So…back to reality? An IODP cruise has aspects of what I suspect being institutionalized might be like. Chad, the curator on our expedition (who sails 2 months on – 2 months off all year) calls this blurry transitional period when you have disembarked the JOIDES Resolution (JR) but have not quite found your life again the time of decompression.
It’s a good term. It’s like deflating and struggling to breath in your old (normal?) life.
As I write this, I have been off the JR for 1 week. During my (ongoing) decompression, I spent a surreal two days in Taipei and completed my long journey back to the UK, including a bizarre stopover in protest-riddled Hong Kong.
We were 62 days at sea; when port calls are included, this adds up to about 9 weeks of intense scientific discovery and interaction with your colleagues. So what is the best thing about being back? The first thing that pops to mind is the sheer liberation of running (and actually getting somewhere) outdoors during sunrise. After 8 weeks of that JR treadmill, it was an almost religious experience. So is the consumption of bananas. I just ate another one.
What is the hardest adjustment (thus far)? Somehow little everyday things seem disproportionately challenging. For example, after having every meal provided (read: dictated) for 8 weeks, I found grocery shopping to be overwhelming. So much choice! So many people! And all those loud children running around – yikes – I couldn’t wait to get out of there. To my extreme embarrassment, I also forgot my PIN when making purchases. I hadn’t used it in so long, that when the time came to enter it I drew a complete blank. Try explaining that kind of absentmindedness to an unimpressed Sainsbury’s worker.
And what did I (eventually) buy, in addition to my weight in bananas, blueberries and raspberries…well…some things I had on the ship. How twisted is that! Creativity is required to keep things gastronomically interesting onboard the JR. I was very fond of one particularly imaginative drink that I was introduced to by our extremely talkative structural geologist. So I bought the ingredients to make my own ‘improved’ version (see picture – I cannot give away the secrets of the recipe).
It was alright, but the UK version felt a little like that indigenous liquor we have all brought home from holiday that was so amazing ‘when in Rome’. Was it the lack of super-cheap American-style ‘Quick’ chocolate powder that let it down? Maybe it wasn’t the contents of the JR version that made it so good. Perhaps it was the company and the not-always-geologically-based banter around our 3am ‘cookie break’ table where the drink was habitually consumed that gave me my unnatural craving for it back in the UK.
Expedition 352 was very scientifically successful, so much so that an embargo has been placed on the preliminary report to enable us to go for a high profile publication from our initial results. Normally, the preliminary report is published immediately after the expedition ends, but we have been granted a 2 month grace period to get our act together. So stay tuned! As soon as all the gory scientific details are ready for public consumption – I’ll let you have them on this blog – hopefully in an easily digestible form.
Finally, I should try and explain my drastic decrease in blog frequency during the expedition. I can only say that it got busy (the rocks kept on coming), it became logistically challenging (internet access was…sporadic) it got crazy (cabin fever and the dreaded ‘Week 6’ came a week late and lasted a further two), but most importantly, it got good.
Why spend time in the computer dungeon (it really is at the bottom of the boat with no windows and is marked ‘Dungeon’) in the vain hope of connecting to the internet – or an even more distant aspiration of uploading pictures – when you could instead be searching for the mantle in seismic cross-sections, stammering French words, partaking in some lighthearted core description (aphyric, basalt, lava) or simply enjoying the sunrise with a fantastic group of people.
Expedition 352 – I miss you already.
5. 10. 2014.