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Bus2Antarctica: Crossing the Antarctic Circle

For Andrew Evans, passing over the Antarctic Circle was akin to crossing a sacred finish line.

I’ve crossed a lot of lines on this journey–state lines, borderlines, the equator, both tropics (Cancer and Capricorn), along with the many ticket lines that stood between me and my ultimate southern goal. Out of all these lines the most meaningful and most triumphant for me was the night that I drifted across the Antarctic Circle.

By definition, the Antarctic Circle is the line on Earth beyond which the sun does not shine in the austral winter solstice. We officially measure it as 66 ° 33′ South. While the Antarctic Treaty politically defines “Antarctica” as all territories below 60 ° South, my personal definition was marked by the Antarctic Circle.

The bridge announced that we would be crossing sometime in the middle of the night and that we were welcome to visit the bridge for the occasion. At dinner that night, my fellow passengers all talked about being awake for the moment with champagne glasses in hand, ready to celebrate. I quietly head to bed and set my alarm for past midnight.

My body did not want to wake up–did not want to get out of a warm, soft bed and walk up three flights of stairs to the bridge. But my mind insisted–here was the moment–a travel sight that while invisible to mortal eyes, still held such great weight and meaning for me.

I hurried up to the bridge wrapped in my parka, yawning and stumbling up the stairs. I expected a huge crowd but there was no one at all–I was alone. I was the only one crazy enough to actually get up for a circle on a map. A single crewmember stood with his back to me, waiting out his watch and staring out over the half-lit horizon. It never gets truly dark in the Antarctic summer.

And that’s when I saw it. The shock of the thing before me forced me to inhale deeply. There it was: a single-file line of pale white mountains beneath the midnight dawn. My first glimpse of Antarctica.

“Adelaide Island,” said the crewmember before he showed me the glowing green digital numbers racing forward on the ship’s GPS.  My eyes were fixed on it, counting fast in my head as we jumped forward to 66 ° 32

and the numbers kept moving closer and closer–we were moving so fast I was afraid that I would miss it, but no. Like a little computer hiccup, the computer paused for a split second, right on the Antarctic Circle–as if it knew that I was watching. It was 1:26 a.m. and I had just crossed the Antarctic Circle.

You can laugh at my enthusiasm for such a thing, but right at that moment, I was cheering inside. If “Hallelujuah” is a feeling then I was feeling it and if my journey ever had meaning, it was right then.

For I believe that the end of the day, only we can bring meaning to our travels. Be it a school trip to Paris, a long-awaited return to the mother country, or a motorcycle ride down Route 66. Dreams are so personal–and if it happens that they somehow come true, that moment of realizing the dream is just as personal.

Melodramatic as it may sound, for me, the Antarctic Circle was a sort of sacred finish line. It was dark and I was alone with the second mate up on the bridge, but that’s not exactly how I remember it. Instead, I saw the ship’s prow breaking through an imaginary red ribbon stretched high across the frozen seas, put there to let me know that I had more or less made it.

I had more or less made it, and on the following morning, I would land in Antarctica.

Andrew Evans is tweeting about his travels aboard the National Geographic Explorer at @Bus2Antarctica. Want more? Follow the map of his journey, bookmark all of his blog posts, watch videos, and get the full story on the project here. Phots by Andrew Evans.

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