This was the most perfectly-timed time-out I’ve ever unintentionally planned in my life. Ten days in Hawaii, half to swim, ride bikes, hike, run, and sun, half to sherpa for friends at the Ironman World Championship in Kona (our “real” reason to go to Hawaii in the first place). Both my parents grew up in Hawaii, and we lived here til I was in 3rd grade (an aside: Had we lived here til I was in 4th grade, Barack Obama would have been my classmate at Punahou. I’m sure we would have been friends. An aside to my aside: I DID have a classmate named Boy. Seriously. How lazy can parents be?)
I’ve been to Oahu many times over the years and tend to the same things every time, most of which involve eating local food. This visit, on top of eating shaved ice at Matsumoto’s and sandwiches from Shark Cove Grill (I’ll stop at Leonard’s Malasadas on the return trip through Honolulu), I had a few new adventures, which have been alternately exciting, harrowing, and life-threatening (probably, but not necessarily an exaggeration).
The first adventure was hiking up Koko Head crater. You can see that it’s ridiculously steep from the road, but we saw more than a few people on the “trail,” so off we went. It’s a 3/4 mile hike up, which sounds like no big deal, until you get the rest of the information. It’s 1000- 1200 feet of elevation gain, depending on who’s telling the story. And you walk/slog/shuffle/wheeze up an old railroad track, mostly walking on the wooden trestles. There are also a couple hundred feet of bridge, where one misstep would have terrible consequences.
I can’t believe how hard this hike was. There were more than a few times I had to pull over on to the rocks on the side and try to get more oxygen, doubled over, hoping to revive the color sensors in my eyes/brain, before all I saw was white (which comes right before black, as in “black out”). Crawling over the bridge was hands and feet up. 45 minutes, and every step was a tough one. But here’s the reward:
The view is fantastic: You’re on top of the world. I dawdled up here for a good bit of time, knowing that often, the downhill, especially when part of it is a railroad track suspended dozens of feet over NOTHING, could be as gnarly as the uphill was. I was not disappointed. I will say, my reconstructed ACL knee felt fine. But I went down a lot of the descent kind of sideways, right leg first. And that is why, days later, I am still somewhat crippled in my right quad. I can’t believe how much it hurts. Now in Kona, people think I raced the Ironman as I limp around. I just smile and wave, smile and wave.
The next adventure involved a bike, of course. We rented 50-pound bikes (exaggerating again) and headed around the south end of the island on my favorite ride on Oahu. Past Hanauma Bay, Blowhole, up toward Kailua. Then, because I usually say “OK” before asking questions, we headed up the Pali Highway. This is a long steep up and over the Pali in the middle of the island. This is where King Kamehameha pushed the native army to their bloody deaths, if the song we all learned as kids here had any truth to it. And in the middle of the big climb, there are lots of cars, blocked-off lanes, and tunnels. It was kind of awesome. And the descent down the backside was great, too, especially with the rain that started and the road crews all over the place. I’ll do it again.
That’s the bike-run (hike), so to complete this triathlon, we’d better swim. Off we headed to Waimea Bay. While there messing around and swimming, I chatted with an old colleague and friend who lives in Kailua now. Mike says, “You’ve got to jump off the rocks. Even I did it.” Ugh. Sometimes I hate when a gauntlet is thrown down. Off we went, hiking up the black lava rock to jump off the rocks at Waimea. Patrick figures it’s about 25 feet down, but it looks more like 50 when your toes are the ones dangling over the edge. I looked over for a bit, which was a big mistake. Someone told me I could go off a lower ledge, but I was only planning on doing this once (that day), and I wasn’t going to be a wienie. Finally, a little kid came up behind and looked over the edge and said, “It’s far! I’ll go after someone else goes.” So, being someone else, over I went. It was over in a fraction of a second, but you hit the water hard! Highly recommend it, but know that the water isn’t that deep.
Off to Kona. I’ve never been a spectator at an iron distance triathlon, although I’ve forced Patrick to do it three times. I was excited to see the places I got to ride/run last year when I wasn’t doing a lot of looking around. I have to admit I loved being part of the day and not having the stress of the competition. And watching people suffer along the Queen K highway and Palani all day long made me want to race. Patrick said, “No way, that’s just stupid.” He’s mostly right. But this looks anything but stupid:
We watched the swim, watched some of the pros ride up Palani, then hightailed it in the car to Hawi to catch our pals at the turnaround. We were also tracking former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, racing his first ironman for chocolate milk. He and Marty were neck and neck in the water and on the bike.. But Marty gapped him big time on the run.
It’s inspiring and tiring and awesome to watch these athletes push past what should be normal people limits to finish this race. For me last year, it was so much harder than the other 4 Ironman races I’ve done, but also so incredible. Watching this race gave me a whole new respect for the sport that I love. Running down Alii Drive would have made my hair stand on end, if it hadn’t been plastered to my head. I know Hines Ward would have had the same feeling, if he had any hair. After an all-new adventure for him, too, he is an Ironman.