A Long Day's Journey Into Night

December 11th, 2001

"I can't be this unsturdy.
This cannot be happening.
I'm somewhere in between,
What is real and just a dream."
- Lifehouse

So this should be the end. After this there'll just be retrospective articles. Some months from now I'll tell you what it's like to be alive and have been to Antarctica. But now I have to come clean on a bunch of things. Take notes. There'll be a test.

Stuff broke.

My lens. Nikon 18-35mm AF ED-IF. Thrown from a height of about 4' when I tripped on Lake Hoare. The optics are slightly screwed up but the electronics are totally hosed. No more auto focus. There goes about $500.

My laptop. IBM T21 PIII850Mhz. Some guy laid on my stuff in the Herc on the way home and crushed it. There goes something like $2000 replacement value (cost me $4k) if they can't fix it.

CDs. Tonic "Sugar", Some home made compilations. I opened them in my tent and the wind blew dirt on them. I tried to clean them off and scratched the crap out of them.

My digital camera. Nikon D1X. I stood in a helicopter's propwash to get some slingload pictures for the limno team. Dirt everywhere. About $4K replacement value if it can't be fixed. They can probably clean it out, though.

About 6 unused cartridges of Kodak ASA400 Portra professional print film. Same guy who trashed my computer crushed my film. ~$50

Kathmandu Windstopper fleece jacket. Wore it at Lake Hoare for days. It's completely impregnated with dirt and now that we're back in the States it's developing an interesting odor, something between the lion house at the zoo and vinegrette salad dressing. The label says "Dry Clean Only" but it probably needs a good burning. ~$150

Weird, but I didn't lose anything. I did accidentally turn in a set of my personal long underwear to the CDC at Christchurch. I trashed two sets of the CDCs issue glove liners. They didn't complain when I turned them in full of holes. They even gave me a patch that proves I went to Antarctica just in case people don't believe I was there.

By the way, nobody ever asks if you went to Antarctica, so the patch isn't going to be validating much. If I'd wanted to impress people I'd have been better off going to the International Space Station or Quebec.

And you're wondering if I've told you everything, even in that distorted prose poetry I write. Do you really want me to answer that?

First of all, I cheated you on a few things. I didn't write about all of my hikes individually. They kind of blurred in my brain anyway. But you would have gotten bored and I don't want that. For the record there were more hikes than I wrote about. The one that got the short shrift and which I'll probably correct later is my hike from Lake Bonney to Lake Hoare with Bill Fox. That was a great hike in its own right and the company was just as good. It deserves special treatment and I only just mentioned it in passing on "The Veldt" page. Here's my excuse: I was so zonked by a bunch of events I couldn't think straight. Between the beauty of the landscape and the fantastic people at Lake Bonney, I was totally fried.

This is to mention nothing about the Oreo incident at Lake Bonney. Pretend I never said anything.

I didn't write much about sleeping in the polarhaven with Tony and Bill on Lake Bonney. Snoring. I've said nothing about that. You don't want to know, anyway, unless you're a vendor of Breathe Right strips. This is not to say I'm not a perpetrator, only that each of us only ever heard two people snoring and I know who they were.

About what happens when you bring tequila, margarita mix, and guacamole to remote camps. I didn't say anything about that, so if someone asks you, I didn't say anything.

Did I take off the nail polish? Yes. I couldn't bear what people would think on the 11.5 hour plane ride from Auckland to LA. The problem I had is I've never taken off nail polish before, so I did a lousy job. Now it looks like I have on smeared nail polish. I really do need that second coat, Nicole.

What happened that I can't write about? Nothing. Some things just don't get written.

Like what?
Forget about it. Or should I say: fuggedaboudit.

And I didn't tell you about the garbage situation at McMurdo. You have to sort your trash into nine piles. Light Metal, Heavy Metal, Burnable, Plastic, Construction Debris, Skua, Cardboard, Food Waste, White Paper. You probably understand all of them except "Skua". After all I told you about the illegalities of molesting the local sea eagles, how could we simply toss them in the trash and get away with it?

Skua = Scavenge Skua = Yard Sale. People toss out usable stuff they don't want anymore into the purple "SKUA" containers and other people pick through and take what they want. There's a whole "Skua" room where you can go and take whatever you want. People get clothes, CD players, books, etc.

I was thinking of tossing all my stuff into the Skua containers before I left. Kind of sorry I didn't.

I never went to garbage training class. I wasn't supposed to be allowed to stay on base until I did, but there was always something more important. I could have gone the day I left, but that felt too much like self-abuse.

By the way, did I mention anything about the self-abuse situation down there? Wha? What situation is that? I don't know.

I brought WAY too much stuff. Two camera bodies, one film, one digital. Wide angle and telephoto lenses. Film. Chargers for everything camera related. Laptop. Charger, batteries. CD player. Clothes. I could have lived with less electronic stuff and more clothes. I didn't realize you had to wear your own clothes most of the time. For some reason before I left I had the impression I'd be wearing the NSF's clothes most of the time. Au contraire. Most of the time I was wearing the single pair of jeans I'd brought and rotating through the shirts. There was never time to do any wash. By the time I got home I could almost stand the jeans in the corner by themselves. The odd thing was they weren't offensively stinky. I think it's because there was no bacteria in the environment to get on them and generate olfactory offensiveness.

Should have brought NO cotton stuff. No flannel. All wool and synthetics. Jeans the only exception. Non-cotton is better for insulation and for wicking sweat away. Cotton just gets wet and keeps you wet. It's only good for temperate climates where being wet and miserable isn't life threatening.

I never saw the stars. It was always light and when I was in Christchurch it was raining. So I never saw the Southern Cross or the Large Magellenic Cloud. I did see the moon, though, and it was indeed upside-down from the way it appears up here in the northern hemisphere. I should have stayed somewhere I could have seen the sky when it wasn't cloudy.

I should have memorized a bunch of jokes. As it was, there were many opportunities for jokes and I couldn't remember any.

I should have bought some business cards that represented me as an individual instead of bringing my cards from work.

I should have talked to Mary Miller the first time she was introduced to me.

I should have gone on more walks.

I should have accepted more offers.

I should have accepted the invitation to sleep in the snow cave even through there were already four people in there.

I should have tried the polar plunge.

I should have been drinking more water.

I should have been able to figure out what people were saying when they couldn't just say it.

I should have tried the table traverse.

I should have taken charge in the snow school exercises that required someone to be the manager.

I should have run in the Thanksgiving race even though it was cold and windy (it's ANTARCTICA for God's sake).

I should have sat down with more strangers at the cafeteria.

I shouldn't have been so socially inept.

I shouldn't have been so professorial about not doing things, and then doing them.

I shouldn't have had to sit here thinking of all the stuff I should have done and didn't do.

It took a long time to get back from Antarctica. Two helicopter rides, a 7-hour military transport, an hour in a 737 in New Zealand, 11 hours in a 747 from Auckland to LA, another hour to San Francisco. Countless hours in between. When I got home my shoes were still dusty and there was mud embedded in the tread. When I got home the sun had the nerve to set and make it dark. I wished it hadn't. After so long never seeing night I was ready to go without it.

Last night I dreamed of Antarctica. In my dream I was back amid the glaciers and people who would dare to become my friends despite my confusion. In my dream my heart slowed and my muscles relaxed. In my dream people talked to me only because they liked me and not because they had to or because I was someone who could do something to them, for them. In my dream women liked my new beard and men tossed me frisbees.

I put on my sunscreen and big red and walked toward a mountain in the distance. It never got any closer.

That was fine with me.