Published: December 31st 2008
December 25th 2008
Back at sea and all caught up with journaling from previous days, I feel awkwardly energized by a long sleep and a few cups of tea. The ship’s historian, Steve, gathered us ‘round the lounge for story time. Today it was Shakleton’s adventure. While Steve is a particularly grumpy old man onshore, he is equally charming at storytime onboard. When he gives his stories, it is like he was there with the explorers recounting what happened as though he witnessed it firsthand.
While the story of Shakleton is mostly about the Endurance, the earlier Nimrod expedition was Shakleton’s most successful attempt. Another interesting tidbit was that the endurance was originally the Polaris, a boat made by Belgian voyager ?Gerlache?, who thought it would be a good idea to set up a sturdy ship for tourists to travel to the Antarctic. Shakleton found funding for the trip and then bought that boat , which sailed from Europe on the same day World War I broke out.
Here on this 300 foot ship, heading in the same direction as Shakleton did in a row boat with one keg of fresh water and another keg of salt water (damaged when loading at elephant island), I don’t think I can really appreciate the endurance, skill, and luck necessary for them to reach the South Georgia Islands; nor do I feel obligated to known such a feeling.
From this warm library, the wind whisks the white foam from these waves over the ship. This is considered to be a relatively easy crossing, with small waves barely over 12 feet. Shakleton reached South Georgia a day after being in a hurricaine.
And as my expedition is coming to an end, it will soon be advantageous for me to free write about what I learned and contemplated during this experience.
First, it is philosophically fitting that I complete my tour of every continent on earth with this one, the Ice. This is because Antarctica is a continent that constantly changes shape. In the winter, the continent grows twice its size. In the summer, ice bergs circle the continents waters (whatever is within the Convergence) until next winter. I stood on the Peninsula laying claim to an accomplishment I had always wanted. But the peninsula was only connected to the main land by ice. This ice, if it ever broke, would eventually allow the peninsula to join the mainland. More, the land on mainland is covered in ice, so I’d have to dig deep (to China) to get to those layers. And if I came in winter, I wouldn’t get half as far as we just did.
In other words, this continent is shape-shifting. And thinking of Antarctica as solid state removes an essential character of the continent. Accepting Antarctica for what it is means that physically, I have only arguably reached the continent. But spiritually, I know I made it.
The Drake Passage filters out some people from visiting. And let’s face it, no country lays claim to Antarctica in any real sense, so money from tourism won’t go to a local government. The Ice has no marketing scheme, no brochures touting the impassable ice shelves and howling winds.
Antarctica stands for the ultimate in nature’s hostility to life. The Peninsula is the middle finger aiming at other continents, daring them to be as cool as the Ice.