Saturday, October 2, 2010


I touched down yesterday and feel like I stepped straight into the '90s. While New Zealand is technically considered a developed country, it seems to take between 6 months and 15 years for new concepts, trends, and technologies to reach the country :) I wrote this yesterday, but my internet 'ran out' so now's the first time I could upload it.

Here's my post from Yesterday:

As a disclaimer, this post is devoid of any technically interesting content since I'm 'trapped' in New Zealand for two days without the robot or any of my colleagues. I've been forced to endure the harsh realities of attempting to fill downtime as an adventurer in New Zealand (while writing some Matlab code on the side to keep things fun). I arrived in Christchurch today after a seemingly unending series of flights, and my body has no idea what time it is, but I generally feel good to go. In the last eight weeks, I can count the number of times I've gotten more than five hours of sleep with three fingers, so the plane ride was a nice chance to catch up on sleep and watch some bad movies.

I met a series of incredibly cool people along the way, however, which reaffirmed the positive side of my love-hate relationship with long haul travel. I met a woman who works on the Patagonia's catalogs, who may help me try to make it into a catalog. I also met a another researcher named Sally Walker who is a professor studying fossilized single-cellular organisms in the dry valleys of Antarctica. She absolutely obliterated me in the competition for how much gear we each brought. Her checked baggage totaled somewhere close to 350 pounds and included a full sized imaging microscope. The majority of my cargo weight is in books, computers, and my toolbox, all of which I managed to fit into a large backpack. I figured the contents of the backpack were actually fairly sketchy if one were to inspect the bags, as they included an assortment of random electronics parts, hand tools, and books about ballistic missiles and tracking systems, which are obviously unrelated to my work here in Antarctica.

Sally and I met at the baggage claim, and followed a trail of painted penguin tracks to the US Antarctic Program building adjoining the airport. We dropped the majority of our gear and I got to wander around the voluminous warehouse that is the clothing distribution center (CDC). The inside of the warehouse is crammed full of racks and stacks of ruthlessly organized gear, with a team of people running around organizing kits of extreme cold weather (ECW) gear for those of us who'll deploy on Monday. The gear is highly utilitarian, however, so I'm going to look for some comfy merino wool baselayers when I get into town.

Racks of jackets at the Clothing Distribution Center

Each of us will receive one of these kits of ECW gear.

All of these boxes contain nothing but long underwear.

I won't be issued gear until Sunday, when we receive a full briefing and meet the other people on our ice flight, so I'll wait until then to go into more detail. It appears, however, that everyone is issued a standard set of aggressive colored gear, most notably, a bright red puffy jacket designed to be visible from 30 miles away on the ice.

After dropping our gear, Sally and I took a shuttle into Christchurch and checked into our hotels. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch about three weeks ago, and I was unsure what level of damage we'd see downtown. The earthquake was on the same order as that in Haiti, but it appears that the building codes here were strict enough that most of the damage is minor. Walking around downtown, it's clear that there was some damage to the facades and masonry of some buildings, but it mostly appears to be superficial damage. I'd characterize it as a large amount of relatively minor damage, with maybe 20% of buildings having some sort of scaffolding around them, making Christchurch resemble any city in China. Apparently zero people died in the quake, which is astounding given the magnitude of the quake and the number of people living close to the epicenter.

This is about the worst of the damage that I saw. Most of the other buildings have a few cracks in the masonry but not much else. I've hear that there is far worse damage elsewhere in the city, but haven't seen it myself.

I spent the afternoon walking around downtown, and ended up around dinnertime at a bar/restaurant Dux de Lux, which was recommended to me by every single person I talked to prior to this trip. Within thirty seconds of sitting down, I thought I recognized the girl sitting at the table next to me. It turns out I had climbed with her a couple of times at the Metrorock gym in Boston a little over a year ago. The climbing community never ceases to amaze me by how small it feels. Three days ago, I found out that I'm on the same ice flight as a girl named Gracie, who I met on a climbing trip last September in Oregon.

I ended up hanging out with Katie and five of her friends for the evening, and making plans to head to Flock hill, a beautiful bouldering area in the mountains outside of the city. I've got one more day to go here in Christchurch then I gear up and ship out on Sunday evening and Monday morning. I'm currently 7 hours behind east coast time and it's time for my body to catch up with sleep.



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