February 13, 2005

I woke up drenched in sweat…my shirt was so wet I could have wrung it out. It’s about 74 degrees in my room & we have to keep the window open half the time: 15 degrees in Antarctica & the rooms are too warm. But I also have a severe viral infection. It’s going around station & I was so sick I thought I was going to die. Couldn’t walk to the bathroom unaided. Massive migraines & body aches (the migraines may have been brought on my caffeine withdrawal also). I hated calling in sick & missing my work routine, but having to lay in bed for 2 days has been a blessing in disguise….I realize how much I just needed to rest & slow down…I never ever ever wind down here..the two times I’ve been to medical & had my blood pressure checked it’s abnormally high, & this time it was particularly unusual (they said the numbers were way too close together)...I think I’ve been operating off of adrenaline for 4 months now. When I try to go to bed early or just lie in my room for an hour, I know there’s something I have to go “do” in ½ an hour so I don’t really ever relax (I do sleep well though). And it’s gotten much colder, so walking up that massive hill to the BFC (my second work center of the day to clean) I notice that my bones are cold, and that I never quite warm up, so my immune system was shot, probably after 4 months of a diet consisting of about 60% sugar & caffeine (and lately, cigarettes), & I collapsed 3 days ago with this infection…a lot of people have it, & some entire departments are sick. I went to medical & passed out on the table, probably from that walk from my dorm!

Why am I posting this on my Antarctic link? To show the other “reality” perhaps-so many people have written to me saying “boy it looks like you’re having TOO much fun there!” Well, aside from the fact that there’s no such thing as too much fun, those pictures represent about ½ my time here-the other half being work, eat, sleep, try impossibly to find an empty laundry machine, find something to do after dinner & before bed.

I’m leaving the Ice in 5 days. I have very mixed feelings about it. This has been the biggest goal & greatest dream I have ever worked for. The stretching & growing I’ve had to do is amazing. The opportunities to deal with “old issues” are non-stop, and I have not ponied up to these challenges as I might have hoped. I spend about half my day in euphoria, usually after my tankard of coffee & during my dorm cleaning. I love my dorm, MMI, as it is full of galley workers who are very nice & we have a ball chatting in the lounge while I’m doing the trash bins. We have 300 people leaving a week so it’s getting cleared out here….the winterovers seem like a really great bunch of folks & winters are supposedly great. A winter job just opened up & I was tempted to apply, but feel like I’d rather come back next summer (one can’t winter then stay for the summer).

I finally figured out what I’m going to do when I leave the ice: stay in cheech a while then take the train to the northern tip of the south island & ferry on over to Wellington, a hip, funky city. Everyone else here wants to go to the places with bungee jumping & crazy wild activities, but after janitoring for 2 ½ months, my wrists & elbows feel as if they are about to drop off, so I want to relax, have no structure to my days, & toddle around a city with coffee shops, Victorian houses on the piers, and super nice NZ people.

My biggest hope is that I take this “me” back to my regular life back in Austin. I was in such a rut there, a rut that I couldn’t even put my finger on what it was about! I changed jobs all the time, changed boyfriends frequently, and have moved in the last two years. I guess my rut had nothing to do with external changes. God knows that’s the only way I know how to deal with squirrelly discomfort. But on a deeper level, my daemon (refer to James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code to read all about this critter!) has always pushed on me for something big…something bigger than I’m already doing…Antarctica was big, bigger than I’d ever imagined I could do. Every day I still feel like I am living a fantasy come true..and that feeling doesn’t usually last this long for me. I’m glad that the things that really light my fire are places & situations…I’m glad the things I deeply fall in love with are places that I get to explore & experiences. I’m really glad that this Antarctic experience has taught me the true value of friendship over romance. This place feels like home to me. And now I think the other places I call home are going to feel even more like home than ever before.


12-26-04 Boxing Day

McMurdo Station, Ross Ice Shelf, (close by but not actually ON the continent of Antarctica).
It’s 8:00 pm on December 26 & I’m finally getting around to posting to this Antarctic link on my website…so many of you I have already written to about this amazing experience I’m having here at McMurdo...but I’ll try & do a general report for anyone else who I haven’t contacted. It’s hard to write here as I’m sitting in a public computer kiosk with people talking & running around…so this isn’t going to be tightly written or edited, just a long rant/love story so I can get some info out there.
If I had to use one word to describe being here it would be “intense”-intensely weird & intensely wonderful, intensely beautiful & strange: drinking and mega-partying back dropped by pristine wilderness, wild-eyed drunken hooligans lunching with brilliant geophysicists. I have learned more about leaning on my own internal resources here than I have ever had to back home, as I don’t have the usual the distractions available. From the moment I left Austin until about my birthday on November 17, I was in a “fingie” glow that had me convinced I had reached my personal nirvana…I had worked so hard & diligently for this goal of coming here that the satisfaction of the success was overwhelming. I was very proud of myself. I felt I had found my “home, my “tribe”…but as with every “high”, there is a crash afterwards, and one always catches up with oneSelf. Like Mr. Spock once said, “Jim…wanting is not the same as having.”
Aside from being intense, there is a general feeling of one’s own “badass-ness” here…no matter what you are doing, you know where you are & how far away you are. For me personally, the badassness has to do with putting whiny me in a gritty mining town/labor camp. They don’t call it the “harsh continent” without reason. I work 54 hours a week & volunteer quite a bit too. I did the polar plunge the other day: stripped down to my undies & jumped into 28 degree water under the Ross Ice Shelf. It was so much fun I asked the diver to take me again two days later. I sat in audience with Sir Edmund Hillary & was inspired for two hours as he spoke of the limitless adventure out there for those who were brave enough to try it. I have ridden in vehicles that have tires bigger than my condo out to old explorer’s huts that have been preserved for a hundred years with intact dead seals inside & tins of “Irish brawn” ready to eat. I have walked around rather comfortably in minus 20 degree weather. I have deep intimate conversations with people on a daily basis. I have had a job change motivated by deep misery that turned out to be an incredibly positive move: I went from being shackled in an office 9 hours a day to performing as a janitor where I get to run all over town & scrub & mop all day, get an incredible workout, and meet tons of cool people.
Sometimes I feel so down & homesick that I think “Ok. Done this. Ready to go home now.” Then I walk outside my dorm & see the Antarctic mountains & sea ice from the landing at the top of the stairs & its beauty takes my breath away. I walk over to the edge of town where the ice runway has broken up & seals are laying out basking in the 24 hour sun, & realize that I am HERE. Ever since I was a small child I fantasized about escape & adventure…and usually to cold snowy places. I realize that I am very into the story of myself as a brave, adventuresome person who is fearlessly pushing past boundaries & testing her limits. But I am also someone who falls apart regularly & cries like a baby in bed in a heap, feeling lost & acutely alone. But you all know that. I am ok with it.
The science going on here is amazing. There is unlimited opportunity to hang out with “beakers” and learn about the incredibly interesting research they are doing. I became a South Pole Traverse groupie…the Traverse folk are making a land “road” from McMurdo to the South Pole so we don’t have to fly all the pax & cargo there 6 times a day. I met an astronaut from NASA the other day who let me hold a 5 million year old meteorite found near the South Pole. As a janitor I get to go to all these really cool buildings & see giant steel skis that cost 1.5 million dollars each that replace the ones one the C130 ski planes (Hercs) that fly to the Pole & back. I have become fascinated by the Pole. Polies hate McMurdo.
My best descriptor of this place is “gulag meets Burning Man”. There is the repressive army feel mixed with freshman in college wildness (except the “freshman” are 40 year olds). This place is filled with people in military uniforms, Midwestern good ol’ boys, & dreadlocked alternahippies. But I think we are all drawn here for the same reason: the remoteness of this place. And most everyone is very, very nice. At times it feels like a cruise ship: unlimited food, goofy, distracting activities each night that I rarely do (bingo, karaoke, drinking, drinking & more drinking)….I’ve had several crushes that go no where, and find that friendship is the best way for me to go here…this place makes people more desperate to “hook up” than back home, and I’ve learned of something called the “Ice Wife”, which is self-explanatory. I am involved with the spiritual community here & it is very rich.
To my friend Bob I can say “you were right” - this place will bring out any old dusty cob-webbed part of your soul you thought you could ignore & will slam in into your face. You can deal with it here like a lot of people are: blinding full force power-drinking & random sexual messes…or you can face it sober like I am, in shock & amazement, but with the opportunity to uniquely create my own nitsch. I am finding out what real creativity is, & I’m having an opportunity to make a self-nurturing life here without my support network back home. Sometimes I am not taking care of myself by oversocializing & staying up too late, but my sobriety & personal dignity is fairly intact. Most folks really like me here and I’ve met some of the greatest spirited people ever. I have a radio show that is a wonderful creative outlet. Somone named “Bob” calls to tell me to stop talking so much & play some music. I didn’t realize I’d blossom while telling a personal narrative on the radio every week. As you can imagine, some are irritated by it-but my galley homies love it. McMurdo is a mix of hyper over-sexualized energy, daily meltdowns, the bliss of being here, the paradoxical experience of being on a “harsh” continent yet with unlimited free food, warm rooms, & tons of great people. I am getting to know myself like never before, in the context of the biggest irony of all of being down here: tiny claustrophobic people-filled community mixed with a sharp, raw, bare bones internal loneliness-rare moments of solitude feel delicious, but then I’m hungry for my “peeps” again-my fellow McMurdans.
Never did I run so far away to smack dead into myself again. Damnit! I thought once again I could leave her behind. But I’m finding that mixed with the person I try to outrun is someone really wonderful too…she’s the one I keep forgetting about.
And more than anything, intermingled with all the amazingly intense feelings I am having here is one: gratitude. Gratitude for all of my friends & family back home that have been supportive of this “dream” and are excited for me being here. Thank you mom & dad for your incredible support & help while I am here. Thank you Kim for being my biggest cheerleader & inspiration while I’m on the Ice. Thanks Chris for tending my home, kitty, & website. Thank you Bob for 3 years of teaching & friendship that is gelling in my soul and without which I would not have gotten the guts to come here. Thank you everyone back home in Austin who put up with me during my cold feet near deployment time. And thank you Kate, for telling me I HAD to do this.
And finally, I see how wonderful things were back home that I couldn’t see before. This place is amazing. I cannot imagine not coming back. But I also can’t wait to get the heck out of here & back to Texas. In my first few days in Christchurch, New Zealand (which, by the way, is about the most fabulous city there is) I was wandering around town & ran into two guys who were returning from last season & asked what the lowdown was on this place, and I’ll never forget what one of them said: “I love it & hate it”...I now know exactly what he meant. The parts I love I don’t think I can find anywhere else, and the parts I hate I have to live with every day.
Happy Holidays from the Ice!
Love to you all, & please keep writing me.

~ click on link to see gallery ~

Polar Plunge


Ice Stock
Hut Point
McMurdo Turkey Trot 2004
(a 5K race out at the Ice Runway!)

Halloween Party

from the trip to Cape Evans (posted 11/04/04)

Mac Town (posted 11/-8/04)

...my best friend on the Ice, Bill Jirsa