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MY JOURNEY TO DIVE ALL 50 STATES Text and photos by Jennifer Idol The United States is home to extraordinary dive experiences. From reefs to caves, there are rich underwater adventures to be had all across America. As a Texan I felt compelled to share our local underwater treasures when I flew over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and saw the Gulf of Mexico burning in 2010. I felt an obligation to use my talent as a designer and underwater photographer to inspire others to learn about, care for and protect our natural places. So in 2011 I set out on a quest and became the first woman to dive all 50 states. LOGISTICS OF A CROSS-COUNTRY EXPEDITION Embarking on an adventure across 3.8 million square miles took a great deal of time and resources. I personally funded the project while working a full-time job as a senior graphic designer. This meant I was short on both money and time at the outset. Breaking the large goal into smaller achievements helped me to successfully complete the mission. I carefully planned my travel time by dividing my vacation days among 10 states per year. This allowed me to plan a five-year odyssey that included several trips each year over long weekends. By the end I had driven more than 72,000 miles and taken 80 flights. Fellow Texan Ben Castro joined me for the first 27 states of this adventure. We both learned a lot about cold weather and long drives. The schedule I created meant driving as many as 16 hours per day, often for AARON BATES several days in a row, and typically returning to work the day after travel. To make trips more affordable, we camped in state parks when possible. Since equipment for freezing temperatures was hard to come by in Texas, I ordered cold-weather clothing, a tent and a sleeping bag online (thank you, Internet reviewers!). Having the right tools is important for safe diving and camping. I kept my project quiet until 2015 so I could create unbiased imagery and have an authentic experience. By self-funding, I could decide what story needed to be told. I successfully completed my expedition because I am passionate about sharing our underwater world. The journey led me on 419 dives with 73 buddies, who through their support and expertise contributed to my success. NEW PLACES I started my adventure with 15 years of dive experience, 22 certifications and a background as a photographer, so I already had begun to take people — through my imagery — to places they might never visit. But I was not (and am still not) an expert in every type of diving. I believe in diving within my training, so when I found myself wanting to reach new places, I trained more. To showcase as many different environments as possible, I completed four more certifications during the journey. These enabled me to go deeper, enter small places, go farther and dive under ice. Trimix training for depths up to 220 feet helped me reach the decks of the USS Oriskany and enter deep cave systems. Sidemount training not only helped me squeeze 82 | WINTER 2016

“I SET OUT ON A QUEST AND BECAME THE FIRST WOMAN TO DIVE ALL 50 STATES.” A lion’s mane jellyfish rises from the deep in Resurrection Bay, Alaska. Opposite: Jennifer Idol in San Marcos, Texas ALERTDIVER.COM | 83

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