January 26, 2007: Preparing to depart

Before an Antarctic trip—welcoming ~2 months on a research vessel—one should take care to organize clothes, supplies, toiletries, research, books, etc. Lists should be made to cross off; piles of “stuff” should grow in an organized fashion. With 2 months sans Safeway, a person may want to embark on this kind of trip with the feeling of being adequately prepared. At least, this is what I had thought when the invitation for participation on NBP 0702 channeled through my email in mid-November.

Flash back to yesterday evening. It’s ~5pm, and I’m getting ready to meet my friends at 5:30 for an early birthday/bon voyage gathering. The day was going to be spent packing and preparing, but the fellowship proposal that I have been working on was still being edited and re-worked. Emails, phone calls, writing… What was once an organized fellowship application devolved into a patchwork of final touches, and I still hadn’t packed. More importantly, though, I needed signatures for a letter of recommendation to submit with the fellowship; so I finished getting ready for the evening and then dashed around town to collect a letter and some John Hancocks from my research advisors. At 5:30, I had scanned and uploaded the document, arriving late yet accomplished to begin an evening with good company, thinking: tomorrow, I will have plenty of time to pack!

You may gather how “tomorrow” (a.k.a. today) progressed. Another loose thread of the fellowship submission needed to be tucked in, which I tried to do while pulling my personal items together. In the end, my husband (Loren) and I responded to the “time’s up” need to leave for the airport by stuffing things in my bags with little regard for careful organization. On the way to the airport, I called my supervisor (ESR’s Laurie Padman) to update him on the fellowship submission. He recounted a time when he turned in his Ph.D. at 1pm and left on a flight to a new country to start a post doc at 8 pm, of the same day. Chuckling, I asked: “So… am I supposed to get used to this in my new career?” I didn’t have to wait to hear the affirmative response to know the answer: The life of a scientist is a juggling act of too much to do in too little time. Get used to it chequita!

  Rachael being outfitted for her trip south

As New Zealand became closer, I got the sense that my fellow scientists and I were uniting, all being channeled towards a common destination, although most of us didn’t know and couldn’t recognize each other. But there were clues. Boarding the plane in Sydney Australia towards Christchurch, I noticed a red baggage id tag hanging from the overhead compartment. It was a tag sent to every participant and was labeled with a penguin and “USAP” or “U.S. Antarctic Program”. I didn’t recognize anyone around me, but as I neared my seat, I found that I was sitting next to someone I did recognize and who was a cruise member as well. He started pointing out other cruise participants in the aisles around us, and we introduced ourselves by waving over the heads of the other passengers, as the plane rolled away from the gate. One of these passengers I recognized as a guy who was sitting right behind me on the 12 hour flight from Los Angeles. In fact, I had first sat next to him (absent mindedly talking to my husband while boarding the plane) before I was reminded by another woman that my seat was one isle up. Yes, the world was getting smaller.

Now I’m in New Zealand. Overnight, the days have become wonderfully long, a perk of this transplant into a southern hemisphere summer. The system is working in a highly efficient way. My fellow cruise members and I have converged in a little bed and breakfast, and we’re now taking advantage of the last minute perks of land. Which reminds me… I need to go buy a hairbrush. Dagnabit, by tomorrow, I will be prepared!



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