My mother used to say to me “When they handed out brains, you thought they said trains, and you missed yours!” While I might debate that point, there is no doubt that the first time around I missed the Bus2Antarctica.
Most tourists who head to Antarctica arrive by plane and boat. Andrew Evans came up with an unusual and cheaper way to travel to the snow and ice clad continent at the bottom of the planet: Take the bus. It took him ten weeks, ten thousand miles, and a shade over $1,100 in bus fare to reach his goal.
Evans’ journey began at a bus stop outside of the Washington, D.C. headquarters of National Geographic. He went south across the U.S., into Mexico, and through Central America to Panama where he hopped a plane to South America. Once in the Southern Hemisphere, he resumed his bus ride, ticking off the miles in Columbia, Bolivia, and Argentina, over mountains and through deserts. Sometimes push came to shove and Evans and other riders had to get off and help the driver get the bus out of mud in which it had become mired. Finally, after reaching Ushuaia at the tip of South America, he boarded a ship bound for the end of the Earth.
While Evans was on the road I would see the posts to his trip blog pop up on Twitter, but I was always too busy working on various projects to check them out. But after reading his essay about the trip in the September 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler, I hope to find the time to retrace his steps by perusing the blog.
The longest bus ride I ever took was when I was in junior high school. My mother and I boarded a Greyhound Scenicruiser in Seattle at about 11 pm on a Friday evening in November and rode east across the state of Washington. I slept little as the “Hound” slowly made its way in the night up and over the Cascade Mountains at Snoqualmie Pass, then descended into cattle country near Ellensburg, dipped down across the Columbia River at Vantage and up onto the broad volcanic plateau beyond. I may have been one of the few kids aboard. Adult passengers had little interest in sleep; they talked, smoked, and probably snuck a drink or two from a bottle of hooch discretely brought about in carry-on luggage.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning we ate a barely palatable breakfast at the bus depot cafeteria in Spokane, then boarded a second bus to travel south through the Palouse to Moscow, Idaho as the sun came up and backlit the dry pine trees lining the highway. I napped briefly in a Murphy Bed in my grandmother’s apartment in Moscow, then went to a nearby Catholic church with my mother where we witnessed the marriage of my grandmother to Bud, her fourth, and last husband.
Gray clouds filled the sky Sunday morning and the temperature was chilly when we climbed aboard the bus for the return trip to Seattle. Snow had fallen on the Columbia Plateau. Winter was on its way. I dozed, on and off, not noting much about the scenery or the other passengers, as we cruised westward for three hundred miles The next day I returned to school. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went. And memories of that long, slow, sleepless round-trip bus ride quickly faded from my mind.
The last time I rode a Greyhound bus was in 1968. A friend and I had set off from Monterey early one Friday evening on a weekend ski trip to Tahoe. His Sunbeam sports car broke down along the way and we spent the night sleeping above a bar in some dusty little burg in California’s Central Valley. Saturday morning we boarded the bus, returned to Monterey, hopped into my black Alfa Romeo sports car, and drove back to that little town, intent on retrieving our ski equipment and salvaging part of our trip.
But it was déjà vu all over again; my car started sputtering after I drove rough-shod over railroad tracks on the outskirts of town. The jostling by the rails had knocked the distributor loose and it swung to and fro, causing the engine to misfire. I pointed the car north back onto I-5, then west across the Altamont Pass, then southwest and back to Monterey. We limped, non-stop, home late Saturday night, both of our cars now disabled. Our weekend of fun had turned into thirty hours of vehicular circumambulation, simultaneously going everywhere and going nowhere at all.
I had not thought of these personal journeys by bus for many years until reading Bus2Antarctica. Sometimes it does pay to heed Greyhound’s advice: “Take the bus and leave the driving to us!”
(You can find your way to Antarctica in far less than ten weeks by going on one of National Geographic’s expeditions. Click here for more information).