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19 December, 2003

Reflections at 60 Degrees South

My time on the ice has ended and I am now on the long road home. After staying up most of the night to do a live broadcast with my students it was nearly time to head North. I boarded the bus extremely tired, very sentimental, and a little disappointed that I hadnít had enough time or energy for one last hike up Ob Hill. My time on the ice went by much faster than I could have ever imagined and while Iím ready to see my family and friends, I wasnít quite ready to leave.

I felt a little sad as I put on big red for the last time and said goodbye to the place that had become my home for the last five weeks. Ivan the Terra Bus was again my chariot between the ice runway and town. Only this time I was moving in the opposite direction and knew each of MacTownís buildings as we drove by them; the majority of which are now associated with special memories and the wonderful people I associate with them. With misty eyes and a lump in my throat I peered out the window trying to make sure Iíd etched every detail of this curious, but magical place.

The Antarctic has consumed my life for nearly the past three years. First there was the year of just waiting to apply as Iíd just missed the deadline when I first seriously started considering it. This was then followed by two months of writing application essays, three months of waiting to hear word if Iíd even been accepted, and finally a year and a half of knowing that I was actually going. And like the let down I used to feel as a child each Christmas night knowing that it was actually over, I felt a little empty inside. For unlike the holidays, it is highly unlikely that I will ever experience this place again. I took a deep breath, one last long look at the sunlit mountains and sparkling sea ice, boarded the dark New Zealand Herc, and settled in for the eight hour flight back to Christchurch.

Although noisy and uncomfortable, the plane ride allowed me to reflect upon the past few weeks and this amazing experience. While the overall goal of my Antarctic expedition was to give students a better understanding of the polar areas, the research that goes on there, and a better grasp of the true nature of science, I realized that I myself had undergone a life changing experience. In many ways Iím leaving as a completely different person.

For me, Antarctica was the place where my inner child became an adult and the cautious adult got to become a child. While many experience this in college, I guess I experienced this here. Iím no longer that quiet, often timid young girl who actually spent most of the outbound trip popping Tums because she was so nervous. I left a little more independent, willing to take a few more risks, and with the increased self-confidence needed to achieve any goal. Iíve seen the passion and curiosity one has to have in order to call themselves a scientist, understand the romance associated with exploration and discovery, find myself with an itch to see more of this wonderful world on which we live, and want to know more about the scientific processes that make each place unique.

The old saying in Antarctica is that the first time you come for the adventure, the second time for the money, and third time because you donít fit in anywhere else. And while it is unlikely that I will ever return to this place, a piece of me will remain there, and the spirit of Antarctica is now a part of me. I guess only those who have visited this place can truly understand the powerful "calling" of Antarctica and the impact this place has on one's life. The ice, the people, and this experience will forever influence the woman I still have yet to become. For this, I will forever be grateful!

1. Bag drag. Like on the trip down weight restrictions are taken very seriously. The night before leaving everyone must turn in all checked luggage and be weighed while wearing their red parka and holding all carry-on.

2. Loading Ivan the Terra Bus

3. Boarding the NZ Herc

4. Reflections at 60 degrees south

5. Me by the McMurdo sign

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