So this is it. This time tomorrow (weather permitting) I will be aboard the Dash-7, flying over the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula on my way home from 18 months on the white continent. It is a strange time of conflicting emotions and difficult goodbyes, but rather than dwell on that I thought I would present you with a few facts and figures from the last 18 months:
- Nights spent in Antarctica: 476
- Blog entries written: 93
- Number of growing plants seen: 0 (I don’t count lichen)
- Number of photographs taken: 45,000
- Time spent transmitting on the HF radio: ~150 hours
- Time spent listening out for calls on the HF radio: ~50 days
- Number of meals eaten in Antarctica: 2142 (working on an average of 4.5 meals per day, which is what is needed to keep us going in this tough environment. He lied.)
- Number of pounds in weight gained: A secret, but it sounds better if you think of it as a wage supplement.
- Most penguins seen in a single day: >4000
- Number of live insects seen: 0 (but found a dead ladybird)
- Number of aeroplane take-offs and landings seen: ~160
- Coldest temperature encountered: -81 deg. C (in one of the laboratory bio freezers)
- Coldest outdoor temperature encountered: -26ish deg. C (at Sky-Blu, end of summer 2011-12)
- Warmest temperature encountered: 40-50 deg. C (in the Rothera sauna)
- Warmest outdoor temperature encountered: +5-6 deg. C (Rothera, summer 2012-13)
- Amount of imaginary money spent on beer, wine, chocolate and clothing: £1000 (just tick a box and it magically disappears from your account)
- Amount of hard cash spent: £0
- Most people seen in one place: ~100, during summertime Saturday night dinners.
- Number of bank-cards cancelled by Barclays for no apparent reason: 1 (and then try explaining to someone in a Barclays call-centre that you’re in Antarctica, it’s the winter, and they can’t ‘just post you another card’. Tossers.)
- Number of gloves lost: 10
- Number of big, woolly socks gained: also about 10
- Number of animal species seen outdoors: I think it is probably <20, including birds, whales, seals and the odd jellyfish. Have seen quite a few more species that live inside in the aquarium.
- Longest time spent trying to get a website to load: about three days (this website, in fact)
- Highest point reached: 11,500 feet (in a Twin Otter, with pilot Ian, not including the higher-altitude Dash-7 flight on the way in)
- Highest point stood on: probably Sky-Blu, at 1369m (the edge of the high Antarctic Plateau) , or the top of Mt Ditte on Adelaide Island, which I climbed during the winter, and is roughly the same height.
One final fact takes a little more explanation. Rothera Base is split in half by the runway, which is in constant use during the summer. Therefore, whenever anybody wants to cross the runway in a vehicle, they have to radio the tower for permission. We reply with a CAA-approved response which is used on airfields the world over: ‘No known traffic’. I feel like I have said this an infinite number of times since arriving here, but the real figure is probably more like 2-3 million. So many, in fact that I decided to write a song about it.
This one is called ‘No Known Traffic’ – click here to download
It just remains to say thank you. Thanks to BAS for letting me come down to this amazing place. Thanks to friends and family for keeping in touch and not forgetting me. Thanks to everyone who read my blog and sent your comments. A massive thank you to everyone who has worked at Rothera over the last 18 months and made it an awesome place to be, but an especially big thank-you to the 17 other members of the winter team, who made the long, dark days fly by.
I leave you with one of my favourite quotations, from Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”