What is it you’re afraid of missing out on while you read this post? What do you feel tugging at you’re attention, while at the same time you looking forward to the cute penguin picture you know I’ve buried somewhere on this page? I know that feeling of missing out. That anxious feeling that urges you to skip ahead and skim right to the prize, then move on to something else.
I’m not sure I ever felt that urge so acutely as I did on our ship, about six days into our trip to Antarctica. Ships are breeding grounds for viruses, and thanks to the gastrointestinal virus that was making its rounds, I missed out on our landing at Hydrurga Rocks, a Chinstrap penguin colony, a big group photo, a whole day and a half of professional development, and apparently, a great zodiac ride (but many thanks to my roomie, Valentina, who told me it wasn’t that great). The best photos I got that day were of my Sprite can and a peek out my portal window at some sunny, beautiful, snow-capped rocks. (I took the photo below on a different day, but it gives you an idea of what sleeping quarters were like in a bunk on the lower deck. Cozy.)
But being sick in a way that confined me to my room forced me to come face to face with one of my biggest fears on a trip like this. It’s that fear that motivates many of us to do all that we try to do in our day-to-day lives. But it really comes into play when you’re traveling some place extraordinary with a bunch of brilliant people.
Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). That’s the fear that nudges you to say YES to things that you really don’t want to do, or don’t have the time or energy to do. It’s that urge that sends you to compulsively check your phone (then gives you a slightly deflated feeling when you find no new notifications).
Maybe you don’t have FOMO. I’ve managed, in this era of smartphones, to avoid phone FOMO. But as someone who likes to experience a lot of different things, I know FOMO. And a trip like this produces an entirely different level of FOMO. We even talked about this in Ushuaia, before boarding the ship. It came up in the context of making sure we don’t run ourselves ragged – that we eat well, get enough sleep, and, important for those of us who are introverts, enough time alone.
Despite the busy schedule, I had been committed to trying to get enough sleep and eating well. But avoiding a virus depends a bit on chance, no matter how much hand sanitizer you use. So, an interesting thing happened when I woke up on the edge of sickness the morning of our scheduled landing at Hydrurga Rocks. I felt the FOMO spike wildly high for a brief bit. It manifested as thoughts of what I might use as a barf bag while I go ashore. We’re not allowed to leave or take anything from Antarctica. Anything. Fortunately, this mad FOMO scheming in my brain was brief, and rapidly replaced by the sole desire to feel normal again.
As it turns out, my friends took such great pictures at Hydrurga Rocks, that I don’t really feel like I missed it. (See Colleen’s post on Hydrurga Rocks. There, you will find your daily dose of cute penguin photos and videos.) And it’s hard to see anyone’s face in the group photo, so I don’t feel bad showing the photo and saying “Here WE are!” – even though I was only there in spirit.
I will always remember our landing near the Gentoo colony on Cuverville Island the following day as the moment I came back to life. I had a throbbing headache and still felt a bit slow, but I was ready to move again. The moment I slid out of the zodiac onto the misty, pebbly shore, I felt my headache dissipate into the air around me. I was excited to breath fresh, cold snowy air, and be entertained by the antics of the penguins. I even wrote a blog post for the Homeward Bound website about our visit there.
That was our last landing for the next four days. We also experienced some of the coolest, snowiest weather of the trip. By ‘cold’, I should note that it was still not Colorado-winter-cold. Temperatures always hovered just above or just below freezing. A shift in the wind associated with the changing weather pushed what’s known as ‘brash-ice’ (think of how ice looks when you’ve left a slushie in the sun for awhile) against the shore for our next four landing sites.
The day after Cuverville, we arrived a Neko Harbour. We were planning to go onshore near a Gentoo colony, aside a massive glacier. This was to be our first continental landing. But the landing was cancelled just before we were able to don our life vests when the crew assessed the ice. We experienced group-level FOMO as a result. At least we were all in good company.
Our crew arranged zodiac cruises for us instead. It was cold in the wind, under gray skies, but to my surprise, that cruise was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.
We went out in the zodiacs in two groups: port cabins first, then starboard. I was in the second group, and as we stood waiting to board, a snow squall went through that made me second guess my decision to go out. I was still feeling weak and tired, but excitement on the faces of everyone returning from the first group helped me stand my ground (yes, FOMO returned and grabbed hold of me).
The grey skies gave the icebergs an eerie appearance. Their reflections shimmered green in the black water. I was amazed that I could still see bright blue in the ice despite the dim sunlight.
Leopard seals love to hang out on icebergs, and it wasn’t long before we found one napping. We also scooted through brash ice and past ‘growlers’. These are dense, clear chunks of ice that float just beneath the surface and pose a nightmare for sailing vessels. On a couple of occasions we heard them thunk against the hull of our ship. Some of the icebergs clearly held chunks of mud and rock carried off the continent.
At one point, our zodiac was followed for awhile by a raft of penguins, porpoising through the water.
And then, as it was nearing time for us to head back, we spotted a humpback whale. We scooted a bit closer with a couple of other zodiacs and our driver cut the engine. It was the first time I had experienced true silence in some time. Ships are necessarily quite noisy – especially when your cabin is down near the engine room. Without the zodiac engine, I could hear bird sounds off in the distance, and then, a fluttering of the water and a whoosh as the whale surfaced between our zodiacs, took a breath, and dove under again. We sat there astounded as this whale surfaced every couple of minutes – sometimes flashing a tail as he dove back down again.
Eventually, the ship’s first officer called us all back to the Ushuaia. Our zodiac driver reluctantly started up the engine and turned us away. We had travelled quite far from our ship across the harbor and it looked like a toy against a backdrop of ice as we sped across the water.
What did I take from my experience of being sick in Antarctica? I learned that FOMO can come and go like a big wave, and that it’s possible to let it go. FOMO can keep us from being fully present. It keeps us from really understanding what we need in the moment. And in my case, being sick on a ship full of people I had only just met taught me that I can trust others to take care of me when I need help. It’s hard to admit that sometimes. But our bodies have the final say on how we’re going to spend the day.
But FOMO is also useful for bringing a bit of spontaneity into our lives – and it got me back out on the water and in the fresh air when lingering malaise threatened to tie me down.
A landing at the lovely Hydrurga Rocks was not part of my Antarctic experience. I don’t think I’ve cured my FOMO. Maybe I don’t need to, as long as I recognize it for what it it, and know that as long as I survive, there’s always tomorrow.