Monday, July 14, 2008


It occurred to me the other day that I've referenced Toastiness several times already, and never really defined the term.

'Toast' is the name given to the condition of antarctic residents as they slowly go stir crazy. At its core, toast is an extreme variant of cabin fever.

Living in Antarctica poses some unique challenges to a persons physical and mental well-being. While this is no doubt true in summer - with flights and new people constantly coming and going - it's manyfold truer in winterover life.

Just so we're all clear what sort of things I'm referring to, here's a (very incomplete) list of highlights:
1) No temperatures above -40C outside.
2) No sunlight for 6 months (4+1/2 if you count twilight)
3) Your entire life contained within the main station, or - for those lucky few who get out - within the station and a half dozen other buildings.
4) No travel beyond a 1 kilometer radius around the pole.
5) No escaping the 59 other people on station, no matter how much they get to you.
6) No living things except people & the greenhouse

There are dozens of other particular things that get to individual people, but you get the idea. Life here is, in a word, limited. After enough time, people all react in the same way - they go toasty.

Toastiness begins almost immediately after arrival on the ice, developing slowly over the months. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways, appearing on any given day, disappearing just as suddenly the next.

The most common symptoms include crankiness, a shortness of temper (often resulting in largely unprovoked outbursts of anger), apathy, a loss of focus, extended daydreaming, and the "thousand mile stare", where a toasty person gazes off to infinity, eyes slowly glazing over, completely unaware of their surroundings or the passage of time.

Shortly after station close, I was eating dinner with one of the crew who had wintered before. His comments at the time summed up the polie attitude on the subject nicely: "I can't wait for July, to stop caring. Life's so much easier once you're toast."


CT said...

MMmmmm...toast. I prefer lightly buttered, with vegemite. But I guess vegemite supplies at the pole aren't plentiful. In a pinch, you can use axle grease as a substitute...:)

desert tortise said...

Do you keep a running toast chart? I know there was one that shows the level of toast as depicted on a piece of toast. By the time school is out, I no longer think of toast, but a spork. There isn't any other way to describe it.