Thursday, October 13, 2011

Antarctica - The Dream Dies

I’ve had this secret dream of traveling to Antarctica someday. 

At a Worldcon, I heard a famous writer give a presentation on how he traveled to Antarctica as part of a writers program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  Believe it or not, the NSF actually gave grants for fiction and non-fiction writers to travel to the southern continent for research, with the understanding that they would write about Antarctica.  The idea was to give publicity to that continent.  (I don’t know if the program still exists.) 

Some slots were kept open for relatively new writers, and so, this established writer said, it would make sense for some of us who were just starting out to apply. 

How many adventure stories start this way?  A rather ordinary person hears a tale of a faraway land, and it stirs his heart with dreams of exotic travel.  That’s what happened to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.  I didn’t put any hard research into it; I recorded bits from science shows on TV about the frozen continent, and I watched Whiteout with Kate Beckinsale more than once.  I would finally start to use Twitter, and I would tweat things like “Past the point of no return” from the plane that would fly me from South America down to McMurdo Base. 

It was kind of like a western, but colder

But no more.  A woman down at the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole recently had a stroke.  That base has no MRI or CT scanners.  The company that manages the station through a contract with the NSF does not consider her condition to be life-threatening, so it will not send a rescue plane.  Huh? 

She had a STROKE.  Read about it here.  She has partial vision loss and spends part of her day with an oxygen device.  You can only decide if the stroke is life-threatening by getting her scanned, so this is a catch-22 situation. 

I’m relatively healthy.  But I can just imagine something similar happening to me.  Or perhaps I would get a compound fracture if I slip while looking for fossils (yes, dinosaur bones have been found down there).  Of if you watch Whiteout, it’s no picnic if someone stabs you with an ice axe.  (Come on, that wasn’t a spoiler.  Kate Beckinsale is not going to go down there just to frolic.) 

Going to Antarctica was a neat, if improbable, dream.  Now the dream is gone.  I won’t go there if that’s how they treat people.  

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