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Yeah… so Day 3 was pretty epic. I’m going to skip the entire bit about telling you what time we got up at and what tooth paste we used in the morning and stuff (I’m not saying that Nick’s and Sophia’s blog posts were really bad; I’m just saying that mine is going to be way better). See, Day 3 is special because it’s a moment of really chill relaxing and exploring—a sort of calm before the storm (Day 4 is judging day). What does the Connecticut ISEF delegation traditionally do on Day 3? Tour Lake Saguaro aboard the Desert Belle.

Before we left for Lake Saguaro, Nick, Sophia, and I all went back to the Exhibit Hall one last time. Well, Nick kind of came. We wanted to get there early to avoid crowds and also to make it to the boat tour on time, so we arrived at 8:40 to find that the convention center only opens at 9:30. Debacle! Yeah, so Nick just turned right around and went back to the hotel while I camped on the convention center floor. I had to leave my notebooks and binder with my project for pre-judging—remember, pre-judging is important!

We all met back up at the hotel again with Dr. Nuzzo and got a Lyft for the 45-minute drive out to the lake. Our driver was really chill, but his car was a Ford Fusion sedan that really didn’t have much space for Nick, Sophia, and I in the back. It didn’t help that Nick dozed off almost instantly, sending his limp frame teetering into everything when the car turned. The view outside during the drive was beautiful, though. We had no problem getting out of the empty streets of Phoenix at what would be rush hour in any other major city (what’s up with that? where are all of the people in Phoenix? who uses all of these high-rise buildings?). Outside of the city was just range desert peppered with cacti that stretched to the mountains on the horizon beneath a brilliant blue cloudless sky. Eventually, I dozed off, too.

Nick woke me up when we arrived and my neck was not in good shape. Fortunately, our newfound surroundings distracted me from my disintegrated spine situation. Remember those mountains I mentioned? Well that’s where we were now—way high up in a sort of basin of the Four Peaks Mountain range. It was ridiculously hot; the sun was just a jackhammer that pummeled us relentlessly, forcing us to seek shelter beneath any source of shade and want to try to jump into the lake.

The lake filled the mountain basin, so to speak. When we got onto the tour boat, Captain John—who was really cool and looked kind of like that guy from Lincoln car commercials (Matthew McConaughey was in movies?)—told us that the lake was really just a part of the Salt River that had been dammed for irrigation and flood control purposes. All of the mountain cliffs that fenced it in were actually basalt that had been ejected from deep in the Earth by volcanic activity. Captain John got us in close to these cliffs, and we got to see the towering saguaro cacti after which the lake was named and eagles’ nests. Apparently, baby female eagles end up growing faster than baby males and often end up eating the males while their parents turn a blind eye; this was Captain John’s subliminal way of teaching what bad parenting is, I guess. However, when eagles mate, they become partners for life and don’t mate with anyone else—another life lesson from Captain John, I suppose. Towards the end of the tour, we actually ended up spotting to eagles resting on a cliff face. Captain John drew the boat closer and we just watched these magnificent animals for a good 15 minutes. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything as majestic. We also saw a bighorn sheep and its calf (lamb?) splitting open cactus atop another cliff. It was pretty awesome.

Our Lyft back was in another Ford Fusion. I mean seriously, what are the odds? This time, I didn’t doze off, and on our way out from the lake I got to see five or six wild horses roaming the empty desert. When we got back into Phoenix we were tired and incredibly hungry, so supper at “The Counter” was a godsend. Nick and I got a pair of monstrous burgers that had a half-pound of beef on each of them as well as half-foot-tall stack of onion rings. It was glorious. Dr. Nuzzo did the “build-your-own-burger” while Sophia got the “Impossible Burger,” which is apparently a veggie burger that looks, tastes, and smells like real beef. I was unimpressed; in a world of rampant fraud and trickery, can we at least keep burgers authentic? Needless to say, I won’t forget our sense of fulfillment at “The Counter.”

We all got back to the hotel to nap for a couple of hours before walking a couple of blocks over to Chase Field for “ISEF Night Out.” ISEF had bought every finalist and adult chaperone a ticket to the Arizona Diamondbacks game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as a $25 voucher for any item on sale in the stadium. Now, I’ve been to Yankee Stadium, but Chase Field is so much better. It’s bigger, it’s got a retractable roof, and there are fewer lines thanks to there being barely any people in Phoenix. I mean, how could this stadium ever fill up? Nick and I used our vouchers to buy lemonade and pretzels and Diamondbacks socks. We stayed for the first inning, but we were tired and wanted some rest before Day 4 so we left. On the way back to the hotel we suddenly started seeing traffic jams in the streets of Phoenix and people everywhere. Here’s why: there was an Arianna Grande concert at the Talking Stick Resort Arena. This city is bizarre.

Overall, though, Day 3 was an absolute blast—as ISEF has been in general as well. I’m so grateful to CTSTEM for this opportunity, and Nick, Sophia, and I are going to do our best at judging tomorrow.

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