Four days ago we left the Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana. From there we went to Denver, then LA, then Auckland, and now we are in Christchurch, New Zealand. 19 total hours in flight. 17 hours spent in airports. Tomorrow morning at 7:00am we board a military cargo plane that will take us to our destination, an American outpost situated on an island in the Ross Sea: McMurdo Station, Antarctica. In Christchurch, we have to go to a warehouse called the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) to acquire our Extreme Cold Weather gear for use on the Ice. After that, we are free to roam.
The last time we passed through this city was February 27th, five days after it had been destroyed by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake. According to The Press, 370 buildings have been demolished to date. 530 are left to go. 6,040 homes have been declared unsafe. Some 9,000 are still pending decisions by the authorities. Partially demolished buildings sit behind six-foot fence lines, waiting for their chance to be torn down. The skyline is dotted with brightly colored cranes, gently lifting the burden off of a debris-laden city. A freshly cleared, vacant lot often divides rows of storefronts. All the while the very heart of the city sits behind high chain link fence lines, which are dotted with memorials, and signage proclaiming “Extreme Danger, Do Not Enter”. Beyond lies a post-apocalyptic urban scene. Commercial avenues sit empty, with the crumbled facades of restaurants and shops still blanketing the sidewalks on which they fell. Fallen street lamps and road signs occasionally lie crumpled across sections of deserted roadway. Faded posters for events that never happened in venues that no longer exist slump off of dusty walls and vacant bus stops. The city we find ourselves in now sits in stark contrast to the old English-style Garden City we visited last year. The city’s graffiti used to read “War is Bullshit.” Now it says “Stay Strong, Christchurch. We will Survive.”
Along the eeriness of passing through a destroyed city, the nearness of Antarctica is ever present in our thoughts. From the air, Antarctica is only 5 hours away from here. As the time of this writing, we are scheduled to touch down less than 15 hours from this moment. Round two, here we go!
Last year, Christchurch was struck with an earthquake the day after my parents had left the city, and the day before I was supposed to arrive. The devastation at the time was magnanimous. There were around five hundred USAP personnel in the city at the time, and many of them lost all their belongings. 188 people (nobody involved with the Ice) died.
Today, the scene was just as overwhelming, but in a different way: buildings brought to ruins, signs warning of extreme danger, notes to deceased loved ones tucked into chain link fences. Seeing it all in person really illuminated the fragility of life; I couldn’t help but think how narrowly my life missed being horrifically affected by the shifting of tectonic plates. I found myself pondering my blessings while strolling amid the chaos today. We stood and watched two excavators slowly rip an apartment to screeching steel shreds as a fire hose sprayed through the sunbeams, keeping the dust under control. I continually tripped over the hiccups of cement where the earth had folded into itself. It was impossible to avoid the haunting silence of structures left just the way they were, still full of people’s belongings, waiting to be torn down. I can’t imagine walking past a building everyday, knowing that my things are sitting right where I left them, and will soon be part of the greater rubble.
Our wanderings today also showcased New Zealand’s resilience. The aftershocks are still occurring on a regular basis. Many fellow Ice people reported feeling tremors throughout the night. And yet, as we walked around, the Kiwis were out and about, going on with their lives with smiles on their faces.
Through all of this, at the back of my mind looms Antarctica. We have a shuttle to catch at 3:15am, and after a hop, skip, and a jump to the bottom of the world, we will be back to the grind for our second season. I’m not ready but I’m ready. For now, one last soak in a bathtub.
Thanks a lot for all of the positive feedback we got last week. It was all very encouraging and appreciated. We’re excited to keep working on this project, and hope you all continue to enjoy what we post here.
On a related note, a friend of mine named Dhani said some really awesome things about us in his blog. This man is my brother, and stuff like that coming from him meant so much to me. He has probably been one of the biggest influences on who I am today. I have always looked up to him for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that he makes himself great at everything he undertakes. See what I mean: Days of Thunder