chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Leaving the South Pole via New Zealand and an Asheville Thanksgiving

(As we waited for our plane to prepare for our plane, which
you can see in the background)
A little more about our Antarctic departure.

I did not think I would come to a point where leaving the South Pole would feel like leaving home - well a home away from home.  But the time spent walking to work during our long winter, certain community events, spending more time with my wife on a daily basis than we ever have before, and other various factors made living at the end of the world quite appealing.

When November finally came around, so did the time for us to leave the South Pole.  This was an odd time for me.  When Sarah first went to Antarctica I was unable to join her as I could not procure a job.  The second time she left for the frozen continent and I was again incapable of finding a way for myself, and the place I had spent so much time reading about began to leave a bitter taste in my heart.  She would come back, clearly changed and moved by her time in Antarctica, leaving a gap of sorts between us.  This was a place that separated us.  And yet it was a place she always longed to return to and was always sad to leave, which was difficult for me to say the least.

(She might having a hard time keeping her eyes open during
her last visit to the geographic South Pole, but she was very
excited to visit one more time.  One last visit!)
So when we tried for a third attempt at an Antarctic adventure together, I was a little more than jaded and doubtful.  Until the moment I climbed down out of a plane at the South Pole, I honestly thought any number of the countless different obstacles that could keep me from making my way would suddenly spring up out of nowhere.  "Ha ha, nice try Brett.  You got organs removed and did your best but you're not going to the South Pole you punk!"  Stepping onto the glacial ice just outside of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station was a surreal moment for me - not so much an achievement as a thing finally achieved.

While Antarctica had become a small divisive force in our marriage up to the point of us both arriving at the Pole to winter-over, it did not take long for it to become one of the most unifying forces of our ten years being married.  Sharing ten months together on the Antarctic plateau gave plenty of opportunity to live and grow as a married couple.  Mostly, though, it was being able to spend so much time together that was so nice.  The lack of normal distractions allowed us to more aptly experience and enjoy our time at the South Pole together.

(I will leave these jokers unnamed for the weak sake of
anonymity - this shot was taken on our layover in
McMurdo on a short walk over to the Kiwi station Scott
Base nearby.  They guys...)
The planes started coming and our time at the Pole was coming to an end.  We packed, shipped back some of our belongings, devoured the few pieces of fresh food that came in on the planes that transitioned through the Pole, said our goodbyes to everyone on station, and took as many last minute photos as we could - we literally drug one of our friends out to the ceremonial pole only minutes before our plane was supposed to leave.  During this time of preparing to leave, a feeling of sorrow and sadness began to creep into my heart.  As excited as I was to depart, I discovered what Sarah always tried to explain to me when she arrived back had begun making it's way into me as well.

So I found myself feeling unexpectedly nostalgic the day we stood waiting for the LC-130 to land on an ice runway to take us home.  While I felt the pull of family and friends we had not seen in so long, I also felt a feeling of loss seeded deep in my gut.  Though I was ready for some tasty food and copious amounts of sunshine, I knew I would soon find myself missing the oddities that make living at the South Pole memorable.

And yet it was time to leave.  We looked ahead to some time in New Zealand and some much needed family time.  One wonderful part about leaving, that did not happen on the way down, was Sarah and I were fortunate enough to fly together.  This made our departure, transitional time at McMurdo station, and our flights much more enjoyable.

(Should have got a shot together in the sulfur version of the
pools as they are a little cooler looking but this is the one
where we got a team Baddorf photo)
New Zealand!!  I shared some in our last post about the time we were able to spend in New Zealand on the way back home.  I wanted to add a few more photos of our time there - so much good food, amazing wines, relaxing moments together when we could just enjoy the New Zealand landscapes, and overall a time of rejuvenation.  Last time I shared about our hike through Arthur's Pass, so this time I thought I might post a little bit about our time at Hanmer Springs and the New Zealand Air Force museum.

While driving around this go around in New Zealand, we tried to visit as many places as we could we had missed during our year of living there.  One of these such places was Hanmer Springs.  This little town was not on the way to anywhere we went to on our previous adventures, and we had definitely missed out for having never been there.

A cute little town, this haven of hot springs offers a way to enjoy the water from the springs in the form of a park.  This enabled us to experience water from the springs in various pools of different temperatures and forms.  Some of the pools were in their natural sulfuric state, while others had been chlorinated for a more clean way to soak in the healing waters.  There were plenty of fun little shops in the town and a good sized hill nearby that offered lots of nice hikes.  I ran a few of them and we hiked one of them together.  We really enjoyed this out of the way nook of peace and tranquility.

One of the last places we visited before leaving to fly home was the Air Force museum.  We have a definite love of airplanes and always enjoy getting to spend time around them.  This museum is a must for anyone who enjoys airplanes and/or museums.  The Kiwis have always played a role in major wars, and learning of their dogfighting skills that came from flying in a country full of wild winds and cropdusting mountainous terrain was intriguing.  We took a free behind-the-scenes tour of planes that were not quite yet ready for the main museum yet, learning even more about the process of how the planes are acquired and made ready for visitors.  We both enjoyed our time at this museum and could have easily spent a few more hours enjoying ourselves learning about the history of planes in New Zealand.  What a nice visit.

(Seals!! Sarah poses with a seal who is also posing. A couple
of posers. Man we could look at these guys for hours)
One last New Zealand note - the seals!  While we were hoping to swim with the seals, it was not quite the right time of year to jump in the water with the dogs of the sea.  Even so, we spent some time in Kaikoura and made sure to visit an area where seals come ashore to sunbathe.  It is not the same thing as swimming with them, but watching seals, or any marine wildlife in it's natural habitat, is one of our favorite pastimes.  We always have to resist the urge to attempt taking one of them home as a pet.  I am quite certain we might just come away with a few fingers less if we tried to act on these impulses, but we still think about it quite seriously.

Thanksgiving!! This year we spent our Thanksgiving with the Williamson side of the family in a cabin not far outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  What a way to enter back into our lives here in the United States!  We enjoyed several beautiful hikes through the mountains, visited numerous waterfalls, caught up with our family, and played countless games late into the night.  Some of the highlights from this week are Mount Mitchel (the highest peak east of the Mississippi), visiting Biltmore, and of course hanging out with Bubba - Gordon and Miriam's boxer.

(At the top of Mount Mitchel enjoying the view. What a
great day for a hike.  Our previous hike at the mountain
offered only clouds for scenery)
Mount Mitchell boasts hours of hiking on trails that are magnificently maintained.  The summit offers a stellar panoramic view as far as the eye can see.  Other mountains, small towns, countless trees in every direction - the mountain truly offers a commanding view of the area.  We did two hikes that started on Mount Mitchell and enjoyed both of them immensely.  If you ever find yourself anywhere near this mountain, go and hike as much of it as you can!

Biltmore was almost as unbelievable as the view from Mount Mitchel but in a very different way.  While the mountain offered a fantastic view of God's creation, the Biltmore house showed what human ingenuity (which I believe is placed in us by the Creator) can achieve with resources and creativity.  It was easy to be impressed by the vision of George Vanderbilt while walking through the house he built for his family.  A monumentally sized house, every aspect of life there was built around the concepts of art, beauty, history, and maximizing the aesthetic value of a home.  Extravagant yes, but also magnificent.  Apparently in all of the excitement of looking around at everything I neglected to take a single picture.  Oh well.

Bubba - well I'll just share this one last photo.  This is a pic of us hanging out and snuggling.  It probably says about all a picture needs to say about the nature of our relationship, and Bubba's personality.  He's a big time lover dog.  And as it turns out he's an avid hiker who likes climbing mountain trails maybe even more than I do.  What a guy.

Well thanks for dealing with my missing Antarctica so much I posted again about it, and a brief walk through of our journey back to the United States.  Now it's time to celebrate Christmas Memphis style.  By the way, Merry Christmas!!