5. Oct. 31, 1998 Saturday: Punta Arenas
This morning Pascal, Liam and I sequestered all our supplies for the side field trip into one box, so we would be ready to depart as soon as possible after arriving at Patriot Hills. One group went shopping for last-minute items and the rest finished tuning up Nomad and repacked all the items in the crates. A priority criterion was used to ensure a simple camp setup. Stewart acquired the images of the cube necessary for cube calibration.
The plan is for Nomad to be loaded on the plane last. When we arrive, people will disembark; then the rear door will be let down and Nomad will roll off the plane under its own power and drive off a little distance, while the assembled newsmen and one newswoman will take photos. Then the serious unloading and setting up of camp can begin. Late this afternoon, we received word that we will be flying tonight around 8 p.m. Shower time. Packing time. False alarm. The word seems to be that we will now be leaving on Sunday, Nov. 1. Herman arrived at a little past 8 p.m. with his snowmobile, newly fitted with cleats.
We returned to the guest quarters and Alex collapsed into a deep sleep in one of the rooms, unable or unwilling to wake up. Some of us drove into town for dinner. After we returned, Alex managed to wake up and he and several others drove to town for a hasty meal from what they could buy at a gas station. Now word comes down to be ready to leave at 3 a.m. There would be two planes flying to Patriot Hills, one with people, equipment and the robot, and the other with fuel and snowmobiles.
I had trouble waking up and almost missed the last bus from the guest quarters over to the hangar. The weather is alternating between rain showers and a drizzle. I did not have a chance to get into my cold weather clothes, so will have to change on the plane. Luckily I was already into my first layer of long johns. Mike was in the same fix: our survival bags were already on the plane. The journalists all showed up and we all stood around while all the cargo, including Nomad last, were loaded. Then we filed on board, Mike and I anxiously casting about to locate our survival bags. Christian, Puebla and Fernando had had the foresight and consideration to supply all of our group with bagged lunches, so we didn't starve. Even so, the flight was miserable. It was overcrowded again because of the journalists, and 7 or 8 of the passengers didn't even have seats, much less safety belts to fasten. It didn't seem to bother anyone. Our group all had ear plugs, courtesy of Christian, but many did not, and stuffed their ears with cotton or just toughed it out. As we went further south, the sky grew lighter and finally turned to full daylight, partly because of the hour and the rest due to the high latitude. After an eternity we circled in and landed. It was Nov. 1 on the ice.