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The Remoteness Factor

Dawn- 5am

We are having a calm voyage across the Drake Passage with gentle seas and brisk air. As I stand outside, there is nothing but the sound of the boat breaking against the waves. Hiss, fizzle, roar, and then silence. Boat hitting water, water streaming away, then a moment of quiet as the bow gently rises only to fall again. Hiss, fizzle, roar. White crests peel away from and stream behind the boat. Below the sound of the waves is the steady hum of the engine. Otherwise, there is silence. Soon the steady rhythm of the boat moving through water becomes its own hypnotic mantra.

This captivates me as I scan the horizon for ice. Last night we crossed the Antarctic Convergence. That means we’ve moved from very cold water, 7°C, to almost freezing water, 2°C. The Convergence acts as a biological barrier, the organisms living north of it would not survive in these colder waters to the south. When I say organisms, this includes me and the other humans on this ship. If I were to fall into these waters, I would survive only a matter of minutes. Lucky for me, our ship is sturdy and stable, providing safe footing out here.

On the boat.

This morning, there are thick clouds clogging the horizon. Eastward, they glow a gentle orange as the sun slowly rises. My 360 degree view is nothing but blue ocean with wide rolling swells. I struggle to describe just how deep and dark the color of the waters are down here. Imagine storm clouds, heavy, dark and full of moisture. Imagine them low, wide and all encompassing. Then imagine them as an ocean and maybe, just maybe you can picture the deep, dark color of the Southern Ocean and the feeling it instills in me.

While we are far from this iceberg, this picture gives a sense of a sunrise on the Southern Ocean.

I’ve seen no artificial lights, no boats, and no other people, except for my expedition companions, for two days. Maybe you think this does not seem like much. But I ask you right now: when was the last time you looked out into your environment and for two days straight did not see a single light polluting the sky? What is the longest amount of time you have gone without seeing one stranger or evidence of humans?

Now, of course we do have some lights from the boat interfering with my view of the stars and there is a whole community on board–about 60 people total–but when it’s 5 am, it is easy to imagine I am out here alone seeing an older version of civilization. On the boat, we experience a world without cell phones, internet, or televisions. There are no bustling cities, no cars, and no corporate anything. We live in an environment without blinding lights crowding out the stars, crowding out imagination. An environment with a true sense of adventure and what it really means to be alive.

Keep in mind that Antarctica is the one continent people never evolved to live on. Our very first stop on this voyage is proof of this. Tomorrow we will bring supplies to the Cape Sheriff field camp on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands. People could not survive in Antarctic field camps without supplies from the outside world. The continent is 98 percent covered in ice, the other 2 percent is rock. The few species of plants that grow could never sustain human life. Even if people harvested the fish, mammals or birds for food, they could scarcely survive more than one or two winters without running out of provisions and perishing. There is no wood or coal to burn to keep warm or means to build shelter. You get the picture.

The Shetland Islands from above, courtesy of NASA.

Being out here in the middle of nowhere, where people were never meant to live, I can’t shake the humbling feeling that I am a tiny speck in a huge ocean in an ever more immense world. And yet I feel more alive than I ever have. Now you tell me, why do I have to travel to the most remote ocean and continent on earth, a place still largely untouched by humans and society, to feel this free?

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2 Responses »

  1. cool!

  2. Thanks Devin! Glad you liked it!