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sick day(s)

I have the Crud. It’s the McMurdo bane: a common cold on steroids. Sneezy, feverish, achy, with watery eyes and nose that alternates between stuffiness and running. I’m on day five, and the bastard just won’t quit.  The upside is that I’ve gotten a solid three and a half days off of work during which I nestled snugly into my bed with a stack of DVDs (thanks, Andre!), a good thick book (Atlas Shrugged) and a Nalgene full of grapefruit juice.  My greatest exertion has been aiming snot-sodden wads of toilet paper at the trash can.  Healing takes an age down here.  Paper cut?  You’re looking at a good week of stinging, irritated skin that will reopen at the slightest provocation.  I scraped my arm against a protruding screw two months ago – the scab has only recently fallen away, leaving a thin white line of scar tissue.  Scar tissue!  From a shallow scratch!  Did I mention this is a harsh continent?

Despite the illness, this multiple-days-off-in-a-row thing is luxury beyond belief.  We work six days a week – fifty-four hours at the absolute minimum.  I get one day off a week.  Just one.  Last week, joy of joys, I celebrated my Thanksgiving holiday and had two (two!) days off in a row.  Because we in food services have to work on the day that the rest of town marks T-day, we’re given a random day off elsewhere in the month.  This is why, on November 6th, I found myself celebrating Thanksgiving by hiking the Castle Rock Loop with my kiwi friend Helen.  This is the second time that the two of us have attempted the ten mile route.  The first time was on cross country skis; this time we’re sticking strictly to hiking boots.  The weather is vastly improved from our last trip as well.  Two months ago the temperature was at -54F with windchill; this day it is +20F, and there’s not a breath of wind to stir the green flags on the bamboo poles that mark the route.  We climb the steep hill outside of town to gain the ridge line, and then plod comfortably along in the softening snow.  Sunglasses firmly in place against the blazing bright sun, Castle Rock in our sights, and Mt. Erebus rising royally behind it, the ever-present plume (is it ash? steam? smoke?) feathering gently into the sky, straight up – no wind even at 12,000 feet.  The Rock itself is a giant orange-brown thumb of rugged stone.  It sticks up vertically from the ridgeline; at approx. 150 feet it is the tallest thing on the otherwise flat, white, unbroken horizon.  It’s quite a scramble to the top, but it’s warm enough to tuck my gloves into my pocket and use my fingers to gain handholds in the sun-warmed rock.  There’s also a line of fixed rope to provide help across the large slides where the rock has been eroded into scree.  At the top, 950 feet above the sea ice, we stand and turn in a circle.  The landmarks sit like compass points: to the north, Mt. Erebus.  Northeast, Mt. Terror.  East is White Island, southeast is Observation Hill.  To the south, Black Island and Minna Bluff, the gateway to the South Pole.  Mt. Discovery rises in the southwest, and to the west-northwest the sharp edges of the Royal Society mountain range stretch out into the as yet invisible open ocean.  Pressure ridges, blue ice, and snow fill in the degrees between, and above all, the blinding cobalt of the sky.  Antarctica.  Helen and I sit for perhaps a half hour, soaking in the sun’s warmth that we can feel through our layers of clothes.  Gorgeous.  Happy Thanksgiving!!

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