At six thirty a.m. in the lobby of the Staybridge Inn, it’s not hard to figure out who your peeps are. Half the folks shuffling through the featureless, beige breakfast buffet wear blue sport coats and carefully muted ties. The other half look like finalists returning from a victory lap on Survivor: Alaska.
It’s my second day in Denver, and I have to say, setting foot back in the Antarctic program touches off a crazy cocktail of emotions. There’s plenty of nervous energy, excitement and awe, but also more than a touch of what-the-hell-am-I-thinking? I mean, going around the room getting to know everyone, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve signed on with the League of Extraordinary Badasses. Sure, I’ve got an impressive resume. But it’s a freakin’ resume. Everyone else here is a seasoned veteran of extreme environments. Better than half of them cut their teeth on Alaskan commercial fishing boats. You’ve seen The Deadliest Catch? Those are the guys (and gals – more than half are women) I’m working with.
But they’re calm and understated folks with a welcoming oh shucks kind of style. When we went around the table and it was my turn I said Yeah, I did a season at Pole and one tour on the NBP last winter, and they all they smiled and said Cool, and seemed to accept me as one of their own.
Still, it’s hard not to feel like an imposter: all I’ve ever done is drive a desk. South Pole? Desk. Ice breaker? Desk. And when Cara waxes poetic about trying to launch Zodiacs into brash ice with the ramp all piano-keyed by swells as the weather’s coming down, and everyone nods as if to say Yeah, I hate when that happens… Well, I just listen appreciatively and keep my mouth shut.
Anyhow. These are good folks, and I’m looking forward to deploying with them in December. This week is just marine orientation for the new season, to get this year’s Antarctic Support personnel back up to speed on USAP procedures. We’ve got lectures on equipment safety (ladders are not your friend), practice sessions with emergency gear (tents definitely are your friend) and plenty of handholding to get through the maze of PQ and travel reimbursements. It’s mundane, often bureaucratic stuff, but even walking the halls of program headquarters, seeing old faces and swapping tales of adventure with the new is enough to get my pulse going again.
I remember when Beth first talked me into signing up with the program. She said there were only two ways things could go wrong: first was that I might hate Antarctica. But hey, then I’d have my three months on the Ice and be done, have a lifetime’s worth of “No really, there I was” stories to show for it.
The real danger, she said, was that I’d get hooked. It was less than a month into the season at Pole that she wrote to me: she’d been following my blog, and I was clearly doomed to be a lifer. But you know, kicking back around the table while Ross cracks open another story of “Let me tell you what happened this one time when we were putting in a field camp on Cape Shirreff…” Well, I’m letting myself sip the solace that there are worse fates than losing yourself to the Ice. And that even if there aren’t, I’ve got plenty of extraordinary company in my addiction.