Remember to Breathe
Almost three weeks ago I was treated to a morning ride to the airfield, only to be turned back to station on account of mechanical problems (the LC-130s need a little adjustment time to get comfortable down here). I wasn't on the passenger list for the next day and carried on accordingly, walking to work the next morning. Not 45 minutes into the day, Christina walked out to the lumberyard where Rebecca and I were fetching plywood to let me know my transport was leaving in 30 minutes. I hustled to get my stuff together and about 10 of us were greeted at the airfield by a Basler, ready for takeoff. A bit more hustling from van to plane, a quick briefing from the pilot and off we went, 4+ hours away from the South Pole Station.
Our flight went smoothly along the mountains for about two hours when the cabin staff started hooking up tubes to the wall and handing everyone oxygen masks. No emergency at all, it was simply that the Basler has an unpressurized cabin and our altitude was rising to match the Antarctic plateau. The pole itself is at 9,300 feet and feels even higher depending on the weather. We landed on time, about 2:30 in the afternoon, and hopped out of the plane. It was bright. It was cold. It was dry. It took effort to get oxygen out of the thin air. And it took me a little less than a week to start sleeping normally.
My supply-comrade Max and I had been sent down to help the winter supply crew transition into summer while the full-season summer folks finished training at McMurdo. We worked in the food warehouse, shoveled out storage buildings, trained to drive tracked forklifts, rode snow-mobiles to fetch toilet paper, helped the meteorology crew release weather balloons and take air samples.
I loved it.
Not only did I like being at South Pole station itself, but it turned out I needed a little break from McMurdo. Arriving in August to about 350 people and growing to 1,000 felt a little suffocating at times. And being that this is my second season, the new car smell is gone. Consequently, I've spent time thinking about why I'm actually here. But I think I have a sense of why. Part of it is because going to Antarctica is pretty damn cool and there are tons of things I've yet to experience down here (like visiting the Pole, prior to this month). Part of it is because I have to pay for life somehow. But it became pretty obvious when I returned from Pole that part of it is the wonderful people I've met down here. Welcoming faces and "You're back!" exclamations reminded me that McMurdo is the place I've spent over a third of the last two years. It will never be home like Minnesota and Wisconsin are (20% of the last two years), but it's something of a home. And even if it gets a little stifling at times, what home doesn't?