“So what places haven’t you visited yet?” one of my co-workers randomly asked me the other day. Funny he should ask, because recently I’d been thinking about Antarctica, one of the two “A” continents left on my visit list. I tell myself that it’s the trip I’m planning on taking to celebrate my retirement, but in reality, I’ve been putting it off because I haven’t tackled two of my worst fears: indebtedness to the Russian Mafia and public upchucking.
Surprisingly, it never occurred to me to fear kayaking an icy ocean or tenting on a frozen continent. After all, a dozen girlfriends and I just returned from camping on trout opener weekend at Triangle Lake in the Hiawatha National Forest, an annual adventure we affectionately call Cooter Camp. Surviving two nights sleeping inside a tent I nicknamed Christine “Cujo” Coleman and paddling a 169-acre lake through howling wind and whitecaps tend to make Antarctica sound like fun.
I’m also lying about the fear of debt thing. Antarctica is definitely not on most budget traveler’s lists, but I am fortunate to say that I’m married to the most frugal man on earth, the one who finagled buying me a new “wrecked” car from the California Russian Mafia (a story for another time) on Ebay and who flew across the country to retrieve a repaired Subaru, all so I wouldn’t have a car payment. I’m pretty sure I could ask him to help me dream up a way to pay for Antarctica, so long as I didn’t invite him to tag along. Last time I checked, Antarctica is devoid of palm trees, sandy beaches, and Busch Lite. Yes, I’d have to listen to his relentless bragging on how he financed a deal of a lifetime for me, but I can live with that.
What it really comes down to is that I’m prone to motion sickness and turn into a puker, which publicly mortifies me. In order to see Antarctica, most people take a cruise-type ship to get there, because it’s the most economical and convenient way to do it. Antarctica doesn’t have hotels and a Mickey-D’s on every corner or iceberg, thus visitors use portable accommodations. So I have to face the likelihood that I would be tossing my cookies off the side of the HMS-whatever while everyone else takes pictures of penguins.
Lest you think I exaggerate, I have examples. I don’t do well with things rising up and sinking down, as my good friend Krissie discovered over 20 years ago when we had this great idea to take a plane ride after stuffing ourselves at the local Pizza Hut lunch buffet.
Some of you locals may remember Jon Thorin Aviation, when the business resided near the Delta County Airport. Back in the day two 20-year-olds could randomly show up and actually afford to have old Jon take us up for a spin on one of his little planes. I was anticipating bragging to our friends that while they were spending their afternoons off from work at Good Friday church services, we just, oh, decided we wanted to fly over our houses for funsies.
It was thrilling! It was awesome! I hadn’t been on many planes at that point in my life, and I couldn’t wait to boast to everyone about what we did that afternoon: seeing our houses, the lake, and the woods.
And that’s when Mr. Thorin, our pilot, introduced us to the “Oop-de-oop,” which was apparently the name of a maneuver where he guns it and points the nose of the plane straight up before releasing a maniacal giggle and flings the airplane towards the ground.
I once heard rumors about his impish streak and other urban legends surrounding this pilot, but what he didn’t know is that the pepperoni pizza and pasta alfredo from an hour ago were tickling my gullet and itching to see the world below, too.
“Hey, if you keep doing these oop-de-oops, I’m gonna blow chunks all over the inside of the plane!” I’m not sure if he was hard of hearing or just sadistic, but I endured about three more death rolls before we gently descended back down to the runway.
I have to give myself credit for almost making it back to the hangar before I projectile vomited my lunch in the general direction of the pilot’s head. Had the engines stopped revving, I’ll bet you could have heard a cricket in that cockpit, because I’d stunned everyone into silence. To this day I feel guilt and shame for fleeing the scene of my crime (and probably why I’m not a big fan of pizza buffet lunches anymore), but hey, he kind of asked for it.
It took me over twenty years to forget that I get motion sickness, because I pulled nearly the exact same stunt, resembling the movie Groundhog Day, when I visited the Nazca Lines in Peru.
I’d read that in the southern Peruvian desert one can view large, ancient geoglyphs that no-one-knows-who created, and whose shapes are only visible from the sky. Get in a plane high enough, and you’ll be able to see the shapes of a monkey, a spider, birds, and other creatures.
I only saw one.
When I entered the dozen-seater plane, I sat across from a Brazilian man who told me he was concerned about getting airsick on the flight. Being the good samaritan that I am, I gave him some of my anti-nausea meds, and I told him that this was a large plane that probably hundreds of tourists had flown in already with no problemos.
The last words I remember from the pilot were, “To look, on your right, to see the dolphin!”
Then I blinked to see my seat’s window suddenly facing the ground, while the plane roared and lost altitude. Like an idiot, I thought the pilot was thoughtfully getting us closer to get better photos, which I attempted like an even bigger idiot, before I realized that all pilots are really sadists.
Shortly thereafter, I also realized that the airsick bag was missing from my seat back, and not only did I have to borrow Fabricio’s puke bag, but also the two puke bags of the nice British couple sitting in front of me.
I spent the rest of the day and into the nauseating night hugging the hotel toilet. The staff must have seen my green gills as I made my way back to the room, and, probably having done this once or twice before, sent me up some nice tummy-settling saltine crackers and a small cup of chicken noodle soup.
Say what you will about Peruvian pilots. Peruvian hotel staff totally make up for them!
I realize that when I go to Antarctica, I most likely will never see a plane other than the one that flies me to the southern part of Chile, where I’d begin my expedition. However, boats of all sizes also occasionally bring out my tendency to spew. I’m reminded of the time when my future brother-in-law and all the guys in his wedding party chartered a deep sea fishing boat off Key West. I ended taking so much Dramamine to prevent me from hurling in front of the guys that I ended up falling asleep in the captain’s bunk for the entire trip and was shaken awake, drool all over my chin, by my dad, who was probably secretly relieved that he didn’t witness his daughter revisiting her breakfast over the fish bait.
Suck it up, buttercup! It’s what I tell myself when I realize that seeing Antarctica will be incredible, despite my fears and personal shortcomings. After all, I’ve been brave enough in my travels to climb to the top of Machu Picchu’s Huayna Picchu; to ride an elephant in India and a camel in Morocco; heck, I even survived the Tilt-A-Whirl (but not the Zipper) at the UP State Fair.
I wonder if the Russian Mafia books Antarctica trips?