On the far side of the world

2/26/2006 8:00:00 AM
On the far side of the world

Julie Young

Julie Young – Correspondent

Summer in Antarctica means temperatures in the mid-20s to the mid-30s with fog, snow drifts and winds reaching 65 mph or more. Hardly an ideal vacation destination, but for Dr. Gary Stouder it’s where he wanted to spend his winter.

“I want to do this because this is the biggest adventure of my life,” he said in an e-mail interview. “I have always wanted to be in the Antarctic, and this was a great opportunity.”

Stouder is part of a group of 20 ham radio operators who have battled the frozen tundra in order to set up their radios and contact people all over the world from Peter 1 Island, Antarctica.

“There have only been about 50 humans to set foot on Peter 1 Island,” he said, noting that the area is less traveled than outer space.

On Friday, the team broke camp and prepared to journey back home. During their time on the remote island, team members took 17,000 photographs and established radio contact with hundreds of ham operators around the world. They also set up a weather station and explored the rugged terrain.

The isolated location has an extinct volcano, icebergs and little wildlife. It is the most desolate place on the earth, but for a ham radio aficionado, it represents a unique opportunity to communicate with the rare site.

Because of its remoteness, the island counts as another country and for hams around the world, having confirmation of contact with Antarctica is akin to having Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

“It’s kind of like a stamp collector getting a rare stamp,” Stouder said, noting that the group has made about 70,000 contacts so far.

According to Stouder’s wife, Joy, this isn’t the first time Stouder has tried to reach Antarctica. Last year, he traveled as far as the southern tip of Argentina before weather and travel complications canceled the trip. He didn’t think he would get the chance to go, but then after seeing “The March of the Penguins,” she said he got fired up about the trip again.

“I was a little bit scared at first, but I think it is important to let him seek his adventure,” she said.

Stouder has dual roles on the mission. Not only is he one of the hams transmitting from the island, he also serves as the group’s medical officer. His medical equipment includes a defibrillator and IV fluid. He said that the group is eight days away from the nearest medical care.

“This is a great challenge for me to be ready to do this even though I hope everyone stays well,” he said. “I also really like being able to make contacts with people throughout the world.”

Stouder became interested in radios when he was 10 years old, listening to the short wave and dreaming of faraway places. He said he got his first ham license when he was 17. Over the years, he has talked to almost every country in the world, not to mention places out of this world.

“We’ve talked to the astronauts on the International Space Station with school groups,” Joy Stouder said.

Stouder said that he doesn’t have another adventure on tap after this. He works part-time with the Hancock Health Network, but both he and his wife enjoy traveling to exotic locales such as Australia, China and Japan. He is scheduled to return March 6.

“We both have an adventurous spirit,” Joy said. “But I hope this trip (to Antarctica) will fill that void for a while.”