An experienced expeditioner reflects on the majesty, adventure, routine and tedium of life on the icy continent.

Ah, yeah… that’s right.

Being selected to live in Antarctica is an exciting, but also daunting endeavor. On one hand you have all the spectacular images of glaciers, icebergs, penguins and ice cliffs that occupy your daydreams with thoughts of daring and adventure. Then, on the other hand, you must put on hold your entire work, home, personal and social lives for a period, with no guarantees upon return. For a lot of us, the adventure daydream wins out and off we set.

Then, after a couple months of training in Hobart, loaded with anticipation, it happens. You arrive on the continent, and it is truly amazing. Even on return seasons it still stuns. Then slowly reality sets in. You’re an employee, not an adventurer. Although you do get plenty of opportunities to get off station on adventures and have amazing experiences, in the end that time amounts to a small fraction of your life as an expeditioner. The majority is controlled by the clock. You work five and half days a week, have an outside work community job, Saturday cleaning duties and then your room and bathroom to attend to. There is also an on-call roster for some trades that requires an amount of “extra” work or daily checks to be completed.

The work is mostly a lot of maintenance tasks that are repeated month after month after month. While these tasks are very important because this environment can turn a small fault into a major problem, it’s common to be numbed by the drudgery of routine and you lose focus on your surrounds. It’s during this time when one of my favorite things about this life happens. I call it the “Ah, yeah…. that’s right” moment.

An “Ah, yeah” usually happens when your mind is elsewhere doing some daily mundane-ness and Antarctica just slaps you in the face with some piece of awesomeness and says, “Hey, idiot! Stop taking me for granted”. It can be something as simple as super fluffy snowflakes falling around you. Pink icebergs in the sunset or there just being icebergs out on the horizon. Some noisy seals tussling on the beach. A curious penguin rushing up to you because he thinks you’re interesting, only to stop and bark at you because you’re not. The moon’s reflection on the sea ice or the sky awash with auroras. These can be as uplifting as any adventure.

There are so many things that can slap you in face like this, at any time. It’s only a matter of taking a moment to raise your head out of the humdrum and recognise the beauty all around you. When you do, it puts that spring back into your step, like it could be the very first one on station all over again.

So, is Antarctic life one of majesty and adventure or routine and tedium? Well, in truth, it’s a mixture of both and without the necessity of the latter you don’t get to experience the splendor of the former.