Career Break to Antarctica – Part 1
Ever since childhood, Keith Martin dreamt of exploring the far reaches of Antarctica. And in January of 2005, that dream came true as he tackled Antarctica as part of his career break. But it didn’t come easy.
It was unnaturally hot and, making things even more uncomfortable, I was wearing several layers of expedition-weight fleece, some extreme-cold-weather (ECW) overalls and a set of white, rubber clown boots that made my feet sweat. I was crammed into the back of a C-141 Starlifter, one of the U.S. Air Force’s antiquated workhorses, with several people I would become well acquainted with over the following nine months. We had been airborne for hours, flying southward over a vast ocean of icebergs and ferocious storms.
It had been beautiful and warm when we boarded the plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, yet the rules required us to wear the full compliment of ECW gear we had been given during the flight. Most of us had shed the thick red parka within minutes of take off, but the interior of the Starlifter was still a smothering inferno. I found a bit of relief from the heat when I got up to use the restroom, which for the men was a 55-gallon drum with a funnel and a curtain (the women were sitting in the front of the plane and got to use the flight crew’s bathroom.)
There was an icy draft shooting in through the cracks of the rear cargo door and several people were congregating in the narrow gap between the fuselage and the large pallet of baggage and supplies soaking up the natural air conditioning – I joined them. Despite the discomfort of the hot, cramped quarters, everyone on board was excited. For some people the flight was taking them to a place they thought of as home, for others, myself included, it was rocketing us southward on a grand adventure. A garbled voice materialized out of the jet noise and told us to take our seats – I hadn’t been able to make that out, but the people standing around me were veterans of the program and had been expecting the call.
There were no windows to watch the passing landscape through, but we could all feel the changes as the Starlifter descended through the turbulent air and maneuvered into position for a landing. With a jarring thud the plane hit the ice runway and started the long process of slowing down. Excitement grew as we came to a stop and the front door opened with a burst of cold air. We had arrived, but we still couldn’t see where. I sat with my new friends, most of whom were first-timers like me, and waited as the front of the plane cleared out.
Slowly the two huge isles emptied until it was finally my turn. I stood, put on my parka and got my camera ready and then I walked toward the glowing blue light flowing in through the open door. A moment later I felt the odd crunch of Antarctic ice beneath my feet and a tingling burst of cold on my face. After years of dreaming I had finally made it to the icy southern continent!
Visiting Antarctica had always been a huge dream of mine. Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, as well as many others from the ‘heroic age of exploration’, had been heroes of mine for most of my life. As often happens I graduated college, joined the working world and pushed all of my heroes to the back of my mind as I lost myself in the pursuit of the American Dream. As time went by I got little reminders from my childhood heroes in the form of an interesting book, or a movie, or an all-too-rare story in the news. After several years in the working world, taking pathetically short vacations, I suddenly remembered all of my dreams and decided it was time to live them.
When I started planning my career break I was shooting for a one-year journey around the world. That was an easy enough goal to achieve, but there was one aspect of my planned itinerary that was giving me problems – I wanted to visit Antarctica, but my meager budget didn’t allow me to take one of the expensive cruises, which was the only way I had heard of to get there. At the time, a three-week cruise down to the icy continent would have cost me more than I had budgeted for an entire year of travel – it was a big problem.
How did Keith make it to Antarctica? Stay tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday!