Friday, June 24, 2011

300 Club

Dave stared at the monitor with Joe and Alex peering over his shoulder. Joe leaned forward and and watched as the number on the screen dropped another tenth of a degree. It was going to happen eventually, and no amount of wishing or praying would stop it. But at least once it was over, he would have his glory and a funny looking merit badge.

It hovered at -99.8 for a while, then dropped to -99.9. Dave turned around with a smile carved across his face, and it ate away at Joe. “Come on buddy. It’s going to be great.”

Alex patted him on the back. “It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in the world man. You’ve got to do it.”

Joe leaned forward. “Are you guys sure that this is accurate. I mean, when was it last calibrated?”

“I did it yesterday. You’re not getting out of this.”

“This is really stupid, you know. Really stupid.” Joe walked back to the far end of the room and looked at the map pinned up against the wall, putting his finger over Madison, Wisconsin. “It’s 180 degrees warmer back home. My wife is probably at a barbecue and my son has a baseball game later today. Why did I come here?”

“Because you’re at the bottom of the world man, living in the most hostile environment on the plant. That’s so hardcore, who wouldn’t want to?” said Alex.

“Yea, how many people can claim they know what a 300 degree difference feels like?” chimed in Dave.

“Far too many, and they don’t need me. And why can’t wear my underwear?”

“Dude, do you have any idea what’d happen to you once that shit freezes. It’s be like having a hundred razor blades all around your junk. You don’t want that, dude.”

Joe nodded, and Dave turned around, focusing back on the monitor. “Any second now...and we’ve got it. Minus 100. Alex, crank up the sauna!”

Alex left the room and Joe sat down next to Dave. The number dropped a to -100.1. “Won’t we get frostbite?”

“On the lungs perhaps. Just wear your face mask.”

“Does everybody?”

“Most. I forgot mine once, and it wasn’t all that terrible.”

Joe sunk back into the chair and watched a bad action movie with Dave until Alex came back.. “Sauna’s officially at 200!”

Dave went back to the computer and clicked off the screensaver. “Minus 101.3. This is going to be a good one.” He turned to Joe. “Time to strip.”

There were ten men and one woman in the sauna, all with towels wrapped around them. With each breath, Joe struggled to breath the hot, humid, air further funkified by the other sweating bodies. Dave, still coordinating everything, looked at his watch. “We’re almost there. Everybody ready?”

Joe reached down and felt his orange face mask sitting next to him. When he looked back at Dave, he had begun clapping, and started a countdown as he looked at his watch.

“Five...four...three.” Joe removed his hand from the mask and joined in the clapping. “!”

Everybody dropped their towels and poured out the door, Joe caught up in the middle, with adrenaline surging through his body, ran naked down the hallway. In the entranceway, steam clouded the air and Joe felt a shiver creep up his spine even before the door opened. Once it did, the wind assaulted his naked body and the feeling of a million needles momentarily paralyzed him. It took a push from the woman behind him to get going, and once he made it outside, Joe took off, following the rest of the group towards the pole.

He tried to catch up with them, but as soon as he took his first deep breath, he felt his lungs freeze over. Joe reached up towards his face and realized he had forgotten his mask. He turned around and looked back towards the entrance; it was too late now.

Joe pushed forward, slowing down, trying to keep his breaths as shallow as possible, but every time he sucked in some air, he felt his lungs freeze a little bit more. By the time he reached the ceremonial pole, he could feel the sweat on his skin freeze and each swing of his arms seemed to crack the skin just above his shoulder. Ahead of him, Joe could see a couple people round the geographic pole just a couple steps ahead of him. He pushed forward and circled all 24 timezones in a matter of seconds. But when he turned around, the door back to the station appeared almost miles away. I’m going to die. Fuck.

Joe slowed down to a trot and tried to keep his breathing as slow and steady as possible, extracting as much oxygen from each breath before a new set of the coldest air on Earth came rushing back into his corpuscles, sending those cells into a cryogenic hibernation, hopefully to someday wake again.

Before long, he gave up his trot and began walking. Joe thought he was the last one out there, but before long, he heard somebody come up from behind him. It was Dave. He was covered in frost, with the frozen water even clinging to his eyelashes. Joe tried to blink, but his eyelids, like Dave’s, were too stiff to close.

Dave slowed down and stayed next to Joe, he too had forgotten his mask. He stuck with Joe all the way back to the entrance where the relative warmth of the building hurt his lungs even more than the cold, and they immediately began coughing as they walked back to the sauna.

Everybody was trying to warm back up and unfreeze their lungs, but they all smiled. They had done it. They had earned their patch.

Alex sat down next to Joe and extended his hand. “No face mask. Dude, you are fucking hardcore!”


Raven Corinn Carluk June 24, 2011 at 6:48 PM  

Wickedly hardcore. I'm freezing just thinking about it.

FARfetched June 24, 2011 at 6:51 PM  

Must be degrees F! Nice chill on a hot summer day.

Are you writing from experience, perhaps?

Sonia Lal June 24, 2011 at 7:47 PM  

Well he earned the guys respect! I would have called him silly for going out like that myself.

Michael A Tate June 24, 2011 at 7:51 PM  

Raven: Yea, I wouldn't want to do that.

FAR: Not really. I know some people are actually did this, but I never got the chance to go to the pole. (A bunch of stuff I built is down there though)

Sonia: Yea, they are pretty silly, but there's not much else to do for entertainment when you winter over there.

Adam B June 24, 2011 at 8:46 PM  

Such a well told story. I could feel the emotions of the character and the sensation of extreme temperature. Totally hardcore!
Adam B @revhappiness

John Wiswell June 24, 2011 at 9:18 PM  

Haha, they are hardcore. Their tenacity, even bald enthusiasm in the face of the cold is amusing to the last line.

Mari June 24, 2011 at 10:19 PM  

Never! That's all I have to say.

Cool story tho. :)

Chuck Allen June 25, 2011 at 3:31 PM  

Well told, Michael. I caught myself adjusting my breathing along with the character.

This is one reason I don't live in a cold climate. It has a way of warping one's idea of entertainment. :)

Helen June 25, 2011 at 6:40 PM  

Wow, when they first left the sauna, with the tension you built, I was sure he wouldn't make it. Hardcore all right, but also stupid!

Nice writing!

Michael A Tate June 26, 2011 at 11:03 AM  

Adam: Yea, those guys that do that are pretty hard core...but when you winter over at the's not really an option :)

John: Thanks, glad it carried that far. I was worried it was a bit too long and loose.

Mari: Yea, I wouldn't want to do that either.

Chuck: I've gone rolling around in the snow after getting out of a hot-tub before, but that was probably only a 100 degree F difference. But your point still stands :)

Helen: Nobody has ever died or gotten permanent damage doing this, so I'd figure it's not all that stupid from a long term perspective...short them though, it would suck.

Thanks everybody for your comments!

Icy Sedgwick June 26, 2011 at 2:52 PM  

Glad they made it back ok - and I hope he plays on the bravado of not having a mask and doesn't confess that he simply forgot it!

Maria A. Kelly June 26, 2011 at 9:56 PM  

Wow. I'm not a fan of the cold. Which is why I live in Florida. I have to admit it sounded like fun, though. Great story.

Anthony June 27, 2011 at 11:43 AM  

That is insane! I'd do this before I jumped into the Boston harbor in January. Where do I sign!

Michael A Tate June 28, 2011 at 5:08 PM  

Icy: If he's anything like me, he'll burn the mask :)

Maria: Then you don't get exposed to the cold too often...this doesn't sound like fun coming from a Minnesotan. lol.

Anthony: If you want to winter over at the pole, shoot me an e-mail and I'll show you where to go to apply.

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