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To Antarctica with love – Package travels over 9,000 miles

By Staff | Feb 2, 2008

Imagine the Estherville postal employee’s surprise when a mail customer approached the window and said, “This is a first for you guys. I’m sending this package to my niece in Antarctica.”

The date was Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008, and the sender was Lois Fraser of Estherville.

The box, containing eight bottles of Vitamin Water and a package of dark chocolates was being sent to niece Keri Nelson, who is living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The daughter of Gary and Jan Nelson, she is originally from Ashby, MN.

The shortest path between Estherville and McMurdo Station is 9,269.41 according to internet information.

So what’s a girl from the Midwest doing in Antarctica?

“She has a list of 100 things she wants to do before she dies,” Fraser explained. This Antarctic adventure was one of her 100.

Her niece added via email, “I wanted to get to a place few people get to go. I had heard amazing things about the community of people here, and wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to do something unique in my life.”

A graduate of Northwestern University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism, Nelson has worked for WVII-TV (ABC affiliate) in Bangor, ME (1998-99) and KLUK-TV (Fox affiliate) in Green Bay (1999-2004).

In 2004, Nelson decided to be a traveling nurse. She received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

“I’ve worked at Appleton Medical Center in Appleton, WI, and Immanuel St. Joseph’s in Mankato,” she related.

Fraser said she recalls how her niece stood in long lines at a massive job fair to apply for a job in Antarctica.

“Raytheon Polar Services is the company currently contracted by the National Science Foundation for operations here at McMurdo. They have one annual job fair in Denver to hire for most positions. I looked up the date on the internet, booked a flight and went!”

Filling out the paperwork, she recalled applying for every job she could. “Kitchen, janitorial, dispatching, communications, cargo, supply, you name it,” she said.

And it paid off with a job offer.

“I was offered a lead janitor job at McMurdo, a fire dispatcher job at McMurdo and a dining attendant/janitor job at the South Pole.”

Decisions, decisions–what to choose?

“I chose McMurdo because it just seemed like a good fit for me. There’s a better opportunity to see wildlife. There are lots of hikes around the station. It’s close to the New Zealand Antarctic base and there are tons of community-generated activities here too.”

She chose the head custodian position.

Although she cannot recall the actual day she left the United, States, Nelson said she arrived at McMurdo Station on Aug. 20, 2007.

“We flew through Christchurch, NZ, and then took a U.S. Antarctic Program-contracted military plane from Christchurch to McMurdo. It’s maybe 12 hours from Los Angeles to Christchurch, and depending on the kind of plane taken, five to nine hours to McMurdo. It took me five hours.”

Although she detests living in a dorm room with four people, Nelson’s favorite part is watching the wildlife. “Whales and seals and penguins, and I like the hikes I get to take to see them!”

It doesn’t sound like Nelson will ever acquire a taste for the cafeteria-style food being served because she sorely misses sushi and tandoori chicken.

Another comfort of home she is missing is her dog.

She said her aunt’s package arrived about 10 days after it was sent.

“Mail moves quickly this time of year. At the beginning of the season (October) I received some packages that had been mailed two months before. In February, mail will shut down completely here, until approximately August and it will be only sporadic until October. It all depends on if the planes coming down have room for mail.”

Fraser’s box arrived intact. “But I have had some packages arrive completely damaged.”

This past Christmas was lonely at the bottom of the world.

“It was hard to be away for Christmas. I took a hike and heard the seals breathing for the first time on a beautiful sunny day. None of the holidays seem real here. I’m still mentally waiting for Halloween to arrive.”

Her stint is nearing its end as she will “leave the ice” sometime this month.

Her plans after that?

“I’m going to travel in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and then pick up some travel nursing contracts when I get home.”

Nelson said persons possessing an open mind, a sense of adventure and a tolerance for six months straight of cafeteria food would make good candidates!

She described what living is like with total sun.

“When I arrived in August, the sun rose about 10 a.m. and set about 4 p.m. We rapidly gained light and by October, it was up all the time.”

Nelson said it is different to see the sun shining brightly at 1 a.m.

“It’s as bright as day but you get used to it. I’ve not been around 24-hour darkness yet. The dark is amazing, however, because you can see auroras … the Southern Lights.”

Nelson said the experience of living at McMurdo Station was well worth the time away from home.

“If you read this article and think ‘someday I might’ … do it. It’s very accessible and it’s excellent. I will be back.”

Contact Mary Ann Menendez at (712) 362-2622 or mmenendez@esthervilledailynews.com and visit our photo sharing Web site at cu.esthervilledailynews.com