The first sign that Sophie was in for a different kind of adventure was when she boarded a military cargo plane. The second sign was when that plane landed on a runway made of ice. The third sign was when she was taken from the station in a giant red “bus” named “Ivan the Terra” with the largest wheels she’d ever seen.
Sophie’s destination was the McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
When she first feasted her eyes upon the drab looking block of buildings that resembled a construction site or a mining town she was less than impressed.
McMurdo serves as the headquarters of the United States Antarctic Program, which manages U.S. scientific research in Antarctica. There are Scientists studying almost everything imaginable: previously unknown microorganisms that survive in extreme conditions, volcanoes, exotic sea creatures, the local penguin and seal population, icebergs, astronomy. The list goes on and on and on. There’s even an artists and writers program. The scientists are among the best in their fields and so are the technicians, such as divers who study the world beneath the ice—incredibly beautiful and dangerous work as documented in the 2007 Warner Herzog film, “Encounters at the End of the World.”
About 1,000 persons work at McMurdo during the six-month summer period when the sun rarely sets, including all of the support staff. While Sophie’s first impressions were not great she fell in love with the people. It’s a merry gang of wanderers and dreamers from every corner of the earth who have come to the end of the earth for the summer before they resume their wanderlust or their research someplace else. About 250 stay during the dark and lonely winter. It’s the only place on earth outside of her Southern Africa home where humans didn’t treat her like a freak.
In addition to a love of travel the part-time residents share a desire to enhance their knowledge of the planet and of the mysteries of life and death itself. The almost unanimous conclusion is that the human race is on the road to extinction. For example, it was in Antarctica in the early 1980s where the infamous “ozone hole” was discovered. The ozone layer prevents most harmful ultraviolet light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. These holes in the ozone can result in increases in sunburn, skin cancer, cataracts, plant damage and reduction of plankton populations.
This terrified Sophie. She couldn’t understand how her new friends could tell her this in such a nonchalant way. But they explained they have been living with this knowledge for a long time. They added that there is some hope. Recent tests show that the ozone hole is getting smaller, which they say is because of the reduction of CFCs, halons, and other ozone-depleting chemicals.
Sophie wanted to head into the continent but first she had to take a survival class, which included building an igloo and walking around with a bucket on her head to mimic whiteout conditions. She breezed through it.
She took her custom made LUC8K leather tote bag and headed into the vast emptiness beyond. She was able to approach the docile seals without worry. She observed the vast penguin population as the men and women share the responsibility of caring for their eggs. She walked to the edge of a volcano where scientists were performing tests. She watched divers enter a hole in the ice and disappear below as if they were in watery caves.
Sophie’s trip to McMurdo changed her. The camaraderie she experienced among her new friends and the important work they do has made her more committed than ever to live in a sustainable way.