Laundry at the End of the World

In the few weeks I’ve been here, I’ve seen plenty of interesting things, but I’ve also been… living. Just – going through the day-to-day necessities of life and work.

Much of the media coverage about Antarctica focuses on extraordinary things – weather extremes, world-class research, heroic feats of survival, and maybe even some quirky hijinks about station life.

But a majority of the day here is just doing the things you’d have to do elsewhere. Personally I love the combination of the extraordinary context mixed with the mundane reality, and maybe other people will love it too. Laundry, in Antarctica. Cleaning, in Antarctica. Paperwork, in Antarctica.

Without further ado, here’s the Authentic Antarctic Experience(™) of… doing laundry.

Laundry 1Laundry. Yes.

McMurdo has several dorms spread out across several buildings. They’re all slightly different configurations of rooms, occupants, bathrooms, lounges, and other amenities and communal spaces. One thing they all have in common is… laundry.

Laundry is free, and soap is provided. That’s honestly about it! It works the same as everywhere else. There’s running water and sewer, electricity, a roof over our heads, and heat.

But step back and think – this is laundry, in Antarctica. These washing machines were transported here on a ship. The supply chain for getting them here is one of the most complex in the world. They’re powered by electricity generated onsite, using water treated onsite, and discharged into a wastewater plant onsite. If you’re lucky, you can fly in parts on an airplane, but it’s expensive and discouraged. Most things arrive by ship, and the lead time for this can be over a year.

There is something compelling, almost whimsical, about this. We’ve flown thousands of miles to a place few people ever set foot, to do our part in the heroic pursuit of science, and it’s laundry night here in the dorms.

It’s not glamorous, but it’s part of the infrastructure of station life. And this is my blog, so you’ll be seeing a lot more like this.

Laundry 2Still Laundry.

Buckle up – maybe next week I’ll write about replacing light bulbs… in Antarctica.