Just over ten years ago, I walked away from my career as a space shuttle systems and launch pad technician, a job I actually loved, and many would say, crazy to leave. Shortly after, I flew 9000 miles by way of New Zealand, to the the 7th and most remote, unexplored continent-Antarctica. This for a much lower level job that would last less than 6 months. From a career progression point of view it was like driving down a steep mountain in my old 88 GMC pickup truck-the brakes would very likely fail! I was 40- not a particularly good point in life to just 'bail' on the job and the 401K- but then I had a Mission. It was, as Indiana Jones said, 'Adventure and glory kid..." well maybe not the 'glory' part, hasnt happened yet, but adventure? Yeah, Id say so. I had traveled quite a bit in life; as a kid, surfing trips with friends and courtesy of the US Army in which I proudly served. But I had always dreamed of going around the world solo, visiting places that no travel brochure had been written for, and those that had, and also because my Mom never got to see many of the places she had yearned to visit, and never would. Life is an open door, but it can close without warning. So it was time to 'Fish or cut bait' -as a close friend likes to say, and see the world she dreamed of through my eyes.
Three years before I had read a one page article in a copy of travel newletter 'Transitions Abroad"; about a woman who postponed the career to experience life beyond her personal comfort zone by going to Antarctica. I dont remember the title or author, but reading it cracked open a window to a world that called me out. I pulled the plug on the 'normal' life and looked South. To get there I would have to work for it, be part of it. Hitting the Florida lotto and just sailing the world would maybe be a better option but then how likely was that?
So I left the east coast of Florida-my home always, and stepped off a C141 military transport onto a frozen ocean, at the 'Gateway to Antarctica' -Mcmurdo Station. And so began a new life of sorts, on this dramatic, desolate and socially intriging continent. A place once called the 'Great Alone' --and not far beyond the drab, corrigated, ramshackle mess that is Mcmurdo-- it still is. Hard work, well here its a neccesity, but when you get to play, its a pretty cool backyard! The Cold? - isnt the hard part, you adapt to it, dont think about it after a while. But daily life can be a challenge: endless sun or endless night, trouble sleeping, cramped quarters, isolation... But the rewards are many, both on and off the place we call 'The Ice' Having spent a cumulative 3 years on this rock now, Ive seen things I cant truly describe: thousands of stars that look like holographs, category 5 snowstorms, polar Necreous clouds that turn the entire sky into a glowing river of colors, city-sized icebergs drifting on the horizon, thousands of penguins sqaulking, squeeling , stinking -overloading all of your senses. Ive teared up more than once looking across a stark, stunning and yet beautifull landscape that is difficult to comprehend, and met a collection of characters that you could only encounter literaly at the end of the Earth-the bottom end. Here they, we, I? -have filtered down through the lattitudes and collected at the bottom like coffee grounds. Many can be called friends, some not. Think of the cantina scene at Mos Eisley Spaceport from 'Star Wars', not really a big stretch from 'Mac-Town' -Its just life on the Ice. My comrades all have their own reasons for being here, I just like to say Im down here counting penguins.
After each of my seasons on the Ice, Ive traveled on around the world afterward, completely blowing my newly fluffy-fied bank account- against any rational judgement- and yet having my eyes opened even wider with each journey. You cant buy those experiences on Amazon, Craigs List, or on sale at Target, you cant get them on your Wii or X-Box, or your HDTV, you have to put your pack on and your boots on the ground and walk that Road. Ride with a chicken on your lap and a goat in the aisle. Fly on some sketchy airline where everyone clutches their Koran in prayer and doesnt breathe until the wheels touch the ground. Good or bad its like living within an Imax movie, true, raw travel for 360 degrees-you may know what Im talking about. Ive visited every continent, exploring by every conveyance, meeting poor, rich and in the middle; friendly and dangerous, been robbed and rewarded, made friends for life or just a few hours; and stoked my passion of surfing all over the world. Ive met many many fellow travelers doing just the same-Im not unique, or lucky, -just a small part of a subculture of those who need to see things 'out there' and willing to give up much to do it. I never take my travel for granted, as there is a price: the inevitable pain of missing home, family, friends, lasting relationships and the financial strain of an ATM fueled vaporization of your cash and credit! As an old TV Ad back home used to say "It aint funny when youre short of money!" You have the bucks to travel around the world, and then your broke-again. Its an addiction, requiring a fix now and then. So pushing 52 as I write, and after 40+ countries, Im at it again. The economy sucks, and I needed the work, or then maybe its just a chronic midlife crisis that just wont heal? At some point I hope to go back to working in the world of rockets , when and if the times right. The Ultimate travel experience awaits there for another generation, and Id like to help them get there. But although America seems to have lost its passion for science and exploration, I havent, and so until that time comes along , I will just keep on 'Truckin On'....hey, I am a child of the 70s....
Anyway, this my first attempt at a blog, I hope those who read it enjoy it, feel free to comment if you dont but please be constructive. I may do another one of my previous trips but just a thought. I hope to travel once my time on the Ice is done later this year, as they say 'Stay tuned', aloha!
March 11th 2012
After 3 months on Palmyra Atoll, it was time to pass the island and the work to another crew. Its been an amazing experience to live on an idylic tropical isle with only 4 other people, at least for a while. Undeveloped and now protected, Palmyra is an example of what nature can do after man has done his worst. Nearly leveled, contaminated and almost treeless during WW2, the Atoll is now covered in thick lush jungle, and many thousands of coconut palms. Birds nest by the thousands and marine life is in recovery. Still, if you look around, the war relics are ever present, jutting from the lagoon or embedded in the jungle, covered with vines. Its a reminder of a violent past history, and what could happen again if we are not carefull. Palmyra ... read more
December 14th 2011
After a nearly 400 mile sea journey, we arrived at Palmyra Atoll, roughly 1100 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands. Palmyra is a US territory, a US Wildlife Refuge and national monument. Partly owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, its an amazing low lying volcanic Atoll, home to hundreds of thousands of pelagic birds, and covered by dense jungle and Coconut palms. Palmyra is really a group of smaller islands, and was nearly cleared of trees during WW2 to facilitate use as a military base, a project that dramaticaly altered the atolls ecology and landscape. 70 years later, nature is coming back in force, but many old war relics such as gun turrets, bunkers and ammo magazines can be found all over the atoll, mostly covered in thick jungle growth, giving the island a weird ... read more
December 12th 2011
(Just about caught up on my blog!) anyway.... So in December 2011, I and my 4 future co-workers arrived on Christmas Island (Kiritimati, but pronounced Kiritsmasts) in the Republic of Kiribati (but pronounced Kiri-bas) Confused? I was --so easier just to say Christmas Island! Even many locals call it that. Its a unique Atoll, very dry and almost savana like interior, except for many miles of lagoon and shallows on the perimeter-and many miles of deserted and often very rugged beaches-this is not the idealic 'south seas' island people would imagine. Not to say it isnt pretty-it has its gems, far off the yachtie and cruise circuit-this is truly a place to escape. The 'capitol' is the tiny dusty town of London, the only other town is Poland, 2 hours down the road. Used for atomic ... read more
November 26th 2011
Christchurch NZ has been been through alot the last year, over 700 quakes, 2 severe, loss of nearly 200 peoples lives and many billions of dollars in damage. The second largest city in the country, and the business and tourism hub of the South Island, has ground to a halt in many respects. the CBD, central business district-downtown- is completely inside the 'Red Zone', uninhabitable, over a new fault and unstable. Over 700 buildings are or will be demolished, including many of the 'skyscrapers' ,cafes, and all the major hotels and banks. Although many look fine, they are not. its a very very eerie feeling to walk along the 'red zone' fence for many, many blocks, staring into an empty and quiet city, seeing no one there, and noticing a tall glass tower leaning ever so ... read more
November 24th 2011
After a little over a week in Christchurch, sorting my post Antarctic work stuff and seeing what I could in Christchurch, off to Auckland, where by rent a car I headed SE through the amazing countryside to Mt Manganui, 'The Mount' the picturesque and trendy beach town across the bay from busy port city Tauranga. I was there to visit Kiwi friends Sheryl and Tony-whom I met many years ago while volunteering in Thailand after the Tsunami. Hoping to get some surf, the region was recovering from a major oil spill, the worst in NZ's history, so I stayed on the beach. After a too short stay, Im off across the North Island to Raglan, the cool little west coast town famous for its surf and physical beauty. Ive been to Raglan many times and never ... read more
November 20th 2011
(ah sorry-once again this post is backdated) After completing the Otago Rail Trail, I took a bus from the pretty little town of Clyde, NZ to Queenstown, the 'fun' capitol of NZ, and one of the most beautifull locations for a city anywhere. Ive been there several times, always staying at the lakefront YHA hostel. As always I love Q-town, touristy-yes, but such a pretty setting and lots to do. Only there for a few days before heading to earthquake devastated Christchurch-in my next blog. Queenstown has been featured in many, many blogs so my pics are of the surrounding countryside and amazing views just outside the city-rather than the town itself. Several awesome day walks such as the Moonlight Track, where I walked 9 hours up in the mountains and never saw another soul. Easy ... read more
November 15th 2011
-well this was from Nov 2011, just continuing to catch up on my blog, so anyway, after leaving the Antarctic, I went by bus to the lovely Southern NZ city of Dunedin, a city I had previously visited- but not for many years. Dunedin is a 'uni-town', and lots of Scottish heritage. Its got amazing beaches, wildlife and gateway to the wild south coast that looks toward Antarctica. (and the Cadbury chocolate factory!) I came here to visit a friend from the Ice and to do the Otago Central Rail Trail, a 120 Km mountain bike journey through the historic and scenic 'big sky' central Otago region of New Zealand. Following an old gravelrailroad bed, the trail winds through dry tablelands, ridges and huge sheep farms, and passes through towns far far from the backpacker circuit. ... read more
November 10th 2011
Apologies again, this is a Nov 2011 post before leaving The Ice that I never got around to finishing/publishing- so now catching up! and almost there! -thanks for taking a look! Originaly scheduled to leave Mcmurdo Station in early Oct i was extended till early Nov/11 But I greatly enjoyed the transition from summer to winter to full summer again(no other seasons here!) the sun is up, the sun is down-thats it. The pics are mostly from that few weeks extra, and just some shots around 'town' -rather than of penguins and seals. Getting on that C-17 flight off the Ice, I didnt know if I would ever see Antarctica again, none of us ever really do despite our plans. Its still a very wild and unpredictable place-and life is too. So each time I leave ... read more
August 10th 2011
(apologies as this was actually posted Dec 28.11--I had not updated so now getting back on track!) My third winter on the Ice, we had a station population of 151, later 149 due to emergency medical evac of personel (they are now fine!) Lots and Lots of snow, oddly enough not that frequent in Antarctica; and some good *& kicking polar storms. But also much warmer than normal winters-this makes for rough weather. Sadly 3 Norweigian sailors were lost nearby in our first storm of winter, the crew of the Berzerk 2. Winter on the Ice is alot of solitude, reflection and close alliances with your fellow winter -overs. We work very hard, long hours but enjoy our free time, as we are alone for 6 months. yep, internet and tv we have, but the nearest ... read more
March 29th 2011
With our winter setting in, and the sea ice beggining to form, the penguins around Mcmurdo/Scott Base will soon walk, slide and swim to other places, the Emperors with their shiny new coats of feathers will head SE to their rookeries, to breed all through the polar winter, in horrific weather (for a human anyway). What Natures' purpose in this ritual is I dont know, survival of the fittest maybe? The smaller, knee high animated Adeleis breed over the summer, complete their molt and head North to warmer climes, out to sea, to the edge of the winter ice pack, to stuff their little faces in preparation for the next breeding season. After a summer of very few penguins, the sea ice blew out, and suddenly we were awash with them! They are fun to watch ... read more