Bicycle is to car as SCUBA is to snorkel.
In a car I can see the world through a windshield, as though watching it on TV as I zoom through it. On a bike I can be in and of that world.
I will never forget my first snorkeling experience. I was on the island of San Andrés (a Colombian territory off the coast of Nicaragua) at a place called “La Piscina Natural” (The Natural Swimming Pool). The bottom was about 30 feet below, and that’s where the action was. Floating on the surface, looking down through my mask, was watching another world. For the brief moments I could stay that deep on a breath of air, it was being in another world. I spent an afternoon going up and down. I knew I had to find a way into that world.
Jacques Cousteau (the co-inventor of the AquaLung, the means of getting into that world) said “the best way to observe a fish is to become a fish” (National Geographic, 1952). I knew I had to become a fish.
Several years later I was preparing for a trip to Australia to visit an old friend – the friend with whom I had gone to Colombia, though he hadn’t joined me for the underwater portion of the journey. Another friend said “You’re going to dive the Great Barrier Reef, right?” I said I didn’t know how to dive. She reminded me I had plenty of time to learn, so I found a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) 5 star diving school and got certified. As part of our introductions, the instructor asked each of us why we were learning to dive. His response to me was “I hate you.” Twenty years of diving and he had never seen the Great Barrier Reef. It was going to be my first dive destination. He reminded me of my awesome responsibility. It was in that reef that I was introduced to my favorite life form – the nudibranch.
Now I knew I was in another world. After diving in a different part of the reef every day for a week, I went on to see a few more places in Australia before a stopover in Fiji on the way home. In Australia, we were on a dive boat with a divemaster who told us what to expect at each spot. In Fiji we were in a tiny aluminum fishing boat whose driver just asked, “How deep do you want to dive?” When we reached our spot, he merely tossed the anchor over the side and looked at us. We were on our own. We were parked at a wall which started about 8 feet below us and dropped to a sandy bottom 60 feet down.
We went over the side. As I descended the wall, I was Alice going down the rabbit hole.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled “ORANGE MARMALADE”, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody underneath, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.From Chapter 1, “Down the Rabbit Hole” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I made my way slowly down the wall, noting little plants and animals in niches on the way, noting the changes in flora and fauna as I went deeper. We checked out the world at the bottom, then slowly made our way back up another section of wall.
For our second dive we were taken to a canyon. Imagine that, instead of standing at the top of a canyon, or climbing to the bottom, you could fly through it, going up or down at will. That is the experience of an underwater canyon and SCUBA – the gift of flight.
In SCUBA you seek a state of neutral buoyancy – neither heavier nor lighter than the atmosphere that surrounds you. Take a deep breath and you rise subtly. Exhale and you descend. You are floating, weightless. You are in another world. As Cousteau said, you have “become a fish.”
And that is why I rode a bike across the country. And why I continue to ride. After seeing another world, I became more appreciative of this one. I ride to be in and of the world, not just passing through it. (10)