The Skin I’m In

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I’ve been hesitant to share this because of the infamous Facebook happy birthday syndrome. I don’t want everyone to go OMYGOSH! If you were to think positive thoughts, pray to your holy entities, or burn a swatch of herbs and dance naked on sacred stones in the light of the full moon to signify to the universe that healing vibes should come my way, then please do. Use your bandwidth to save the world, OK?

I don’t know how long this mole had been behind my right knee, but about two months ago I noticed it. I was holding up my leg doing a stretch and felt it when I clasped my hands behind my knee. Hmmm, a bump. You know how it goes: I guess I better get this checked out. And then you forget about it. About three weeks ago I thought it looked bigger, so I went in for a full-body skin check. The dermatologist used the CO2 can to freeze some spots and the treatment of other strange things were postponed because of the mole that stole the show. A punch biopsy was taken and it was determined to be a 1.13mm melanoma. My dermatologist stitched it up nice. Then she referred me for surgery. On Tuesday the stitches came out. I have a scar about the size of a dime.

Surgery is Monday. The newly healed skin will be cut back open and then some. Am I full of dread? Not really. As you might guess, I’ve been reading a lot of stories about melanoma, lymph nodes, the stages of cancer, alkaline vs. acidic diets, baking soda cocktails and tales of survival.

After having met my Kaiser Permanente surgeon, I am completely confident in how things will go. A nuclear medicine doctor will inject a dye to determine which lymph nodes are involved; I’ll meet with the anesthesiologist and get poked for general anesthesia; I’ll get a cut that might look like this: <===O===> (that’s an eye shape, in case you don’t see it). The procedure will end with a skin graft from my other thigh. Why? The site is too close to the bend in my knee and my skin is too taut for it to be sewn back together without limiting the movement of my knee. I wonder if I’ll need crutches? Maybe I can convince them to take a piece off my butt, where there is a little spare skin. J/K. #Triathleteproblems. #Muscularlegs. #Smoothskin.

It won’t be for another two weeks until we know if melanoma is in the surrounding skin or lymph nodes. My surgeon said I have an amazing 92-percent chance that it’s all gone. Isn’t that great? If I fall into the 8-percent realm, I will be placed in a clinical trial and/or immunotherapy.

Life is on hold, and admittedly, I have cabin fever. Not being able to work out, ride my bike or go for a swim is kind of driving me crazy. I go to the Boca Hawaii studio on Tuesdays for the turbo bike training so I can hang out with my friends, encourage them and fill their water bottles. Sometimes I dance. They let me be the DJ.

School is out, so I’m not missing work. I look around and see things I really should take care of, but, instead I have to find a happy place, ignore the weeds and enjoy this summer before the total high school experience happens with both girls at Kaiser HS.

Dark moments come and go. But more often than not I don’t even think about it. I feel pretty good. It would be great to surf along at “pretty good” while all this is going on, white knuckling through the bumps, and coming out stronger at the end of the ride. Stronger and wiser.

If you see me, chances are I’m in cooling-arm sleeves and capris. I wear a hat. Pretty soon I’ll shop for bottoms and tops with UV protection for swimming and riding. I’ll be that woman in the North Shore Swim Series next year covered from head to ankle.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a peeling nose and sunburns every summer in New Jersey. Here in Hawaii, I’ve surfed and swam sloppily smeared with sunscreen. I am sure this has its roots in small-kid-time summers in just a swim team suit at the pool or the beach from dawn till dinner.

This always happened to others. If you are fair like I am, or if you worked on your tan ever, then you should get your skin checked. What if this were somewhere else, like on my scalp? Things can go undetected for so long. Are you scared yet?

Offering hope

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I have added some information at the end of this entry about the ClearPlan Easy Fertility Monitor, which truly made a difference in our lives.

It took a long time to write this because every time I started, I crumbled. After 10 years (four years ago), confident my daughters would survive, I finally could write it. Cathartic. Conceiving children is not all that easy. Planets have to line up, eggs have to be primed, sperm has to be energetic, a uterus has to be hospitable. Then, DNA takes over. For me, three out of five times the DNA was a disaster. It’s discouraging. It’s a total crapshoot. It’s a wonder. When I finally did get pregnant, you can bet I barely moved.

Reposting my 2011 miscarriage column here so I have it forever.

Maybe it will give someone comfort. More of us have miscarriages than we really know. Not many women can write about it, but they want to read about it. They seek a common experience, they want someone to connect to. That’s why this is here. I am offering a connection.

This is a column I wrote for IslandScene.com when I worked at cough, cough. Blocked memories FTW. It’s also on Oceanic-Time Warner. Because I don’t want to risk this link disappearing, I wanted to repost.

http://v1.aroundhawaii.com/lifestyle/health_and_fitness/2011-02-with-loss-comes-life.html

With Loss Comes Life

What miscarriage has taught me.

By Paula Bender

Two bright little girls and a MomSometimes it’s the people you don’t meet who have a significant impact on your life.

When I was in my late 30s, my husband suggested that we start a family. I was stunned. I liked our perfectly spontaneous double income, no kids life. We traveled to the Mainland a few times a year, we went out to dinner often, we lived impulsively.

All of a sudden, my husband was Mr. Domestic. It threw me off. I wasn’t exactly sure he was serious. But he persisted, presented a convincing case, and won me over with his enthusiasm. I also imagined little tykes with his dreamy eyes bouncing around. So I got with the program. All that baby-making stuff ensued. It was exciting as we planned our expansion.

Pregnancy the first time happened quickly. Unfortunately, it ended quickly, too. It was 1997 and I got a tummy ache one day while having lunch. I had actually gone in to labor at 12 weeks and had a miscarriage. I had two more miscarriages over the next year. The joy of conception was slammed within a few months and all I had to show for it was weight gain and depression. Deep inside, I felt as though I had been given a challenge to prove that I was worthy to be a mom.

Months earlier, I was reluctant to get on the mommy track. Now I was making deals with God to give birth. I was 40 and there was the added risk of genetic frailties that can result in mental retardation and other conditions.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. I was the fat lady always near tears who couldn’t handle seeing a happily pregnant woman or someone pushing a keiki carriage. If I’d see a parent publicly hit their child, I’d die inside. Why were children given to people like that? Yet, we kept trying.

Thanks to a fertility monitor, I was able to determine when we could conceive, which was about six or seven days earlier each month than I had thought. Finally, I took my first child successfully to term. She was born in 1999. By using the same monitor, we were able to conceive again. My second daughter was born 21 months later. Through those pregnancies, I have to admit, I was petrified.

On our way to the hospital for the births, I was overcome with emotion. The prospect of expanding our family floored me. The very thought caused me to weep because our family dynamic was about to change. I was both happy and apprehensive. I was thrilled and terrified. An amazing chemical-like process occurs when a baby is born. It is an exponential growth of love. It’s probably hormones, too.

All told, five pregnancies resulted in two bright little girls and three angels. Had any of those first babies come to term, I would never have met the little girls I have now. But those first babies taught me so much about the value of life. Children are a treasure. They are a statement of hope for the future. They are a reason to live, and they deserve every opportunity to flourish.

Interested in this? Here’s what I used: http://www.amazon.com/Clearblue-Fertility-Monitor-1-Count/dp/B0000532QB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433880493&sr=8-1&keywords=clearplan+easy+ovulation. 

This kit told me I was ovulating much sooner that I had thought. Amazing. You think you know, but really, YOU DON’T! After Charlotte was born, I sold the plan on eBay for very close to what I paid for it. And I threw in the extra test sticks for good measure. Best investment ever. 

 

Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 2015, the download

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A beautiful place.

A beautiful place.

For six months or more, people like me train for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon somewhere on this planet. On Saturday, May 30, 2015, I participated in the Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 on Hawaii Island. It was my third time.

My first race was the fastest. Is it because I was younger? I feel like I’m in better shape now. I had a different and heavier bike back then, and that bike leg was my fastest. I’m happy that this year I beat last year’s time and that I made it across the finish line with 11 minutes to spare. Each year it had been my goal to finish under eight hours. Alas.

The only tattoo I ever get is the temporary race number. This year: 530.

The only tattoo for me is a temporary race number. This year: 530.

I was calm before the race. Packing is time consuming, but I didn’t forget anything. When I arrived in Kona and got my rental car, I drove to Target to pick up food: half and half for coffee, bananas, turkey lunch meat, veggie cream cheese, mini bagels, pickles, Lay’s wasabi-ginger potato chips, several bottles of water with electrolytes, and a big bottle of Starbucks cold brew coffee.

I checked in at race headquarters at the Fairmont Orchid resort, got my packet, dropped off my run bag (forgot to put in my visor), and attended the athlete briefing at 2 p.m. with some of my Boca Hawaii teammates. Then I crossed the grounds to get my bike, loaded it on top of my suitcase in the back of the Nissan Versa, and headed a few more miles up the road to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It was getting late. I filled the mini fridge, and got dressed to ride my bike to be sure all was well. It was. It felt good. I watched the sky change colors and the shadows grow across the lava fields as I went up and down the hills and up and down the gears.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Early to rise on Friday for a last morning swim with teammates in Hapuna Bay. Gorgeous, calm, clear. Is there a color somewhere between azure, turquoise, aquamarine and bluetiful? It should be called Hapuna. The Boca Hawaii folks work tightly in the months before an A race. But when it comes to the actual event, we’re encouraged to find comfort alone. During a race, a triathlete is truly working off the training and motivation that had been fortified all those months. Being alone isn’t a big deal to me. I can manage to be alone at a party and it’s OK. There were no big pre-race gatherings, just catching up with each other at race check-in, bike check-in, at the swim start, hollering for friends while M.C. Guy Hagi takes a breath.

The swim: 48:04.

Women in the oldest age group went last, and that would be me. We watched the first four groups launch and then it was our turn. We were ready for the cannon. And yet… when the cannon fired the women in front of me froze. WTF, I thought? That means GO, I said and swam through them. It was a difficult swim for me. It was hard to get out of the thrash of limbs to survival and a clear space of my own. Kicked in the head. Scratched in the legs and arms. Several times I kicked hard to get other swimmers off my legs. At one point, a woman kept swimming into my left side, pushing me out to sea. My smooth rollover resulted in no pain except that she stopped, popped up her head and called me a BITCH. Such bad manners. Clearly you do not train with Boca Hawaii. Rookie.

I was happy to pass guys in white, blue and green caps, and then women in pink caps. It is worrisome to pass the guys who should really be well over half-way done by the time I get to them. This swim time was better than last year. I felt great, despite the viciousness of some encounters. As much as I wanted to go faster in transition, it was really important to me to not be frantic. So I took advantage of the shower, got out of my speed suit, got dressed for the ride without any snafus and got launched on the bike leg with two really great pushes on my ass. I wondered how sore those guys would be later that day.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

The bike: 03:51:09.

This is my favorite part of triathlons. I have always loved to ride a bike. My coaches helped me develop strategies for up and down hills. They’ve convinced me that eating on the bike is key to survival and I have learned to do it even if I don’t feel like it. This ride was great. No stiff cross winds, no slick roads, successful bottle catches and refills, no punctures, no penalties. My passes went well and sometimes I’d pass two or three others before getting back over. Love shifting efficiently enough to keep my cadence as close to 90 as I climbed the rolling hills. Love building momentum as I pushed hard on the downhill for the next climb.

Buh-bye! I've learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Buh-bye! I’ve learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Just after my turn into the Mauna Lani Bay complex, I reached down and slid each foot out of a bike shoe and rocked the rest of the ride with my feet on top. I had a serious case of hot foot because my front straps were too tight. It felt really good to wiggle my toes! When I got to transition the velcro of the right shoe held tight to my sock when I dismounted. You can’t make this stuff up! I put that shoe on the handlebar, left the other one on the pedal, and ran toward transition 2.

As an aside, something isn’t quite right with my ride. I should be faster. I think I need to do more core.

The run: 03:25:30.

I have the vision of being a fine and easy runner. The execution is way off the mark. I took off from T2 with a pretty good trot, but I couldn’t catch my breath. The hot and humid air was oppressive. My heart rate was really high. After I got through the golf course lined with friends, critics, teammates and coaches, I started to walk. It was embarrassing, but I knew that I had to walk without shame. I didn’t plan on power walking, but that’s what I did. And toward the end, I was clocking in negative splits, some of which were faster than my runs. As much as I wanted to start running, I knew it would slow me down.

I know going into this race that I have to do well on the swim and bike to bank time for the run. I knew how much time I had for the run, and so I had to build up my walking speed to under 14 minutes. Half-way through I asked to sit down to get the lava gravel out of my left shoe. It wasn’t gravel. It was just really bad blisters.

This triathlon is famous for its Road to Nowhere, but actually, the whole run is pretty crazy. What does it feel like to run through lava fields? Like you’re an ant working your way through a hot pan of brownies. When we would meander back on the golf course, the heat would radiate from the ground, it felt just as hot. Plus, the Road to Nowhere is desolate, except for the smiles and cheers from friends and volunteers and the GOATS. Last year, I asked others if they had seen the goats on that road. Everyone humored me and figured I was hallucinating (sure, the run does hurt, but not that much!). But this year others heard and saw the goats! Bleat! I didn’t expect to see them all over the golf course, trimming the greens! There’s a solid herd of goats at the Fairmont Golf Course. We have chickens all over Oahu. They have goats.

During this segment I continued to check my Garmin and my watch to be sure I didn’t slow down and that I would make it to the finish on time. Soon, I could hear Guy Hagi announcing how there were only a few more minutes left. With less than half a mile to go, I zipped up my shirt (pictures!) and started to pick up the pace with a slow run. Don’t. Fall. Down. Don’t. Feel. The. Pain. Do. Not. Have. A. Heart. Attack. Do. Not. Let. Down. Your. Team!

The deadlines for each wave had fallen one by one, and I had very little time to make it to the finish line. I told myself the whole way that it would be inexcusable to do all that training and NOT finish in time. So I really pulled out everything I had and got in 11 minutes before the race was wrapped up. My first Honu was 8:12:25, my second Honu was 8:23:56, and this Honu was 8:19:00.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.

Boca Hawaii Triathlon Training Weekend 2015


Awaiting our flight from Honolulu to Kona.

Awaiting our flight from Honolulu to Kona.

What, besides three sports, do triathletes have in common? Actually, not much. What unites us is a desire to swim, bike and run. You know, the kind of stuff we did as kids. What separates us is the rest of our lives: family, friends, professions, physiques and political affiliations. I think we are also comfortable with being by ourselves, alone in a crowd. When you are training, even among fellow triathletes, there isn’t much time for talking. There’s a lot of introspection. Somehow, we manage to achieve a cohesion of overachievers and struggling wannabes united by commitment, heart and passion.

A boardroom of bikes.

A boardroom of bikes at the Hapuna Prince Hotel. 

In May I will participate in my third Ironman 70.3 triathlon on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. This past weekend, about 60 Boca Hawaii athletes were joined by coaches and generous family members as support at the Hapuna Prince Hotel for a training weekend that would mimic and exceed the intensity of the event itself.

Resting at Hawi.

Resting at Hawi.

This was my second Boca Hawaii training weekend. I got there Thursday evening so I’d be fresh for the Friday morning bike ride to Hawi. Throughout the weekend we had scheduled bike rides, swims and runs. For me, this was the weekend where the bike route finally clicked for me. During last year’s race, I had an awful bike ride. But having done the ride twice during training weekend, I’ve figured out a way to budget my calories and effort to make each stroke count. No longer was I telling myself that the finish was just around the bend. I knew already. I credit this to riding my bike several times a week since January with super handsome coaches and equally attractive freshmen cyclists. Hey that sort of thing keeps me coming back! By the time endurance triathlon training came around, we were all bike ready.

My side of the room. Love the beds at the Hapuna Prince Hotel!

My side of the room. Love the beds at the Hapuna Prince Hotel!

My swim has gotten progressively better, despite the 30-60 second freakout at the start. I injured my wrist a few weeks ago. It didn’t help that it got slammed a few times this weekend while we were swimming in tight-knit clumps to get the feel of spinning arms and kicking legs, courtesy of our loving teammates. One thing I learned from masters swimming was to swim with as narrow a profile as possible. The motion keeps your arms close to your torso and head and can protect you from the novices’ deadly frog kicks. Whenever we swim in the ocean, I always feel someone touching the bottom of my feet as they draft in my bubbles. I often wonder about the person who ran their hand down my legs. Pausing to check would waste valuable seconds. So I just wonder.

My view from Tower Four includes Tower Three and a slice of beach.

My view from Tower Four includes Tower Three and a slice of beach.

Normal triathletes (well, typical triathletes) usually have one sport that is harder than the others. For me it’s the run. My cardio is strangely insufficient and both of my knees are bums. Add the stifling heat of baking lava fields, and I feel as though I am drowning, never quite able to breathe sufficiently. It hurts a lot.

Sunset at Hapuna Prince Hotel.

Sunset at Hapuna Prince Hotel.

How is it that some people can run so effortlessly? I envy them. I am trying to get to that point. I’ve lost some weight, so I expect it to get easier. I need to lose more. And what helps me lose more? More running. This weekend my runs scaled from OK to crap. When I got started on the last long run, my plan was to run out an hour and run back an hour to catch our plane. I started and three of my coaches passed me on the rolling hills with words of encouragement. Then Coach Felipe snuck up on me. I certainly didn’t expect him, but it was the most perfect time for the most perfect person to get to me. I was heaving, my heart rate was soaring, my legs were dragging, and I was melting. He assured me that I could never finish a 13.1 mile run breathing so laboriously. He made me slow down and catch my breath, he had me push out the CO2 to help my body get more oxygen, and he put my head in the right place. Then he moved on. I was motivated, as I always am, when a coach take the time to work with me when I am struggling most. I didn’t have a good run, but I did have a better perspective.

This TED Talk helps, too. Emily Balcetis, a social psychologist, talks about why some people find exercise harder than others. I watched it because I think I have a block about running. According to Balcetis, I should keep my eye on the prize and not be distracted by my surroundings. Is it that easy? Sometimes while running I come to realize that I was in a little zen zone for a while. And like a dream, it slips away as I desperately struggle to reinstate it. I am again reminded of how heavy my legs feel or how hot it is or how long the race is. Balcetis says that if one focuses on the goal, the finish actually seems closer.

My goal for the next month is to work on my run, build strength in my leg muscles, and preserve my knees. I hope that will result in a solid event and a personal record.

I have a theory about triathletes, based on my personal experience. We’re all a little crazy. We love to suffer together. We’re competitive, but we enjoy each other’s accomplishments. It’s a solo sport best prepared for en masse. Training our bodies is only part of the equation. If you can stand the person who you are while racing, then you’re that much closer to happiness.

 

Lanikai Triathlon, Part 3


Look closely. There are two of me! This is getting out of the ocean and running toward transition one and the bike ride.

Exiting the ocean to transition one and the bike. John Bender photo.

Not that I’m getting super casual about being in triathlons, but when you’re training for a half-Ironman (70.3) a sprint triathlon doesn’t even qualify as a workout. The Lanikai Jamba Juice Triathlon was last Sunday, hosted by our coach, Raul Torres of Boca Hawaii. He and his tough team of coaches crack their whips all week long. Doing a sprint triathlon without the usual prodding would be fun. We were told to ride our bikes for two hours later that day, because, DO MORE.

As typical for this event, the wind was howling and the sun rose behind a bank of clouds. It sprinkled as we set up our transitions along the bike racks under the glare of spotlights in the early morning. Most normal people are still in bed on such a Sunday. Why be normal?

Good morning chop for crazy triathletes!

Good morning chop for crazy triathletes! John Bender photo.

After a briefing (be nice, don’t draft, don’t break the rules, don’t say mean things, don’t be an ass), we walked down the beach to the boat ramp at Kailua Beach Park for the beach start of our 500-meter swim. How intimidating could it be? The conditions were victory at sea, my favorite. I love the chop and the swells and I try to take long strokes to take advantage of their power. Somehow I managed to stay inside the crowd. Other years I’d swim outside, and it was way too far. This time I made a dash for the last buoy and got to transition one at 11:38 minutes. Not bad for this kid.

I ran to the bike transition. I tried to put on my bike shoes but D’uh! I had put my spare bike tube in one shoe and socks in the other, which I totally forgot. So I tried to put my feet in my bike shoes and they were getting all jammed up. I grabbed the stuff and put it in my bag, got my number belt on and ran across transition to run through the park and out the back to the road for a 10-mile ride, which took us to the gate at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, through a winding road badly in need of repaving, over a big-assed hill, and back toward the beach. Just like my friend and coach Lectie recounted in her blog here, I, too, could hear coaches Ryan and Alika: “Am I pedaling fast enough? Am I pushing a high enough gear?” Dudes. You are so in our heads. I kept thinking I would see the leaders on their way back but then I realized we were going up Mokapu and across the saddle, a pretty substantial hill that didn’t kill me. I killed it! This was a good ride. I think they should keep this route for future triathlons. I hammered Mokapu. Take that.

I love riding the bike, I was so happy when I turned down toward the end of the ride and coasted down to where we were to dismount. Right pedal out, left pedal, stuck. I fell on my left wrist, my left hip and okole, and the bike was carefully cradled between my legs and didn’t suffer a scratch. Whenever I fall I think about how crumbly my bones are or how I could just be crippled for life. But I was able to get up and run to transition, although my pride was quite bruised at this point. That had never happened to me. It sucked. My wrist still hurts.

After I brought down the bike rack. I always do this little cup shower thing. Mahalo, Edna, for the photo.

After I brought down the bike rack. I always do a little cup shower. Mahalo, Edna, for the photo.

At bike transition, already flustered from the fall, I tried to put my bike on the rack and the whole rack fell to the ground with one other bike on it. I tried to right it for like two seconds and figured, “Fuck it.” My nose was dripping half the ocean and I shoved my feet into my shoes and took off for the run exit. I was determined to beat last year’s time, which beat the time from the year before.

Transitions are kind of crazy for me. I’m very disoriented. So, this was good practice for me. I need to figure out a way to get my head screwed on right. If the rack falls, just say fuck it. Observe, detach and move on.

Running across the sand in the final stretch to the finish.

Running across the sand in the final stretch to the finish. John Bender photo.

The swim was great, the bike was almost great, and the run is my achilles heel. I took off, had to be redirected by the volunteers, and headed toward the Lanikai Loop, which has a few baby bump hills during the first half and a revisit to one of them on the way back. Tonight I ran for an hour and twenty minutes and it felt OK. I’ll ice my knee, but, it wasn’t excrutiating. Neither was my run in the triathlon. However, I felt as though I were suffocating. Did I use my inhaler in transition? I really ought to take a hit from my inhaler before my runs. This was just a 3-mile run, which is about how long I have to go before my legs feel OK. As I came out of Lanikai and ran across the beach toward the finish, I was happy to be getting so close to being DONE. Then this lady passes me with some young guy. I didn’t know who she was, but, I thought she was old.

So yeah, I have this delusion that I’m actually 40. I swear to g*d. There is no way I am not. I am way too fun and hip and silly and goofy and crazy to be anything else. It blows my mind, which is, you know, 27? And it’s why I do all this training. If I lay off, gravity wins. Must resist.

As I trailed other triathletes and approached the final berm of sand and climbed toward the finish, my friend Caroline comes running down the hill to whip my butt with “GO GO GO” and it really helped me get up that hill and across the finish. I expected that hill to trip me up, but it didn’t.

Across I went, a minute and 24 seconds faster than the year before; but 20 seconds behind the woman who placed third on my age group podium with my friends Faye and Yvette. The lady I thought was old!  WTPho?

Next year.

 

Suppressing My Expressions


Surprise. How many times did you come here wondering when I would update lavagal.net? I tried a few times over the winter break, when I first started my Boca Hawaii bike training, when I first started teaching full-time as a permanent sub at Kaiser High School, when my LinkedIn account was finally extinguished, when I first started this year’s Boca Hawaii Honu 70.3 triathlon training program, if I ever got a moment to myself.

But I was in a lot of pain, deep inside. Every time I wanted to write something, my inner demons would tell me it was stupid and that no one cared. Who would read it? What would they say? And always someone to tell me I’m a whiner.

The intentions were there. I miss blogging. I like weighing in on what’s going on in the world and what it means to me, and what I think it might mean to you. But, I have instead begun an implosion, a deflating, a shrinking, a suppression of my expressions. The pie of my life is divided into smaller and smaller pieces. Sleep is one of the smallest. Triathlon training keeps me healthy, and I love to just work things out in my head while I’m swimming, pedaling my bike up a steep hill, or running for miles. I help my in-laws with their vegetable garden, I have my own yard to take care of, I feed the family, I pay bills, and I have those oh-shit moments when I look at the bathroom and realize it’s been a while since it’s been cleaned. Now that I’m teaching, I am thinking just about every waking moment about lesson plans, meetings, deadlines, building quizzes and tests, considering reading assignments, grammar and punctuation lessons, or choosing American Literature stories that won’t turn class time into nap time.

Adjustments have been made. Parts of life have been delayed. But new goals are set and, as I tend to be hopeful and optimistic as the sun rises each day, I desperately grasp the positives that people bestow upon me. They keep me sane, they keep me alive, they show me my relevance.

Hawaii Bike Training — Absolutely loved it. New teammates, different kinds of workouts, riding all over Oahu, loving coaches who pushed my ass further than I ever thought it would go. Grateful.

Teaching — Called by the principal on a Friday to start on Monday. American Literature for juniors, Expository Writing for seniors, English Language Arts for sophomores. I so enjoy it, despite the tons of work that’s involved. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having students who are disruptive and insulting, but they are far outnumbered by those students who work with me. I teach core courses. It’s really a good idea to do all of the homework, all of the journal entries, and read the book. Teaching reminds me of my youth — that time when you think you know everything, don’t want to hear from the voices of experience, want to forge your own path and don’t see the benefit of someone who would love to help you avoid mistakes. Been there, done that. The older I get the more I realize the less I know. That’s the main lesson I’d love to tell these kids. One student asked me how it felt to hold graduation in the palm of my hand. I told him I didn’t. “You hold graduation in the palm of YOUR hand,” I said. He got it.

LinkedIn: The Brag Book of social media. True, it was extremely painful for me to face unemployment for so long and to wonder what the problem was when I applied for hundreds of jobs, got a handful of calls, three interviews and no offer. Hopelessness was a constant companion. It sucked. I didn’t want to see how wonderful everyone else’s life was. It took nearly six months to shut the front door on all that noise. I feel better already.

Boca Hawaii Endurance Triathlon Training — My home away from home. My extended family. Coaches who see in me what I don’t quite see myself. Third year of training for Honu 70.3. I feel like things are finally working. I’ve made a few personal changes. Wino’clock only occurs on Saturday evening. Beerthirty, once in a blue moon. Those two adjustments have made it possible for me to lose some weight, and it will continue. I pack a lunch for school, which is usually an apple, a Kind bar, some cheese; or humus and pita chips. Water, water, water.

Quiet moments. Cooking. Gardening. Connecting with my husband. Snuggling the kitty. Stealing hugs from my kids. Valuing every moment I have to myself and with you. Treasures.

You Just Climbed Koko Crater Not Koko Head (which is way easier)


Koko Crater tramway.

Koko Crater tramway.

About the title: When I checked in on Facebook, this was an option. And, as I’m always correcting people about how they climbed Koko Crater and not Koko Crater Head or Koko Head Crater or Koko Head, I jumped on that location immediately. It took me a while to get up there. Here’s my tale.

Under the blazing sun at 1 p.m. yesterday, I had the curiously strange idea to go up Koko Crater, which is practically in my backyard. It’s a big draw for (insane or fit or insanely fit) residents and tourists alike. It’s also a draw for those who want to go on a little hike. How hard can it be, they must ask themselves. I don’t know why anyone would do this hike more than once. We used to go up quite often, before it became a tourist destination, and we even took our daughters up there a few times. We’d watch the sunset, take in the view, and take lots of pictures.

For mere mortals, it’s not a piece of cake. The tramway is treacherous, there is nothing to hold onto except maybe the rail if you bend over and grab it, the trestle, which always seems to have a hive of bees or wasps in activity, is terrifying (so I took the cheater path on the side), and there is no water anywhere. If you aren’t discouraged by my message of doom yet, take a 2-liter bottle for the way up and maybe another for the way down.

Yes, my awesome Brooks Pure Cadence running shoes. Yes, this is typically the condition of the tramway all the way up.

Yes, my awesome Brooks Pure Cadence running shoes. Yes, this is typically the condition of the tramway the whole way.

There are 1,060 steps up to the top, and then you have to climb up rock that has been smoothed with erosion and thousands of footsteps. Years ago, an encouraging soul painted markers on the rail marking progress. At 200 steps. At 400 steps. At 500 steps At 800 steps. At 1,000 steps it also says only 60 more to go!

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Everyone stops to rest, even the invincibles.

This being my off season, I haven’t been training for triathlons much recently. But how bad was it? Bad. Before I got to the 200th step I was having second thoughts. I knew I didn’t have to do it. I packed a little bit of water, but not nearly enough, and it was so hot. And it wasn’t until I got to the 400th step did I remember about the dreaded trestle. Although it seems to have been reinforced some, I do not have the constitution to go across, whether it’s climbing or descending. Fortunately, there is a well-worn path on its east side that takes some rock climbing and weaving in and out of the thorned haole koa thickets. To me, it was a better alternative.

A toddler is on dad's back, mom is right behind them, and their little big man raced ahead. It couldn't have been easy.

A toddler is on dad’s back, mom is right behind them, and their little big man raced ahead. It couldn’t have been easy.

I had to stop several times on the way up, and I wasn’t the only one. When people were coming down, it gave those of us on the way up a reason to step to the side and pause. I met several families on their way down, little kids fearlessly hopping about, dads and moms with babies on their backs (none too happy, either), a young couple in their 20s, of which the woman whimpered with every step down.

And then I met Julian and Evan. Carrying their bikes. On their way down. Julian was wearing a bicycle kit, was walking in his socks, and his bicycle shoes were stuck on his handlebars. Evan carried his big Giant bike on his shoulders. When I first caught a glimpse of them, I could see their bikes sparkling high above me at the top of the tramway, Julian’s front wheel spinning like a ferris wheel in the distance.

Julian and Evan walking down with their bikes after riding up to the peak on the tramway. This is who I mean by young invincibles.

Julian and Evan walking down with their bikes after riding up to the peak on the tramway. This is who I mean by young invincibles.

“Did youz guyz ride up from inside the crater?”

“Nope. We rode right up this trail.”

“Holy cow! Really? Are you in training?”

Julian told me he did the Honolulu Tinman, but he wasn’t doing this for training. If you could see that trail, you would be astonished at anyone getting a bike up there. If you have a rock hopper or a BMX or a trail bicycle, maybe, but these guys looked like they were on regular road bikes with regular tires.

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The payoff.

Between 400 steps, the trestle, and 800 steps, I had to give myself the self pep talk. I compared the heat to Ka Wela, the recent Boca Hawaii endurance triathlon I completed a few months ago. I told myself if I can do Kona 70.3 Honu Ironman twice (and next year makes thrice), I can climb Koko Crater one more time in my life. I said to myself that I was not a quitter. I don’t quit. I might be slow, but I achieve my goal.

Finally, at the top, breathless, heart pounding, I leaned on the World War 2 pillbox to take a break, take out my phone and shoot stuff, like scenery.

A week or a weekend doesn’t go by that we don’t hear the sirens wailing and the fire department’s helicopter flying to Koko Crater to make a rescue. Having done it one final last time, it doesn’t surprise me. It would be so easy to fall and twist an ankle or break a bone. For me, it was dizzyingly high and at one point on the way down, I didn’t measure the step as far down as it was and I nearly tumbled. And, although it feels like it takes forever to get to the top, it also feels like forever to get back down. I am so done with it.

Somethings I don’t get:

  • Why do people hike with boom boxes or radios and make the rest of us listen to their music? Why not listen to the wind rushing through the brush, or the bullets ricocheting off the targets at the shooting range below?
  • Why do women wear cute little shoes for this climb?
  • Why do people go to the top and have a cigarette?
  • Why do people even go up there?

Great mysteries.