Corn Hole and Styrofoam

Today I had one of my rare “huh” moments. A “huh” moment is when I think, “Huh, this is a bizarre thing I’m doing right now. What the heck kind of life choices led me to this moment?” Today’s huh moment was when I found myself playing in a corn hole tournament (and winning, I might add) on the top deck of a government research vessel while watching a pod of humpback whales.

That’s really a weird place to find myself, when you think about it.

It was a pretty high-stakes game of corn hole. If you throw the bean bag too hard, it ends up in the ocean. Luckily, I’m not that bad of a shot. Also, you have to judge all your shots with the rock of the boat (which can be unpredictable and made the game pretty funny). Tracie and I won our game, so we’re on to the next round tomorrow! We credit our victory with our baller war paint.

corn hole victory

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Today was pretty chill because we didn’t have any fishing to do. I spent quite a bit of time working on my styrofoam cup. The science team is decorating styrofoam cups because the cool marine biologist thing to do is to sink them to very low ocean depths (3000+ meters). Apparently the pressure at that depth compresses the styrofoam and shrinks it, making the cup tiny and misshapen but still showing all the designs that were put on it. I’m not kidding: this is a thing that all the marine biologists get really excited about. Tracie even decorated a styrofoam head (the kind that cosmetologists use) in advance of this trip and brought it with her to sink. There are shrunken heads in the lab already from other people who have done this. Sinking styrofoam is a legit marine biology hobby. As the saying goes, “When in Rome…” so I worked on a styrofoam cup today. I’m making a hake tessellation, which takes longer than you might think. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

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While I was working on my cup, our acoustics tech came in and told us that a pod of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins were playing in the waves by our ship. We hurried out to see, and it was so amazing! There were bunches of dolphins on both sides of the ship, jumping in and out of the waves. Some of them would pop up in pairs or in groups, sort of like an aquarium show except infinitely better. I fear that all aquariums are ruined for me after this trip.

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Now I’m watching a movie (Pirates 2) in my recliner chair in the lounge of the ship. It’s kind of like a movie theater – a giant screen in the front, and leather recliner chairs fill the rest of the room. I got an ice cream cone out of the (free!) ice cream treats freezer to eat while watching the movie. You know, sea life might not be that bad after all.

Gotta go to bed, though: zoop stations start at 4 AM.

That’s “zooplankton,” in case you didn’t know. The other scientists seem excited about this, so hopefully it’s cool! This is like when Rex gets up at 4 AM to hunt, but I’m hunting zooplankton instead of…all the things Rex hunts. Also, I can get out of bed at 3:58 and be at my hunting spot by 4, so that’s a definite plus.

Talk to you tomorrow!

Ship Life

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was life on this ship.

Okay, full disclosure: I spent a few full days on this ship being sick, and they were the longest days OF MY LIFE. I was so miserable, and all I wanted to do was see shore. As in, I was willing to give up all other goals in life to just go home, sit with my husband and my dogs, and never set foot on a boat again. I told Rex that I’m all done with adventures, and he said, “Well…we’ll see how long that lasts, but I support you in whatever you want.”

Ha ha. He knows me well.

Now, after a veritable pharmacy of medications and mercifully calm water…I’m okay today (knock on wood). I thought I was okay a few days ago, but then we hit some rough swells and – NOPE – no longer okay.

The thing is, when I’m not sick in bed I’m doing some of the coolest stuff! Some of it is sciency, like designing earrings out of fish otoliths. Otoliths are these bony things in the inner ear that help regulate dizziness and balance. It’s kind of ironic to keep some since I’ve spent so much of this trip feeling dizzy, ha ha. They look cool, though! I can’t wait to get compliments on them and then say, “Oh, thanks. I pulled these out of a fish brain.”

The earrings were Tracie’s idea. Yesterday she taught me to do my hair using only a pencil (like she does), and then Olivia got this picture of us twinning.

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I continue to see AWESOME marine wildlife out here. Whales are so common now that they’re almost not cool (except they’re still totally cool). We’re off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada today, so we’re getting pretty far north. I’m hoping maybe we could see the Northern Lights – it happens up here sometimes. Yesterday I saw my first shark. It was slicing through the water all Jaws style, which was awesome. I’m also getting much better at identifying jellyfish. I really like when sea lions swim by us because they’re adorable (whales, sharks, and jellies are cool, but not adorable).

Last night my friend Hilarie and I watched Pirates of the Carribbean on the flying bridge (the highest deck on the ship). There’s something about watching an on-screen pirate ship come in through fog while your ship is going through fog and feeling sea spray on your face while pirates battle that adds a lot to the experience of the movie. Like, a lot. I’ll probably never watch it the same way again. Also, good news: Hilarie has all the Pirates movies on her hard drive, so we can make this a nightly thing if we want!

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Also, we’re working with a ship named…. Well, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you the name. I’ll just tell you that it has “pearl” in the name, and people around here refer to it as “the Pearl.” Multiple times a day someone will say something like, “Look! The Pearl is visible about a mile off the starboard side!” And there’s a piece of me that’s always like, “THAT SEEMS LIKE A VERY BAD THING. WE’RE ABOUT TO BE TAKEN OVER BY PIRATES!!!” But we never are. It’s just a friendly government research ship. Don’t worry, though. I’m ready to call “parlay” if I need to.

Today the buzz on board is THE ECLIPSE! I’m writing this right after breakfast, so we’re still waiting. I’m going to head up to the flying bridge to see what’s going on in about ten minutes. We’re still about an hour and a half away from the main point of the eclipse (projected to be around 10:18), but everyone is so excited. It’s fun being on a ship full of scientists today. My chief scientist asked us all to wear black and gray today to dress in “eclipse theme,” and we’re going to take some “eclipse theme pictures” once we’re all up on deck. What’s an eclipse theme picture? I’ll let you know after we take them. Hopefully everyone just stands in front of me. I haven’t worn make-up in a week.

Also, we had pancakes for breakfast that could eclipse each other as we ate them. Not sure what’s for lunch, but I’m hoping pizza eclipsed by pepperonis.

As I said: everyone’s pretty excited.

AHHHHHH! THE CAPTAIN JUST CAME OVER THE P.A. AND SAID THE ECLIPSE IS STARTING! GOTTA GO!

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Okay, I’m back. It’s now just over an hour until dinner (the day got busy). I’m pretty tired, but let me throw some highlights your way:

1. The eclipse was awesome! We got to see about 85% of it from where we are in Canada. The best was when the engineer dudes let us use their welding helmets to look at it. That worked waaay better than the cheapie glasses we had.

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2. We pulled in a Methot net (don’t ask me what that is, okay? I’m still not entirely clear. It’s different than our trawl nets, though. A lot smaller). We wanted to check how some small animals were reacting to the changes in sunlight during the eclipse. I measured a jillion krill. We found a baby octopus, so that was awesome!

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3. While we were processing the stuff from the net, someone came over the PA system and said, “There’s a pod of orcas off the port bow if anyone’s interested.” A WHOLE POD OF ORCAS? Uh, yeah. I’m interested. We went and watched those for a while. It was so awesome – we could see five or six surface at a time!

Now I’m kind of tired…I’ll try to get a little of my work done before dinner, though, because I don’t want to nap! Now that I can stay out of bed, I want to be out as much as possible.

Also, shout out to everyone who’s been supporting me! Today I opened my e-mail inbox to find e-mails from everyone in my immediate family (INCLUDING CARA), Rex, and my friend Lynn! Plus, Rex’s mom posted a pug video to my facebook wall. So I was feeling the love. Thanks for the support – I’m hoping that I can have more healthy days and fewer sick days now that my cocktail of medicines seems to be working. 😊

Three Cheers for Health!

Okay, my praying people – please keep it up! Yesterday I made my goal to stay out of bed all the way from breakfast until dinner, and I DID IT!

I know that doesn’t seem like that great of an accomplishment, but it is. Trust me.

Also, good thing I did, because there were all kinds of things to see. AND I finally took a shower, which means I cleaned all the fish scales out of my hair (I think). My roommate probably really appreciates this.

Actually, my roommate might not care. She’s super hard core and low maintenance. It’s a weird disconnect because she’s gorgeous – like, a truly beautiful specimen of human (see how sciency I am?) but she doesn’t even brush her hair. Nope, she just throws it up in this bun thing, sticks a pencil in it, and it lasts all day. IT’S AMAZING (see picture). She has to teach me how to do that. Also, she loves hunting grouse, which means that occasionally my before-bed conversations are just like they would be at home. Lol. She also loves animal rights. Her t-shirt today said, “BE KIND TO ANIMALS OR I WILL KILL YOU.” She has a unique perspective on animal rights, though. She says, “Okay, people shouldn’t kill elephants for ivory. That’s stupid. But like, hunting and fishing? Come on, people. Of course you should hunt and fish. It’s how an ecosystem works. It’s called a food chain.” She’s awesome.

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Yesterday we saw a lot of wildlife. My favorite was probably the orcas. We saw two swimming right next to each other, and we think the smaller one was probably a baby. We also saw humpback whales and dolphins. Being sick for a few days is almost worth all the amazing wildlife we saw today. It’s especially worth it if I keep feeling healthy. How many people get to see all that stuff in the wild!?

I mean, WOW.

I also saw a lot of dead fish in my lab, but hey – that’s kind of the norm at this point.

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At lunch, Larry the cook insisted I try his soup. I didn’t want to eat a lot because I didn’t want to risk feeling sick again, but he was all, “Try the cauliflower soup! You will like the soup!” It was the opposite of Seinfield’s soup Nazi: SOUP FOR YOU! I took some just to be nice, and it was absolutely delicious. When I get home, I’m going to learn how to make it. Also, it didn’t make me feel sick. Cheer!

I went back to my room shortly after dinner because I was exhausted but so proud of myself for making it through the whole day not being sick (which, yes, I understand it’s not me that made myself not sick. Praise the Lord for a healthy day! No, really. PRAISE THE LORD!!!). I decided to watch a movie to pass the time until I fell asleep. The best thing on was Titanic, so I watched that for a while. Turns out that watching Titanic while sailing in the middle of an ocean is a little creepy. Who knew? So now I’m watching a documentary about UFOs. Also. I’m feeling thankful for a TV to help pass the time (PRAISE THE LORD AGAIN!). I brought some projects that I really need to get done, but all of today’s energy has been spent. I will try again tomorrow.

Shout out to Rex for e-mailing me multiple times a day and being husband of the year. Whenever I feel down, I check my e-mail, and nine times out of ten – BAM! – e-mail from Rex. Very often there are pug pictures or pirate references involved. Today two of the scientists were talking about true love and what really IS true love, and I teared up while talking about Rex. Then, after hearing about what he’s been through with me, one of the other scientists started tearing up too. REX IS MY HUMAN, PEOPLE. And he’s making people on my ship cry. The ship loves you, Rexo. Can’t wait to see you again.

Phew! Gotta go to sleep. Goal tomorrow is to stay out of bed until 7 PM. Think I can do it? E-mail cheers are accepted. 😊

***edit*** I wrote that post yesterday and am just now getting around to posting it. It’s now 6:50, so I am TOTALLY going to make my 7 PM goal. I think I might even make it to sunset, which is supposed to look really beautiful tonight. I AM SO THANKFUL TO BE FEELING HEALTHY.

I just got out of a really long shift at the wet lab, though, so I smell reaaaaaalllllyyy bad. A shower before sunset is happening.

Life at Sea!

*Note: This is yesterday’s post, but the WiFi was down last night. Hopefully I will put up today’s post later today*

This post is coming to you from the chem lab in the middle of the ocean!

It’s tough to type because I keep rocking back and forth, and also the seasickness meds make my vision a bit blurry.

I’ll be honest – I haven’t been feeling well the past few days. Super dizzy, super tired, and I couldn’t even read or write because the letters in front of me were too blurry (please excuse any typos – I probably can’t see them).

Last night I switched to a new seasickness med because my chief scientist thinks that my body was reacting badly to the one I was on. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), she says that happens a lot with that particular medicine. It was pretty miserable. I’m feeling a bit better today, but pray that I keep getting better. At least I can type now – hooray for that!

For the past two days I’ve been working in the wet lab processing hake and rockfish. I have come to a point where I legitimately wonder who has gutted more fish – me or my dad. Never thought I’d see THAT day. I’m doing hundreds in a single trawl, so I am getting used to the routine. We have to find gonads, stomachs, and otoliths. The gonads allow us to sex the fish, the stomachs…okay I have no idea why we’re taking stomachs…and the otoliths tell us how old the fish is. It’s kind of cool, really. It’s an “ear bone” in the middle of the fish’s head that develops over time. It’s sort of like looking at rings on a tree: you can tell the age by how much they grow.

I would love to show you pictures of all of this, but the WiFi on board is seriously bad.

Anyway, the fish can be as small as my hand and as big as a meterstick. Huge differences. We scientists joke around with each other by giving someone a big fish if they’ve been working on tiny ones for a while. The big ones are so much easier.

People say to take joy in the little things in life…I just never knew that the “little things” would be “I get to dissect a giant fish!  WHOOPEEEEEE!”

Hold on – I’ve gotta go do marine mammal watch.

Okay I’m back. Marine mammal watch is pretty fun. I sit up on the fly deck (the highest deck on the boat), and I watch for whales and dolphins. If I see one too close to the ship, we have to postpone our trawl. I guess one time a net caught a dolphin, and that’s bad news. So we marine mammal watch.

On this particular watch I saw one whale, but it was waaaaay too far off to be caught by our nets. It was still cool to see it! The trawl proceeded, and now we’re waiting for the fish to come aboard.

That’s all for now! Please pray that I keep feeling better and that we get some good solid data. I’m learning a TON about marine biology. Adios!

Weekend in Port

In just over an hour, our ship will officially set sail.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m pretty nervous about it for a myriad of reasons, but I’m also excited. After all, I finally get to do what I came here to do.

I was worried that the weekend stuck in port might be super boring, but I had a blast. On Saturday morning, I rented a bicycle. When I went to the place to get it, they only had one left! There are a bunch of people already in town for the solar eclipse next week.

The man in the bike shop told me that I could either take the one he had, or I could wait for an hour and get a better one. I took at look at the one he had. It was old and a bit rusty, the kick stand was a little wonky, and pretty much it was the bicycle version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I named the bike Charlie and decided we would go out for a fun day together. Who wants to sit at a bike shop for an hour? Plus, Charlie didn’t look like he’d been out for a while. He needed an adventure.

There’s a beautiful road that goes around the bay (about thirty miles), and I took that track. I had a wonderful ride, but I was definitely missing my padded bike shorts and my camelback and my bike gloves and my padded bike shorts and my travel companions and my bike bell and…did I mention my padded bike shorts?

I need to add those shorts to the list of things to pack with me everywhere just in case.

Speaking of that list, when I was a kid my mom taught me to always pack a swimsuit and a dress whenever I go on a trip because you never really know when you might need one of those things. It’s such a habit now that I do it even if I’m going to be on a ship for two weeks and definitely in no way will need a dress.

Wellll…except when my ship gets stuck in port and I get a free ticket to a fancy seafood festival. Our officers were all wearing their dress whites, so we were supposed to look a little fancy if we could.

Guess who’s the only scientist who brought a dress?

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday morning I went to a church in town, and then my new ship friends picked me up for a day at the beach.

Have you ever gone to the beach with marine biologists? DO IT.

It was so much fun. Tracie and Hilarie were stopping all over the place to talk about marine things. They loved to debate what species of jellyfish we found onshore. They looked at me for my input, but I just laughed. I couldn’t come up with five species of jellyfish names, let alone identify them.

Then, randomly, Tracie picked up the jellyfish and threw it at us. I screamed and ran away because – HELLO – jellyfish. But apparently this was a non-stinging species, and my friends said jellies are way more fun and environmentally friendly than throwing water balloons.

Noted. Still not ever going to get in a jellyfish fight when I’m on my own.

We found some Kelp, and Tracie used it as a jump rope. Then we spent some time looking for fossils. Tracie was freaking out excited. She’d say things such as, “LOOK! A CLAM FOSSIL! THIS IS CLAMTASTIC!”

That’s an actual quote. Tracie’s awesome.

Once I knew what I was looking for, I found a few fossils too. It made me feel very sciencey. Then we went and saw some sea lions. They were loud but super interesting. My new marine biology friends taught me a lot about them.

That night, we did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. We found DINOFLAGELLATES!

Oh, you don’t know what those are? I didn’t either. They’re awesome. They’re a marine phytoplankton, and under the right conditions they bioluminesce (that means “glow”). Tracie, our phytoplankton expert, found a place where the conditions were perfect. We put on boots and stomped around in the water, and there were blue glowy sparkles everywhere we stepped. One of my friends said it looked like unicorn footprints if a unicorn was traipsing across a rainbow. That’s spot on. I can’t describe it well, so here’s a video of someone else stepping on them. It’s only thirty seconds…take a look. Seriously. It’s so cool.

It just so happens that at the same time that we were stomping around in glowing water, the Persied Meteor Shower was going on. So there were shooting stars flying above our heads and shooting glows flying under our feet. THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WAS SPARKLY. That’s my kind of universe.

Now we’re getting ready to set sail. I’m so nervous! We just had an announcement over the PA system that said last call: all visitors ashore, all members aboard.

Here we go!

 

*UPDATE* We did, in fact, leave. The WiFi on board won’t let me post pictures, so you’re only getting text and video in this post. That’s too bad, cuz I have some REALLY COOL pictures. I’ll go back and edit pictures in if I can ever figure out how to do that.

Grounded

Good news: I have not yet gotten seasick.

Bad news: I haven’t been out to sea yet, so that makes my good news a bit pointless.

I’m supposed to be out at sea as I type this, but instead I’m sitting in the ship’s lounge while the ship is in port. Here’s a picture I took yesterday:

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The brown leather plushy chairs in this lounge are awesome – I sink right into them. There’s a big-screen TV in here where people can watch any of the hundreds of DVDs on board, but it’s off right now because it’s 9 AM and we all have better things to do.

I’ll venture off the ship at some point today and go see what’s around Newport, but first I thought I should check in and say hello to you.

When I found out that our ship was delayed due to generator issues, I was pretty bummed. After all, what was I supposed to do all weekend if we’re not doing science?

Well….I went to the biggest dog and beer festival in the world, that’s what!

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*Side note: I have a hunch this might be the only dog and beer festival in the world, but I didn’t ask*

There was a tent set up, lights strung across a huge parking lot, and a bunch of people hanging out with their dogs and drinking local beers. What a cool event! I went with my roommate and the girl who lives in the room across from ours. When we arrived, they were doing the “musical sit” event. It’s like musical chairs, but when the music stops playing the owners have to get their dogs to sit. The last dog to sit is out, and then the rest of them keep going in a circle.

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It was fun. If treats were legal, Elvis would have done well. Without treats, he would have been out first. What a weird dog. I rooted for a bloodhound, and he got second place. Not bad at all.

Oh, and I met this pug named Chewy. Chewy didn’t participate in any of the competitions because pugs have basically no skills except for snorting and looking like aliens.

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There are going to be more competitions today, so I might go check those out.

My friends and I had dinner at a local place that overlooked a million boats. It was beautiful, especially in the fog. It made me almost happy that food service on the ship has been suspended until we leave (but only almost).

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Here’s a picture of Tracie and Hilarie: my dinner/dog festival friends. Tracie (on the right) is a harmful algal blooms specialist, and Hilarie is working on hake with me but really loves jellyfish and pyrozomes. She’s hoping to do some side research while we’re at sea.

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Living on a ship is still confusing, but I think I’m getting a little more used to it each day. For example, if someone talks about a “ladder,” they actually mean stairs. A “head” is a toilet. Oh, and don’t get the galley confused with the mess. The galley is the kitchen where food is made, and the mess is the dining room where we eat.

Also, they’ll say things like, “In drills, you’re on lifeboat two. It’s starboard aft.” Then I sit there thinking, “Hmmm..starboard means right, aft means back…I think…so now I have to figure out which of these zillions of passageways leads up to the correct deck, and then I need to find the right side and make sure I’m at the back of the ship and not the front…okay basically I’m screwed if we ever need the lifeboats.”

I’m not totally doomed, though. I can put on my immersion suit in less than sixty seconds, so that’s a positive.

Does this immersion suit make me look fat?

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Another problem I ran into is that I packed all wrong. It’s freezing here. The coast is literally thirty degrees colder than the inland parts of Oregon. When my plane landed in Eugene, they’d had weather in the nineties all week. Two hours away in Newport, it’s currently 58. It’s going to get even colder when we go out to sea. I brought two sweatshirts, but that’s basically it for cold weather gear. I went shopping yesterday at Fred Meyer and found another sweatshirt to take. It was out of the men’s section, but it’s huge and warm and was on clearance. Too bad it’s probably going to smell very strongly of fish when this is all said and done, because I kind of like it. I also have gloves and a hat, so hopefully I’ll stay toasty. We’re hoping to head up the coast of Canada toward the middle/end of this cruise, so I’m going to need lots of warm things. We’re not going quite as far as Alaska, but that’s what I should have packed for!

I’d better go see what’s around to do today. There’s a seafood festival tonight on the pier where our ship is docked, and I think our chief scientist got us free tickets. They’re pretty expensive, so that’s kind of a big deal.

Don’t tell anyone I hate seafood, okay? It will be our little secret. I’m sure I can choke down a crab leg or something. I can’t be a marine biologist who hates seafood. That would be like a teacher hating the smell of new crayons and freshly sharpened pencils. It’s simply not done. How much do I have to eat in order to be polite? Where’s my Nana to tell me these etiquette rules??

We’ll see how this goes. Have a great Saturday!

Wait, Did I Say Rhode Island? I Meant Oregon.

Hello, friends! I haven’t chatted with you since Ireland. I hope you’re doing well.

As for me, I’m gearing up for my NOAA research voyage. If you signed up for e-mail updates partway through my Ireland trip, you’re probably thinking, “What NOAA voyage? Why is Christine haunting my inbox again?” I would direct you to my first post (click HERE) for that story. This is a two-part adventure summer. Biking? Check. Boating? *gulp*

If you don’t want to follow this blog while I’m trolling around the Pacific Northwest, I won’t be offended. As a matter of fact, I won’t even know (probably). You can unsubscribe, and – hand on heart – I’ll still be your friend.

Still here? Want to hear about adventures at sea? Well then buckle up, because THERE WILL BE STORIES.

Here’s one to get us started: I was supposed to go to Rhode Island for a ten-day voyage, and now I’m going to Oregon for a sixteen-day one. Because…I don’t know, the government.

The ship I was supposed to be on in Rhode Island suffered some maintenance difficulties, so that research cruise got cancelled. I was a bit bummed, but I didn’t have license to be too sad about it. After all, I’ve had quite a phenomenal summer even without the research trip. I figured I would spend the rest of the summer hanging out at home, cleaning out all those drawers I’ve been meaning to clean out, and gearing up for the school year.

Then, last week, I got e-mail that said something to the effect of, “Wanna fly to the Pacific Northwest and spend the rest of your summer dissecting fish?” And I was all, “YEAH!” (Why did I do that?)

Now they’re sending me diagrams like this with no explanation, and I’m thinking, “Ummm…I’m in a bit over my head here.”

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The captain/project manager/head honcho person sent a mass text to the five guest scientists (out of a total eight scientists on board), and want to know what was so disconcerting about it?

I’M ONE OF THEM.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ummm…I don’t think I’m an idiot (usually), but I also don’t think I’m qualified to be a lead scientist on a government vessel taking important data about our Pacific Northwest fish populations. The last science class I took was nine years ago, and I’ve never taken any classes in marine biology. I do teach science during the summer…but it’s things like, you know, the water cycle. This is a bit of a level up from that.

But by all means, bring on the fish. I’ve gutted a fish…that’s sort of like dissecting it, right? So I’ll be able to take measurements of their stomachs and ovaries and all the other stuff I’m supposed to be measuring? (Those are literally the two examples they gave me: stomachs and ovaries).

Can I even find a fish ovary? Can you?

I should go to Meijer and practice on some unlucky goldfish.

Don’t worry. I’m not really going to do that. Put the phone down – PETA doesn’t have to know I said that. Also, even if I wanted to do the Meijer thing…I wouldn’t be able to tell a lady goldfish from a man one.

I wish fish grew beards. This would be so much easier, and also fish would look awesome.

So basically, I’m in trouble here. I received a list of things to pack, and I don’t know what a bunch of the things are. They told me not to worry, though: they’re providing PFDs and PLBs. That’s a relief. Oh, except no it’s not, because I DON’T KNOW WHAT THOSE ARE. Well, I do now. They’re personal flotation devices and personal locator beacons, in case you didn’t know.

Looking at what I have to provide for myself, I was still confused. I texted Rex, “Hey, what’s a ‘ditch kit'”? When I looked on Amazon, I found something for teeth whitening. I don’t think that’s it. Rex fishes a lot…which takes place on boats…which are kind of like ships…I thought he might know. Want to know his answer? He said that a ditch kit is probably a shovel and some dirt. Ha.*eyeroll*

Oh, and I found out my roommate is an HAB specialist. Wow! Cool! (What’s HAB?)

For your information, it’s “harmful algal blooms.” Make sense now? Yeah, me neither.

Are you starting to get an idea of how in trouble I am?

And how much there will be to BLOG ABOUT?!

I’m visiting my grandma right now, and she knew a lot of the things on the list. She used to go on ships with my grandpa. She said, “Oh here, I have a lot of old sailing clothes. You can have some.” Then she dressed me in this:

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I have to admit, it almost looks like I belong on a ship. Or possibly on a fish sticks box. I sent the picture to Rex, and he said it made me look like I belonged on a NOAA vessel. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I want to fit in, but I don’t want them to trust me with anything, you know, important.

I’m wildly nervous, but I’m also excited. The ship sounds awesome. It has its own Wikipedia page, which somehow makes it feel very significant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOAAS_Bell_M._Shimada_(R_227)

Here is a picture:

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We sail in six days. If you’re ready to come along for the ride, then thanks for sticking with me (or subscribing now – there’s a link at the bottom of this post).

This should be interesting.

Biking Day 5 – Cork

The last day of biking started out pretty great – we stumbled upon an ancient abbey! There are abandoned old buildings all over this country, but this was one of my favorites. It was from around the thirteenth century, and we treated it like a playground for a little while. There were plenty of spaces to climb.

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We had lunch in Kinsale at an outdoor cafe. There was a guy playing banjo for a little while, but he stopped soon after we got there. That was a bummer, because he was really good! This country is very pro-banjo. We like it.

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After lunch, things went downhill (and not in the good way). We tried to follow the directions given to us by our tour company, but even four college-educated adults couldn’t figure them out. It seemed that they were outdated or from another booklet or something…the signs simply didn’t exist. We asked some locals, and even they were confused. We biked around in very hilly terrain for a couple miles, trying to find our way, when finally Rex said, “That’s it, forget the booklet. We’re going rogue.”

Lynn, Larson, and I looked at each other uncertainly. Were we ready to abandon the directions that had been our guide for the past four and a half days and rely solely on Rex? Finally, I shrugged in consent. It was a combination of, “I have total faith in you, Rex” and “I don’t have much other choice here.” He pulled out a map of Ireland and started figuring out where we should go. I looked around and thought, “If I’ve gotta be lost, this is an awfully pretty place to be lost.” I thought about getting a picture of us being lost to put on this blog, but I was pretty sure my team would mutiny and be all, “THIS IS NOT FUNNY, CHRISTINE. WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BLOG RIGHT NOW.”

So I didn’t. You can picture it, though: picture everyone unhappy, Rex holding a giant fold-out map, and a lot of sheep and cows. Got it? Okay, let’s proceed.

We started biking again, Rex in the lead, and we’d take “navigation breaks” every time we came to an intersection so that Rex could figure out where we were. At one point he said, “Oh….oops,” and I replied, “Don’t say ‘oops!’ That’s like when a dentist says, ‘oops’ and you think, ‘oh crap, now my teeth are all destroyed!'” So he amended and said, “No, not ‘oops.’ I think this is a short cut actually.”

Yeah, right. And my dentist believes that I floss.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except that it was the last leg of our last day, so we were all already wiped out. Also, we were biking up from the coast into the city, so it was uphill uphill uphill with almost no breaks in the terrain. I took a break at one point to meet a pug named Tilly, and that gave me enough energy for at least five more miles. But other than that…it was a difficult ride, especially considering that we didn’t know how long Rex’s “shortcuts” were going to take us. Uncertainty is poor motivation.

Finally we ended up on a highway. We weren’t on highways for much of the trip because our tour company kept us on back roads as much as possible. Now cars were flying by us at 100 km/hr (literally), and all I could think was, “Oh my word. Rex’s mom would kill us if she knew we were doing this.” But a highway meant road signs, and road signs meant we were going to make it to Cork. When we biked over the last large hill, Lynn said, “I can see the city!” in the same sort of hopeful desperation with which a scurvy-ridden sailor would gleefully yell “Land-ho!”

Finally we made it to our B&B, and THERE WAS MUCH JUBILATION. We were so happy to have found our way, to have completed the ride, and to take a shower.

In order to celebrate our success, we went out to a pub. They advertised live music, but when we got in there we were a bit concerned. The band was called “Hell for Leather,” and the members were all wearing black. The guitarist had ear gauges, the lead singer was wearing a Star Wars shirt, and basically it looked like we were in for a night of punk rock/screamo. We might have gotten up and gone somewhere else, but our leg muscles simply wouldn’t allow it.

Oddly, “Hell for Leather” ended up being a super traditional Irish folk band. Like…they had fiddles and tin whistles and bagpipes. Have you ever watched someone wearing a Star Wars shirt and copious amounts of hair gel rock out on the bagpipes? I have. Also, their fiddler was absolutely amazing. I thought I was going to see smoke coming off of her strings. Additionally, she would dance around while fiddling at the speed of light, so that was unbelievable. I can barely eat a banana and read my e-mails at the same time.

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It was a great party to celebrate the end of a great week.

Biking is basically a metaphor for life. There are times you can coast, and there are times you wonder how on earth you’ll make it over that next hill. There are times when it’s sunny and beautiful, and there are times when the rain comes so hard you can’t blink the water out of your eyes. Sometimes the things you see are overwhelmingly beautiful. Sometimes you fall and need your friends to help you back up. You may even get lost for a while. When all is said and done, however, hopefully you can look back and say, “Wow, that was one heck of a ride.”

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Biking Day 4 – Clonakilty

I haven’t blogged in a couple days. Some of you might have thought, “Oh boy, I hope Christine’s not lost in the middle of nowhere in Ireland…”

Well, as it happens, I was lost in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, but that doesn’t happen until Biking Day 5. You’ll have to read about it in that post.

Day 4 was spent biking from Baltimore to Clonakilty.

Within a few miles of our bed and breakfast, we came upon a small jetty. It was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. I could bore you with flowery descriptions, but (as with most scenery on this trip) words are woefully inaccurate. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, though, so I’ll do my best by showing you these pics. Please notice how crystal clear the water is and how calm it was. Bliss. I could have set up a tent right there and been happy for the rest of my life.

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Unfortunately, we had to bike on. Uphill, downhill. Uphill, downhill. I was rocking the uphills, but steep downhills still freak me out. I didn’t like signs like this:

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A sign like this meant I was about to white-knuckle my handlebars and think, “don’tfalldon’tfalldon’tfalldon’tfallAHHHHPOTHOLEdon’tfalldon’tfall!” all the way to the bottom. I had the quads for the uphills but not the guts for the downhills. Alas.

In order to give myself a confidence boost for Day 4, I wore my new, super-cool shirt. In the eighties, when my dad rode cross-country, he wore and orange shirt with “Road Dog” written on the back. I wore this shirt and tried to channel my inner Dan-man when going on particularly difficult hills. After all, I have half his DNA, right? So I’ve got some innate biking skill in me somewhere?

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Pretty sure that’s not how that works, but that’s what I told myself. I got up (and down!) all the hills, so I say the shirt worked.

We stopped for lunch at the most idyllic lunch spot I’ve ever seen. It was overlooking a bay, and there happened to be a sailboat race going on. We had the biggest scones ever (the hand is to give you a size reference) and enjoyed watching the race. None of us knew the rules, but we tried to figure them out. At one point Larson said, “I think I get it…sailing has all the intricacies of a NASCAR race, but at the pace of golf.” Ha ha!

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Even though we didn’t really understand the race rules, we decided everyone was a winner because they all got to enjoy the perfect weather and the glittering water. It looked like it had been sprinkled with diamonds.

Again, I was sad to ride on, but we had to get to Clonakilty by dinner. In the afternoon, we came across a ring of ancient stones. According to my archaeological knowledge*, they probably dated from somewhere in the early Bronze Age. We stopped to enjoy the scenery and do our stretches. All three of us had stretches assigned to us by Rex at this point; he’s been doing his best to keep everyone pain-free (and doing a pretty good job of it!). As we did our stretches by the circle, some other tourists came by to see it. They looked at us verrrrry strangely, and we realized that it looked like we were worshiping at the ancient site! So then of course we played it up and did even weirder looking stretches. I bet there’s someone with a travel blog who is writing right now about the freaks she saw at the Bronze Age ruins. You’re welcome, blogger. Glad to give you content.

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*My archaeological knowledge is “I read the sign by the ruins.” Confession: I needed spell check to even spell “archaeological” correctly. Which I just spelled wrong again. But I’m pretty sure the stones were from the Bronze Age.

We tried to make good time in the afternoon, but sometimes you can’t control the unexpected. Some things just happen, like you see a rocky beach and an ice cream stand by it. How are you supposed to pass that up?! You don’t. You get ice cream and go sit on the rocks, that’s what you do.

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Also, if it’s legal, you pick up the prettiest stones off the beach to bring home. Only if it’s legal, which I’m not sure if it is. I cannot confirm or deny on this public blog whether or not we did that.

After a few other scenery delays and one delay where Lynn tried to convince us she can talk to cows (MOOOOOO!), we made it into Clonakilty.

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Clonakilty is a beautiful town, and our hotel there was old and magnificent – like staying in a post card from a very long time ago. When the elevators opened to our floor, I literally gasped. My friends looked at me like I was nuts, and I said, “Are you looking at this?! It’s a LIBRARY!” I thought it was gorgeous, but I suppose that’s just me.

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Our room overlooked a street below, and it had a balcony (see view picture). There was a mom pigeon with some babies under our balcony, and it made Rex miss our pigeons at home. We could hear the Irish music floating to our room as we got ready for bed, and we geared up for our last day of biking.

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Hmmm…it feels weird to end this post with a picture of the underside of a balcony. How about a cow selfie instead?

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Much better.

Rest Day in Baltimore

Today was a rest day, so no biking. We spent some time exploring Baltimore. We hiked to go see “The Beacon,” which near as I can tell is a giant white thing on a cliff that serves no major purpose. I’m sure it has a purpose, of course, but I forgot to check if there was a sign or anything near it. I was too blown away by the views (and almost blown away by the wind).

After that we went to an old restored castle that was plundered by pirates in the 1600s. We learned a lot about pirate history, so that was cool. They even had a resident parrot named Shakespeare.

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Oh! Speaking of cool animals, I met a pug today. His name is Punch, and I love him. This entire town is so dog friendly. There were dogs in the restaurants, dogs walking everywhere, very few were on a leash…it was my kind of place. See the dog at the bar in this picture? If you’re allergic to dogs, don’t come to this town.

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Bandaging my knee has been a bit of an issue. The Band-aids I brought were the normal sized ones. We tried to buy some larger ones here, but no one knew what a Band-aid was. Something I learned today: what we call Band-aids are called “plasters” in Ireland. The “plasters” kept falling off my knee, and the closest place to get an ace wrap or anything like it was ten miles away. Baltimore has a population of a couple hundred people, and the entire town is about a two-minute walk from end to end. I was not about to get on my bike for twenty miles for an ace wrap, so we bought masking tape instead. Here’s Rex fixing my knee:

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We had lunch at a beautiful cafe that overlooked the ocean. We saw a shipwreck, and we asked the waitress about it. She looked out at the ship and said, “Huh…not sure about that one. There are tons of shipwrecks in this harbor. They wreck all the time.” It was as if she hadn’t even noticed it until we pointed it out. That was a bit disconcerting seeing as I have to go on a ship next month. (!!!!) Oh well. At least I’m not sailing to Ireland. You can see the shipwreck in the close-up picture.

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In the afternoon we slept/read/did generally nothing. It was awesome.

For dinner we went back to Jacob’s Bar. They were super busy. Larson went and asked the waiter at the bar if we could order some food (we weren’t sure he saw us come in), and he gave Larson a pad of paper and told us to write down what we wanted. Ha ha! So I played waitress and tried to take everyone’s order in an Irish accent. Here’s what we ordered:

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Larson asked about the fish of the day and reported back: “I don’t have any idea what an Attic Fish is, but that’s the fish of the day.”

It was Haddock, lol. Sometimes it’s tough to understand people around here.

We brought our order up to the bar, and another guy took it. He started laughing and apologizing. “I’m sorry for me coworker,” he said. “I know we’re busy, but someone should be able to come take yer order!” It was actually way funnier the way it happened, and now when people ask if I’ve ever been a waitress, I can say yes. For one night. Sort of.

Now I have to go to bed. Back on bikes tomorrow!