In Antarctica, there are no days off. Not really. To live down here, you must work at one of the dozens of research bases and remote field camps scattered across the continent. Sustaining life is so difficult and costly that everyone—the scientists, technicians, plumbers, electricians, and chefs, like myself—is compelled to work all the time. Even on your day off, you often end up watching other people work. Or joining in. It’s all part of the constant adventure that makes up life on the ice.
Some of us were drawn here for the chance to escape from urban life to one of the world’s last true wildernesses. Around McMurdo Station, where I live, there are several hiking trails, the longest extending nine miles, much of it across a glacier with panoramic views of Mount Erebus’ smoldering crater top and the Ross Ice Shelf. There’s also mountain biking (outfitted with fat tires) and downhill skiing. When the wind is strong enough, we can kite-ski across the flat sea ice. There’s even a marathon every January.
Where else can you spend your downtime volunteering to drive a forklift or operate a two-megawatt power plant, no experience necessary? On my weekly rest day I volunteer as a dive tender—which means I spend hours out in the blowing snow lugging around equipment li