Although this may be a harsh continent, I can’t exactly pretend that my lifestyle down here has been difficult or uncomfortable. I spend most of my day in a heated and well-equipped lab space. I live in a dormitory with heat, electricity, indoor plumbing, and Wi-Fi. I have three hot meals cooked for me every day and I am transported to and from work by a motorized vehicle. There are much less remote parts of the world that do not enjoy these luxuries. Clearly life in Antarctica is not what it once was.
On the other hand, when it’s time to take a break from the lab, there are some incredible opportunities to leave town and explore the local terrain. While we stay on marked trails where there is no danger of getting lost or falling into a crevasse, I can let my imagination run wild where I cannot. I am an Antarctic explorer. My quest is to reach the top of a peak, explore new terrain, or conquer an ice labyrinth. If I survive this adventure, I know another is waiting for me just around the bend. So far I’ve scaled miniature mountains, observed a smoking volcano, and wandered among icebergs and lived to tell the tale. There is even photographic evidence. Hiking has become my favorite pastime here, and it is so exciting that the cold is tolerable. Everything that I have done is within a few miles of where I live and work, so I have not even begun to experience what this continent has to offer.
Some people might think that there is not much to see down here. Isn’t it just snow, ice, and rock? Well, yes, but it’s not that simple. In the absence of most plant, tree, and animal life the landscape takes on a life of its own. I have the same 40 minute to and from lab every day, but it looks different every single time. The light changes, the snow drifts, the wind transforms the environment, and the pace of change is not so glacial. In Antarctica, more than any other place I’ve been, it feels as though you really can’t see the same view twice. It’s a new and different experience every time, and it makes me want to see more. The snow is so bright and the rock is so dark that the contrast in the scenery is severe. But when you look at the black and white world for long enough, colors begin to emerge. There are so many different shades of white that paint stores have not begun to create them all, and each is unique, and special, and beautiful. There are subtle differences in light and shadow that bring about a change of perspective. Even temperature gradients in the air change how things look. No matter what adventure I have chosen here, there was always something to see, and it was always worth seeing.
The sheer number and variety of “adventures” that I have experienced so far in Antarctica has far exceeded my expectations. I find myself falling more in love with this continent every day. And when it’s time to give my imagination a break and have a real adventure, well, that’s why I do scientific ballooning.