The internet assures us SPAM
will reach every grid point on planet earth.
This morning at the south pole I got an e-mail that assured me there were hot cheating housewives in my area. There was a picture of one of them. All I needed do to contact her was click.
While I was wondering what would happen if I clicked, I know a guy who's been clicking where it says, and he's been meeting cheating housewives on his lunch breaks.
Last time I saw him I said, "Bob, you know your behavior is totally abhorrent."
"What makes you so judgmental?"
"If you weren't taking the offers the SPAM would stop. The only reason we keep getting all that SPAM is because people like you are following through on it. You should be put in jail."
He looked at his watch. Even though we were on our lunch break and it was only 12:15PM, he had to run.
He just doesn't care.
And I just deleted three Viagra offers, swallowing valuable bandwidth down here at 90 south.
I've spent a lot of time on ham radio while I've been down here. For you radio people, there seems to be only one decent band opening to North/South America per day, and it occurs at noon local time (6PM east coast time), and lasts about an hour.
Despite trying at various points in the day, I've heard no European or Australian or Asian stations.
The ham station at KC4AAA consists of an old ICOM 735, an old TenTec Titan AMP, and a 6 el 20M Force10 monobander aimed along grid 110 degrees (which is probably why I only hear North/South America...) There is no such thing as a working antenna rotator at -60F, so the antenna is fixed. The station is going to be torn down in December. The new ham station, I hear, will be outfitted with all the latest gear. Multiple monoband yagis including a 3 el 40 meter beam. So I may have made some of the last contacts from the original station.
So far I've worked 6 stations, most of them during the CW sweepstakes (thereby screwing up their rhythm when I say my district is "south pole"). I also worked a Brazilian.
Not a lot of action for the good old KC4AAA station. I'd probably do better if I was on Mars.
Oddly enough, the south pole smells like diesel. It should smell like nothing, but it smells like diesel smoke. Smoke from planes. Smoke from generators. Smoke from heavy equipment.
Work at pole station goes on 24-7. Three shifts. There are big military-grade bulldozers roving around, piling snow at all hours.
The snow which hasn't been bulldozed is dry and hard. It makes sounds when you walk on it. Scott said that, "you're never alone walking in the Antarctic." He was referring to the almost metallic clanking sounds the hardpack makes when you walk over it. Sometimes it sounds like walking on a metal plate. Sometimes it sounds like walking on a thin glass bridge that's about to shatter, leaving you to plunge into an unnamable void.
I've been told that in the winter, walking on the snow creates a deep resonant "boom" sound, similar to that made by shifting sand dunes in the desert.
You're never alone, people say, because we are alone at the south pole.
You need to have something to do at the south pole. An explorer without a goal is just someone lonely, searching for a home. Shackleton knew the importance of keeping busy. The mind must be kept occupied on some task of value, or the very soul is dragged off into the vast numbing cold.
Now my work is done.
How must Scott have felt reaching this place, finding out his goal was now forever out of reach, and having an 800 mile trek ahead of him just to survive. What incalculable loneliness must have over come him. To be so far from home, to have so far to go with the goal shifting from glory to mere survival -- the emptiness must have overtaken him.
The british explorers prided themselves on stoicism, but they were human beings like the rest of us.
Yesterday I deployed my equipment. My only goal now is to get home safely and suddenly the emptiness of the place has hit me. I'm here too short a time to make lasting friendships. I've got 11 hours of plane travel ahead of me, just to get to civilization. Hours of waiting, days if there are storms. And then 22 more hours to reach home on commercial airliners.
My mind can travel on these electronic bits, but the body takes time to move.
I don't know what happened, exactly. But this morning I woke up and the killing wind outside lost its personality. It went from being a challenger to a reminder of lifelessness. After we are gone, all of this will be here.
I used to think that Scott was a wuss. A bad leader who made ego-centric decisions that cost him and his teammates their lives. When I made my first trips to McMurdo station, I began to see Scott in a different light. What kind of man, I wondered, sails for months through the roughest seas on earth, freezes his ship into the ice, guaranteeing no return for a year, and then looks out over the mind-numbing vastness of the Ross Ice Shelf and thinks, "I'm going to walk across that, and keep going for months hauling hundreds of pounds of materials till I reach the south pole."
There is a level of bravery in that feat I've been unable to summon from these bones. And then to arrive at pole station myself, and feel that incredible thin cold air, see the horizon clearly in all directions, the sun haloed with sundogs, and imagine that after all that travel, to reach this earthly hell and realize you didn't meet the challenge. Your effort wasn't good enough. You left everyone you loved to reach a place where nothing kind is dealt from the land.
And then you know that all of this will outlive any of your effort. It could swallow you and render meaningless everything you are and were.
What horror. What loneliness.
The heart almost refuses to beat. The lungs ache with each breath.
The oxygen-starved mind running in endless circles:
What have I done?
What have I done?
South Pole Station - November 8, 2005