I spent 40 minutes sitting in a traffic jam on the taxiway at LAX. Dense fog had confused the pilot ahead of us about which way he was supposed to taxi. As those minutes ticked by on the already delayed flight, they trickled away from my margin for making my trans-Pacific connection to Auckland. That led to a mad dash across three terminals and a security screening a few minutes after they let me off the plane.
I made the flight, but my bags didn’t. I wound up in Christchurch Wednesday morning with the clothes I was wearing, plus several thousand dollars in electronic equipment. My warm clothes, spare contacts, sunglasses, insulated boots, and emergency chocolate were somewhere in the western hemisphere, I was told, or if not there then possibly in the eastern.
So I did what I could: toured the Christchurch botanical gardens and paid homage to the statue of Scott (seen above next to Chris Linder, leader and chief photographer of the present expedition).
English birds are everywhere here – more numerous than they were in England last time I was there. It’s spring, and blackbirds sing at dusk, seemingly from every tree. Song thrushes hop about on the lawns and chaffinches make sorties after dropped crumbs at outdoor restaurants. Greenfinches jeer from the treetops and European goldfinches peck about on the ground almost like starlings. (Of course, there are plenty of starlings and house sparrows, too.)
Then there are the weird birds. A totally non-magpie-ish white-backed magpie and a mod black-and-brown scaup that’s endemic. A tiny gull with red legs, red bill, and red ring around the eye (appropriately named the red-billed gull). Shags (cormorants) in city parks.
This afternoon we were issued our standard Antarctica clothing. I now have a bright-red parka with my name written on a velcro nametag. We were given a bewildering assortment of insulated, leather, wool, suede, and polypro gloves and mittens to choose from, but only one kind of socks, of gray fleece about 1/2 inch thick. Trying the gear on made it a bit easier to grasp that it’s going to be cold out there.
Oh – and just like a miracle, my bags appeared off an Air New Zealand flight this afternoon. The sharp folks at my hotel had them delivered straight to my changing room at the U.S. Antarctic Program. Apparently the bags have been to Melbourne since the last time I saw them. But here they are now, festooned with tags and “RUSH” stickers meant to get them here just in time, so all is right.
Christchurch in November has been sunny and hot; walking around town has had me sweating in my one set of clothes. But it’s snowing right now in McMurdo and there’s some doubt about whether we’ll make it down tomorrow. If we do, then tonight will be the last natural darkness for five weeks.
But let’s not count any chickens before they hatch.