Antarctica Adventures with Liz Sutter, Great Race Checkpoint Worker

November 30, 2016

As many of you know by now, the Great Race if full of very interesting characters. And one of those we have featured here before is longtime Great Racer and checkpoint worker Liz Sutter, who spends her winters in Antarctica. Well, Liz is at it again, rubbing shoulders with more big wigs – this time it is former Democrat candidate for President and current Secretary of State John Kerry who visited McMurdo. Liz is stationed there five months out of the year, and below is the highlights of her recent note:

I want to share a synopsis of my involvement in the recent visit to McMurdo by Secretary of State John Kerry and his entourage.

His visit was initially planned for two overnights in McMurdo with a trip to the south pole and the Dry Valleys for him and his 13 person contingency.

What should have been….. Day 1… delayed in Christchurch because the weather was not good here so already the trip to the ice was one day less. He travelled with an entourage of 63 folks. 50 would be left behind in Christchurch and 13 will come to McMurdo.

Day 1…. arrived McMurdo via C-17. I was driving one of 3 vans to go retrieve them (they had a 3 a.m. wake up in NZ so that the plane would be here early). The vans had to have signs in the windows S1, S2, P1 (and more if needed in other countries). The signs are recognized by the contingency worldwide so that they each know which transport to get into.

We proceeded to another airfield and loaded them all onto an LC-130 (with other normal passengers from our station) for their trip to South Pole. It was an unusual upload because the engines remained running so that they could take off immediately. Three minutes later the engines shut down and they exited the plane because the weather at Pole did not meet state department minimums for them to fly.

A helicopter was quickly launched to the airfield and 4 of them proceeded to the Dry Valleys for an extensive tour. We were tasked with bringing the 9 disgruntled folks who did not get to go to the Pole or to the Valleys into town.

That evening Secretary Kerry gave a 40-minute speech to 450 lucky folks and I must say that he has it memorized to a “t”. Once he got going, he never stumbled over one word. A gala reception was held in the Chalet that evening for 63 lucky folks and I was one of them.

I am delighted to have had some good “face time” with him (see attached photo) but must say that he did not hear one word that I was babbling until we talked about retirement. He sensed that we were of the same generation and I got his undivided attention only when I said that I had recently purchased a home on Cape Cod!!!

Day 2….The next morning I drove the visitors in a shuttle van around station and then to the Scott Base (the NZ base) for a quick tour of their base and the pressure ridges then out to the airfield at 11:00 for departure back to NZ. The preparations for this visit were staggering and it was all over in slightly more than 24 hours.

I had become friendly with a couple of the advanced security crew who had arrived a few days before the main group. At one point I was driving the head security guard around and I had the “black box” in my possession. If I had held the “key” I could have made a direct call to the White House. That guard carries the key. Before he exited the van, he informed me that he knew better than to leave the ”key” with me!

P. S. I decided to include all of my “hero” shots thus far from this season.
Kim Stanley Robinson the world renowned science fiction author wrote his best-selling book Antarctica 20 years ago after his first visit to McMurdo in the mid-1990s. He returned to McMurdo this time to gather information for an essay commissioned by the Smithsonian about the famous Worst Journey in the World winter traverse to Cape Crozier a century ago.
Jeff Wilson, world renowned nature photographer, who I first met 7 years ago when he was filming in McMurdo for Frozen Planet contracted by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. This time He was here as a producer filming for the Disney penguin movie.

2 comments about “Antarctica Adventures with Liz Sutter, Great Race Checkpoint Worker”

  • In response to Richard Le Clerc’s questions?

    Enough loaves of bread, fishes, man hours and logistical support to have funded a Great Race on Mars!!! 🙂

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