Long have we pondered the unknown. What is out there? What is left to be discovered? The frontier ever eluding our grasp, always beyond the horizon. I am determined to find out… It was a rigorous training and selection process. It required investment of large quantities of my own personal funds. The time had finally come to test the skills and training I have been honing over several weeks and brave a new atmosphere. The early morning temperature was cool…the environment much colder than when most choose to explore the unknown. We began the difficult process of donning our EPS or environmental protection suit. Some new fancy material called neoprene or something. I’ll leave that to the scientists… All I know is the thing was a pain in the ass to put on and I felt like my entire body was caught in a Chinese finger trap! I think it had 7mm written on the cuff…whatever that means. I have to wear this backpack with a cylinder on it and hoses coming out to gauges and a mouthpiece my trainer called a regulator…basically the thing that keeps me from dying.
Finally, the team is suited up and does their final gear checks. We make our way down to the entry platform… I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us were saying a few final prayers. Anyways, the time has come to take that giant stride. With my air breather in my mouth and a hand on my mask, I step off the ledge and take the plunge into another world. I tap my head to let my team know I’m ok…standard protocol I learned in training…I must have looked like a pro for a minute! Little did everyone else know I was sweating bullets inside as the cold flooded into the spaces between my body and my suit; sending shivers down my spine. We are all waiting on the surface now for our team lead to give the signal to descend. The anticipation has my adrenaline spiking and I try to steady my breathing and remember my training. Just the kind of situation a rookie like me would screw something up in…the first descent. I get my focus back and it’s time to adjust our buoyancy and plunge into the deep. I’m just making sure I breathe calmly and clear the pressure in my ears so I don’t get the squeeze. I heard about a guy who went down his first time and got the squeeze and never was able to walk right again…something about his equilibrium being all messed up. Didn’t even get any VA benefits or anything…a real bummer. So far, I’m flying down smooth and all of a sudden, a whole new world is opening up before my eyes. I keep checking my gauges and trying to not forget my training but there is new life around me I’d never seen before. They were coming up to me and checking me out just as much as I was checking them out. Thin slender looking things with eyes and tiny wings on either side making waves with their bodies to propel them around. Very strange creatures…I can’t figure out if there is any hidden intelligence within them or just pure animal instinct. They weren’t in any of the safety briefs so I don’t think they can hurt me.
The team lead gets all of our attention and signals for us to follow his lead. They gave us these giant webbed feet to wear over our boots to help move through the dense atmosphere…so I start fluttering my feet to propel myself after the lead. I’m starting to feel the chill of the environment. My hands have the thinnest layer of protection to retain enough dexterity to operate my life support equipment and they are starting to feel the numbing sensation of being submerged in a bucket of ice water. I remember my training and clench my fists a few times and use my arms to move to help raise my core temperature a little. As we travel along, deeper into this other world, I am seeing relics of a time long past. It is almost as if another generation lived here before the environment was overtaken by this alien substance. There is a school bus, a boat, a Blackhawk helicopter, even a basketball court!
I have gotten so enthralled with this new horizon I am conquering and the amazing sights it has to offer I realize I haven’t looked at my gauges in…well I don’t even know how long. I check my watch and 25 minutes has already gone by and we only planned for a 30-minute trip and I have no idea if we are near our extraction point. I check my air pressure and am down to about 700lbs and know I’ll burn threw that in a matter of minutes if I don’t chill out and relax my breathing. I spot my lead and he seems to not be panicked so that helps me settle down a bit. He gives everyone the signal to start heading up but to take it nice and slow…something about breathing in this new environment and pressure changes can damage your lungs if you go up to fast. I check my gauges and have about 550lbs of air left and we are supposed to always have at least 500lbs left for emergencies so I think we will be ok. As I’m slowly rising to the surface the enormity of what I just did hits me and everything around me slows down to half speed. We make it to the surface without incident. I have just completed my first dive! But…if you asked me what I will keep with me forever…in that moment of ascent and all the team around me…it was the bubbles. Seeing all the bubbles exiting our life support systems and rising to the surface breaking apart and reforming as they traveled with the sun’s rays beaming down and splitting through them into a prism of colors…that is what I’ll remember. The bubbles underwater.