South Pole Demographics and Ice Spouses

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
Trip End Feb 17, 2009

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Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

As February moved into full swing, I realized that most of my time not working was being spent with a certain Austin Lewis.  I would say this was influenced by my shift, which let off at a strange time, but I wasn't the only one prone to this behavior.  It was about then I realized I had become an Ice Wife.  

People make friends fast in Antarctica, just like kids at summer camp.  And those friendships accelerate much more quickly in a two story station where your only definite commitment is work shift.  "Ice Wives" and "Ice Husbands" are really just people in relationships who have latched onto each other like barnacles for the emotional support.  Each day Austin woke up at 5:30 am shift, while I slept in or kept myself busy until my 1pm shift.  Later in the day he would take a post-shift nap in the TV room (which has the best couches) so he could meet me at the end of my shift, and we could hang out, which often consisted of B-movie marathons, drinking at smoker's lounge, or exploring the area.  Though I wouldn't admit it to him, I was incredibly grateful for his presence and hellish self-imposed schedule.  Though I too had made fast friends, I had less time to develop them, and the majority remained on the level of amusing characters and drinking buddies.

Of course, in choosing your Ice Spouse, it's best to weigh options and pick wisely.  At Pole, trading in boyfriends and girlfriends can get ugly and complicated, and I just saw the Summer Season.  I heard a cautionary tale of a winter-over whose girlfriend dumped him for another worker and went a bit nuts.  He loaded a sledge with chocolate and energy bars, donned his ECW (Extreme Cold Weather gear) and took off into the winter night bound for the coast, never mind it lay hundreds of miles over deadly frozen desert.  He only made it across the air strip before fellow station members caught up with him and dragged him back indoors; a lucky break for him.

At McMurdo, switching is a bit easier, though you are guaranteed to see your former lover around base, unless you switch from day to night shift and take all meals in your room.  At least it is easier to hide a new relationship than in a two hundred person station.  

Though many Ice romances end with the season, when workers return to their widespread homes, or head off to travel the world, some stick.  The HR woman who flew into McMurdo had met her boyfriend from the Carpentry shop the previous winter, and was coming back for love.  T

 During Summer 2008-2009, there two engagements took place (though I heard a third couple got married later in the year, and none of us expected that.)  Tim and Kelly had met at the South Pole three years prior and had been coming back ever since, and sometime in January, he popped the question.  Engleman and Erika's engagement was witnessed by half the station, because it was delivered bar-top in smoker's lounge.

 The Plumber Foreman has been to Antarctica many seasons, and is notorious for delivering long winded talks from his high perch while drinking fellows look on, cheer and grunt appreciatively.  This particular night, he stood up and raised his beer and the room grew relatively silent, except for one drunk lady beaker who eventually had to be dragged back to her room because the bar decided she was too obnoxious.  Dragging his longtime girlfriend up with him to "enjoy the moment" Engleman delivered a brief synopsis of their relationship, which reached back to high school, with marriage, divorce, and re-introduction in the interim.  Then he produced a ring, proclaiming "I love you bitch!" and after a moment of shock she put on the ring and said "I love you too bitch!"  It was quite the moment.

 As they say in Antarctica, "the odds are good but the goods are odd."  How true it is.  

People come from all over, but Polies like to joke they only hire from states starting with A,C,M O,and W.  This refers mostly to Alaska, Colorado, California, Montana, Oregon, and Wisconsin and Washington.  This can mostly be attributed to the outdoorsy nature of these states, and to word of mouth, which is how many people originally hear of polar work.  This list didn't include the New Hampshire contingent, which made up maybe 10% of station.  I don't really know how this happened, but I think there were some really active recruits in the Forest Service industry or something.  

 Wisconsin is included because IceCube is based there, and many of their hire-ees are local.  Alaskans are just crazy, and choose to "Summer" in Antarctica to mis the dark Alaskan winter.  I have a college friend form Moose Pass Alaska who told me she grew up expecting to work in Antarctica.  Half the town moved down there in the summer, and it was just what you did if you were a Moose Pass kid.  

 Since South Pole has been claimed by the United States, those not citizens are Germans or Swedes working for IceCube, New Zealanders, who are always allowed since operations are based on their South Island, and a plethora of foreign scientists, who have grant money.  The one trait they all share is a little bit of crazy.
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