Harsh continent

December 5th, 2002

I'm back in town. I helo'ed in like a movie star. When the daily parade of helicopters started at Lake Hoare one of them had my name on it. I'm getting better at this whole helicopter thing.

Hop in. Fly away. Sometimes you offer the pilot a couple of homemade cookies they made last night. He can't eat and fly, but he'll have them for lunch.

Helo pilots fly twenty or fifty miles out of their way to get the best cookies.

The best chocolate chip cookies are at Marble Point, apparently.

Stan and I flew back to town. We offered some cookies to our pilot, but he already had a pocket full. So we left without.

Hop in. Fly away. Back to town.

It hardly feels like a town when you first arrive from the world, expanding like an unpacked sponge after eight hours crammed into a C130. When you arrive it seems like the furthest point on the planet, which it sort of is. Then you go out.

For ten days I was in the "field". I like the term: REMOTE ANTARCTIC RESEARCH STATION, better than "field", which sounds to me like you're out on the lawn waiting to shag baseballs. But when you say that people look at you with one of those, "stop grandstanding, monkey boy," faces that makes you feel like an amateur.

Rule of Antarctica: You don't have to point out it's Antarctica when you're in Antarctica. Everyone knows that. (Also, if you make a big deal about it you might be sick and need to be medevaced out. ) The only time you mention Antarctica is when you're lugging something uphill with someone else and they complain their hands hurt or wonder aloud why the hell they need to have this thing lugged to THERE, when you brought it HERE just yesterday.

The appropriate response is: "It's a harsh continent, dude." Or just, "Harsh continent."

This is an especially popular phrase with camp managers. When you complain someone ate the last of the chicken teryaki dinner and you didn't get any--the manager says, "Harsh continent," and you go off and eat gorp.

After 10 days in the "field", I now understand why this is "town".

First of all, I have a bed here. I am not sleeping on an air mattress on the ground with a broken tent imploding around me.

There's heat. Plumbing. Electricity without solar pods or generators. A seemingly unlimited supply of beverages.

Two cash machines. Two. Wells Fargo.

About a thousand people.

Let me tell you about these thousand people. They're like a single organism. Anyone one molecule of the organism knows, almost all the molecules know. Almost.

My roommate has been coming to the ice for twenty years. He said: "There was this guy who came to the ice with a really big secret. It was very personal. He hadn't told most of his own immediate family. So when he came to he ice he kept reminding himself silently not to even hint of his very personal, very private secret.

"That's why only half the town knew what it was."

The first thing I did when I got to town was to take a hollywood shower. I'd had a "shower" in the field. It required me to go out with Leslie and chop ice till we filled every available bucket in the jamesway. Then we melted the ice and filled a sunshower. We hung a couple of blankets from the jamesway ceiling. Voila. Instant shower room.

After 8 days without washing I was kind of grimy. You know, last year I didn't smell anything. But this year a lot of Antarctica smells like a zoo. Human zoo. Including smelly me. I didn't know I could generate so much odor I'd hate myself.

Jesse said that when everyone got smelly simultaneously, people usually didn't notice it. There's no sweat-eating bacteria to make body odor smells out here. But you can bring them with you.

We did this year.

So when I got to town, where people generally don't smell like the "House of the Great Apes", I didn't want to stand out in an olfactory way. So I showered and washed all my clothes.

I went to the Coffee House for a cappucino. I had dinner. A glass of wine. And then I went to bed. Slept like a baby. When I got up I came here to the Crary Lab to do some writing. I made myself a cup of generic, government issue hot chocolate and sat down here to write in the full view of good old Mount Discovery and The Royal Society Range.

Suddenly there's a routine. Suddenly I'm not worried about dehydration or freezing to death. Suddenly comfort is a priority over survival.

That's town for ya.