Hawaii: A group of 6 scientists are going to emerge in the next few days from the 1000 sq ft enclosure they have been in for the last 365 days. It was simulating life on Mars. Reading about what they were looking forward to and the difficulties they had experienced, it sounded very similar to living in Antarctica in winter. NASA should have just talked with us.
A few weeks ago, as I left the clinic for lunch, I was blasted in the face by sunlight. It stopped me in my tracks. I stood there, blinking and puzzled, for a few moments trying to process what I was seeing. And that was just a little sun. How would I react to the hustle and bustle of Christchurch? What would re-entry into civilization feel like? I spoke with some of the Old Salties about the transition. Some had difficulty, others claimed not to. How would I respond?
While on the ice, life off the ice was incomprehensible. I just could not process the outside world. Trying to recall warmth or playing with a dog was a mental exercise, not a fond recollection. Tragedies at home were simultaneously heart breaking and abstract. When reading a good book, you can experience an emotional response to events, but it’s not yours, that life belongs to someone else, the reader being merely a witness. Life was so insulated and isolated that anything else was simply foreign.
Periodically, people on station would become ill and quarantined to their rooms. Or someone might stray from a well-known routine, prompting others to wonder where that person was. Any aberration from the norm was acutely felt. Changes in personnel during the usual activities were not just noticed, but were disruptive. If one person altering a known pattern was utter chaos, what would happen when the entire system was absent?
I’m now in New Zealand. I went to an Irish bar for a few beers and to watch the New Zealand v Australia rugby match. Live. The sounds of traffic are inescapable from our apartment (that I’m sharing with two Iceholes). I look out the window and see a park with green grass and children – both of which are entirely foreign on the ice. There has been no re-entry period, no transitional difficulties. I’ve been off ice about 72 hours, yet life in Antarctica feels like it was a lifetime ago. So far the transition has been smooth and easy.
While in line at the grocery store last night, we joked that we were expecting someone from the ice to round the corner, freshies in hand, and line up next to us. We may not be entirely free from the ice just yet.
It will take some time to process the experience. I’m only a couple days off ice. Everything is still new and novel. I’ve had three coffees so far today. And an orange. I’m about to go work out, outside, in the sun, in the grass. As the sheen of new fades, I’ll have a better grasp of what just happened.
Which will be just in time to head to South Pole.
(Next week I’m headed into the legendary New Zealand mountains for 5 days of ice climbing, so the next post will be a tad late. But should have some amazing pictures. Stay tuned.)