I’ve been living on the Ice getting close to a year now. If all goes as planned I won’t leave for another several months. I asked previous Winterover’s if they thought there was any long-lasting effects to a Winter on the Ice, specifically thinking about physiological or psychological impacts, but the response was “More Winters.” I can’t speak to the validity of that addictive nature given it’s my first winter, but I do think there’s something addictive about working/living in Antarctica.
Like any addiction, it comes at a cost. We may walk away being able to pay off student loans, debt, or go on a nice vacation to recuperate, but we trade this intense period of work & play in this extreme environment for those possibilities. I believe we may also do so in the normal world as well, but here it’s more apparent.
We work 54 hour weeks on the ice, so 6 days a week we are generally at work by 7:30am and done by 5:30pm. We have an hour off for lunch and two 15 minute stretch breaks, but it‘s really more like 10 hours a day at or near work (maybe a nap, exercise, or something short thrown in). In theory we should get 8 hours of sleep, so that’s 18 hours accounted for, and that leaves you with 6 hours between quitting time and bed. Realistically you’ll spend some time at dinner, some time working out, or running errands, or exercising the social part of our brains, and walking all these places, so subtract another hour or two that you really have maybe 3 to 5 hours of your own time. With one day off, where we can go hike a trail, sleep in, have a party, or generally disengage from work that’s about 40 hours a week that you can fully devote to something.
It may seem like a lot of time, but break it into small chunks and then think of all things that fill up those slots around here. Yoga for me, Big Gym activities like Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, etc, or watching a movie on the cable system, or going to the library and reading, or playing a board game with friends, or a birthday/anniversary/random party, or writing to family/friends/blog, calling home (during lunch to account for time zones), fixing holes in your pants, or making a dress (for those crafty enough), shooting/editing a video (for the 48 hour film festival), or preparing for the next big station event like the 4th of July or Sandwich and Bryan’s Wedding, or just vegging out and letting your body heal (slowly). Perhaps that should have been more than one sentence, but it really all does string together down here. Indeed we all do it to some degree, but you can really feel the effects down here.
Something about Antarctica tends to make you heal slower here too. Maybe the extreme dry environment, the cold, the food, the long work periods, or something. Things that take a week to heal in the states take a week & a half or longer.
I’ve tried hard to keep my mind and body in good shape down here, but it’s been an uphill struggle. I don’t ever get enough of all the things I need to stay healthy. I’m always sacrificing one thing for another. Either it’s sleep, or socializing (which staves off loneliness and depression), or exercise to keep the body capable of everything, brain stimulation (reading/writing/creativity), or meditation (for me at least), or work, etc, etc. This is true of food too, I would prefer to eat healthier, but it’s a catch 22, as I need to eat as we need fuel in a cold environ, however my options are limited to what is served (which are free) which is–inspite of the galley doing the best they can–often carb, fat, fried, heavy or out of a can boiled veggies and occasional sprouts; we are always trading off.
So after months of working back and forth on these sacrifices, we all tend to get worn down. For me one side tends to win for a while and then another requires attention so I oscillate (hopefully in small amounts). It’s balance of a sort. With no real vacations down here (two day weekends are nice, but don’t repair bodies or brains), we tend to sacrifice some of our life to live here and either enjoy the unique people & place that is antarctica, or meet those financial goals, or both. Although I think it’s possible I think very few people down here manage to live sustainably, we live on the edge and tend to enjoy it.
With all this in mind, I leave you with a thought that Phil Jacobson imparted to us at Sandwich & Bryan’s wedding. Time is the most valuable currency we have on the Ice. In the case of the wedding we gave of it freely and reaped much in reward, as we often do here on the Ice. I believe this paradigm transcends the Ice, but I think we occasionally lose perspective of the value of our time. Carpe Diem!