Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: What will you endure?

I have been in California for most of the last week at a science conference. I love attending conferences, because I get to spend several days with friends doing nothing from dawn to dusk but talking about the cool science they are doing. And, there are side trips!

This year I eagerly signed up for a Pelagic Birding trip. I’m not a hard core birder, but I do love nature, and I have never been out on the ocean, much less look for seabirds.  The idea was a bunch of biologists would ride out on a boat to Cordell Bank National Marine Reserve, and see what was there.

Cordell Bank is an unusual upwelling created by the California Current flowing southward along the coast meeting an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich deep ocean water.  This creates an amazing offshore biological diversity that attracts lots of birds and marine mammals.

stormy weather

The birds we saw included Laysan Albatross, Blackfooted Albatross, 4 different kinds of storm-petrels, Fulmars, Shearwaters, Murrelets, and all sorts of other birds I had never seen before.

The Storm-petrels in particular were amazing aerialists. They fly like swallows in and between the waves.  And knowing that you are looking at tiny birds flying off the coast of California that breed in Antartica is pretty awe inspiring.

It turned out to be the most amazing birding trip I’ve ever taken, but also a hellish endurance test.  That photo at the top? That was taken after the sun was up. That was just how thick the fog was.  We spent 3 hours on very, VERY choppy seas.  I’d say about half of the people on the trip booted at least once; several folks had a permanent station leaning over the back of the boat….enriching the chum stream, so to speak.

It was, frankly, not fun. And it went on for HOURS.  And there was no escape. When you are in the middle of the ocean, being pounded by waves, you can’t just say “Hey, let’s pull off the road for a bit while I get re-combobulated.”  Nope.

We didn’t see any whales because of the fog, but we did see some white-sided dolphins, and some adorable harbor seals. And all the amazing birds.

Ultimately, it was worth it. I would probably go again, if I had the chance.

What have YOU been willing to endure to do something cool? Was it worth it? Would you do it again?


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. Compared to basic training or a prolonged labor, my story is pretty pitiful, but here goes:

    I was raised in the Pacific Northwest and attended a college in southern California. Because my family was of modest means, and because I am periodically insane, I thought that the best way to travel down to begin my freshman year was to take a bus.

    And so, I, two suitcases, one electric typewriter, and a plate of cookies departed late one evening in the fall of 1980. I endured 32 hours of screaming children, inquisitive drunks, ice-cold diner food, enforced wakefulness, and sensory deprivation of the kind normally associated with solitary confinement.

    At the end of this trip I arrived exhausted, quite ripe, and with a certain anxiety that maybe this college was all a big hoax – I mean, I had never before stepped onto its campus.

    I presented myself to the orientation staff, who were a little confused both because of my condition, and because I was about 6 hours early. They took pity on me and showed me to my room where I promptly collapsed.

    I awoke to the sounds of other incoming students with their parents laughing and unloading station-wagons full of essentials. But I didn’t care. I had made it to my dream college. And it turned out to be even cooler than I ever imagined.

    But next time, added debt be damned, I took Alaska Airlines.

  2. I carried my son down from near the top of Mount Monadnock when he got sick while we were climbing up. He weighed 55 pounds at the time. Fortunately I had a backpack he fit in.

  3. When I was about 20 I volunteered for the annual bighorn sheep census in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It’s done over the July 4th weekend ’cause it’s hot enough the sheep have to come down to the water holes to drink, but the monsoons haven’t started yet (usually).

    A couple ladies and I were dropped off near the mouth of Sheep Canyon with only basic supplies. No vehicle, and no ice.

    The average daily temp was 120F (50C). We’d climb up a steep mountain to sit under a tarp and wait for sheep to come down to drink. None did.

    Nights we slept on the ground, with the rattle snakes and scorpions, much too hot to get into a sleeping bag.

    I’ve done it many years since, and have seen many sheep.

  4. I’m taking an extra uni course in climate science for the extra credits. We also had a boat trip on our university’s research vessel last week to measure temperature and salinity in the ocean.

    I love the sea, grew up next to it, and my granddad was a fisherman all his life. So I have plenty of experience with boats in different kinds of weather. Luckily the ocean was calm this day, so no enriching of the organic content of the local seawater occurred during the trip … by any of the participants.

  5. That may not seem like much in comparison, but I have to regularly endure paperwork nightmare to do what I do. I am a graduate student working on the ATLAS experiment, on of the 4 large detectors at the CERN’s LHC. I got asked to go present a poster in India a few months ago. The process to get the visa was not fun at all. I managed to get the visa and I had a wonderful, wonderful time in India, and attended a really great conference (Lepton-Photon). When I came back from India, I was moving to Geneva for a year, working directly at CERN. I am Canadian, and in order to stay over there for a year, I need at type D visa either in France of in Switzerland, which I didn’t have the time to get because of the India visa… It took a month travelling between offices and people who supposedly know that stuff to learn that I have to go back to Canada to obtain the mythical type D visa… Paperwork is just a stupid tenacity test. Do you really want your visa? Really? Really, really? Anyway, working at CERN, going around the world for conferences –> totally worth it.

  6. Backpacking trip in the 4th grade with a school group.

    I was 9, and physically out of shape. Seriously, who thinks dragging a group of pasty 4th graders on a 9 mile hike with heavy backpacks is a good idea?

    Grossly overweight, badly balanced backpack. Rubber boots with no tread.

    Allergy attack as we began that produced sneezing, runny nose, and fatigue.

    Light, cold rain that quickly soaked through our clothing, and in combination with my pathetic boots, produced an incredibly slick surface on the cedar plank trail.

    I slipped and fell off the trail (landing on my back with my arms and legs in the air like a turtle) a total of 32 times over the course of the 8 miles. Being the kind hearted souls that 4th graders are, my classmates laughed at me every time I fell.

    Finally arrived at the campground to eat a cold, soggy dinner in the rain.

    Woke up the next morning to find my sleeping bag in a pool of cold water that had seeped under the tent during the night.

    As a group, we decided that one night was more than enough, so we packed everything back up and hiked out that afternoon.

    Not raining as hard, so only fell off trail 1 time on way home. Compensated by managing to land on tree stump. Backpack probably saved me from having my spine severed.

    I have never, and will never consider, going backpacking ever again as long as I live. This is now referred to by my classmates and me as the “Bataan Death March of 1975”.

  7. I’ve been salmon fishing a number of times off the coast of Washington and while I tossed when I was younger I only feel like it these days when I’m on the open ocean. The last time I went was about twenty years ago and even if invited today and someone offered to pay my way I’d decline. I go hiking in the mountains every year and many of the trails kick my ass, but I never regret the effort at the end of the day. However I will not, nor have I ever, taken the next step to climb big mountains. I decided in college, when a number of my friends were moving on from our backpacking adventures in the mountains to serious mountaineering, the risk was not worth the time, cost or the many potentially bad outcomes. I did have the wonderful experience of contracting Giardia during one amazing backpacking trip on the coast; and that little experience would make a week of being severely seasick seem like a walk in the park.

  8. Whenever I go on a trip somewhere (once or twice a year), it always ends up being somewhat intense. I don’t really like sitting around on a beach and not doing anything on my vacations. Recent trip to Easter Island? Giant roaches in our cabin and my backpack got taken over by a clan of tiny ants. Walking around for hours in the hilly areas in the heat was pretty rough.

    But frankly my discomfort is secondary as long as I have a cool experience and I am with cool people. I often take little excursions with people I like.

    Some of the most fun I have ever had included mucking through wet forests looking for random critters, 4-wheeling through dunes and getting epic sunburns and avoiding getting pooped on and dive-bombed by common terns to observe their behavior. :)

  9. This saturday, I ran 8 km through London wearing on a sunny day wearing a hot gorilla costume together with several hundred other people also dressed as gorillas. To raise money for gorilla conservation.

    And, y’know, gorilla suit!

    It was insanely hot in that costume and I was utterly beat by the end of it but it was still cool and fun and I may well do it again next year.

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