took me to eat some real, non-airport, non-expired food! Thank you Sarah!! So the ARRO is on it's way home, it will reach UNH in about 8 weeks or something. Edith grunted with excitement for about 20 minutes when I got to the house. And I'm adjusting (slowly) back to the real world and my own time zone. So all is good, mission accomplished. Back to solid ground and seeing stars at night. Tune in for my next science blog session when I head to Norway this November for a rocket launch!

{Actual posting date: Saturday, January 30th, 10 pm EST}

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