Eli Duke

I am going back to Antarctica

Before I ever planted any real roots in Portland, I planted roots in Antarctica. It’s hard to imagine planting anything in Antarctica, but I got absolutely hooked on the seasonal life at McMurdo Station. I did five summer seasons, October to February, over the course of six years. Now all of a sudden it’s been TEN YEARS since my last season on “the ice,” so it’s time to go back, baybeee!

We have to go back, Kate!

I grew up in Indiana, but moved to Seattle in 2005. For the first couple months I lived with my aunt and uncle while looking for a job and a place to live. During that time they had a friend over for a dinner party / photo slideshow about his recent trip to Antarctica as a dentist! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing, and quickly became obsessed with this idea. I did a bunch of digging and figured out that there would be an Antarctic job fair in Denver, so I rallied a crew (including my brother and my girlfriend at the time), and we all road-tripped down just for that, there and back in less than 72 hours! Soon enough a bunch of us had jobs at McMurdo Station (mostly dishwashers) and we prepared to leave.

McMurdo Station is the largest community in Antarctica, and is the main hub for most of the scientific research that happens on the contintent. It is located 2300 miles south of New Zealand on the tip of Ross Island, just off the coast of mainland Antarctica, and supports about 1000 people during the busy summer research season. It's a small, industrial town with a big heart that is full of cooks and dishwashers, janitors and waste collectors, shuttle drivers and firefighters, electricians and plumbers, carpenters and heavy equipment operators, medical professionals, lots of scientists, and everything else in between. Everyone there is working to support (or do!) science through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).

I first stepped foot in Antarctica in October 2007, arriving at McMurdo Station to be a dishwasher for 5 months. It was early October, and the austral summer was kicking into high gear. Flights are arriving daily with cargo, fresh food, contractors, and scientists. The last sunrise of the season happens a few weeks later, and everyone goes out to see it slip behind the tip of a mountain for about 5 seconds and then pop right back out. That’s all folks! It won’t set again for four months!

After only two weeks on the job I just knew that I had to come back, and I did! The following two seasons (2008, 2009) I worked as a helper in the trades: plumbing, welding, electrical, painting, and sheetmetal. You name it, I probably did it. My last two seasons (2010, 2012) were in fuel: driving fuel trucks around town, fueling planes at the airfield, and helping off-load millions of gallons of fuel from a massic tanker ship that delivers only once a year.

For 6 years I went back and forth between Portland and Antarctica, technically living an endless summer, and I found myself in a pretty sweet groove! I was working half the year and taking the rest off to travel, relax, etc. I learned, I traveled, I met some of the coolest people and had some of the coolest experiences of my life.

The work was all-encompasing at times, very long and very cold days (it’s ten hours a day, six days a week down there), but I really connected with the community, the dramatic environment, the amazing collection of friends, and the vibrancy of life in a place where the internet is slow and no one has a cellphone. Everyone eats at the same cafeteria, everyone drinks at the same bars, everyone dances at the same parties, and you make fastest of friends.

Oh, how I loved it!

But I knew I had to take a break from it eventually. I saw too many folks down there do 10 or 15 or sometimes 30 seasons in a row, and some of them got very jaded. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me, I was determined to keep this Antarctic love-affair going, so I needed to step away for a while before it went too far. I’m all about space.

So, in 2013, I decided it was time to take a break and properly planted myself in Portland. I started playing music with some old friends, I bought a house with another one (who I also met in Antarctica), I started roller skating, I reconnected with friends and family that I hadn’t seen enough of over the last 6 years, and I focused on a new career as a web developer.

It was glorious!

I was so glad that I made that move and pushed myself to learn and grow in that way, but I always had a feeling that I would return to the ice again someday. I don’t remember exactly when this happened, but a few years later I came up with the idea to go back again after ten years away. My last season was 2012-2013 and all of a sudden it’s 2022, so it’s time to go back! This time around I will be a Carpenter Apprentice and I should be departing the first week of October. I am so very excited about it!

Oh, and thanks for making it this far! You will now be rewarded with:

Some Cool Photos from My First Season in Antarctica™

( click that link ☝🏻 )

5 August 2022 at 12:30pm