12 a.m. sunsets and the glory of cargo travel

Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Hannah Owens

Flight to Greenland Greenland from the plane

This morning we woke up at 4 a.m. in Schenectady, New York, after an uneventful day of travel there from Kansas. The Air National Guard picked us up at the hotel and took us to the base. Once they had corralled all the scientists into a little room in a warehouse, they showed us the C-130 safety video. It turns out that the “Herc” comes equipped not only with flotation devices, but exposure suits for all passengers, full Arctic survival gear and something called an EPOS. Like its counterpart, the yellow-cup-and-don’t-worry-if-the-bag-doesn’t-inflate, the EPOS is what a passenger would use if cabin pressure were lost. UNLIKE the yellow-cup-etc, there are approximately 13 steps for correct use, and it is basically a plastic bag that one puts over one’s head. This, strangely, was not reassuring.

After a few hours of waiting (we were the second flight to take off that morning. The first flight had technical difficulties and had to turn back. Twice. Once because the number 4 engine wasn’t working), it was finally time to take off. After we were in the air, the loadmaster let us get up and wander around the plane. Approved activities included climbing up on top of the cargo crates and taking a nap. I found a box of my approximate length and width, and promptly fell asleep. That’s first-class flying.

We stopped to refuel in Goose Bay, Canada, at a tiny airport that boasted bathrooms, complimentary ice cream, and little else but tantalizingly close coniferous forest. After half an hour, we were back in the air. Shortly before landing, we flew over Greenland with clear skies and AMAZING views of the mountains and glaciers. There was no feigning blasé professionalism now—everyone on the plane was glued to a porthole ooh-ing and ah-ing.

On arrival and debarkation from the airplane, we were instantly swarmed by mosquitoes—the worst the pilot claims to have seen it in the years he’s been flying to Greenland. We were then bussed to the Kangerlussauq International Science Support (KISS) building, which is a homey mix of ex-military barracks, scientific enthusiasm, and Ikea flair. It is now 12.30 a.m. and the sun is still shining. Although the sun “sets” at midnight and “rises” at two, there is not even appreciable twilight. Tomorrow: ruins?