388: What Made Me Sweat Uncomfortably on My Antarctica Trip
I was sweating during one of the most poignant moments of my Antarctica trip.
On my way to Antarctica, I flew through Buenos Aires. The coastal city’s international airport sits 17 miles and a $48 taxi ride from its humid domestic airport. In the past, I’ve made that transition in as few as 25 minutes. On my way home from the frozen continent, though, the most complicated Google Maps route I’ve ever seen helped us cut through the rush hour log jam in more than 90 minutes.
Our tiny Volkswagen’s air conditioning was pumping its little heart out to keep this American almost comfortable. The great migration around us mostly had their windows open to the 78º spring afternoon. Locals in shorts and tank tops stood along the exhaust-clouded curbs of the expressway, waiting for buses to pull over to the shoulder. Pragmatic drivers had driven cars you can’t buy in the States up over curbs and parked them under trees. A number of people within earshot of all the squeaky brakes napped without blankets in shaded, dusty, public spaces. I lost count of the number of the broken or unfinished houses that stacked up over fences and seemed to lean on each other.
The taxi’s trunk lid had somehow closed upon my two duffel bags, stuffed with Duluth Trading Company pants and Under Armour thermals, flannel shirts and synthetic-down coats. Those were wrapped around the professional camera gear I had rented for more than $500. Underneath them were the $270 German mountaineering boots I had purchased for what amounted to 20 minutes of ice climbing and a half hour of belaying. The tags on the bags represented $1,300 worth of American Express points—I mean, plane tickets. The day prior, I had hefted those duffels from the dock where I had returned from a $6,700 voyage that was bracketed by $700 worth of hotel stays and covered by remote medical evacuation insurance. From a carabiner on my carry-on hung a $450 device I purchased to communicate with both my wife and personal assistant over the Iridium satellite network. My $1,000 phone charged from a battery pack.
That’s when I heard Trevor Noah. I heard his voice from his captivating autobiography, retelling his journey from South African poverty to a primetime-TV salary. “The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.”
I felt gross. I noticed my float was rolling through a conspicuous consumption parade—that somehow other drivers knew I had just spent thousands of dollars in order to spend 15 hours in Antarctica’s snow.
I wanted to justify myself. I wanted to explain that I had saved and paid cash, that I had more than matched every dollar I spent with both savings deposits and debt retirement, that I had worked more and longer hours in 2017 than I had in years.
I wanted all these intuitive bystanders to know I used to hang my wet laundry from my top bunk because I couldn’t afford the dorm drier. I wished they knew I worked two jobs in high school and saved 85% of my income for college, where I woke at 4:37 weekday mornings to work grounds crew until first period classes. “I drive a 12-year-old car back home,” rallied my internal defense attorney. “Hey, I wasn’t on one of those $29,000 National Geographic cruises,” the lawyer continued. Still, part of me wished I were returning home from one of my typical vacations, where I sleep in the back of an SUV or a tent, a hostel or an AirBnB rental.
That wasn’t the first time I had asked myself if Antartica was worth it. It was the first time that I felt others asking me that—even if they didn’t know they were asking me anything. Of all the choices my growing business has afforded me, have I made the right ones?
Antarctica, even just the limited amount of it that tourists can see, lives up to the hype as a once-in-a-lifetime destination. Kayaking around impressive icebergs and unimpressed penguins interrupts a troubled, broken world with childlike joy. The pristine, rugged beauty of both mountains and glaciers spilling into inky waves make the stress of home feel small and quiet. Plus, the deal comes with a virtual merit badge and about a week’s worth of social media attention.
Despite the outlandish expense, I don’t regret going to Antarctica. (I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement.) It left indelible marks on me—visually, relationally, and even spiritually. Most importantly, though, it made me aware of the opportunities I have, the options available to me, the choices I can make. It increased the value I place on the free moments I have back home in garages, at tables, in carpools, and around prayer circles. It reminded me how much I love driving in the mountains, paddling in their rivers, and watching the sun set over their silhouettes.
Antarctica in concert with Argentina made me grateful for the privileges I have leveraged. The trip made me wish more of the world could have the same opportunities, more chances to experience whatever their Antarcticas are. It made me more resolute in my financial support of organizations that are working toward that at home and abroad.
This journey made me sweat a little bit in discomfort. Maybe more of our vacations need to do that. Apparently, mine do.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.