February 3, 2009
I’m off the ice, and this is my last Antarctic blog entry.
In the last couple days, I spent 23 hours on planes and another 13 hours in buses. I left the ice in a cargo jet, taking off from the frozen sea surface outside McMurdo Station; then spent two days in New Zealand before working around the globe, finally reaching Oregon last night. I was actually asleep in Oregon a couple hours before leaving New Zealand, since our plane crossed the date line – it was the longest Monday ever!
The last three months, however, passed like a flash. Sitting comfortably on my bed now, I wonder if it was all a dream. Have I changed?
I know it was real: Antarctica left some tangible impressions. My parents didn’t recognize my face yesterday under a thick beard (which I shaved this morning – yeah!). I didn’t lose or gain weight, aside from the extra hair. I saved water by not bathing, but burned a lot of fuel getting south; hiked more than 100 miles up and down a mountain wearing crampon spikes; and didn’t touch a cell phone, drive a car, or see a sunset for three months. I broke up with my girlfriend, endured massive blisters, and worried about my future, with nothing but ice and rock to sympathize. My nose and cheeks are tanned while the rest of me is pasty white. I made a few thousand dollars and didn’t spend a cent. I got cold. And I need new socks.
It’s odd but reassuring to think that the penguins are still there. I can picture them, especially as I start to edit the 5,000 photos I took, and wonder if they remember me…
For the next two months, I’m looking forward to a lot of birding, skiing, tennis, and writing projects, while lining up the next adventure. It’ll take a lot to top this one, but I’ll be off again this spring. It’ll take a while to relax and line things up first.
Meanwhile, Antarctica has invaded my soul. Given the chance, I’d go back, right now. It ranks among the most meaningful times of my life, and I’m incredibly lucky. Material things may come and go, but experiences will always remain.
Special thanks and credit is due to my new friends and fellow researchers at Cape Crozier this season: Michelle Hester, Kirsten Lindquist, and David Hyrenbach; all hard workers, selfless, dedicated, easy to live with, encouraging, and helpful. Also the senior PenguinScience staff: David Ainley, Grant Ballard, and Katie Dugger, and their backing organizations: H.T. Harvey and Associates, PRBO Conservation Science, and Oregon State University. Ultimately, the National Science Foundation backs all research in Antarctica, so we are especially grateful for their support.
Thanks also to everyone who has emailed, commented, and messaged through this blog and other media. Communicating with those back home was a real highlight of being so far away! Stay in touch!
I’ll spare you the 1,000-photo slideshow. If you want to hear some stories, let’s go on an adventure, and I’ll fill you in. Or just take me out to lunch one day.
That’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along. I sure had a great time keeping up the reports. All souls present and well at check-in. If nothing further, this is Bravo-Zero-Three-One Cape Crozier on Mount Terror, out.