Ladies and Gentlemen, Aquabear is WinFly Prime and PQ’ed! Repeat, WinFly Prime and PQ’ed!

[Note: this is what us newspapery folk call “burying the lede.”]

When I was hiking on Isla Navarino in the southernmost bit of Chile several years ago, I ate some calafate berries growing wild on the edge of the trail. Local lore claims that if you eat the berry, you will return to Patagonia. Well, I haven’t been back to Chile, but it seems I am hooked on the Southern Hemisphere. There’s just something about that half of the world, and I don’t mean the fascinating way water really does swirl in the opposite direction when you flush the toilet.

It’s been less than four months since I left New Zealand and… I’m going back. But this time, New Zealand will be just a stopover.

I’m going to spend the next eight months in Antarctica.

To say I am excited would be an understatement. I’m also giddy, nervous, hella curious, anxious, eager, impatient and, because this is me we’re talking about, slightly hungry. This will be my seventh continent and the fulfillment of a childhood dream. From mid-August until the end of February, I will be one of the bakers at McMurdo Station, the largest of the three American bases down there, with a summer population of about 1200.

Of course, I am getting there long before summer. I am thrilled that I was chosen as “WinFly Prime” for my position… “prime” meaning I was first in line (if I, the gods forbid, break a leg at the Iron Girl triathlon next week, there is a “WinFly Alternate” who will take my place)  and “WinFly” meaning… well, it’s complicated.

McMurdo has had no physical contact with the outside world since March. No planes, no ships (though, given the wonders of technology, those wintering there are still able to watch stupid cat videos on YouTube). The summer season will start at the end of September, when the station’s population grows by a factor of ten in a matter of days and all the scientists and other grantees descend on the place.

The summer folks need to find the place ready for them, which means they need some people to arrive early and build the ice roads, prepare the ice airstrips and, uhm, churn the ice cream. So, at the end of winter, they get a bunch of people assembled on the tarmac at Christchurch and… they wait. They wait for the storms to pause just enough for a WINdow of opportunity to FLY a plane or two of personnel down there before the winds and snow close in again.

Once the WinFly folks arrive, there are no other planes, in or out, until the summer season, more than six weeks later.

And that, my friend, is WinFly.

I wasn’t sure I would be going until I was PQ’ed, or Physically Qualified. As you might imagine, they don’t let just anyone loose on the seventh continent. I had a multi-part physical to make sure all parts were in good working order because, once you’re down there, especially at WinFly, that’s it. There is a doctor with “emergency dental training” (which doesn’t sound as reassuring as it should) and that’s it. If something serious happens, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature who, on the best of days down there, is a bit bitchy. And in the middle of winter? Fuhgeddaboutit.

I got word a couple weeks ago that I was PQ’ed and now it’s a matter of figuring out what the heck to pack to see me through more than half a year in a place where Target and Trader Joe’s will be but distant memories.

I’ll be starting my journey August 8. Until then, I’ll be collecting on all those offers of drinks and dinners with various Milwaukee area friends, and packing. And asking myself such questions as “how many pairs of socks does one really need?”

Though one item is already in my suitcase, ready to go. Karl the Kiwi, my most trustworthy mascot from the New Zealand adventure, is ready to set foot on his third continent.

Karl at the Bonneville Salt Flats, April 2010

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2 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen, Aquabear is WinFly Prime and PQ’ed! Repeat, WinFly Prime and PQ’ed!

  1. Hey, I know I owe you a letter in response to all of this stupendous news — OMG! Antarctica! — but I got something better than that. Bullock and I are going to Chicago next weekend (arriving Sat. night, leaving Tues. morning) and I have Monday free to drive up to Milwaukee to see you if you’re free. I’ll see you a message on FB.

    In the meantime, and more on topic for this blog post: I’m relieved to know that the base has a summer population of some note. In my head I kept seeing you in some kind of situation like that episode in the first season of The X-Files or in The Thing, but without the monsters. But 1200 people provides some variety, at least, and it’s probably a very self-selecting group of interesting people.

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