Go West, Young Man...and Test Drysuits
The trip to Oregon for my first major ScubaLab test had barely begun, and already I was popping Tums: On the flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas/Ft. Worth, the captain suspended the beverage service because of severe turbulence. Picture, if you will, all 162 passengers squeezing their armrests and sphincters as one, forcing smiles on their faces, and assuring those sitting next to them just how much they enjoy flying, and you’ll get an idea of just how much fun that flight was.
On the second leg from Dallas to Portland, I was seated in the back row, and the only thing visible outside of my window was the starboard jet engine. This monster turbine not only obscured my view, drowned out my iPod and threatened to vibrate loose the fillings in my teeth, but it also made the throbbing headache I’d developed earlier even worse. On the plus side, it also drowned out the crying children strategically seated near me.
Once in Portland, I thought things were looking up when the rental car agent handed me the keys to a Mustang for the three-hour drive to the coast. However, as I made it to Interstate 5, I ran directly into insane rush-hour traffic. If there is anything worse than being caught in rush hour on the interstate of the 30th most populous city in the U.S., it’s being caught in the rush hour of a completely unfamiliar 30th most populous city in the US, driving a completely unfamiliar rental car — with no GPS. At least my Mapquest printouts weren’t the impossible-to-fold roadmaps of my youth. When I finally escaped the maddening traffic jam and reached Highway 20 to the coast, I faced a nerve-racking drive along the blackest, wettest, windiest road I’d driven in more than 10 years. The whole way, I kept one eye glued to the two-lane highway and one on the thermometer, convinced the temperature would drop the four degrees to freezing at any moment. I was sure that as soon as this happened, ice would form on the road, and I’d finish the night cartwheeling across the Oregon landscape with my head in my hands.
Obviously, I managed to survive the drive to Newport, but the travel gods had one final trick up their sleeves: The Mapquest directions for my hotel listed its address as NE 32nd St. Unfortunately, the hotel was actually on SW 32nd. Of course, being a man, this meant I spent another half-hour driving, in lieu of asking directions. At this point, I felt like I’d made a big mistake by choosing Oregon over the Florida Springs for ScubaLab’s first major drysuit tests in four years (The full drysuit test results from this trip will appear in Scuba Diving's May 2011 issue).
The New Kid on the Block
A word on the testing: I am brand new to ScubaLab, having just taken over from the team that has been involved since its inception in 1992. Needless to say, I have some very big fins to fill, so having a knowledgeable Test Team Coordinator was absolutely essential to the testing process. Thankfully, I was extremely lucky to have one of the best in Vallorie Hodges. As the Dive Safety Officer of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Val trains and coordinates their 150 volunteer divers, and this year, she celebrates her 25th year as a PADI Instructor. A 2004 inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Val is a long-time ScubaLab Test Team Member, and formerly served as West Coast Editor of Scuba Diving. She was the perfect choice to host the first test and hold the hand of the new ScubaLab Director.
I also relied upon the services of my friend Bill Buckley, who was instrumental in developing the new test protocols. Bill, a PADI Divemaster with 16 years experience, is the Manager of the Mechanical Engineering Manufacturing Lab at MIT, an MIT instructor and the owner of New England Drysuit and Regulator Repair Company, an independent operation that offers factory authorized service across all product lines. Whatever my hesitations about the stressful travel I had to endure, I had complete faith in the team.
Next Up: Val takes me on a backstage tour of the Oregon Coast Aquarium
To read the other ScubaLab blog entries, click on the Related links below.