twelve hours from civilization.
it's saturday morning, february 25. the C-17 that will take me to new zealand this afternoon is somewhere in the air between christchurch and mcmurdo. it is estimating pegasus field at 1228. weather and other circumstances permitting, I should be in new zealand by this evening, relaxing with friends over a glass of wine at the dux de luxe restaurant and asking myself, was I really, truly in antarctica for the last five months?
I arrived october 11 of last year on an overcast tuesday afternoon. the plane touched down softly on six feet of frozen seawater and rolled to a stop. there were no windows through which we could catch a glimpse of the frozen waste that awaited us, that would be our home for the next half year. the huge, powerful jet engines droned as the pilot slowly lowered the cargo ramp. we stood facing backward in our bunny boots, parkas and mittens. some people held their cameras high over our heads. a first blast of frigid air swept through the cargo hold. we were breathing the cleanest, coldest, driest air in the world. it smelled of nothing.
the signal was given for us to walk down the cargo ramp and off the plane to the waiting buses. the sky was overcast. I remember thinking, it's not as cold as I thought it would be. rad.
five and a half months later, I'm sitting in the computer lab of my dorm. people come up to me sporadically to say their goodbyes. there are only a few hundred people left on station these days: those who are flying out today and next monday, and those who are hunkering down for the winter. on monday, the last C-17 will depart pegasus field and waggle its wings in a farewell as it flies north over mcmurdo and mt. erebus. the sun will soon dip below the horizon, not to come up again until september.
life at mcmurdo has been both easier and tougher than I imagined it would be. in certain respects, the tasks of daily living are almost mindlessly simple. no shopping for groceries. no paying bills. no watching the fuel gauge on your car and worrying about having to plunk down $40 for your next tank of gas. no buying dog food. no arranging carpools or childcare. no watching your cell phone minutes. no cleaning the bathroom.
but other things were very difficult for me. the stress of walking into the dining area with my fully loaded tray, hoping to god that I don't trip and fall in front of the cool kids -- the multi-season ice folks. the sheer physical exhaustion that comes from working a sixty-hour week, month after month. trying to make real, enduring connections with people when interactions usually last for a few minutes at a time -- during meals, shuttle rides, conversations at the computer kiosk. saying goodbye to those friends I was lucky enough to make after spending five months working, playing, dining, commiserating, laughing, and living with them. that was the hardest part. none of the difficulties stemmed from antarctica being the coldest, driest, highest, emptiest, windiest place on earth.
antarctica is a crazy, gorgeous, barren place, full of beautifully insane people. as nicholas johnson points out, everyone here has mileage points; no one has wisdom teeth. and everyone has come here seeking something different. money. adventure. romance. new marketable skills. escape from a difficult situation. the opportunity to see penguins. some of those wants have been fulfilled; others have not.
my season was tiring, exhilarating and all too short.
I drove a 67,000-pound vehicle in a blinding snowstorm.
I co-emceed a charity event that raised over $3000 for a breast-cancer organization.
I accompanied a choir that brought christmas cheer to remote field camps.
I saw a penguin and named him sledge.
I slept in a snow shelter.
I applied sunscreen before going out at night.
I slept in a bunkbed.
I served as a go-between for a doctor on a russian cruise ship and the station doctor at mcmurdo in order to get a cruise passenger medevac-ed.
I drove the world's largest ambulance.
I never caught the crud.
I became known affectionately as Snickers Girl, Operation Fat Ass, and Barbed Wire to the air guard guys.
I learned how to operate three kinds of forklifts.
I tolerated the few co-workers that irritated me.
I showered in a communal shower room, something I haven't done since high school.
I walked across town to a halloween party dressed only in a grass skirt and bikini top.
I climbed Castle Rock and Ob Hill twice each.
I made guacamole with the midrats galley crew.
I gave a presentation on mongolia and the peace corps.
I taught many people to knit.
I drove a fire engine.
I called in a report of a smoking cigarette canister to the fire station.
I learned several new yoga poses.
I managed not to get any vehicles stuck in the snow.
I never filmed a skua attacking someone.
I was a DJ on the local FM radio station.
I ran over a co-worker's bag and travel mug with one of our vans.
I caught four fish for scientific research, using fishing line wrapped around a styrofoam block.
I made a necklace in jewelry class.
I went through four tubes of skin lotion.
it's been a great season. thanks for reading.
shuttle cindy, over and out.
in the depth of winter, I finally realized that within me there lay an
invincible summer. -- albert camus