Garden Valley woman prepares to return to home "on the ice" in Antarctica
Eric Fink sits down with Jules Uberuaga and has the story. Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
"The hardest part about going is right now, leaving, breaking away from everybody being nostalgic," Jules Uberuaga said sitting in a chair on the deck of her sister's Boise home.
"But, once you're there it's so exciting, you'll hear things about people back at home and you'll feel nostalgic, but, it's a pretty, dynamic, happening place."
The place to which Uberuaga, a resident of Garden Valley, is referring: Antarctica.
For more than 30 years, Jules has spent every winter in the Northern Hemisphere, summering in the Southern Hemisphere, adjacent to the South Pole.
The native Idahoan works for the National Science Foundation and the NASA science camp at the McMurdo Station, a government research facility in Antarctica, more than 9,000 miles away from Idaho.
Uberuaga is part of a team propelling helium-filled balloons high into a cloudless sky in temperatures sometimes 90 degrees below zero.
"We build a big launch pad," Uberuaga said. "We build this bigger, upper atmospheric balloons that go up 120,000 feet and rotate around the continent. We do physics experiments mainly."
Uberuaga spends approximately five months a year in the Artic, a routine this 57-year-old has enjoyed since 1979. But, when she first started in Antarctica as a forman, operating heavy equipment, she was one of only several women on the job.
Uberuaga says it was difficult to cope with sexist comments from her co-workers as she earned her spot in a field that she maintains was once considered a man's world.
"I will say in some of those early years, the first 10 years, I cried myself to sleep a few times," Uberuaga said. "Just being pushed around in every way socially and being young and intimidated and boy i tell you, you start to toughen up."
This tough, sassy woman preps to leave Boise Monday for her 34th consecutive season "On The Ice." And, after more than three decades, many fellow Idahoans are still often confused about where Uberuaga's winter itinerary.
"A lot of people here say, well, you still going to Alaska, you still doing that Alaska thing," Uberuaga chuckles. "And, I think it's the Northern Hemisphere and then they talk about polar bears and you just casually turn them around and explain to them."
But, after 34 years, does one really need to explain a lifestyle and labor of love?
"It just really captures people who want an adventurous lifestyle," Uberuaga stated. You know, the people who just can't accept two weeks of holiday a year."