Aloha from Hawai’i!
Have no fear – though this blog has yet AGAIN changed its face, and I have not been updating it as frequently as I would like, I am still out here, getting along just swimmingly (both literally and figuratively.)
Again, a whirlwind of an adventure has ensued in these past weeks as I enjoyed a couple of weeks post-San Juan Island trip to decompress in Portland, with plenty of time to study up and prepare for one month in Hawaii. And, on the 27th of July, I arrived.
It was completely surreal landing here again; many of you know that this is not the first time that Hawaii and specifically Kona and I have crossed paths. A good friend of mine and I “backpacked” this island when we graduated from high school; this was the place that I first learned to travel alone, and to use a bike, my feet, and my own gumption to explore the world. But the last time I landed at this desolate airport, (set in the middle of a lava fields far enough from the lush resorts that one might wonder if they landed on the moon) I was preparing to race here. We had just left Okinawa days before and I was not yet longing for the heat, or the tropics, or the feel of the islands. I was simply ready to race, prepared to be completely humbled by the landscape and scope of this venue, of the Ironman World Championships. As the plane touched down then, I heard myself swallow (GULP.) This time, there was less of a (GULP) and more of a sigh. There is something very real and personal about riding, running, swimming, moving and shaking in a place – during a race, or just as a means of travel. By doing so, you almost BECOME part of the place, and the place BECOMES part of you. Having spilled sweat here before, taken solace in the shade of these trees, in this ocean, and been cheered by this community, I felt that this was somehow MY place. Somehow, this is home away from home away from home.
But I had no idea just how much of a place this really was, or was going to be for me.
From photographs, it would appear that my work isn’t really “work” at all but rather paid pleasure. In the first week that I was here it was completely my job to get to reaquaint myself here in Kailua-Kona (where we leaders live when we aren’t out on trips about the Big Island,) to learn the names of the fishes and turtles that live in the bay just down the street, and to scout out the best ice cream, poke, and mango trees in my immediate area. And, of course, to get to know the landscape of this place without throngs of triathletes, hundreds of sponsors and spectators choking off the main thoroughfares.
Pure bliss. It didn’t take me long to unpack the few swim suits, shorts, flip flops and of course lightweight work clothes that I would be needing. To grab a paddle board and meet a few locals, observe a few turtles. Take a swim in Kailua Bay and share shakas with the resident triathletes, or to savor a cup of Kona from Lava Java. And just like that, I am reminded of just how well I am suited to living in the hot, the humid. How much I love island minimalism and how much I hope to keep this place a part of me for as long as I can.
Next, it was off to learn my trip; to see the entirety (or at least as much of it as possible in three days) of this island via car/bike/hiking shoes. And so that is exactly what I did. Twist my arm.
I drove the Queen K, recalling memories of the race as I headed to Hawi (making sure to eat plenty of snacks and drink plenty of water, likely as a knee jerk reaction to recalling the hunger and dehydration that ensued on race day.) I swooped down Kohala Mountain Road to take in the view, passed through Waimea on the way to the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. All along the coast to Hilo, and into Volcanoes National Park where I hiked Kilauea Iki, saw the active crater and heard tales of molten lava gobbling homes just miles from where I stood. I saw ancient Hawaiian ruins, learned folklore, a few new Hawaiian words, plant and flower names and even came to appreciate a few of the local delicacies; poke and poi mean so much more now than just “sweet potato and fish.”
As I traveled the singular highway that runs all the way around this, the Big Island, I came to claim, to understand and appreciate, completely new parts of this island that I couldn’t have possibly before. Indeed, I had spilled sweat here. But by seeing this place, and by having the opportunity to share it with others, I had filled in so many gaps that existed in the history that I had with this place prior to.
Last week I had the opportunity to share my passion for Hawaii, for the Big Island, for this place in the world with 14 lovely guests. And they had a chance to shed sweat on the roads, dig in with their hikers, taste the mangos and papayas, and hear the stories. And I think, I hope, they went home with a little bit of this place in their pockets as well (and I am NOT referring to lava rocks or bits of black sand beach.)
I am certainly stil a haole. Still a foreigner. Even though my skin is coloring fast from even the ambient light. Even though I have settled into the pace of life here and have at least another couple of weeks to explore before I head back to my true home, and before leaving for another home away from home.
In this line of work, I am prepared to be sent anywhere. Its my job to learn to adapt in that way. So far this summer, the Canyons and San Juan Islands have all been added to my list of “places.” But I hope, I hope I HOPE that this place continues to be one of my places for a long long time. You could read all of the books, hear the stories and research a place until your hearts content but there has to be a mutual exchange – you embrace the place and the place embraces you. Maybe I am imagining things, but it sure seems that Hawai’i is giving me a nice big aloha in return.