90 Degrees South

A long trip to the bottom of the world

The trip from New Hampshire to the South Pole is something around 10,000 miles, and takes a couple days or more. In past seasons I would fly from New Hampshire to Denver for three days of orientation and training, which was great because it meant I would be with a group of people, both old friends and new. We would be put on a bus and taken as a group to the airport and travel together. That made the trip a lot of fun. We would talk about past seasons and the things that happened, and speculate about the coming season. And it was just nice to have the companionship for the long layovers and longer flights. Now we fly from home to Christchurch New Zealand, and do our orientation and training there.

I was hopeful as I left New Hampshire this past October that I might catch up with other “Polies,” as we call ourselves, once I made it to Los Angeles. But it wasn’t to be.

I left New Hampshire the afternoon of Oct. 22; it was supposed to be a short jump down to Dulles in Washington DC to catch a flight to LAX. What could go wrong? After a 90-minute layover we boarded the flight bound for LA, 90 minutes later we hadn’t moved. Now I’m beginning to worry about missing my connecting flight out of LAX to Sydney, Australia. Finally a flight attendant made an announcement to all who had a connecting flight to catch. We were advised to disembark and report to customer service for help finding an alternate flight.

For anyone who does any air traveling you know at some point things will go wrong. For me I was only about 400 hundred miles into a 10,000-mile journey, and already my schedule was trashed! But like any seasoned traveler I gritted my teeth and made my way to customer service, only to be confronted with a line of people spilling out into the terminal hallway.

Oh well, I reasoned. If they put me on the next flight leaving at 9 p.m., I could still catch my connection. After an eternity in line, made bearable with some pleasant conversation with a woman trying to get home to Australia, it was finally my turn at the counter. My optimism was short lived. As I explained my situation to the gentleman behind the counter, I noticed he was preparing food and hotel vouchers for me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We can’t get you out tonight, you fly tomorrow morning.” Game over!

I was told my flight was at 8 the following morning, but I decided to get to the airport early, just in case. That turned out to be a good decision, as I was informed by the person at the check-in counter my flight was actually at 7. As I settled into my seat and buckled my belt I thought finally I’m on my way. Wrong. We sat at the terminal for an additional 90 minutes while yet another mechanical problem was addressed. But we did eventually get airborne. Now I had a new problem to contemplate as we headed to the West Coast. I needed a new flight not only to Sydney, but also from there to Christchurch. But at this point I had not heard back from my company or the travel agent. And nobody really knew exactly where I was.

When I arrived at LAX, I immediately headed to the ticket counter of the airline I was supposed to fly to Sydney, and was relieved to learn I was booked on a flight leaving at 10 p.m. Great, except it was 11 a.m., so I had a long day ahead of me. If you have ever been to LAX you know it’s not the most exciting airport in the world. That was a very long day.

My flight to Sydney left on time, which was good because this is the longest leg of the journey, taking between 12 and 14 hours depending on the winds. After a fitful night of sleep on the long flight, I did in fact make it to Sydney, was able to get a connecting flight to Christchurch, and even though I was more than a day behind schedule, my company made sure someone was waiting to pick me up, and get me to my hotel.

I arrived late in the afternoon of Oct. 25 and was informed that I would be picked up at 5 a.m. the next morning to go to the CDC (clothing distribution center). This is where we pick up our cold weather gear. From there we are taken to the airport to board a C-17 for the five hour flight to McMurdo, and then the final three hour flight on a C-130 Hercules to the pole.

This may seem like a lot to deal with, but I keep in mind the first people that traveled to the South Pole used dogs and ponies, and slept in tents. Then they turned around and walked home, or didn’t make it home. We have it a bit easier today.

This is the second in an occasional series written by Temple resident Bill Bergholm, who spends much of his time in far colder locales ­ — Antarctica.

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