Tuesday I started off the morning tackling homework assignments for my courses back at USM. I’ve been pretty lucky that I’m in my last semester and the only lecture course I have is with an understanding and flexible professor. Makes it pretty convenient when I want to take off to the other end of the country at a moment’s notice. I wrapped up an enthralling paper on sprawl in the state of Maine and since I was on such a roll, I finished Thursday’s assignment, as well. Being on a boat? Check. Being an awesome student at the same time? Double check. Win for academics.
It wasn’t long before a tall skinny thing going by the name of Pam showed up boatside to tell us she was here to pick up the crew to go to, where else, USM! University of Southern Mississippi, that is. You know, the one that if you Google “USM” it comes up before the Maine university does. Both science and boat crew donned uniform shirts and joined Pam in a large, rickety, white van to head to — you guessed it — Ocean Springs. It’s where all the action is, I’m telling ya. We were given the good ole southern hospitality and got lunch in their tiny, but effective, cafeteria. I had just wolfed down a PB&J, so I decided to skip on the southern-fried-food. Instead, I tried out some sweet tea. I have no idea how people can drink that stuff. Seriously, it is liquid sugar disguised as tea. You can just look at it and see the swirls of high fructose corn syrup. I tried to dilute it with unsweetened tea and ice, but had to dump the whole thing because it was just too much.
After sitting in a conference room for an hour listening to conversation about Southern Miss’s programs at their Gulf Coast Research Lab (where we were visiting), we looked at their toxicology lab. I’ll admit that most of what they were saying was over my head, so I can’t do much in terms of explaining the following pictures, other than to say they grow fish for studies. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Upon returning to the boat, Johnny decided it was time I climb up to the mid-level platform for practice. Now, this platform is about midway up the 80 or 88 foot mast. Hence the name, mid-level platform. I’ve had varying reports about how high up this platform really is, from 25 feet to 60 feet. I think the Crow’s nest is really what’s at 60 feet, so I tell myself that I’m only 25 or 30 feet up in the air. Either way, climbing to the mid-level isn’t for the faint of heart, but those of adventurous spirits. There are about 18 rope steps, called ratlines, strung between two pieces of thick wires running down from the top. The ratlines are wobbly and unstable, which really contributes to just how secure you feel while climbing. You’re clipped to a cable via a life vest, so if you fall, you won’t fall far. I personally doubt the strength of the cloth loops on the life vest. But, here’s the thing. In a conversation Tuesday night with crew member Bailey, he simply said to me, “It’d be silly to let go.” There was a whole back-story that went on for 20 minutes prior to that statement, but it’s really true. It’d be silly to let go. Or, stupid, rather.
So, you climb up these ratlines until you’re right underneath the platform. This part is the best because you have to then reach up and grab another rope and maneuver yourself up and over the platform, but underneath the railings. That’s about the point where I got mentally stuck, while Johnny tried to assure me there was nothing to be scared about via upside down antics.
It should be noted that I did make it up onto the platform and acclimated to being there. But, getting back down was much worse than going up. Swinging yourself back over and trying to maintain footing takes some serious confidence in your ability to not slip, or let go, or generally not have bad luck. Bad luck loves me, so it makes me pretty nervous.
We cooked up some Annie’s mac n’ cheese for dinner and Dr. Bob baked brownies for us, which were fantastic with the ice cream. After which, Johnny really wanted to play a game of Quelf, but I went and decided that taking advantage of access to a hot tub would be a better plan. Most crew members thought sitting in a hot tub in the warm southern Mississippi night was counter intuitive, but it actually was just the right warmth to not make you sweat. I ended up starting a conversation with the two other guys sitting there, Adam and Michael, who proceeded to tell me the most insane story about having tenants that I’ve ever heard. Lesson I learned: Being a landlord has little benefits. And Craigslist is a buzzkill.
After the hot tub and pool area was closed, I grabbed a drink and talked for a bit with Bailey, who’s a member of the Odyssey crew. He’s got some really amazing stories, so it’s needless to say that I was fully entertained.