Sitting in a hotel in Christchurch, 10 hours away from departure time and thinking about the journey getting here over the last few years, and the adventures to come is all a bit crazy.
In the morning, I’ll be jumping on a LC-130 ski equipped Hercules transport for the eight hour flight south from Christchurch to Pegasus runway which services McMurdo station. A bit gutted it isn’t the even bigger C-17 Globemaster, but settling for the trusty workhorse of a plane that first piqued my interest in the Antarctic as a kid will be exciting nonetheless.
In the recent months since I managed to snare a spot with the United States Antarctic program(me) (Do I have to spell in an American way if I’m working for the US government…), people seem to fall in to one of two (or maybe three camps). Those that think the concept of going to one of the most isolated spots on the planet is great, those that think your mad and those that wish they can come.
The back story behind going to Antarctica is all a bit vague, aside from being a whim that became its own beast. I had always been fascinated with Antarctica, and visitng Christchurch as a kid, and seeing the US Air Force transport aircraft there, ready to ferry people and supplies south was always a highlight. Similarly, wandering around Canterbury museum, looking at Fuchs’ and Hiliary’s Snow Cat and modified Massey Ferguson tractors from the first crossing of Antarctica in 1958 remain clearly etched in my worldview of what would be an awesome adventure.
The last few years have been a work in progress with this being one of the goals to try and achieve. A few setbacks and finally some good luck, have meant that I will get a chance to do what only 1454 others have done, and winter over at the place with the second coldest ever recorded temperature, – the South Pole (Geographic).
How I ended up opting to live in a single building with 43 Americas and one German, rather than trying to pursue a spot with the New Zealand contingent came down to opportunity. I figured that if I wanted to get to Antarctica, it was best to go there to work. And if I was going to go there to work, I might as well go there as a doctor (as that’s what I know what to do). However, as New Zealand’s Scott Base is located just two kilometers from McMurdo station, the largest of the three American bases on the continent, we don’t have any of our own doctors down there with a joint support and logistics agreement meaning the Americans take care of Scott Base’s medical care. The next logical step was to work for the cousies over the ditch. After applying with the Australian Antarctic Division, being short listed and interviewed, missing out initially and then moving twice around the country to get the experience they required, missing out a second time was a bit of case of watching a dream evaporate, as you can’t keep delaying life for childhood whims forever.
However, fortuitously, in mid August, I saw a ad in a email bulletin advertising for Physician roles with the US Antarctic program. Two months later, after psych evaluations and a couple of interviews, a job offer was presented, and I was on a plane two days later to Denver for two weeks of orientation, team building and other planning.
Since then, my mind has been preoccupied with all the considerations of packing for 10 months away from the comforts of home, in a physically very different environment. 0% humidity, extreme cold outside, and only 10 minutes of shower time per week (due to the challenges and costs of melting and heating water) doesn’t lend itself to the same clothes and personal effects you would take camping back home.
As I head out, the main questions I’ve been asking myself I thought I should share. What will be the biggest challenge.
- the extreme cold
- the professional isolation
- living in confined situation with a whole heap of people from a similar yet very different culture
- The lack of fresh fruit
- The sensory deprivation of half a year of perpetual night
Anyway, time will tell, and I probably should sign off from the initial penning of this blog, as if I forget anything in the morning, there is no corner shop to pick up a new one. Over this year, it would be great to hear from anyone who reads this, and let us know what you want to read about. Bandwidth will limit photo volume (and quality) but I’ll try and keep this regular with a topic of interest for each post. For those of you who are new to this blog, this is the same platform that I used whilst working and travelling in Africa in 2013. Feel free to peruse if you wish.