Monday, April 28, 2014

Cycling: West Maui II

We left the condo at 7:00 yesterday morning to once again attempt the West Maui loop ride. We had set out to do this once before, but were turned back after we had ridden 37 miles due to road paving.

We arrived at our jumping off place about 40 minutes later and proceeded to unpack our bikes from the car. The skies were overcast, but the weather forecast looked promising.

We had decided to start in Lahaina so that our legs would be fresher for the hill work that we knew was coming. As we rode north and then east, I wondered whether the weather forecast was accurate. It looked like it might pour any minute. As it happened, however, we were able to complete the ride with no rain, although it was obvious by the number of rocks on the road and the standing water in places that the areas we were riding through had recently experienced a torrential downpour.

The first big challenge was what is commonly referred to among cyclists on the island as "the wall" - a hill with an 18% grade. The first time we rode up this hill during our 75-mile accidental odyssey, I had to get off my bike for the last third of the hill. Yesterday, however, I was able to make it all the way to the top, using what I call my "Zen" method for climbing challenging hills, i.e., focus on the pavement immediately in front of the bike and keep peddling.

These two pictures, above and below, show the "wall," rising steeply from right to left.

This is the place we got to on our previous ride. The road up and out of this little cove can be seen cut into the side of the hill, both in this photo and the one below.

The view as we approached Wailuku. The mouth of the valley in the middle of the island is visible, as well as the lower slopes of Haleakala.

Once we reached Wailuku, we knew all of our hill work was behind us. We had a burger at McDonalds, then set out across the valley, then up to Lahaina. 60 miles in total. It had been a good day. We did it.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Life's a Beach

We haven't been doing much the last few days except a bit of cycling and relaxing on the beach. We started an upcountry ride the other day, but my body was having none of it that day. Yesterday, we went for a 20-mile ride and then cancelled it all out by going for breakfast at the Kihei Caffe, where we shared an omelette and a stack of pancakes with pineapple and coconut topping. Decadent. 

This was the first time we have eaten out since arriving here. We started going to the Caffe a couple of years ago, and it became sort of a tradition. But yesterday was the last time. If we ever come to Maui again, no more Kihei Caffe. It's just not worth how we feel afterwards.

Which brings up the subject of food, which has been on my mind. I've started writing a post about my relationship with food and exercise throughout my life, but I am still cogitating about what I want to say and how I want to say it. 

Otherwise, we've just been hanging out on Little Beach, and it's been very relaxing. If I haven't mentioned it so far, Little Beach is a "clothing optional" beach. I wrote several posts about it a couple of years ago, two of which can be found here and here. That was the first time I came to Hawaii/Maui, and everything around me was a revelation, providing lots of material for my blogging. Last year, by contrast, I didn't publish a single post about our spring trip here, mainly because we had just found out about Mark's cancer diagnosis, and I really didn't feel like writing.

Our days here are counting down now. We've given up the notion of riding up Haleakala as simply unrealistic at this stage of our training. We do, however, intend to ride the West Maui loop (65 miles) on Sunday. Meanwhile, there's more reading to be done ... 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Landscape of Maui ... and of Cancer

We got back on our bikes yesterday and rode the half-century (50 miles) that we had planned to do the day we ended up going on our 75-mile odyssey. The route took us up past Lahaina to Napili, where we turned around and headed back.

We took these two pictures at our turn-around point

We had a bit of a headwind heading up the coast, but there was also a strong crosswind coming down out of the mountains. So, our ride back was also fairly challenging at times. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sunny morning. The lead photo, above, was taken just as we were heading back into Lahaina, and the one below was taken further down the coast.

The most interesting incident of the ride, apart from trying not to get blown off our bikes near the end, occurred when we went through a tunnel (pictured below) a few miles from our starting point.

This is an older picture, taken from the Internet. They now have caution lights that cyclists can activate on either side of the tunnel. On our way back, Mark stopped to activate the light while I proceeded cautiously into the tunnel. About halfway through, I spotted something lying directly across our path, and it didn't take long to identify what it was - a pitchfork. That was a first. 

We made it to Little Beach around 2:00 and spent the rest of the afternoon there. It was sunny and hot, making the ocean that much more refreshing.

It has been a wonderful day, but - like many days - something happened that reminded me that Mark has inoperable cancer. Even though he cycles and is in excellent health (except for the cancer, that is), I am constantly aware (some days more than others) that the day will eventually come when he will no longer be able to do this. Every day becomes precious, but occasionally things happen that make me remember this.

Like yesterday. It was a little thing. We had toasted each other with our traditional cocktail on the beach and, for some reason which I now no longer recall, we reached out our left hands to look at our wedding bands - and Mark's wasn't there. I felt like I had, somewhere inside of me, fallen through a trap door. As irrational as it was, the thought of Mark having lost his ring sent me into panic mode. The symbolism was too strong, and it momentarily overwhelmed me. I felt like something precious - the memories of choosing the rings in San Francisco, the memories of our commitment ceremony, the many times we had held out our hands to look at our rings - were suddenly gone. As I say, the symbolism was too strong, and it deeply effected me.

But Mark said he thought, he was pretty sure, he had taken his ring off and set it on the bedside table - that it wasn't lying at the bottom of the ocean somewhere. Sure enough, when we got back to the condo and looked, there it was.

It was such a little thing, yet not a little thing. This is the landscape of cancer. My landscape. Our landscape. Even though we are in Maui for three weeks and have plans to do more traveling, we know that the day will come when we will not be able to do this. We are making memories. We are spending precious time together. We are making up for decades of not being together, of living in our respective closets for most of our lives. 

People have sometimes said to Mark, "Wow! That's great that you are able to do this traveling, etc. I'm envious." Though he doesn't verbalize his response, he sometimes thinks in his mind, "Yeah? Do you want to trade?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chilling With Mark and Michelangelo

This picture is for Nathan

Our Easter Sunday started out with a short bike ride and an Easter brunch at McDonalds consisting of two sausage patties and a hash brown (Mark didn't eat anything). We sat out on their lovely balcony overlooking the parking lot, watching a momma chicken and her chicks parade back and forth until the dog belonging to the guests at the adjacent table began to chase them. Afterwards, we sauntered over to the flea market next door for a leisurely stroll through the stands. It was lovely.

Below our lanai on Sunday morning

Later, we headed out to Big Beach. We always go to Big Beach on Sundays because of the Drum Circle held every Sunday evening on Little Beach. (I wrote about it here.) It was windy, but we were able to find a spot further back from the water where some vegetation served as a wind break. Later in the afternoon, when the winds calmed down, we moved out close to the water.

As these pictures indicate, it got a bit chilly in the late afternoon. It had been overcast most of the day,
so we brought along our jackets.

We had extremely good intentions of going on a serious bike ride yesterday (Monday) morning. We left the condo at 7:00 a.m. and drove over to Paia, but it was raining and extremely windy. Seeing it was somewhat sunnier over in West Maui, we then drove over there, but it was also extremely windy there also and it had started raining. So, we headed back to the condo, having spent two hours attempting to find a place to ride. Ironically, when we got back to Lahaina, the sun was shining and the winds were calm.

This satellite image of Maui gives a nice perspective of where we have been cycling. We are staying in Wailea
and the blue arrow indicates where Little Beach and Big Beach are. West Maui is the smaller part of island,
whereas Haleakala dominates the larger part of the island. Pa'ia is the jumping off point for our upcountry rides.

We then headed out to Little Beach and spent a lovely morning and afternoon there simply reading. I felt it was the most relaxing day of our vacation so far. The skies were clear and sunny, the water was fairly calm. There was a breeze, but no wind blasts to speak of. It was wonderful.

I am now over a third of the way through The Agony and the Ecstasy, and I am trying my best not to keep picturing Michelangelo as Charlton Heston.* Applying consciousness, I'm sure I can succeed. I am going to replace that image with this one from the TV Series, Borgia:

(*For those younger readers, Charlton Heston - of Ten Commandments and Ben Hur fame - played the part of Michelangelo in the movie version of The Agony and the Ecstasy.)

I have enjoyed reading this book. Among other things, it has brought back memories of my freshman year of college at Illinois Wesleyan University when I was placed in a two-semester, third-year level Humanities class that was required of all students prior to graduation. The course was essentially a history of the art and culture of Western civilization. 

It was in this class that I was introduced to Homer, Plato, Seneca, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante and many other writers and works of literature, art and music. It was here when I was introduced the wonder of the Renaissance and to the concept of "Humanism." There was a part of me that responded very deeply to what I was being exposed to. It was magical.

Me in Rome in 1982

Alas, I later turned away from all of this as being too "impractical" (and, in my mind, a bit too "gay"), and I set my course toward something that would be more practical and provide a living. For 30 years, I read almost nothing besides church books and some history. Then I came out and went looking for that person, that part of me, that I had left behind so many years ago. 

I expressed regret to Mark yesterday that I had not read a single New York Times bestseller (other than the Harry Potter books) for the previous 30 years, that I had shut myself off from culture and literature during that time. Wisely, lovingly, he pointed out that I have the rest of my life ahead of me to learn, explore and grow. I am not dead; rather, I am being reborn. I have gone, and am continuing to go through, a renaissance of my own.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cycling the Kula Highway

We got back on our bikes yesterday, driving to near Makawao, then setting off from there up the Kula Highway. We had ridden the first five or six miles of this route the other day, but the rest of it was new to us.

It is amazing to see the difference between the "upcountry" and the resort areas down along the coast. As we cycled through the first part of the ride, the thought came to me that I could easily be in the rolling hills of eastern Ohio, with the farmland, the fields and the intense greenery. Of course, the vegetation is different, but the feel is the same.

Taking a picture of nasturtiums alongside the road. Butterflies were all over the place in this section of the ride.

Then, when we passed Kula's answer to a convenience store (pictured below), we entered what we dubbed "the Shire." Suddenly, after passing through some forested "borderlands,"we felt like we could be somewhere in Tolkien's Shire, or in Wales or Ireland, with intensely green fields and meadows and lava rock walls that brought to mind the stone fences of the British Isles.

A selfie I took while riding.

This was also a very challenging part of the ride because it was quite hilly. Not big hills, but up and down and up and down. 

The biggest climb, as the graph above shows, was climbing to the Kula convenience store. However, it was a very gradual climb and not taxing at all. It was the stuff in between that was the most challenging for me, especially when we were on our way back through the Shire. By then, the temperature had risen and there was no breeze, let alone wind. It became very hot. I was surprised, yet not surprised to look at the temperature chart for the ride (below).

View toward the ocean as we passed out of the Shire

Beyond the Shire, the landscape became very different. Lots of lava rock fields, barren, windswept, strong winds. This is where Mark took the lead photo, above.

We turned around at the 20-mile mark and headed back, stopping for a bite to eat at small deli alongside the road before entering the Shire. This trip back through the Shire was taxing. It was interesting to look at the temperature chart and see that it climbed almost 20 degrees while re-crossing the Shire. I was suddenly sweating like crazy and could really feel the heat. 

When we got back to the Kula convenience store, I needed to cool down. Mark rode ahead while I sat outside the store for 10 minutes or so. Refreshed, I then took off, and it was pretty much downhill all the way.

When we got back to the car, a fellow pulled up alongside and started up a conversation, asking if we were runners, where we were from, etc. He introduced himself as "Spinner," and it was immediately obvious that he was a bit eccentric, another Maui character. But quite friendly. He proceeded to tell us that there would be a sunrise Easter service in the field next to us at 6:00 the next day and invited us to attend. We politely declined.

Spinner smiled and wished us a Happy Easter, and then pulled on into the field next to us. Then he walked back over to us and started up another conversation, telling us that he had been involved in his own HIV-awareness "ministry" for 30 years. You never know the stories that lie behind human faces.

Spinner. What a happy guy.

Friday, April 18, 2014


My husband. 

After being gone for eight hours on our ride on Wednesday, we weren't up for much but a quick trip to Big Beach (about 6-7 miles from our condo) for sunset. It was great to just sit, i.e., not move ... at all.

Yesterday was a rest day, so we spent several hours in the morning and again in late afternoon-evening on Little Beach. I didn't even feel up to a game of paddleball. I was still recovering from the previous day's ride. But it was nice to just sit and read, then hang out with friends.

My new beach book

Mark feeding birds on the beach last night

I'm still in recovery this morning. Something I ate for dinner definitely did not agree with me. Either that or I've picked up some sort of bug. Mark went out for a ride this morning by himself while I have spent most of the last five hours on the living room couch - and the bathroom. Hopefully, this afternoon will be better and I'll be able to get back on my bike tomorrow.

In the meantime, back to Michelangelo ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Unintentional 75-Mile Cycling Odyssey

We were out of the condo yesterday morning at 8:00, proud of ourselves for getting an early start on our bike ride. The plan was that we do a half-cenetury (50 miles, a century being 100 miels). We would start at Maalaea and ride past Lahaina and the Ka’apali coast to Kalapua, then return to Maalaea. 

The ride up was ok, but there was a fair bit of head and cross wind, which I’ve given up complaining about. The weather was good except that we got briefly showered by a misty rain that the wind had blown down out of the mountains. Overhead was a sunny blue sky, but we were getting wet nonetheless. I was looking forward to that 25-mile ride back with a nice tail wind pushing us along.

When we got to the 25-mile mark – which coincidentally was a scenic overlook – I saw Mark fiddling with his phone while I took pictures. He then walked over to me and showed me what was on his phone, which was a map of West Maui that indicated where we were. He was smiling, expectantly. I was not: I immediately understood that he was suggesting we go all the way around West Maui, making for a 66-mile ride (a metric century).

I had no idea what Mark was up to when I took this picture at the 25-mile mark.

My instincts told me to say no. I had been looking forward the whole way up to turning around and enjoying that nice tail wind. Fifty miles was definitely a respectable ride. We didn’t really know what the road ahead of us would be like. We hadn’t prepared for a metric century.

But then there was Mark’s smile, and I didn’t want to come across as a party pooper. As if to sweeten the deal, he said, smiling, “I’ll make it worth your while." 

While this was going on, I had noticed a couple of state employees in the background working on securing a stop sign. They got in their truck and started to leave, whereupon I motioned that I wanted to ask them a question. They stopped and rolled down their window. We came up and asked about the road beyond. They replied that there was one “steep hill,” but after that it was rolling; and the wind shouldn’t be a factor, they said.

So that clinched it. We would attempt it.

The scenery was magnificent. But the road was proving hillier than I would have thought. And when we got to the “steep hill,” I hit the wall – the first of a number of such occasions on that ride. In one sense, I literally did “hit the wall,” because the grade on that hill had to have been at least 20% if not more. I was forced to do something I’ve never done before – get off my bike and walk up the last 100 yards of the ascent. Needless to say, this did not help the mood I was in.

Mark charged on up the hill. To avoid a heart attack - or so I imagined - I felt like I had to pull over and walk the last bit.

This was the view looking down the hill
What the guy had referred to as “rolling” was actually descending and climbing through what I guess would be called “headlands.” We would descend into a ravine or cove, then climb back up the other side, and this went on for 10 miles. Plus there was most definitely a headwind. I was hating that ride, even though it was one of the most beautiful rides I have ever been on.

I was reminded of a day on the cycling tour we took in September 2012 on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea (which I wrote about here). Part of that ride was through similar landscape, in that we rode up and down ravines for what seemed like miles and miles, all the while searching for a place to have lunch. Similarly, yesterday, there was no sign of civilization to speak of. No towns, no hamlets, nowhere to get some food.

The "restaurant" where we stopped for lunch.

Finally, at 37 miles, we ran across a food truck parked on a spectacular bluff or promontory. The menu was extremely limited, none of which appealed to us, so we each got a Diet Coke and sat down for a rest. Mark got up at one point, and I soon heard him talking to the guy in the food truck. It sounded like he was asking about road conditions and whether the terrain became flatter down the road.

Those questions, it turned out, were irrelevant. The road, we discovered, was closed five miles beyond where we then were. We would have no choice but to go back the way we had come, making for a 75-mile ride. A 75-mile ride! Last year, our longest training ride was 72 miles – and that was toward the end of the summer, just before we rode the Marin County Century (100 miles) north of San Francisco. 

Pictures I took from the promontory where he had "lunch"

This was one of those instances where I simply had to bow in the face of circumstances that were beyond my control. So after sitting and staring into space for a few minutes, I got up and mounted my bike. As I did so, I was reminded of the day that Mark found out that he had prostate cancer. 

I remembered when the call came (just over a year ago) and how, after he had hung up, he sat at his desk and stared out of the window for a number of minutes. He had encountered something that was totally beyond his control. He had no choice but to move forward through something that was unknown and frightening. 

Similarly, on that windy bluff, despite all my bitching and moaning during the previous 10 miles, I had no choice but to accept the circumstances. It wasn’t a matter of whether I could do the rest of the ride; I had to do the rest of the ride. And with that acceptance came resignation and peace.

Mark took this picture of me having my "come to self" moments on the bluff

As we retraced our route, I set in my mind the goal of getting back to the original half-way mark. It was a tough ride for both of us, but we made it. Then my next goal was to get to the McDonalds we had seen another five miles or so back toward Lahaina. By then, we would have ridden approximately 55 miles, fueled by a couple of eggs at breakfast and a Diet Coke. As it turned out, however, I could only eat a little more than half my Quarter Pounder and down some more Diet Coke. 

We then set out on the last 20 miles of the ride. Unfortunately, the wind had shifted during the day and we found ourselves facing yet another fairly stiff headwind. But we made it, with Mark “pulling me” most of the way. (Pulling is a cycling term that refers to a rider riding in front of one or more riders to creat a wind block, making it easier for the rider(s) behind (a process called “drafting”). 

“Monumental!” Mark exclaimed as we got in the car. (Mark has much more of a sense than I do of competing against himself, seeing what he is capable of doing, how far he can stretch himself. Me, not so much. He’s been an athlete for most of his life; I haven’t.) “The fact that we rode 75 miles on April 16th (i.e., that early in the season), is monumental!” And, um, yeah, there was also that total of 4100 feet we climbed.

Yeah, well, it was over. That was my main thought. But … it had truly been one of the most beautiful rides we have ever been on. And we had made it.