All posts by johnruhl

Delayed in Christchurch

You never know how long it’s going to take to get from Christchurch to McMurdo, which is my next stop. McMurdo is on the coast of Antarctica, and frequently gets big storms with lots of wind and snow that prevent aircraft from taking off or landing there. And then it can take a couple days after a big storm just to clean up the runway so it’s ready for use.

Apparently that’s what’s happening now… for the second day in a row I got a call at 4am letting me know our flight was cancelled… so I didn’t have to report at 6am. It’s nice to get some sleep, and nice to get work done while here in Christchurch enjoying the good food… but I’d rather head south!

Meanwhile, it’s fun to notice things that are different here than in the US. Here are two photos related to that. The first shows one of their firetrucks (this one is for Henry!), which looks very different than the trucks we see in the US.

The second picture shows a *paperback* copy of a normal everyday book that might cost $15 (at most!) in the US. If you look close at the price tag on the bottom left, you’ll see this one is marked $38.99 in New Zealand dollars. The exchange rate is about 0.70 US for $1NZ, so in US dollars that book costs something like $27. Much more expensive here! I saw a regular hardback book for over $70NZ !!! I asked about this, and apparently because NZ doesn’t produce their own books (they have to be shipped in), and because they’re a small market, they cost a lot. That said, most things do seem expensive here, food included, even at the grocery/convenience stores.

All for now – off to enjoy a sunny day in Christchurch.

Warm Clothes

After a long sleep to catch up from the long trip, I wandered around Christchurch today finding good food (great coffee, nice japanese/korean restaurant) and enjoying the botanical gardens… the last flora I get to see until I return!

This afternoon I went to the USAP clothing distribution center, where a whole bunch of us were issued our cold weather gear. Here’s a picture of some of my gear laid out on the floor. You’ll notice the big red warm parka, the white “bunny boots” which are very warm, and the black insulated pants. Off to the left is some warm fleece, and to the right are the two orange bags we pack this all in, and some ski goggles that we’re required to carry, but I prefer sunglasses.

Tomorrow we report here at 6am to get ready for a 9am flight south on a C-17, which is a bigger, nicer plane than I’ve ever taken south before. One of the orange bags and my big bag of warm stuff I brought with me will be packed on a pallet and not given back until we get to McMurdo, even if we don’t make it there tomorrow. I get to keep my carryon bag and a small “boomerang bag” with me here in Christchurch if we don’t make it or get delayed a couple days.

To tomorrow morning, hopefully we’re off!

Henry’s class

Before I left, I had the pleasure of going in to talk with Henry’s class about my trip. They were very interested to hear about Antarctica, and Space. After I left, they drew what space looked like, and made a telescope complete with a control console… what great stuff! I look forward to seeing them all again (and especially Henry of course, along with his little brother Gilpin who is too young to build a telescope, but I’m sure would like to play with one)!

Arrived in NZ

I made it safe to NZ, though tired and weary from the many flights.

A few fun photos from the trip (which was mostly in the dark over the pacific)…

All of 30 minutes in Sydney, all inside the airport… do I get to say I’ve been to Australia now, or is that a cheat? Quite nice-looking coastline, leaving there.

And when we got to New Zealand, the snow-capped mountains of the South Island were visible below the clouds.

Now off to get some sleep; I go get my warm clothing at 1pm tomorrow.


After a couple weeks of frantic preparation (last time I went down there was before Henry was born) in between numerous deadlines, I’m finally off. In a way, in fact, I’m half way to New Zealand; sitting in LAX, I’ve now finished 2 of my 4 flights to get from Cleveland to Christchurch. (My itinerary, courtesy of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) agreement with American Airlines, takes me from Cleveland to Dallas to Los Angeles (done!), then to Sydney Australia (oops, went too far), then back to Christchurch, New Zealand. 33 hours, airport to airport, if I make that 30 minute connection in Sydney.

So far so good. Unfortunately it’s dark here in LA already, so I can’t get a good picture of a big airplane for Henry and Gilpin. :( Here’s a picture of me in the airplane from Cleveland to Dallas, though… still smilin’!

On the plane from Dallas I sat next to Ben Bixby, the CEO of a startup company called Earth Aid ( that is building tools so that consumers can more easily track their household energy consumption; you sign up, and if your area is covered they can download your utility information so you can track and plot your usage, expenses, etc. It’s free to you… looks pretty cool!

Next stop, New Zealand!

Old photos from the South Pole

I’ll be leaving for the South Pole on 11/9. I’ve been there many
times before, but not since my first son Henry was born in 2004. This
blog will mostly be a way of keeping in touch with Henry and his
little brother Gilpin.

My route to the Pole goes through Christchurch, New Zealand. The
National Science Foundation (the sponsor of our project at the Pole)
has us stop there for a couple days to get our cold weather gear
before they put us on a flight south to McMurdo station, which is on
the coast of Antarctica basically straight south from New Zealand.

I’ll probably end up staying a night in McMurdo before the 3 hour
flight south to the Pole on a C-130 run by the New York Air National
Guard. (The propeller-driven C-130 is the largest ski-equipped
airplane there is).

All told, ignoring the time changes, it’ll be about 5 days and 4
nights of travel (and sitting still) to get from Cleveland to the
Pole… if the weather cooperates. Keep those fingers crossed!

In the meantime, here are two pictures of me from previous trips down
there… more to follow once I embark!