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YEARLONG ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE WELL WORTH IT FOR AUSTRALIANS.

Byline: Barbara Lloyd The New York Times

It has been a year since Don and Margie McIntyre courted civilization. Marooned by choice since January 1995 in a small, isolated hut in Antarctica, the couple from Australia has survived a year alone in the windiest place on Earth.

McIntyre finds it hard to explain why he and Margie would want to take on such an arduous expedition. But he is positive that it was worth it.

"It was an adventure," he said with conviction. "You're a long time dead. In the middle of the adventure, you wish it were over. But then when you put your feet up and think about it afterward, you wish you could do it all over again."

As arranged, the 60-foot sailboat Spirit of Sydney arrived Monday with a crew of eight from Hobart, Tasmania, to pick them up. Bursting with experiences both "fantastic and horrible," the couple - who had the foresight to have their appendixes taken out before they left home - expected to set sail Friday from their icebound wilderness camp.

In their wake will be memories of 110-mile-an-hour winds, subzero temperatures, wet bunks and frozen pillows, carbon monoxide poisoning, falls on ice and homesickness.

"It's hard to believe it's nearly over," said McIntyre by satellite telephone Wednesday. "I'm not a mountain climber, and I'm not a trekker. I'm just an ordinary person. But there were a heap of challenges here."

McIntyre, 41, was speaking from the 8-by-12-foot, prefabricated shed he and his wife lived in near the mouth of Commonwealth Bay, a remote harbor below the Antarctic Circle that is accessible by water for only four to six weeks a year.

The McIntyres were so firmly committed to the adventure that they left a written message in Australia forbidding a rescue attempt should they need it. The expense and manpower involved in rescues of international adventurers have become an increasingly controversial issue.

In their workaday world, the McIntyres operate a marine services business near Sydney. But Don McIntyre has adventure in his soul, a zeal that he has passed on to his wife. In 1990-91, he competed in the BOC Challenge, a yacht race around the world for solo sailors. McIntyre placed second in his class aboard the 50-foot yacht Buttercup.

In 1993, he set off on another excursion, a trip from Australia to Commonwealth Bay. The remains of a historic camp are still there - a weathered, uninhabitable hut left by Sir Douglas Mawson, who set out from 1911-13 to claim the territory for Australia. McIntyre went home with a dream to live in the Cape Denison bay area for a year.

He spent two years trying to scrape together the half-million dollars needed to start on such a prolonged adventure. The McIntyres plan to write a book about their expedition and to put together a documentary to help pay off what has become a sizable personal debt.

The McIntyres were also faced with persuading the Australian government, and 44 nations belonging to the Antarctic Treaty, to let them set up a shelter.

"It was like trying to get permission to camp in a national park for a year," McIntyre said. "We're the first ones to be doing this." Officials finally agreed, but with plenty of provisos. Not the least of them was a restriction that the McIntyres must haul out all of their garbage, including solid wastes.

Margie McIntyre, 35, conceded Wednesday that she was often desperately homesick. For want of a scale, she estimated that she has lost almost 30 pounds from lack of appetite. The malaise was particularly bad during the months of April through September when the sun was shining for less than a few hours each day and, eventually, not at all.

"At times, I felt guilty that I wasn't enjoying myself," she said. "It used to really mess me up until one day Don said that most adventures are awful. Then I realized that I was just having a normal reaction, and I felt better."

Despite the isolation, the McIntyres could phone home almost whenever they wanted. Comsat Mobile Communications, a telecommunications firm based in Bethesda, Md., made it possible for the couple to hook into its satellite service with mobile equipment. They transported the gear to Antarctica on the Spirit of Sydney last January.

McIntyre says they have compiled a hefty phone bill, about $80,000 worth of calls. Comsat, which is the couple's only major sponsor, is paying.

"A couple of times, we had wrong numbers," McIntyre said. "When I told the people I was calling from Antarctica, they thought it was a hoax."

Starting Monday, people can find out about the expedition by tapping into the Internet at the Blue Ice: Focus on Antarctica site on the World Wide Web (http://www.mecc.com/blue-ice.html).

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Photo Don and Margie McIntyre wind down their stay in icy Commonwealth Bay, the windiest place on Earth. The New York Times
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 14, 1996
Words:826
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