5 Things That Are Making Us Happy in Antarctica

KEVIN

Night shift – Finally coming together, our schedules have adapted to the night shift (indicated by us being able to stay up too late doing things like writing this blog). Instead of being numb-brained lumps, we are able to go hiking, play basketball, watch movies or socialize with friends after work as we normally would if on days. Our crew on nights is starting to settle into place, and is finally getting into gear. At night, station falls asleep, leaving us with a ghost town lit by a sun that still hangs low along the horizon. After work, a hike to the top of Ob Hill provides one with the opportunity to sit and marvel from above at the hustle of bustle of our little town on the fridge.

Warming weather – The sun continues to climb higher and higher into the sky, melting snow off of rooftops and hillsides. Along with exquisitely clear and beautiful days, the changing season brings with it less wind and warmer temperatures. The northern horizon is turning increasingly blue as the open ocean creeps closer and closer. While I love all of Antarctica’s season, it is much easier to summon the motivation for a hike when the wind isn’t howling and dropping temperatures below -40. Getting outside is my favorite activity and therapy here. Nothing brings things into focus for me like leaving town and getting some fresh air. 30 minutes of hiking can take you far enough away to remind you that you aren’t just cleaning toilets in a dingy little mining town, but instead are in the desolate and unending beauty of the Antarctic.

Travel planning – Months of nebulous ideas are beginning to materialize as we begin to work on the logistics of our next bout of post-ice travels. Hours of research into airfare, visa information, health advice, and local customs are beginning to form a more real concept. India and Nepal lurk on our horizons. Perhaps China, perhaps Eastern Europe. That part remains to be decided. I frequently spend my free time reading up on other travel blogs. The fire to hit the road again is beginning to get warmer inside of me. Even in Antarctica, one cannot escape the restlessness of wanderlust.

Arrival of an old friend – Several days ago, two of my separate lives came together. A very old friend of mine, someone that I have been friends with since we were around 12 years old, arrived in McMurdo. Unfortunately, James and I have been on opposite schedules, so we haven’t been able to see much of one another. A few days ago, however, we learned that James too would be joining the night shift. Tonight is his first night, and I greatly look forward having such a great guy join our team. James was a great influence on the changing of my life. A few years removed from high school, I remember reading an email James had sent updating us as to what adventures he had been having abroad. I immediately recognized that James was out living the life that I wanted to be living. He was a big part of getting me out from behind the soft glow of a computer monitor, and into the world. For that I am very grateful, and very excited that our paths have crossed here for at least the next several months.

HoCal, Room 209 – No matter the goings on outside of the door to our room, the inside remains a lovely sanctuary. Our humongous, memory foam-topped bed, lined with yellow and brown flannel sheets, grows warmer and cozier by the day. After 12 hours of toilet cleaning, freezing winds, crowded galleys and sleepy jerks insisting to use the bathroom when we’re cleaning it, being able to run back to our room and find the loveliest girl waiting for me melts the cares of the day away. The world stops existing beyond our door, and nothing more can bother us. Our room is happy, but it is nothing compared to what resides inside of it. Sharing this space with my best friend, the girl I love, creates a sense of contentment in me unmatched by anything I’ve ever felt. I fall asleep every night astounded at how lucky I am to have found someone so wonderful to live this unreal life with.

Signs of life in the desolation emerge from beneath the melting snow.

LC-130s through a looking glass.

A memorial for Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated South Pole party on top of Ob Hill.

Carved into the cross: "TO FIND AND NOT TO YIELD."

A band of clouds rolls over Mt. Terror.

Lenticular clouds from off of Mt. Erebus.

Bleached from sun and snow, a penguin bone sits undisturbed on the Southern shores of Ross Island.

ELIZABETH

Fresh air – As Kevin said, one of the most important ways of staying sane in this job is to get outside and regain some perspective on the situation: we’re not just sanitizing urinals, we’re living in one of the most amazing places on this planet.  And since it’s getting warmer, it’s even more accessible lately.  Everything changes even walking five minutes uphill.  Once you get slightly above town, you can see the vast white and blue gorgeousness that surrounds us, above the grungy, dirty industrialism of town.  Sometimes I feel like the only reason I’m doing this job is for the six months of travel that follows, but when you start hiking up Hut Point Ridge and the buildings get hidden by glistening white slopes, and all you see is ice and sky… it’s pretty spectacular.

Family breakfasts – Working the night shift means not seeing a lot of friends as much as we normally do, but since morning is the brief period of the day where most of the shifts overlap a bit, I’ve ended up having a lot more family time than before.  Every morning, Kevin and I join my mother and my stepdad, Scott, for a meal that is our dinner and his breakfast.  My mom is also on the night shift for now, so this is a special time for all of us to come together, catch up, and enjoy each other’s company.  One of my favorite parts is that it’s not just the four of us having a nuclear family breakfast, we’re often joined by others.  So this little family of ours morphs everyday, sometimes including a lovely shuttle driver from Montana adorned in lovely scarves from thrift stores, or a fuelie with matching purple hair and glasses, or an older plumber (and our neighbor) who takes off his work boots every time he passes our door because he knows we’re daysleepers.  As much as I miss my brother, it’s really nice to sit down over runny egg yolks with lovely people and share food, yawns, and stories in this way.

Getting to know some awesome people – McMurdo attracts a whole gamut of different sorts of people.  Some are not that great, but some are the best I’ve ever met.  Kevin, of course, is my favorite person period and I met him here.  Then there’s people like Lolo, the queen of laundry who plays ukulele, banjo, and autoharp, sings like a moody angel from the 1920’s, owns an absurd number of the cutest vintage dresses you’ve ever seen, and whines like a baby if she doesn’t get a back scratch when she wants one.  Or Justin, our boss, a scruffy guy who will wear anything you hand him, even if it’s black lingerie that looks like it might fit an eight year old, also plays instruments, writes hilarious songs as well as fiction that I’ve heard is killer, and sprints between every building with just a torn up flannel shirt on.  And James, Kevin’s friend that is quickly becoming my friend.  And Gabe, known for his horrifyingly smelly gas, but also the best dance moves this side of the continent.  And lots of others.  The best people.

Loving my job – There are times when being a janitor in Antarctica gets pretty monotonous, even a little depressing.  But this year, somehow I’ve managed to find myself in a position where I’m pretty much just doing the janitorial duties that I love: special projects and laundry.  Special projects are things like waxing, buffing, scrubbing floors.  Floors!  My favorite!  This week, I’ve taken on waxing building 155, the big blue building that holds the heart of town.  I find floors so much more rewarding than toilets, which are going to get peed on five minutes after you finish, but floors… they look awesome when you’re done, and stay that way for at least a while.  And then laundry.  Laundry is new for me this year, and I’ve been trained of its intricate ways by Lolo, mentioned before.  At first, getting trained on huge industrial washing machines that were built in 1981 for naval ships and no longer have parts manufactured was intimidating, but now I love them just as much as I love the floor buffer.  There’s something deeply gratifying about having The Beast and Emmie Lou (the industrial washers) going while four big driers are humming, and I’m folding sheets while bopping around to music.

Coming home – As Kev mentioned above, room 209 in HoCal just might be the best place on earth.  No matter what kind of a day it was at work, I know that coming home and taking off my work pants is going to be so good.  As soon as our door clicks shut, everything else is gone and never mattered anyway.  The glorious bed fit for a king, photos of loved ones adorning the walls, the smell of coffee and grilled cheese, a red-headed man who has stolen my heart… only the finest things in life dwell in this room, and I feel absurdly lucky to reside along with them.

Folding laundry on a Sunday morning makes me happier than perhaps it should.

There have been whole avocadoes in the galley lately! Yum! Such a treat at the bottom of the world.

Ice flowers growing on our window.

We had been listening to the the Harry Potter books while cleaning this year, and very sadly just finished the last one.

That loveliest man of mine basking in the sun by a dive hut.

One of the corners of the tiny room you sit in at the bottom of the Ob Tube, suspended 15 feet below the sea ice in the ocean. Kevin and I sat squished down here and watched a seal swim by.

An LC-130 Hercules landing in the early morning hours. The ice runway is currently situated on less than six feet of ice, and apparently they measure how much the ice sinks every time a plane lands to monitor how much longer the ice runway can be used.

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2 thoughts on “5 Things That Are Making Us Happy in Antarctica

  1. Aw, this posting is super romantic. Made me smile. Kev, I love the pic of the LC-130s through the telescope and the penguin bone. Cool! E, your pics of the mundane little joys of life here are just delightful!

  2. so, so cool. i love that you guys are having a great time, and that you’re able to shut it all out at the end of the day (because what doesn’t need to be shut out at the end of the day?!) and just focus on yourselves.

    unrelatedly, i think i would die if i ever saw a seal swim by. (uh, die of happiness, that is. heh.) and those ice flowers are beautiful!

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