There’s a saying on the ice that “you come for the adventure, but stay for the people.” While people initially come down for the challenge of living and working in Antarctica, it’s the community that tends to bring them back year after year. A certain personality type is drawn to the ice and those types are naturally drawn to each other. It draws the type of person who gets jealous at the thought of someone else headed to a barren landscape, inhospitable to all but the hardiest species. It draws the type of person who loves the concept of -30F being a “bit warm.” It draws the type of person who may spend the offseason riding a bicycle across the Russian tundra with a puppy in a knapsack, because, hey, that sounds like fun. Or live in the jungles of southeast Asia because going back to traffic just sounds appalling. Or living on the beach and doing nothing for the entire offseason because, after wearing three layers of pants all winter, it is time to wear none. These are people who want to make this giant planet a little smaller.
At the South Pole, the joke was “come for the adventure, stay for the small crowds.” Even McMurdo, the American Antarctic coastal transit hub and research station, is a bit too crowded. We are just a bit more isolated here. The population maximum in summer is about the same as it was in winter at McMurdo. We are at about 2/3 max population until next week when the scientists start turning up. Even when they do turn up, ours will still be a very small world.
Nowhere was that more evident than at brunch today. As we get to know the people we will be in small crowds with for the upcoming summer, cursory backgrounds are exchanged.
“Where you from, doc?” the firefighter next to me, who is, based on the length and general unruliness his hair, not unlike my own, clearly retired from any city department, asks.
“The Pacific Northwest.” I reply. I’m not entirely sure why I claimed the entire PNW as opposed to Seattle, but that’s what came out of my still hypoxic brain.
“No kidding? Where abouts?” he is obviously from the same, based on how he lit up with this line of questioning.
Throughout the conversation, it would turn out that we know many of the same people, having worked EMS in the same area. He learned how to brew beer from a guy who always supplied the homebrew for our mountain rescue events. I learned how to ski with a heavy backpack from a guy he worked with for over a decade. At the South Pole, at the end of the world, the farthest away from home I can go, I run into a man one degree removed. And not just acquaintances, but people we both know.
At the farthest reach of Earth, in the middle of the flat, barren, hostile, white, miles away from anything, I find someone from my “civilized” social circle. God damn, this planet is small.