Okay, this isn’t going to be news to those of you who see me every day – it’s been kind of dominating my thoughts and conversation for a while now. But for folks who only check in with me from time to time, family, etc., this may be a bit of a shock.
Hi mom. Are you sitting down? No, it’s not that bad. Just, uh, unexpected.
So how to put this? I’ll start by saying that it’s been in the works for about 8-9 months now, and that Devon, Andy and Jeremy and Google and everyone who depends on me has strongly encouraged me to go for it. And it would be temporary. And that it’s not even a certain thing – in all likelihood, it’s not even going to happen, and things will continue in their usual la-dee-dah chaos.
But the thing itself. Well, here goes…. I’m trying to get sent to the South Pole to do tech support for the US Antarctic Program over the coming austral summer.
Yeah. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to go to the South Pole. Not as a tourist, but as part of a team. Part of something that went down there for a purpose, in the name of science (or something!), to pitch in and make a real difference. If I can’t be an astronaut and work on the moonbase, I wanted to go to the Pole.
And – I know I’m jinxing it by saying anything out loud here – I’m sooooo close!
Well, closer than I thought I’d get. I have a signed offer as 1st alternate for the position. Which means that I only get to go if one of the primaries flames out before October deployment. Already been through 146 pages of paperwork. The background checks. The physical exams. The xrays. In the two weeks leading up to my “PQ” designation (that’s “Physical Qualification” in Polie-speak), I tallied 23 different medical professionals who got the opportunity poke, prod, question or zap me. After the zillionth x-ray, I told them that with that much radiation, I was counting on a superpower. They said they’d do their best.
But again – I’m an alternate. I don’t get to go unless one of the primaries bails. So I’m trying not to get my hopes up (hope, hope, wish, wish, wish!). Really.
I’ll write more later about the actual process, why I want to do this, and how I got this far. But for now, I just wanted to
jinx this confess this crazy errand I’m trying to embark on, so I don’t have to remember who it’s still a secret from.
- Uh… don’t you have a wife and family? Yes, and they’re all urging me to do this. We’ve got some semi-fulltime help in Jamie, who the kids love, and who is an awesome “third parent”. Yes, it’s going to be hard on Devon. It’s going to be hard on Jem and hard on Andy, all for very different reasons. I’m really really aware of this. I’ll be gone (again, if I get to go) for five months – only five months – at the heart of the school year. Both kids will be returning to their former schools and former friends. We’ve been talking to the kids about it for a few months. They’re aware of the implications, and understand that it’s going to be hard not having dad around for a bit, but they think it’s the most awesome thing in the world that their dad might be going to the South Pole. In terms of role modeling, I think we’re doing a good thing here.
- Uh, don’t you already have a job? What does Google think about this? Good question. There’s a very liberal “unpaid leave” program at Google, where you can go away for up to three months to regain your bearings and get yourself nice and centered. Going to the Pole to work for the USAP violates all of the conditions of that program. But it helps that the HR folks think this is an awesome opportunity. It especially helps that my manager, the Director of Research, named his desktop machine “Amundsen”. So with a bit of cajoling and negotiation, Google’s given me approval to go.
- What the hell are you thinking? Don’t you know it’s insanely cold down there? Yeah. I dunno. Maybe it’s a tribal thing. Maybe it’s like in Close Encounters, where a random group of people got flashed with a brilliant light and found themselves drawn to northern Wyoming (which is also cold and desolate, but with substantially more mosquitoes in the summer. I hate mosquitoes). There just seem to to be some people who are drawn to the Pole. And the more of them I meet, the more they feel like kindred spirits. So, I figure I’ve got to go find out for myself. (If you’re a Netflix subscriber, watch Encounters at the End of the World. Decide who was crazier – Herzog or the people he was filming).