Surf’s Up!

Yesterday, Penny took us in her car up to the north shore of Oahu, famous for its surfing waves. We were not disappointed. The waves were at record-breaking heights of up to 30 feet. It’s hard to describe what it looks like to sit on the beach and watch these humongous walls of water come in with what appear to be tiny figures on surfboards riding them. Especially with binoculars, you could see colorful figures bobbing on their boards, waiting for the perfect wave to come in. The shore was filled with observers, several with cameras with the largest lenses I’ve ever seen. The crowd would murmur as a surfer would catch his wave (all were male), riding the top or down the face, sometimes in a pipe, until he landed in a sea of white foam. There would be a lull and then a series of waves, with riders coming into shore and heading back out. I took a few pictures (which I’ll post at the end) but without the super huge lenses you might have to look carefully.

One rider came in with a board broken in half. While we were watching, there was a huge wave that we guessed was at least 30 feet tall. All of a sudden it reached the shore and the water came up to where everyone was sitting. We all grabbed our things and started running for the cliff above as the water swirled and stole everything from random towels to one poor man’s wallet. I had thoughts of tsunami waves as we ran. The power of water is amazing.

Penny’s tour continued to a seaside lunch place where we shared pupus (a variety of appetizers) by the sea. We spent some time looking through a variety of shops and then drove to the Dole pineapple plantation. I couldn’t believe the amount of things that can be made with pineapple flavors from bubble gum to cookies. Check out the pictures for the most interesting macadamia nut flavor I’ve ever seen.

This morning, Penny, Sue and I walked from Penny’s house to Diamond Head. We hiked up to the top along with tourists from all over the world. The climb started gradually but ended with a series of steps to the top and a couple of tunnels through the volcanic mountain. We explored the bunkers where spotters have watched for forest fires and foreign planes. Pearl Harbor is visible from here as are the skyscrapers of Honolulu, the beach at Waikiki, and the mountains behind the sea.

We earned the dip in Penny’s pool to cool down afterward. Sitting outside with some fresh fruit, grilled dogs, veggies and good company, life is very, very good.

(If I’m lucky, I have uploaded all the photos I have taken in Hawaii in my Picasa web album. They aren’t labeled yet, but click on the photo link to check them out. Thanks, Penny, for letting me use your laptop.)

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From the mountain to the sea – twice

As I was climbing the eight miles out of Waimea yesterday, the wind was my constant companion up the mountain. The howling sound was steady in my ears as I fought to stay on my bike with gusts of over 30 mph pushing me into the center of the road. I was reminded of the day into El Paso with my Southern Tier friends, of blowing into North Dakota on the Northern Tier and the ride out to the point in Prince Edward Island. This time, though, I was riding alone and the views were unlike any others I have seen. The sea was a brilliant blue as I looked back and the surrounding hills were an intense emerald green. Occasionally, I’d come across a herd of cattle, staring at me with their big brown eyes, probably wondering what kind of crazy person would be riding uphill in such a wind.

Ah, that would be me. I loved it all (except that one gust that almost took me down).

Since we left the volcano three days ago, we’ve had three awesome rides. On the rest day, I swapped seats on my bike and since then, I’ve been very comfortable and back in the groove. The weather has cooperated as well. The elevation made a huge difference as we started out from the cottages near Volcano National Park. A few of us rode into the park first thing in the morning to see the plume of steam rising from a caldera, an active version of the one we hiked the day before. We had been out there in the dark in the evening to see the glow of the warm magma, not visible in the daylight. It was an eerie orange glow, faint in the steam and darkness. In the daylight, we rode through an area with small plumes of steam rising in the landscape.

Leaving the park, it was almost all downhill for the rest of 50 miles of riding. The temperatures rose as we descended and the sun was a welcome sight after a couple of days in the drizzle of the rainforest. I stopped at an orchid nursery, enjoying the eye-popping colors and the strong scents. The next stop was the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. I had stopped to ask a woman gathering nuts beneath the trees on an earlier ride about the process. At the factory, I enjoyed a macadamia-nut encrusted chocolate bar as I watched a movie. There I learned that the nuts are gathered from the ground (a tedious process from what I could see). At the farm, they used trucks but I saw several Asian women picking them up by hand. We tasted some samples (who knew there are garlic and onion flavored nuts?), peeked through the factory windows and rode back uphill to the main road into Hilo. I’m not sure we earned our dinner that night from the riding so I left our 6th floor view over the bay for a walk around the area.

There was a beautiful Japanese garden nearby where I sat and watched some people doing their slow motion Tai Chi moves. It was very calming. I also explored a little island park where I saw kids jumping off a wall into the sea and families enjoying picnic dinners. There was an earthquake in the city earlier this week (although we were too far away to feel it) and a tsunami not too many years ago.

On the ride out of town, an optional stop was a descent to an aqua bay where a tsunami had wiped out an entire village in 1946. Many children were lost to the sea when their school was swamped by the waves. A few of us crazy climbers (all Vermonters included), rode the steep, winding descent to see the memorial and watch the waves crash into the lava rocks. On the ride back up the mile and a half, it was easy to be distracted by the views out over the water. It was also a good warm up as the rest of the ride that day was all uphill.

The ride from Hilo was my favorite of the trip. We could see surfers on the water as we rode over one of many bridges out of town. We took the scenic route which took us through a jungle of vegetation riding up and down past waterfalls and banana plants and huge green leaves. Once past the point, it was a steady climb on a major road to our lunch stop at Tex’s. I tried a mahi loco which turned out to be rice with a piece of mahi fish and a scrambled egg on top. The whole thing was covered with gravy. With a mango smoothie, it made surprisingly good fuel for the afternoon ride. Fuel, I needed, as the next 15 miles were all more climbing.

This time, we were riding on a mostly shaded road, past some residential areas. I had a moment of panic when I stopped for a break part way up and my right foot wouldn’t unclip from my pedal. I figured out that I had lost a screw in my cleat. That kept me from stopping too often so I just kept spinning up the road. The surprise came at about mile 10 when suddenly the vista opened up. There were miles of green close-cropped fields rolling in every direction. It felt like we had climbed to New Zealand or Ireland, somewhere known for their fields of green. Better yet, the van was there with the women who had opted out of the climb and they cheered me in like I was a rider on the Tour de France. Linda called ahead to a bike shop in town where they assured her I could get a new screw for my cleat and I rode on into town, enjoying the views and feeling grateful to be able to enjoy such a great ride in Hawaii. It was a long way from the tourist shops of Kona, the lava fields of the volcanoes and the jungle of the morning to be riding through fields with cattle and horses.

The last ride of the tour began yesterday with that 8 mile climb but the descent was just as thrilling. The wind was a constant, usually from the side, but occasionally with a nice push from behind. I was glad to be at the bottom at mile 22, my hands a bit cramped from all the braking and holding my own against the wind. In Hawi, there were a few cute shops for the shoppers in the group and a good coffee shop for a hot drink and some conversation.

From Hawi to Hapuna, we rode along the ocean. The winds followed us here as well and seemed to turn directions at times. I could see the spouts of whales off in the distance, a nice distraction from the climbs. Later, I found out that we were riding the same road that the Ironman cyclists use. In a way, we had our own Big Island triathlon. We did our 50 miles of cycling, a nice walk along the award-winning beach and a swim in the resort pool. I think I like our version better.

Judy and I are enjoying our last morning on the Big Island in our fancy room. (Surprisingly, a giant tom turkey just showed up on our patio!) After our banquet last night, we reluctantly said goodbye to our new friends. We are re-packing our suitcases for our short flight to Honolulu with Sue and Denise. Our Southern Tier friend Penny will be waiting for us there. What a great tour this has been with its wide variety of rides through such different areas of the island. My legs are stronger than when we arrived and I have my cyclist tan from wearing my bike shorts in the sun all week. I guess that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

(Today, I’m adding some photos in the end. I was writing in the dark while Judy slept and couldn’t manage the logistics without some light.)

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Kona to Volcanoes

Riding a rental bike uphill into a 20 mph headwind with rain pouring down isn’t everyone’s idea of an ideal vacation. Actually, it’s not mine either but it was only a small part of what has been our experience of a triathalon of sorts on this WomanTour Big Island trip. Two days ago we did the water portion by snorkeling off a beach and today hiked into the caldera and through a lava tube of a volcano. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

On Sunday, Judy and I caught up with our friend, Sue, another Southern Tier cross-country rider from Vermont, her friends Denise and Liz and our friend Sandra. We headed to Sandra’s rental condo to watch the NE Patriots beat the Ravens in a nail-biting game. There is something about watching football in the morning, eating fresh pineapple and guacamole with a view of the ocean with good friends that makes for a fun time.

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Sandra dropped us off after the game to meet up with our friend Linda (another ST friend) and the group. The next morning we headed out for our first ride. We went from the coast uphill the first 10 miles or so. Uncharacteristically, the 3 Vermonters made a wrong turn early on and ended up riding uphill on a road very much like the Ap Gap (in other words, at a much steeper angle than the rest of the group). We found a friendly man who directed us to a small road to get back on course. The views looking back down on the ocean were not at all like Vermont.

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Eventually we got to ride back down to the ocean for our picnic lunch and snorkeling spot. On the way we stopped at a coffee plantation for a self-guided tour. We passed beautiful flowering shrubs and had views of the blue water awaiting us.

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There was an optional 30 mile ride to our next stop near Volcanoes National Park.  With the wind and rain (and a sore seat), all but one person opted for the van up the 4000 feet at the end of the day.  It was a good choice.  We arrived in the dark at our stop for these 2 nights, a bed and breakfast place where we have our own little cabins.  Judy and I share a cute cottage with our own gas fireplace (which is a convenient place for drying soggy bike clothes), a little kitchen with fresh papaya and bananas and a friendly cat that stops by.

There was an optional 30 mile ride to our next stop near Volcanoes National Park.  With the wind and rain (and a sore seat), all but one person opted for the van up the 4000 feet at the end of the day.  It was a good choice.  We arrived in the dark at our stop for these 2 nights, a bed and breakfast place where we have our own little cabins.  Judy and I share a cute cottage with our own gas fireplace (which is a convenient place for drying soggy bike clothes), a little kitchen with fresh papaya and bananas and a friendly cat that stops by.

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(Pictures in the wrong order – sorry)

I got to see more turtles the next day on our destination of Black Sand beach at the southern end of the island. In order to get there though, there was another round of challenging cycling. This section of the island is known for its strong winds. We rode easily in the sun for the first 30 miles or so and then the trifecta of winds, and uphills was complete with the heavy rain. Fortunately, the sun came out at the same time as the perfect bakery stop so we could dry off in the sun eating lunch with the smell of fresh baked goods in the air (and not feel too guilty about the extra calories). From there to the beach was a beautiful coastal ride.

There was an optional 30 mile ride to our next stop near Volcanoes National Park. With the wind and rain (and a sore seat), all but one person opted for the van up the 4000 feet at the end of the day. It was a good choice. We arrived in the dark at our stop for these 2 nights, a bed and breakfast place where we have our own little cabins. Judy and I share a cute cottage with our own gas fireplace (which is a convenient place for drying soggy bike clothes), a little kitchen with fresh papaya and bananas and a friendly cat that stops by.

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There was an optional 30 mile ride to our next stop near Volcanoes National Park.  With the wind and rain (and a sore seat), all but one person opted for the van up the 4000 feet at the end of the day.  It was a good choice.  We arrived in the dark at our stop for these 2 nights, a bed and breakfast place where we have our own little cabins.  Judy and I share a cute cottage with our own gas fireplace (which is a convenient place for drying soggy bike clothes), a little kitchen with fresh papaya and bananas and a friendly cat that stops by.

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This morning we headed into the park for a 4 mile hike through the lava bed inside the caldera of a volcano. It started out going down through rain forest paths. On the caldera floor, we saw little succulent plants growing up through the lava. There were steamy vents and piles of lightweight lava rocks (think of the ones in your gas grill).

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After climbing back up, we hiked through a lava tube. Once filled with molten lava, now it is an empty tunnel.

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I’m feeling rushed as we have a map meeting about tomorrow’s ride. We’ll also have a little social hour and I wouldn’t want to miss that either! I know we start downhill tomorrow. That sounds like a fun way to start a day.

Hartford to Hawaii

After a day spent in the sun on the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s already difficult to remember that I was driving to the airport in a driving snowstorm just two nights ago. Emily and I left after 9 p.m. and didn’t arrive at the hotel until after midnight. It’s rare that I drive 20 mph on an interstate and it takes a lot longer to arrive at that speed. The result was a short 4 hours until the alarm clock went off for my early morning departure. I said a tearful goodbye to my daughter, wished her luck for her grad school interview that day and went out to meet the shuttle bus.

One of the benefits of solo travel is being able to grab the last seat on the bus leaving a crowd of other early morning risers behind (who were all at great risk of missing flights). I checked in easily for my first class flight courtesy of my generous friend, Michael, who surprised me with an upgrade. What an amazing difference it is to fly first class! I checked my bags for free, enjoyed real food on real plates and loved the comfort of the seats. On the first flight, my seat mate was an older woman traveling with her family. Her granddaughter joined us for part of the trip charming the flight attendant to feed her as well as us. She really liked seeing herself in this photograph on my ipad.

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On the flight from Dallas to Honolulu, I had even more fun. My seat mate and I hit it off right from the beginning, enjoying conversation while we sipped champagne and ate tropical fruit and nuts. I got to experience the fully reclining seats, soft blankets and full size pillows that allowed a mid-flight snooze where I actually slept for an hour or so. Bliss! The 8 hour flight flew by as I enjoyed a delicious salmon lunch, a glass of free wine, listened to music and shared apps with Ken.

It was a dash through the airport to get to my next flight to Kona. I made it but one of my bags did not. It was a long, tiring wait at the baggage claim waiting for the next flight to come in. It wasn’t a bad place to wait though, as the area was in open 80 degree air. Almost 24 hours of travel took its toll, I realized, as I kept my eyes closed in the taxi to my hotel room. I was in bed when my friend Judy arrived from North Carolina and our reunion was quick as we both fell quickly to sleep.

The jet lag was fine by morning after a good night’s sleep. Our friend Sandra whom we met on the Southern Tier cross country bike ride happens to be on the island on vacation with her husband. She met up with us at our hotel to walk into town for breakfast on the beach. We spent the day exploring the little shops (Obama bobble head dolls for your dashboard?), seeing where the Ironman triathalon is held, shopping for papaya, avocados, and fresh tomatoes at the farmers market and lots of laughing. I had my first Hawaiin shaved ice, a delicious frozen confection in an entirely different category than our Eastern snow cones. In the afternoon, Sandra took us to a beach where we saw sea turtles and beautiful reef fish as we snorkeled in the cove.

We met up with a woman who will be on our bike trip, Liz, for dinner. I had my first spear fish, a local amber colored fish broiled to perfection, served at our table next to the ocean. The sun went down as we told stories.

Out of practice in writing my blog on my ipad, I forgot to insert the pictures. Maybe I’m not over jet lag as much as I thought! Is 7:30 too early to go to bed? Here are a few images from my first day in Hawaii. I think I’m going to like it here.

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One more week…

In one short week, I will be waiting for Emily to take me to the airport hotel in Hartford, CT.  We won’t leave until after 9:00 p.m. as she is taking a course on Thursdays.  I wonder what it will be like to stand by the wood stove, bags packed and ready.  On Friday morning, my flight to Hawaii leaves at 6:15 a.m. meaning a really early start to a long day west through the time zones ahead.  Em will head down the road to New Haven for her interview at Yale while I maneuver my way through the first of many flights and airports in the months ahead.  It’s good to start with the familiar.

The emotions have been all over the map these last couple of weeks.  As I read through travel sites, look at pictures and read through guidebooks, my mind swims with the excitement of all the places I’ll be able to experience.  The pictures of the rice paddies in Bali, the temples in Thailand, the Himalayas of Nepal and Bhutan, the beaches and blue water;  ah, what’s not to love!  There are tigers and elephants, rhinos and monkeys, all to be sought out and experienced.  Hikes to be hiked, bikes to be ridden, markets and temples to be explored and people to meet – all await.

But, there are also mosquitoes (mozzies in the web sites), rabid dogs and monkeys, microscopic bacteria in the food and water and tales of pickpockets and scams.  Those are the things I try not to think of before I fall asleep.  I’m armed with my steri-pen to kill the water-borne diseases (thanks Peter), medications and pills for a variety of aliments (thanks Em), wipes and tissues (instead of showers and toilet paper) and 3 expensive rabies shots.  I try to anticipate all that will make life easier on the road – hidden money, extra passport photos, long sleeves to protect from the hot sun, mosquitoes and cultural misunderstandings.

Packing perfectly for such a trip, especially with the goal of one carry on bag and a day pack, is an exercise in futility most likely.  Although I know I can probably find what I need almost anywhere I go, I also need to have clothes for different activities and climates.  Packing for a bike trip in Hawaii is different than packing for a bike trip in Bhutan.  Packing for a hike in Bali is different than packing for a trek in Nepal.  Yet, I try to find the common denominators and just have faith that it will all work out somehow (and those nifty new compression bags certainly help!).

Faith is a big word these days.  There will be challenges.  There will be triumphs.  There will be people who help me and people that I will help.  It’s all out there waiting for me to find, whatever “it” turns out to be.

I will carry my ipad, which worked out well for the most part on my fall trip.  I wasn’t able to post many pictures to this blog on the road but they are linked here if you’d like to catch up with them now.  I suspect posting pictures may prove challenging on this international venture but I’ll do what I can and save them to post when I return.  Because I’m not sure how often or when I will post, you might want to consider “subscribing” to this blog.  You’ll get an e mail when I post so you don’t have to keep checking in on this website until there’s something new to see.  You won’t be alone.  I was shocked to see how many people have been reading this blog this fall.  That could just add to my stress if I think about it so I’m going to just keep writing to each of you individually in my mind.

In the meantime, there are still errands to run, items to pack, and many goodbyes ahead.  In many ways, this is the hard part, saying goodbye to the familiar, my friends and family here.  Somehow, though, when I see the white sands of Hawaii replacing the white snow of Vermont next week, I think I’ll be fine.  Stay tuned.