Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life and Fear

Soon I will be driving a farm tractor hauling sleds of fuel and various other materials across the vast desert of Western Antarctica. There will be three of us for the bulk of the journey, adding three more for half of it. I am the equipment operator and there will be two mechanics. In the two field camps we visit, I will be using a track loader to unload and stage various cargo. I have never been to a field camp before, or been on a traverse. I have only been an equipment operator for two months now, and this unique opportunity fell into my lap. I am still a bit overwhelmed by how the track of my life has changed so quickly. I had just gotten used to feeling super confident in my duty fork job (and I had been so apprehensive and fearful about it), and in the flash of a moment I will be doing something totally different. I used to work at a large University where people stayed in the same job for 5, 10, 30 years. I never understood it. I guess if they loved it and felt passionate about it I would understand, but most of these people had settled for security and retirement benefits and whatever dream they had had at one point had been pushed way underground, underneath the daily concerns of bills to be paid, family woes, and domestic routines. Having made the choice at an early age to not have a family of my own, I had the luxury of having only myself to worry about in my decision making about my future. The other day I was sitting around a room with some dear friends from here and one of them said  "....there is no greater thing in life than to find someone who loves you that you can love in return...."  and I immediately wanted to have a discussion with him about it because that might be true, but for some there might be no finer thing in life than to paint every day until they die. Ironically, this gathering of friends was a sort of commitment ceremony that I was having with a man here that I love. It was informal and touching and brimming with emotion - a ceremony in spirit only. In this state of bliss I find myself in romantically I can see that his words are true: there couldn't be anything finer than this! But I also know that sometimes a dream burns inside one so brightly that a choice has to be made, something given up in order to find the pearl at any price. It was never a dream of mine to drive a tractor across Antarctica. I couldn't dream that big. I dreamed of coming here & just doing anything to be here, but never did I think I would be doing something that sounded so....badass...and more importantly: doing something I have no experience or particular gifts in. As the space widens between that clerical worker I was for so many years to the outdoor rig driver I am today, it is so important for me to remember that none of this was an accident. It was all something that was deeply yearned for. I wasn't sure the form it was going to show up in but the universe knew I needed challenges in a big way. I have been so afraid so many times in this Antarctic career: the times I had to operate equipment for offload, the moment after I signed my Fleet Ops contract, and mostly, the first time I came down. The fear bundle that came up after saying yes to the PIG Traverse was so engulfing I almost changed my mind. But I also know how my mind works when some big new unknown element comes in: full on fight or flight mode terror. I know I've overused this example but learning to ski was the most concrete and informative experience I've had in learning how how big and powerful and unreal fear is. I believed the fear. I was invested in it. But when I decided to stop listening to it, my life changed in an instant. My wisest friend said to me once (when I was full of fear about deploying for the first time) that "anything hard is worth doing..." What a beautiful sentiment. In my experience I have found this to be true. My identity as a townie who loves attention and is a fool for dancing will peel away as I plow westward with nothing but flat white and my spinning mind for stimulation. I will go into it with the only attitude that makes sense: it's gonna be awesome.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

who is this?

I don't recognize this person as the me I knew for so long. If someone would have told me 10 years ago, when I was spinning my wheels frustrated in dead end clerical jobs, that I would be forking a  2 ton water tank to a water plant and filling it with water to take to the new Ice pier to flood the bollards, and that I would be doing it with a fun workhorse of a tractor I wouldn't have believed it. I saw a vision of what I wanted to be doing for work here & here is a  photo of it. And in two weeks it's going to be driving a Challenger 55 farm tractor to the remotest site in Western Antarcitca. May not be many post from there....but I'll do a full review from Christchurch in to all my readers!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pine Island Glacier Traverse

It's known as the PIG but it stands for Pine Island Glacier Traverse. It is a long traverse that will go from Wais Divide field camp to Byrd Camp and make a couple of trips to the Glacier. Unlike the South Pole Traverse which has been going on for years, this one is mapping out a new road to a really remote part of Antarctica. And I'm going on it.

All of a sudden my life has changed dramatically after a quick 15 minute breakfast conversation. I was happily doing my dream job as duty fork operator here in Fleet Ops and really enjoying it. Then I was casually talking with a friend over breakfast who is leading this traverse & he said his equipment operator had dropped out and he was looking for someone immediately. I told him to call my boss as I'm sure he'd recommend a good operator, that I'd love to go but was sure I wasn't qualified, but that it couldn't hurt to ask. I walked to work actually forgetting about the conversation and the minute our toolbox meeting was over in the morning my boss called me into his office & had me sit down and said "how would you like to go on a real Antarctic adventure?" I said yes with every fiber of my being, tingling and in shock. Why me? After 6 seasons of hard work and loving the Ice I realized I wanted more and started putting my intention there. When I got the contract in Fleet Ops I thought it couldn't get any better than that. I worked all Winfly helping support Traverse Ops and saw how much hard work was involved in preparing for a traverse. I thought, maybe someday I'll be able to do that...maybe after 5 years or so in the department. But I've only been an operator for 2 months and I get this opportunity of a lifetime. I was ecstatic for a day and then the fears and doubts attacked me yesterday. I started realizing all the cool stuff I'd miss in McMurdo, the fun two day weekends, the bonding I've done with my dept., and especially: Icestock and Offload. I will be leaving on my 50th birthday to fly to Wais Divide. This gift seems oiled into place by the Universe. It's like my blessings were there waiting for me but I just had to wait for them on their time. I did keep putting it out there what I wanted more opportunities to get off station and learn all the equipment. Be careful what you ask for in a big way! It will be my first time on the actual continent.

The irony is that getting something really exciting can feel as heartbreaking as not getting it. I cried all day yesterday and was having buyer's remorse...but after some deep talks with some evolved people I realized I was just going through my usual major life change meltdown. I will be leaving a fiery hot and passionate romance, a cozy room, and a job I love. I've never said the words "having to leave a job I love...!" But this opportunity just fell in my lap & I couldn't say no. It might be hard and grueling and boring at times (the 12 hours of driving days) but it is so different than anything I've ever experienced and so outside my comfort zone and that is what I love most. I love learning my limits of what I can and cannot do. I was so worried about my current job as an operator: that I'd mess up, that I would look like a fool, that I just wouldn't be good enough. I have rocked it. I have done a stunning job even if I'm the only one saying it. It has been incredible. Now I will be sleeping with two men in a berthing raft in the middle of nowhere Antarctica. I still can't believe it's happening. It will be incredible. We are called Piglets...hopefully, we will be the Merry Piglets... ;-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fun Times at the Bottom

Two months into my seventh season on Ice in my new job and all is going epic-ly well and good. Running a loader nine hours a day is hard on my body but I am delighted at how good a job I am doing. My IT feels like an extension of my body as I'm in it so much, but because I can drive it to the restroom (I work in an unplumbed building), lunch and various other walkable errands, I have forgotten that my legs have any other function that pressing pedals. I am so exhausted at the end of the day that I feel I am justified in lying prone for the rest of the evening...but I am not burning a lot of calories driving all day so at the first sign of Carhartt snugness (two desserts a day diet) I went on a walk to Hut Point and came back completely worn out. I could not believe how out of shape I was from doing the thing I can do best exercise-wise: walk all day long. I'm so used to running all day long in Supply and know I was burning my food at Winfly when my loader was an icy 25 degrees inside the cab, but now the only exercise I get is climbing in and out of it and spreading my age, I need more.

We had gotten so busy in our dept. that I thought I couldn't do any more picks that week when I was told I was going to track loader school for 3 days. I was ecstatic! Three days away from my regular job, meeting new friends, learning new equipment, and mostly, letting my body heal from the incessant jostling and jarring my vertebrae go through every day. I love my job but it is hard on my body. I get to train on three different loaders with tracks (I have only operated wheel loaders thus far) so I'll have 3 more machines checked off that I can operate.

I talk too much here. For some reason my brain and metabolism spike up when I arrive here and I find myself acting like a chatterbox doll whose neck string has been pulled. I usually have some "plan" when I get here to be a "different person" than I usually am here as I think I am too mouthy most the time, but it doesn't work. Antarctica does not let me be who I'm not, and she pushes my intensity craving self to its limits. I flirt too much, talk about lurid topics too much, and am just generally, too much I think. But I have a cozy, luscious romance going on right now so I'm purring like a kitten on the inside. It is so nice to have that here.

I love this place. I love this lifestyle. It can be brutal and trying, but living one's dream life involves sacrifice and hard work. And now that I have my dreamlife I can start reaching for higher goals. It's going to be very exciting and delicious finding out what those are...