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Rubber Neck

Rubbernecking. We all hate it. We all do it. You spend an hour in traffic, within eyeshot of all the police and ambulance lights, getting increasingly anxious that all these idiots in front of you won’t just hurry up and get out of your way. But as soon as a cop waves you past the scene of three cars piled up like a club sandwich you (judiciously and only for a very brief moment, of course, because you’re no idiot) pause to risk a quick glance at the scene before accelerating past. News of dive accidents break on social media and within seconds there are acres of speculation about what happened, who was involved, what sort of an idiot makes decisions like what led to a fatality, and - seemingly most importantly - whose fault it was. In the case of the former example is suspect it’s just grim curiosity. In the later, I actually believe it’s to cultivate a feeling of false-safety, divers convincing one another, “Of course I’d never make such a stupid mistake,” usually focusing entirely on the very last decision a diver made which, with the luxury of retrospect in a dry, comfy chair, seems entirely obvious to have been an error. Beyond that, I’ll leave the speculation on rubbernecking motivation for another time or for other people. What I really wanted to talk about was nothing. Nothing happened yesterday. Well, nothing of extreme note, other than that I had a great dive with a good friend. We were in the water for about 4 1/2 hours, rebreathers, scooters, a little bit of depth, a little bit of deco, lots of amazing cave. Generally just a great day. But that’s not how it started. The day got off to a rather bumpy start, actually. I had some things that required my attention in the morning, so I was running about 1/2 hour late. I let my buddy know, but I don’t like being late for any reason. By the time I finally rushed, frustrated, out of the house, I was actually less late than I thought I’d be. Which was nice. Until I was literally within eyeshot of the dive site, where I realised that, in my rush, I’d forgotten my drysuit underwear at home. Turned around and let buddy know that now I’m going to be even MORE late. Meanwhile, my buddy was having a little bit of an irritating morning themselves. Let me know that I shouldn’t worry, they were going to be late, too. But I still worried. I really hate running late. When we finally met up in the parking lot we groused about our respective mornings and briefly considered scraping the dive on “state of mind.” But, in the end, we agreed the dive would do us both good. So we set about the considerable work of dressing and shifting and moving and using a rope to lower 2 rebreathers, 5 bailout bottles, and 3 scooters to the water under the high-noon sun of Mexican summer. In all that work and rush, after a mildly discombobulating morning, and through all the sweat cascading from my brow I didn’t notice that I had set my right-hand bailout’s sliding D-ring backwards. I was focused on how reliving it will feel to finally submerge into the cool tranquility of the cave. I didn’t notice until about 5 minutes into the dive when I felt my right tank hitting my leg at a weird angle. Already scootering I switched hands, now driving with my left hand and trying to correct the tank with my right. But it wouldn’t budge because the hardware was backwards. I came off the trigger and tried to move it using both hands. Not a centimetre. “I’ll just deal with it. It’s not that far out of whack. It’ll just be annoying is all,” I thought, speeding up to catch up with my buddy. In all honesty, it probably wasn’t that bad, just a few degrees from normal, increasing my (already considerable) profile by maybe two inches. But I couldn’t let it go. I like my things where I like them. And this wasn’t where I like it. So my mind kept drifting back to it and during wide open passages I’d keep reaching down and trying to muscle it into the right place (despite knowing it wasn’t going to work). Then the cave started getting tighter and tighter. The dive started to demand extreme finesse with lots of shallow depth changes (which can be super-annoying on CCR) and moving through small, delicate, oddly-shaped passages. All of which can be concentration demanding under the best of circumstances. Since my profile wasn’t what I’m used to I briefly got stuck once or twice. In the really tight bits I had to keep stopping and thinking carefully, “How do I move past this little clay bank to keep from making contact and demolishing visibility?” When scootering the unusual pressure on my leg made me feel like I was torquing to the right, so I held my fins in such a way that I actually WOULD torque to the right, so I had to keep reminding myself to let my legs hang normally. Because my attention was elsewhere I almost missed an unusual turn which would have put the team on a blind jump. The dive plan called for a dip to trimix depths, so I had to do a couple of loop flushes, which required a little more effort than usual considering: 1 - Despite having done so a zillion times, it’s not a skill I perform with great frequency anymore because of the shallowness of most of these caves 2 - I felt out of balance because of the wonky tank. But nothing happened. Only actual hitch is when my buddy asked about my first deco stop and I foolishly communicated it in feet when I knew full well they’d expect meters; so maybe 5 minutes of deep deco was a little confused, but we figured out how to entertain ourselves easily enough by scootering around a large area at full throttle. We both enjoyed the dive immensely and agreed it had put us both in a much better mood after that morning. Even among all those above nuisances I never really felt out of control; had enough attention left over to spend some of the (rare) dull parts of the dive composing this very post in my head. But the truth is that any one thing went a little bit pear-shaped, or to a dive team with less experience, or possibly if my attention was just a little more impaired… And the entire scuba internet might have spend the day rubbernecking an accident. Trying to identify whether it was depth or wrong mixes or bad navigation or whatever else falls into the “normal” categories of dive accident. These, of course, would be things that the rubberneckers would never, in a million years, do. No one would ever know the real reason was because I’d hurriedly put together a sliding D-ring the wrong way round because I was having a mussy morning which had made me run late and forget my drysuit underwear. Which is shit that we all do. Which is the sort of shit that can snowball into worse and worse concentration leading to more and more poor decision making leading to more and more disorganised situations leading to more and more dangerous circumstances. An accident is never a single bad decision, it’s more like a path. And even that path of bad decisions is never something deliberately taken. I paraphrase something Gareth Lock is so fond of saying: No one wakes up in the morning saying, “I’m going to make a series of bad decisions that will kill me today!” The question is, “Why did each of those decisions along the way seem like the correct decision at the time and in that moment?” To try and identify accidents by their final outcome is like focusing on what numbers are on the last domino that fell. To trace all the dominoes back to the first one (such as my silly d-ring or even the conversation that befuddled me when I first woke in the morning) is a little more informative. Of course more informative yet is to see the patterns in all the fallen dominoes. To compare them to when only some of the dominoes fell or might have fallen. To create an open, curious, and forgiving atmosphere for divers to discuss challenges instead of flopping their egos out onto the dressing table for measuring. A just culture. Which is why I wanted to tell my story about nothing today. I screwed up and maybe the first four or five dominoes fell. The rest were arrested by skill or experience or exposure or composure or dumb luck or whatever combination of those and/or other factors. My buddy and I talked about my dumb challenges on the dive (there’d been some going on inside their head throughout the dive, too, which I’d been entirely unaware of) during a friendly and constructive debrief.

Sometimes there’s a value to thinking about nothing. Like the Zen monks do. Now… stop reading this on your phone while you’re driving before you cause a three-car pileup and make everyone late for work!

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