by Luke Winslow
Two weeks ago Saturday: I wake up at home, make some coffee and read The Economist. It is fall now and the temperature is cooler and pleasant. I have accepted that the trip to Antarctica probably won’t happen as a result of the government shutdown. I’m mentally preparing for a slightly less chilly task – removing the Lake Mendota buoy for the fall.
Last Saturday: I wake up. I’m at the bottom of a four foot deep hole in the snow. I have large scrapes and bruises up and down my side. My left arm is sore and doesn’t have full range of motion. There is a Nalgene filled with my own urine sitting next to me. My back aches. I take a picture.
Whoa. It’s been a wild couple of weeks.
If this were a movie from the 90’s, there would be a fade-out here. Because this is an email, I will just hit enter a few times to indicate a transition to the backstory.
At 4:30 PM on October 22nd, I’m sitting in my office working. It had been a relatively uneventful day. Reading emails, writing emails, writing some code. On this particular day I was also revising a paper that had come back from a journal with major revisions.
Yeah, that’s much of what I do. I’m sure at this point you’re *really* glad you read this far.
At about 4:45, I open my email to get my email-related dopamine kick. Sitting in my inbox is an email from someone I’ve never met with the subject line:
Fwd: Good News!
My first thought. Spam. But something about the name seems familiar. I open the email.
Please confirm with me if you can make the flight you are listed for below. The 30 Oct flight leaves CONUS on 26 Oct, I assume the 01 Nov flight leaves CONUS on 28 Oct.
B511 Luke Winslow
This probably means little to you, but to me it meant one thing – Wow. I am going to Antarctica. And we’re leaving in less than four days.
My response was short and straight to the point. My email verbatim:
Yes. I could do any of those dates.
The best way to describe the general feel of the next few days comes from the leader of this project, Peter Doran, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, when he said, “The fuse has been lit.”
Doran is renowned as an expert on polar lakes and has conducted several seasons’ worth of field work in remote Canadian Arctic and Antarctic locations. He’s currently studying the hydrological and biogeochemical processes in Antarctic lakes and has invited me along to help try to deploy automated sensors that will be able to take long-term, continuous measurements in these frigid systems.
First, though, there are a number of things I need to deal with before I leave for two months. Rent. Bills. My Car. I also want to buy a few things to have specifically while gone. I haven’t yet done any of this purchasing because of the tentative nature of the trip. Plus, I thought for sure that if we found out we were going, we would have plenty of time before leaving. An old teacher I had used to say, “If you assume, you make an ass out of U and ME”. This time I managed to make an ass out of only me.
The next few days are a blur. I run around prepping to be gone and making sure I’ve handled my end of all work obligations I promised. “The fuse is lit” echoed in my mind. You would be amazed at how your perspective changes on being gone when you realize you may not have internet access for much of the time. Internet has become second only to electricity as a required tool, if only because the one relies on the other.
Saturday evening, October 26th. After considerable misunderstanding as to exactly what terminal to meet at (Bradley International Terminal is *not* numbered), I meet up with several people in our group all headed to Antarctica. We eventually make our way to our gate, and as we approach I notice something. The plane we’re flying is big. Really big. Really really big. An A380, to be exact. The largest passenger plane in the world.
To be continued…..