There are times when we all wish we had more alone time, but there are certain occupations that take isolation to a whole new level. Check out these six out-of-the-way outposts and the strange and beautiful jobs they require. Depending on your personality, by the end you’ll either be wishing you were miles away from civilization with a good book, or thankful that you’re with your friends and near a good supermarket.
Crew member, Concordia Station in Antarctica
A lone plane sits on the snow and ice at Concordia Station in Antarctica. (Photo: ESA_events/flickr)
Concordia Station, also known as "White Mars," has to be one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on the planet. In fact, it’s so remote that the European Space Agency (ESA) uses it as a model for what living on a different planet would be like. Located at 3,200-meter altitude, the crew gets about a third less oxygen than they would experience at sea level. During the winter (which can get as low as minus 85 degrees Celsius), the crew spends four months living in complete darkness. Concordia is also 600 kilometers away from the nearest humans, which makes it more remote than the International Space Station. With those kinds of conditions, it’s no wonder that in addition to the scientific research done on site, members of the crew are observed for sociological effects. Concordia writes in the company's fascinating info kit, “The base is an ideal place to study effects on small, multicultural teams isolated for long periods in an extreme, hostile environment.”
Dr. Alexander Kumar told the BBC about his time at Concordia, “Alongside studying and reacting to changes in crew dynamics, we have to deal with any day-to-day challenges involving life-support system maintenance and equipment failure and breakdown. We have to be completely self-sufficient. All our food is canned, tinned, dried and prepackaged — there is no method of delivery here during winter. We are alone, the same as any Mars Mission would be.”
In case that description sounds like a dream gig, Concordia is currently asking for adventurous doctors to apply to conduct space research. All you need is a medical degree and a passport from an ESA member state.
Winter caretaker, Yellowstone National Park
Steve Fuller has spent the last 48 winters isolated at Yellowstone National Park. The seasonal caretaker arrives in November each year, spends his days clearing the snow off the roofs of about 100 buildings so they don’t collapse, and leaves the park only when the plow can get to his lodge. His closest neighbor? A two-hour snowmobile ride away.
And yet, Fuller told CBS that he has never had cabin fever and has never been bored. As the only man there, and with 150 inches of snow on average to clear, he has plenty to do. During his down time, Fuller enjoys cross-country skiing, reading, listening to Wyoming Public Radio and taking photos of the winter landscapes, many of which have been published in National Geographic. And years ago, when Fuller’s two daughters were growing up, he and his now ex-wife would homeschool them.
On his off time, Fuller travels to Africa and takes pleasure in the sun.
Service person, Thule Air Base
Thule Air Base is north of the Arctic Circle. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
By Concordia standards, Thule Air Base is well populated with many nearby attractions. For anyone else, Thule is cold, incredibly remote, and severely lacking in any kind of night life. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Thule is locked in by ice for three quarters of the year. According to the Thule welcome packet, each summer a Canadian icebreaker ship pushes its way through the ice to clear a path for cargo ships. That starts the very short season when the base can resupply on fuel, food, cargo and construction materials.
Want to get off base for some fun? Well, you can visit some pretty cool glaciers. But what about restaurants or movie theaters? The packet says, “The closest Inuit (native Eskimo) village, Qaanaaq, is located 65 miles away. There is no ‘off-base’ except for the bay, the ice cap and what appears to be thousands of miles of rocks and/or ice.”
What you can do at Thule is help to provide early missile detection, space surveillance and space control, and air support. Unlike Concordia, which can only accommodate up to 16 people, Thule is home to hundreds, so it’s more like a small isolated town where everyone works for the same company and lives in dorms.
There is fun to be had on base. They have a bowling center, a consolidated club (which boasts a full-service restaurant, lounge, game room, delivery service, check cashing and ballroom with a light/sound/video system), a community center with video games, foosball, pool, pinball and a small movie theater, and a creativity room for those who like photography.
Fire lookout, Gila National Forest
A fire lookout lives here from April through August during wildfire season. (Photo: Samat Jain/flickr)
When it comes to managing forest fires, early detection is vital. That’s why you have someone like Philip Connors living at Gila National Forest in New Mexico from April through August (wildfire season) and watching over 100,000 acres of land through his binoculars. Any sign of smoke gets radioed in so that action can be taken if necessary. It’s not just an isolated job; it’s a dangerous one.
It’s a good thing Connors enjoys the solitude. The only thing he misses back home is his wife. To keep himself busy and happy in Gila, the writer and lookout reads a lot of books, takes walks with his dog, sleeps under the stars, and enjoys the occasional visit from his wife. Like most of the people on this list, this is a job that Connors chose. In fact, he left his job as an editor of The Wall Street Journal to take it on.
His reaction to spending so much time away from people? He told the New York Times, “You can bathe or not bathe as you see fit. You can wander around shirtless if you feel like it. There’s a certain amount of freedom and liberation involved in detaching yourself, at least temporarily, from anyone’s expectations of you.”
If you want to know more about the experience, Connors wrote a book about his time as a lookout.
Winter maintenance, Many Glacier Hotel in Montana
This hotel has no guests in winter. (Photo: Glacier NPS/flickr)
David and Rebecca Wilson have been living at the Many Glacier Hotel in Montana since October. Doesn’t sound too crazy, right? After all, it’s a hotel. Due to the harsh winters, this particular establishment closes down in September. David and Rebecca then become the only people on the 76-acre property.
David Wilson has been the Many Glacier Hotel maintenance man since 2008, a job that has him shoveling snow, repairing wind damage, and evicting animals who manage to sneak inside. Yahoo reports that over this past winter fewer than 10 people have actually seen the duo, although plenty have been following along with their adventures on the couple’s blog. If they had an emergency, only a snowplow could help bring them to safety.
The couple relishes the solitude, saying, “Honestly, we would stay here longer if we could. There is no cabin fever when you’re in such a beautiful place. I get more cabin fever in the city.”
Volunteer astronaut, Mock Mission to Mars
The Mars500 project may be done, but it still makes our list and is representative of all the long journeys taken by astronauts. While these volunteer astronauts never actually left Earth, they found out what it feels like to embark on a 520-day mission. During their time in a small windowless isolation facility at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow, the crew lived as closely as possible to the lives of astronauts on a real mission to Mars.
The crew performed scientific experiments, collected medical data, and took walks on a surface that was made to resemble Mars. Communication was also delayed to mimic real communication. And perhaps best yet, because the whole thing was a scientific experiment, we get to know the psychological results of living like Mars astronauts.
Most of the crew members suffered from sleep disorders such as insomnia, leading researchers to conclude that special lighting will be needed to replicate a day/night cycle on Earth to help keep a healthy circadian rhythm. In addition to light, carefully timed meals and workouts could help keep a person on a healthy schedule.
So, if you had to choose, which fortress of solitude would you call your own for a chunk of your life? National park? The Arctic? Mission to Mars?