Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Crossing

It started to feel like a dream before it was even over, and by Monday evening I could sit on the beach and wonder did that all really happen? Did I really just do that?

I was nervous all week, but by Friday I was pumped. Bouncing off the walls pumped. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep ... but all it took was half a pound of pasta to knock me out totally. I'd set my alarm for 4:15am, but was awake by 4:05. I grabbed my bags and paddle and headed into Waikiki. It was still dark. All the best adventures lately seem to start here, in the dark, before the rest of the world is moving.

I was on the first charter to Moloka`i. When the second arrived we hopped on a wheezing school bus and headed to Hale o Lono harbor. We rigged our boats, and got our first glimpse of the other canoes and crews. We're just a regular crew, working guys, but now we'd be paddling with A-List teams from all over the world. There were over a hundred canoes at the harbor, from Brasil, Tahiti, the Mainland, Italy ... it was a sight.

The day went fast. Like all dreams, it's left more a series of images in my mind than a strict narrative. We lined up at sunset for our oli. A kupuna leading us through traditional protocols. Waking up again in the dark to head to the harbor. Setting the boat in the water, and paddling out with the other 110 canoes to the starting line up. Watching our offering drift for a few seconds before being swallowed by the waves.

And then paddling out to sea, with helicopters filming and hundreds of escort boats tailing us.

All five of us novices were in one crew: Chris, Scott, Kapena, Phil, myself. It was nice arriving at this point together. We missed Eli, who was out with an injury. Geoff and Ray steered. We picked up a guy from New Zealand to round us out.

I sat in for two changes. We were well past the point and heading to the open sea before I took my first break. I was feeling strong - I had timed everything right after all. I felt like I could paddle all day.

We had fallen pretty far behind the main pack early on in the crossing. The waves weren't huge, but it was like a washing machine - the swells came from different directions, and there wasn't much we could surf on. We had one line-up where we came up and passed a few canoes, but we lost ground later on.

It's a strange and amazing feeling to paddle a boat out to a horizon where you can't see what's on the other end. I'd been in denial that I would actually do the Moloka`i Hoe (I'll go to practice, but I wasn't committing to that). Now that I was here, in the middle of it, I realized that all the last six months of training were coming together here, now, on this one day.

And then, somewhere in the channel, I started to feel light-headed. I wasn't sure what it was at first. I was hydrated, and wasn't thirsty. It wasn't hot. My pulse was ok. I was breathing fine. But then I suddenly couldn't remember which way to hold my paddle. This wasn't a good sign. But I couldn't tell what was wrong, why I was feeling this way ... and then my stomach went flip inside out, and I tossed.

Doh. I haven't been seasick all year, and I naively thought that maybe I was over it. I was wrong. And this was a bad time to find out.

Next change. I swam to the boat as fast as I could. Downed a gatorade. Tossed it back up. Damn.

And that was the story for the next couple hours. Seasickness comes in cycles. You toss, and then feel really, really good for a spell. Maybe ten minutes. Then you feel average. Then the nausea returns. I timed it - the full cycle takes 30 to 40 minutes, and I cycled through this five times at least. I had to lie down on the escort boat, and so missed one change. I was pretty delirious, although I had no option but too paddle.

Lorna asked if I was ok to get back in. Part of me though, just play dead. Instead I jumped up and said I wanted to paddle. And I did. We came too far, and I couldn't let anyone else pull my weight. So I'd paddle hard for my sets, and then pass out in between. I did the second half of the crossing in a complete delirium.

And then, finally, I got control of my body back. I remember swimming to the escort boat and telling Lorna, ok, I'm back. And I felt pretty amazing again for the last hour or so.

It wasn't the hardest race we've done physically - the Big Boy Iron used me and spat me out. This was the longest, though, and by far the most mental.

And I'm already for next year.

(We finished 104 out of 110, and were only a couple minutes behind a half-dozen canoes. Total time: 6 hours 45 minutes. Not bad for what I'm sure was the least experienced boat out there! The Tahitians blew everyone away, again).

This week I've been useless. No gym, no yoga, no nothing. I go home, make myself a Manhattan, and watch all the tv shows online that I've missed over the past year. I'm caught up on Ugly Betty, watched the entire season of 30 Rock, and just started on Friday Night Lights.

Tonight is the Neighborhood Board ... life moves on. I'm pumped and ready for battle!

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