It’s jarring, leaving a place you love. During the last week in February, I left McMurdo Station, Antarctica—the place where I lived and worked for the austral summer, October through February. McMurdo is no one’s permanent home. It was my fourth time in Antarctica, and after a three-year break from being at McMurdo, I quickly re-fell in love with the place. Leaving is bittersweet. After five months of galley food, I wanted to go to a grocery store. I wanted to ski in the mountains, drive a car, go to a movie theatre, and see my family and friends. For the past month, I’ve been doing all of those things. But I’m also thinking fondly of McMurdo, so before I move on to more recent happenings, I’ll back up to that final day I spend on The Ice.
The skies were overcast as the big orange Terra Bus dropped us off on the Pegasus Ice Runway, where we waited in full Extreme Cold Weather gear for our flight to arrive.
When the plane appeared as a speck on the horizon, the reality of leaving set in. After two days of flight delays due to weather, I didn’t want to get my hopes up for a departure until I actually got on the plane.
I looked back at my co-workers and friends as the plane landed—I saw a mixture of excitement and sadness reflected in their faces. Awe.
The Australian airbus—the “Snowbird”—taxied to a stopping place on the ice in front of us, and we started walking en masse towards it.
It’s a treat to fly to and from McMurdo on this type of plane—normally military cargo planes cart us back and forth, strapped into jumpseats for a long, cold flight back to New Zealand. An airbus is a luxury, and we drew seats to see who got to sit in first class (not me).
Once I was settled in to my comfy airbus seat, I looked out the window, backwards, until I couldn’t see any more of this frozen place I love. And then, for the first time in five months, I let myself think about the other places I love—maybe not equally—but the places that might one day offer me more permanence. Home.