Emails from an Antarctic Winter-Over
In 2006 I spent 6 months in working Antarctica, in the Winter. Here’s my diary:
Jan 20, 2006
Hey you guys, so it looks like a pretty done deal. I mean, technically if I change my mind; I don’t have to get on that plane. But otherwise, I’ve confirmed with them (and quit my job here). I’ll be working in Antarctica! As things stand now, I will flying to Denver on February 20th. I will be in Denver two days for training. Then on the 22cd I leave Denver for New Zealand, arriving on the 24th of February. Then I will be issued all my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather gear) and the next day I’ll be on a US Air Force cargo plane for the 8 hour flight to McMurdo in Antarctica. So my term will be from Feb 20th till Oct 1st.
To give some insight: Antarctica is international territory, so no one owns it. There are 3 main bases, run by Americans. From these bases, various scientific expeditions depart to field camps or smaller research bases. There are Australian teams, French teams, etc., etc. all down there. It’s ALL about research and scientific work. That’s it. Period The largest (by far) of these 3 US bases is McMurdo. McMurdo is located right on the Ross Ice Shelf and is the ‘supply center’ for pretty much almost all of the work in Antarctica. This is because it’s the southernmost point accessible by boat (for supplies). We are just a bit away from the actual South Pole. So close in fact, that I am curious as to how water will flow down a toilet. Of course, in the Northern Hemisphere it swirls clockwise. In Australia it flows counter clockwise (right?). But what happens when you are right AT the earth’s rotational pole? Does it just glug- glug down the drain? He he, interesting, no? Anyways, I will be there as a “Winter-Over’!.. Our Summer is their Winter. So this means 6 months of darkness (actually 4 months of pitch black,.. minus the moon spinning in circles above your head… and 2 months of twilight). During these 6 months though, planes cannot fly in or out and the ocean is frozen over. So we are completely isolated for that time. No breaking a leg and getting air-lifted out! (Mind you there IS a hospital there). And no mail-drops or such (so no sending me birthday cards this year!). We do have full internet and email though. And I can place phone calls out (via satellite) but there are no incoming calls. In Summer, McMurdo has about 1,100 people. In the Winter, there will only be about 180 of us. There’s lots to do though, including a library, movie house, fitness center (with an indoor climbing wall) and a sauna etc. And as mom pointed out, there’s even a church in case I feel the need to pray.
I will be working as “Lead Dining Room Attendant” (I mean, someone has to feed the scientists) which is a glamorous title for food server and dish washer. I do though get about $200 more a week for being the manager…basically creating schedules and telling other dining room workers what to do. Whatever. Not my thing, but that’s not why I am going. So why AM I going? Here’s a list (no particular order) of my strongest reasons: 1) After taxes I will save about $17,000 USD cash. Wow. But, as you all know, only Uncle Sam will see this money, but maybe this way I can finish paying off student loans by the time I am 50 instead of 63. Not exactly immediate gratification, but a big incentive nonetheless. 2) I currently have no direction in my career life. My B.S. in Geology isn’t enough without a Master’s and as we all know Law is not an option.
I spoke very openly to my hiring manager and told him my life’s goal is- not to be a janitor, but in my off-work hours down there I intend to do some (albeit volunteer) work with some of the scientists etc…. I mean, what better way to network and get my foot in that door than actually being in that environment. Who knows, maybe I will actually come back with a purpose in my career fife. Yes, as silly as it sounds, but that’s something I’d like to find. and 3) There are some other nice benefits. I will get to see a realty cool part of the world that hardly anyone will see. I realized the other day that I might be able to get into the Guinness Book as the tallest woman ever to live in Antarctica. Hehe.
But then once Oct 1 comes and- I am done there, they don’t necessary issue you a flight right back to the States. They basically give you $2,000 in flight coupons and you can use it as you chose. I calculated out an ‘Around The World” ticket, and for $1,957 I can stay for a bit in New Zealand; then fly to Australia, then Singapore, then the Maldives then a few days in Germany, then to Cincy, then backto Vancouver. Pretty cool eh? And all that for “free”!