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

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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.

 

 

Alone Time


I’m a little disappointed that no school needed me to sub today. However, I can get to work on the next three story assignments I have, and that’s a good thing. But before I do, I thought I’d do some writer calisthenics here on lavagal.net. It’s been a while. Alone time.

My SIL1 is waiting for my blog about our trip to Volcano on the Big Island a few weeks ago. I looked back at my pictures and realized that I had not taken any photos of my four sisters-in-law and the lone fellow out-law husband of SIL4. Instead, I took photos of the volcano, the darling bungalow we stayed in, the flora, the fauna. There are a few photos of us on top of Mauna Kea, but the best ones are in my husband’s camera. I’ll ask. What I loved about our trip was how chilly the volcano area is. We spent very little time in Hilo, so most of the time we were bundled up in socks and sweaters. For those of us who live in Hawaii, that is always a joy. I cooked breakfast one morning, recruited by SIL1, and I made egg McBobs, named after her late husband. I brought along some hashbrowns and served those on the side. That night I made linguine with caramelized onions and yogurt sauce, a dish that is out of this world. I plan to cook the onions on our grill the next time I make this dish — that’s how many onions are in it.

While on the Big Island, a Costco Hawaii Kai manager called me with hours for the following week. I got 32 hours and Sunday, January 19, was my last day. I’m now waiting until February 19 to see if I get a permanent part-time gig. I had also been scheduled for a job interview for a full-time communications administration position, but I declined it. It felt too much like the soul-sucking experience I’m still recovering from. Stepping away from all that is a good idea. I’ll stick to the freelance writing, and, in the meantime, taking all the substitute teaching assignments I can.

Yesterday I taught 7th grade Social Studies, which focused on the Hawaiian Overthrow. How embarrassed I am at the behavior and arrogance of the men who dethroned Queen Liliuokalani. Many of these public school children are not white, many are of mixed race, and some are of Hawaiian descent. I’m not quite sure how much any of the students cared about the lesson, but they need to learn. Such lessons will hopefully create a better world. That’s why we need to learn our lessons.

Last Friday I taught kindergarten and it was the 100th day of school. So there was all kinds of 100 Day things to talk about. I felt a little bad for the teacher as 100 day is pretty special. The kids counted out 100 fruity o cereals and then strung them on red silk cords that I tied when they were done. I then put them in a plastic bag and ordered them to put them in their backpack (as instructed). Kindergartners are a trip. I was grateful that the school provided two helpers for the first hour (they spend the day taking turns in the K classes). I sometimes feel like I’m flying blind, but the day went well. I slept well that night!

Gearing up now for the start of triathlon training in about two weeks since I’m returning to Kona for the Ironman 70.3 on May 31. I’m actually resisting the urge to enter a lot of events this year. I think I might enter two or three before the 70.3. Staying low, invisible, unnoticed.

So this should do it for now.

BTW, I can’t figure out how to get photos off my MotoX with the WP app and onto the blog. Soon.

 

 

How best to begin a new year


I wrote my first check for 2014 without making a mistake. I thought that was pretty good. I waited a few days to let 2014 sink in, just to see what would happen if I held back. I have finally concluded that there is no point in making any pronouncements about what a new year will be for me. After 2013, how could I?

Yesterday I was herding carts in the best Hawaii weather: Breezy, low humidity and cool. I couldn’t ask for a better last day on carts as a seasonal Costco Hawaii Kai employee. While I was working I noticed a big woman running across the parking lot. Because I am a triathlete, I notice people who run and wonder if I’ve ever seen them while training or in a race. But I didn’t recognize her, and I realized she wasn’t running for exercise. She wore black capris and a T-shirt, her long, wavy brown hair blowing in the wind and she was carrying a backpack or something. She kept looking back, and then she ran to the Kiss and Ride, where I stopped paying attention. I then noticed a manager, phone to his ear, looking in the same direction.

Soon there were police cars in our lot. One blue-and-white stayed at the front door for what seemed like an hour. I guess that’s how long it takes to file a report. And maybe, because it was Saturday and the craziest day ever, the other officers hung out as a calming measure. You’d think it was the day before Christmas the way people poured into Costco to spend their money. The lot was crowded and tense, and for a handful of times, I heard conflicts and horns beeping over parking spaces.

I don’t know if we can say that she got away. In conversations with other cart crew members, I learned that teams of thieves come in with stolen bags they fill with stolen goods. If they get caught they can say it’s not their bag, so it’s not their crime. It can’t be that easy. I wondered if they give the things they steal as gifts or if they try to sell them. I wonder if they are stealing to fill the voids in their life.

New merchandise for 2014 includes luxuries, organic foods, gourmet goods and fancy libations. It’s all so very tempting. I often remark at the restraint of members who come in for milk and eggs and leave with milk, eggs, a bag of fresh spinach and a bottle of wine. Every day something new and interesting shows up at Costco. With my reduced income, it is easy to tune out the fancies and focus on the essentials.There are things I wish for, but I could never take them. When I sweep the floor I pop the dimes and pennies I find on a register counter, they wobble and spin and ring until they are silent, standing by, waiting to be slipped into a cash drawer. They are not mine, not even for a second.

For a minute I had empathy for an overweight woman running as fast as she could. When I realized what was going on, I thought how much better it is to run toward an honest goal than to run from a crime. Honey, that ain’t no way to begin a new year.

New Frontiers


Confess your passion, your secret fear. Prepare to meet the challenge of the new frontier.

– Donald Fagen, The New Frontier

I make it a point to grow where I am planted, to find the joy in each day, to try and keep a smile on my face here and in public. I know that if you fake it, you can eventually bake that smile onto your face and right into your psyche to become that go-to point of positivity for your world.

I had applied to work at Costco four times since I got shoved into the unemployment line back in April. Most big companies employ an on-line process to screen applicants, so this year I quickly got used to sending a piece of my soul into the Internets from three times a week to sometimes three times a day.

Good-bye cover-letter-resume-combo info packet…

Whenever I’d get a call for an interview, I’d get very happy and excited. If I got to meet with people, I could tell INSTANTLY whether it was going to happen. One time I was brave enough to say that I could tell this wasn’t going to work out, thanked them and left. In and out before the 30-minute free parking clock ran out. After a while you get really tired of the BS dance. Why fake it?

In under two hours after I sent my last application to Costco, I got a call from the store that’s less than 10 minutes from home. I had four interviews over a few days. I had to pass a background check and a drug test for a seasonal part-time position. With that kind of investment, I hope they hire me permanently. As a Costco shopper, I always thought it would be great to have a job like that. After having a job where my writing is OK one day but not the next, I was ready for a job that didn’t have me coming home each night demoralized and sad.

It’s been almost a month since I started and I’ve not worked less than 36 hours a week. I enjoy it, but it’s very hard. Some coworkers seem skeptical about my ability to cope with the workload. At first my legs would ache with the running around or standing at the tables folding merchandise, but the ache would be gone in the morning, thanks to my triathlon training. When I was sent out to round up carts from all over the parking lot, I got a feel for hard labor in the hot sun or pouring rain. I have graduated from pushing seven carts at a time to eight. I have a garbage bag hooked onto a belt loop, and I wear my garden gloves to make picking up the glop left in carts more bearable. I believe in hard work, and I enjoy the contemplation this job gives me. I’ve made a point of returning found items to the front desk, logging them in so someone can come in and claim it.

What I like about Costco is that no one is too good for any one job. And that makes it a hugely wonderful place to work — where the managers will join me outside because I can’t get carts to the front door fast enough. It’s a great problem to have — shoppers eager to spend and willing to wait by the front door as you approach with a few hundred pounds of steel on wheels.

This certainly has been a big change for me. Some of my old friends, former colleagues and fellow school moms see me at Costco and are stunned. Some old friends see me and just keep on going. It’s OK. I need to work but heck if I’m ever going to work at a job that doesn’t make me happy. With all the time we spend working, you might as well get a kick out of what you do. This is why I also decided to become a substitute teacher out here for East Oahu DOE schools. Talk about the new frontier. Kids are interesting and they need to know that. And I’m back to freelance writing, mostly getting published in Hawaii Business Magazine. It’s nice that somebody out there thinks I can string a few words together.

The Teacher is the Student


Unemployment has run out. I’m working at Costco Hawaii Kai as a seasonal hire, which I hope to turn into a permanent position in January when the job ends. I have never worked so hard in my life. I lift, push, pull and run. I clean bathrooms. I sell Versace handbags. I especially like running into friends and I also like when total strangers engage with me because of my name tag. So, I hope that will be a job I get to continue to enjoy. When I go to work my husband says, “Have a nice workout!”

The teacher's work table.

The teacher’s work table.

But I’m also doing something else. Upon advice from friends in the know, I revamped my resume yet again and attached it to copies of my substitute teacher certificate and evidence of passing my TB test. They also recommended that I hand deliver my resume to the schools I want to work at and request I be put on their preferred list. I did that this morning.

I went to three grammar schools in East Oahu: Koko Head, where I personally know the principal; to Kamiloiki, where I am an unknown; and to Hahaione, whose principal I know at a distance. I also went to Kaiser High. The acting principal, Justin Mew, signed my paperwork in August approving my enrollment in the course while he was the principal at Niu Valley Middle School.

And then I crossed my fingers. And I wondered if I would like being a substitute. I consider myself young at heart and a free spirit. How would that work with teenagers?

Unicorn bones.

Unicorn bones.

About 20 minutes after I dropped off my resume at Kaiser, I got a call from the art teacher asking me to come in because he was feeling sick. I stuttered, asked a few questions and said yes, throwing all of my other plans aside, even the one where I pick up Kid2 at school at 2:15.

Students' work.

Students’ work.

 

 

 

 

 

Art students. Talk about free spirits. As I waited in the room for them to show up, I looked around. I had to find out about emergency procedures, exits, bathrooms and room rules. I was fascinated by the work that surrounded me. This teacher is a proponent of expression without restriction. He encourages his students to work through the mistakes and to work the mistakes into the final work as those flaws speak to the artist and to the observer.

Talk about speaking to my heart! This is what has to happen to me? I get called on the spot and put in a classroom to learn how to relax and write?

Old style bikes and chickens.

Old style bikes and free-range chickens, the unofficial mascot of Kaiser HS.

As a writer I edit myself into a straight jacket. You know why.

The students were generally well behaved. I’m sure they took advantage of my newness, but I stayed engaged, walked around and observed while they painted, and wrote down in my notes to the teacher who did the work and who didn’t, just because.

My Second Tinman: It Gets Better


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After I finish an event, I’m mostly all smiles. You can’t tell my feet hurt, can you?

Before I got hooked on triathlons, I used to think how crazy triathletes must be — but I always admired them. I wanted to swim, bike, and run, too! Embarrassment about my weight kept me from trying. I also thought I was too old and getting back into shape would be hopeless. But that nagging “Why NOT?” kept popping up. Since my first try in 2012 at the Boca Hawaii Lanikai Triathlon, I’ve done a handful of triathlons, including a half Ironman (70.3) last month. Triathlons remind me of small-kid time. Swim, bike, run, repeat. Now I’m starting to repeat events and there’s no telling when I’ll stop.

Yesterday I completed my second Hawaii Tinman Triathlon. Here it is: Finishing the 2013 Hawaii Tinman Triathlon. Impressive, huh? LOL! I came in about five minutes faster than last year. I also came in a little higher up the age-group food chain at 6th place out of 17. I’m so used to being in the bottom third, so that was a very pleasant surprise!

The weather was perfect, but a bit junk for a 25-mile bike ride through East Oahu. I managed a pretty good swim of the 750-meters in under 18 minutes. The first transition, T1, was like the longest barefoot run ever! Once on my bike, I could gain composure as that is my favorite event in a triathlon. Before I reached the top of Diamond Head Road, I saw somebody fixing a tire. There were a few more competitors along the bike route having to do the same. Blustery and rainy weather dislodges all kinds of crap from the road that can puncture a tire in an instant. And it is no fun to change a tire in the pouring rain. I’ve been extremely lucky in this instance. I got back to the staging area for T2 with a bike ride that was about five minutes faster than last year’s. I popped off my helmet, changed my sunglasses, put on socks and shoes, grabbed a gel and a swig of my Infinit Lavagal sport drink, and headed for the hills. My average running pace was 13-minute miles for the 10k. Yes, that’s slow for everyone else, but not bad for me. I had to do a little bit of walking, but I finished hard and fast. I hope that next year I’ll finish in under three hours. My 2012 time was 03:10:17. My 2013 time was 03:05:15.

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Exiting the swim in front of a guy who took off in the wave before me. Booyah!

How did I get here?

Kristin “KC” Carlberg helped me find my comfort zone with her company, TryFitness, which is dedicated to helping women of all shapes and sizes achieve their personal fitness goals. If you think this might be you or someone you know, follow the link and begin an incredible journey. Orientations include women from all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes, aged 20-something to senior retirees. The one thing in common is that we all want a push, we all want accountability. Without it I wouldn’t ride my bicycle up Sierra Heights Drive or Pineapple Hill, I wouldn’t take on open-ocean swims, and I would never jog more than a trot. Squeeze my body into a spandex trisuit? Two years ago that would have been a whole lotta nope.

Now it’s yes. Yesterday I sent a message to Oahu’s premier sporting event organizer Chris Gardner and told him a weekend without hearing his voice on a bullhorn is boring. It’s true. I’m addicted to participating in all of these active events that help me realize personal goals. I’m rarely on the podium, but my personal victories are immeasurable. And I am so very fortunate that my husband gets up a few minutes before me each time to brew espresso shots and then join me as we drive at the pre-butt-crack-of-dawn to the starting line, camera in tow.

My abs are not ripped, I drink wine, and I can’t stand doing planks. I’m unemployed, STILL, and I believe training and participating in these events helps me feel a sense of accomplishment and gives me confidence as I inquire about jobs. In fact, yesterday as I was doing the Tinman run, I thought to myself how I really want to translate these personal achievements into plusses as I approach my personal intersection of joy: Happy family, satisfying job, physical fitness, and emotional balance. It gets better with each step I take. It gets better. I just need a personal conversion table.

Whole Hearted, Half Assed.

Gallery


I wish I had a tech T-shirt that said “I’d Rather be Riding my Road Bike,” that I could wear while running. That way everyone who saw me running wouldn’t think I was putting in a half-assed effort but that … Continue reading