Moorhead native going back to Antarctica sets goal of visiting 50 countries by age 30
MOORHEAD — Cameron Dailey-Ruddy says he feels more at home when traveling through foreign countries and living on a virtually uninhabited continent than he does here in his hometown.
And the 26-year-old Moorhead High School graduate goes "home" a lot. He ran out of pages in his passport. So he returned to Moorhead this summer from his year-long stay at McMurdo Station, where he works for the United States Antarctic Program, to see family and apply for an extra large passport, 52 pages.
His goal is to "travel really aggressively" by visiting 50 countries by the time he is 30 years old, "an ambitious itinerary," he said, but already he's halfway there.
"The lifestyle takes me by surprise," he said on a recent weekday afternoon outside the south Moorhead Starbucks.
He wears shades, wrist watch, Kanken backpack and numerous tattoos telling stories of his travels, such as a paper airplane and some scripture he got while in southern Thailand in 2014.
The most recent addition to his destination-themed body art is a permanent Antarctica souvenir on his forearm of a geometric iceberg.
His passion for exploration led him to apply for a job at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. It was "incredibly competitive" to get the gig and he applied for two dozen different jobs — many for which he was unqualified, like being a baker — but now he works in food service, fueling the nation's scientists. He returns to the ice in October.
"I'm glad he will be going back to Antarctica at this juncture — it seems to be the safest continent in the world right now," quipped his mother and Moorhead City Council member, Mari Dailey, who is a social studies teacher at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Middle School.
Mari said when her son informed her about Antarctica, "it was kind of surreal." At the request of Cameron, she watched a documentary on Netflix called "Antarctica: A Year on Ice," to which her reaction was: "Are you kidding me? Someone would choose to live there? I watched it about four times."
"I still just shake my head, but this is his dream, not mine. I always, always encourage my kids to follow their dream. Don't wait and watch things happen and say I wish I would have. If there is an opportunity, jump on it," she said. "My biggest worry: How do you top this adventure?"
Antarctica is an "intense, unique experience," Cameron said. Not only are you confined 12 months to dorm-style living, but the winter months are dark 24/7 and it can get as cold as 40 below zero.
And although Fargo is blustery, Antarctica is considered the windiest place on earth.
A lot of downtime he said was spent on introspection, reading and binging on news media.
"Seeing it [current events] from the outside gives me a warped perspective," he said.
Soon he will return to the "outside," where he's already had one year-long stay, but first he plans to tour Iceland, Europe and North Africa with friends.
Moorhead native and former classmate Marissa Peterson will be meeting Cameron early September in Paris.
"I'm really proud of Cameron's adventures," Peterson said in a text message. "Travelling and having new experiences is what makes him most happy. I think one of the most common regrets you hear from people is that they wished they would have traveled more when they were young, and he is taking advantage of the opportunities he has been given."
Since he was a child, Cameron said he felt a "cultural disconnect with the area," and often found himself devouring National Geographic magazines until reaching the "catalyst" of his wanderlust life in 2010 when he went with a group of medical volunteers and a pastor from Glyndon, Minn., to Haiti following the island's earthquake.
Now, rather than settle down and get married like his twin sister Patricia — who is 2 minutes older — and many friends are doing, Cameron remains steadfast in his relationship with travel.
He said he is "comfortable with impermanence" enhanced by his parents helping him "form a really great worldview."
Cameron said he will return to Minnesota one last time before he goes back on the ice.
Cameron's mother's seventh-grade students have lived vicariously through him and will soon have the chance to hear of his experiences personally when he makes a classroom visit at the end of September.
"To a lot of kids, this is just like wow, a dream kind of thing," Mari said, adding that she hopes her son's story "empowers them to chase their own dream."