Chapter 8 – The Trip that was Awful… Until it was Awesome

Our community recently started telling us stories about their outdoor adventures. We’re excited to share the experiences of these wonderfully free people and marvel at their abilities and growth.

We hope you enjoy taking a glimpse into their lives, in their own words. Their experiences are worth celebrating and we can learn from them too! 

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Sometimes we get a whole lot more than we bargained for in life. Usually, when we hear that sentiment we frame it in the negative… we imagine jumping into something thinking it’s going to be great only to find out it’s not. But this community member experienced both sides of the equation. On the one hand, this experience she reluctantly signed up for proved to be even more difficult than imagined. At the same time, however, proved worth it in every way. THAT was something she wasn’t expecting! 

Women's Apparel - Outdoor Adventures - Woman in yellow parka surrounded by penguins -  -

Jesika – Penguins & Polar Plunges Yield New Interest and Friends

I grew up playing outside, climbing anything I could get a good hold on, and doing Volksmarches (community hikes in Germany) with my family. The outdoors were simply an extension of my living space. But after returning to the US as a teenager, my moments of exploration in the outdoors gradually fizzled out. By the time I was driving they were nonexistent. I was well into my 30s before a guy I was dating convinced me to go for hikes again. 

Needless to say, my trip to Antarctica was not my idea. A penguin-obsessed friend had organized this trip and decided to bring along as many friends as she could. I had missed out on the initial sign-ups, but when a last-minute spot opened up, I happened to be in a position where I could go so I figured I might as well. Honestly, I was just trying to check off two more continents on my global bucket list! I truly did not see myself doing more than a brief shore excursion to say I had visited Antarctica. 

The first days of the journey were at sea, and the Drake Passage was putting on its legendary show for us. It was brutal, and a day into the crossing, I discovered I was allergic to the patch I’d been prescribed for motion sickness. It gave me a huge sore and I ended up absorbing the medication too quickly, leading to pretty intense exhaustion and even mild hallucinations. I was not having a good time. 

When we finally arrived at our first stop, the Lemaire Channel, also known as the “Kodak Gap” due to its extremely photogenic scenery, we were disappointed to hear it was still blocked by late-season ice and we would not be able to sail through it. Instead, we were offered a Zodiak excursion. 

I dutifully woke at dawn to dress in my base layers, wriggle into my snow pants and parka, and assemble at the loading station. My friend saw her first penguin in the wild, which was immediately followed by the first time she saw a penguin being snatched out of the water and dragged up on shore by a leopard seal. 

I was still not having a good time. 

The next day, there was an assembly for those of us who had signed up to go camping. As I arrived, I was informed it had accidentally been oversold and, as one of the last people to sign up, I would not be able to go. At this point, I was wondering why the heck I thought this trip was a good idea! And to top everything off my ear was throbbing with what was definitely an ear infection threatening to set in. I skipped the day’s Zodiak tour to visit the doctor for some decongestants and retired to the lounge to drown my sorrows. When someone came in to tell me there was space for me on the camping trip after all I declined since I was still feeling pretty lousy. Sleeping in a snow trough just didn’t sound appealing anymore. 

Several days into the trip, we finally got to set foot on land. All I cared about was that check box on my bucket list so I waited to be in one of the last groups out. I planned to come back on one of the first return boats. 

When we landed, the snow was still incredibly deep so we had to pack down the snow with each step to form a trench to walk in. It was exhausting and the sun was peeking out so I was getting really hot in my mandatory parka. I climbed up to a spot on a hill, plopped down, ripped off my parka, and laid back in the snow to wait for the first returning boats. 

Then, it happened. 

A couple of curious penguins started inching closer and closer. I watched them stumble into our snow trench and try to figure out how to get back out. I watched them belly flop again and again as they tried to run up the hill. I watched them slide down on their bellies. Suddenly, it felt like the boats were leaving too soon. I was so enthralled with watching these fascinating creatures that our guides had to practically drag me off the hill for the last boat! 

One evening, I joined the naturalist talk to hear about all the different kinds of penguins and other birds we were seeing. I saw an albatross, along with a number of skuas and various petrels. Who knew birds could be so fascinating? 

Our last stop for the trip was on Deception Island. The shore was volcanic rock and was slightly warm from the geothermal activity but, we were told, the water was not. 

The polar plunge planned for the day’s activity had sounded like a wonderful adventure the day before. It was sounding less and less appealing now, and I was having a tough time wriggling into the swimsuit I brought. Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. I’d already achieved my goal and even managed to have some fun, so what was I trying to prove, anyway? I was about to back out. But my friends from Brazil and Kuwait insisted that if they could do it and not die, so could I. I put on my sleep shorts and tank top under my warm clothes and went to the assembly point once again. 

Friends, it was COLD. It was so cold it was physically painful. I felt like daggers of ice were slicing through my feet. The volcanic rock was sharp and I kept getting pieces into the sandals I had brought to wear into the water. I ran into the water, screaming, with my desert and tropic-dwelling friends. We splashed each other with a laugh and ran back to shore. We sat on the shore trying to get feeling back into our extremities watching a guy from Sweden run back into the water again and again in nothing but a Speedo. 

When we got back to our rooms I had to go stand in a warm shower for quite a while before my body temperature started coming back up. Even dressed in warm layers of fleece, I was still chilled through the night. The next night though, our guides handed out certificates for those of us who did the plunge, recognizing our feat. We celebrated having made it through such an extraordinary adventure, laughed with our new friends about the memories we’d made, and made plans for new adventures together. 

Our crossing back was on the “Drake Lake” and was unusually still. We all had a toast on the deck when we recognized that, for the first time in 10 days, the sun had fully gone down and it was actually dark outside. 

11 years later, I am still close to the people I met on this cruise, I’m still trying to figure out how and when I can go back, and I’m still really into bird watching. 

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