Highlight of My Trip to Hawaii

The highlight of my trip to Hawaii was the 30+ mile bike ride that we took one morning with Dr. Gupta and Ironman champ Chris Lieto.  We rode from our resort into Kona, stopping at mile 25 to tape some TV stuff and go for a short run.  Obviously, completing the ride was a big deal.  But, at the risk of sounding too cliche, it was the journey and not the destination that made that day so important to me.

About 12 of us left the resort as a group, and by the time we were a few miles into the adventure, ability divided us into smaller pockets of riders.  I was soon left in the dust by Lieto and Gupta as they powered up the hills along the busy (and very windy) Queen K highway — part of the actual Ironman course.  I kept pressing forward as I saw my teammates red jerseys get farther and farther away, until they were gone.  When I finally got the courage to look behind me, I didn’t see anyone there either.  I was a one-man Hawaiian wolfpack, on a bike, hoping I’d find the correct turn before I circled the whole island.  Just me and the hills.

We had taken a shorter adventure on the same route the day before, so when I stopped recognizing things I looked down at my Garmin and realized I forgot to start it when we pulled out.  I had no idea how far I had gone or how many miles were left in front of me.  I just knew that the turn I was taking was a mile or two past the airport. Other than that … I could only keep going and be patient.

The long hills prevented me from getting a good view of what was ahead of me, and my nerves kept me from turning around.  All I had was my immediate surroundings.

It sucked.

Those hills were loooooong.  It was hot.  My legs were killing me. Other parts were sore.  I thought about stopping, but never wanted to stop on a hill because that meant I’d have to start on a hill, which would definitely be far worse than the immediate discomfort.  I would tell myself ‘just reach the top of this hill, then take a break.’  I’d reach the top, and see a bit of downhill road so decide to just keep going.  This conversation would repeat itself with every hill. Sometimes, I would have it out loud, and it would involve profanity. At those times, in particular, I was glad I was alone.

One by one, hill by hill, I made my way down the Queen K highway.  No interest in looking behind me, and no idea how much farther I had to go.  I would pour all my strength into the tough uphills, giving myself pep talks and looking forward to the summit.  The downhill sides of each climb were spent praising myself for the most recent battle and resting for the next one.  At one point, I realized I had my iPhone, which has navigation, and I could see how much longer I had to travel.  I didn’t want to know.  Someone told me that triathlon can be 80% mental … and I learned that along that highway.  I literally talked myself down that road.  It was agonizing and there were times I was going to stop.  But for some reason, I just kept going.

I came over the top of one particularly steep hill, and instead of seeing the glorious downward slope I was expecting, I saw a short stretch of flat road and another hill.  I remember cursing and decided that I was stopping for a break.

But then, a sign.  A beautiful beacon appeared in the sky, my own North star, guiding me to my salvation.  I was saved.

It was a commercial airliner coming in for a landing.  The airport was near.

And with that added motivation, a sense of calm washed over me and I found the energy, motivation, and passion to keep going.  I was able to easily pedal to the first meeting point.

I couldn’t see my destination, but I knew it was there.  I worked hard when I needed to, but I also enjoyed the easy stretches of road.  I didn’t spend much time looking behind me … what’s back there can’t be changed and isn’t important.  And when I needed a sign, I recognized it and used it to propel me forward.

I focused hard on where I needed to be and I got there.  It was sweaty and ugly at times, but I never stopped and I got there.

The destination was beautiful, the journey was amazing … but the awareness that every hill brings with it a gift – maybe a downhill slope to coast along, maybe a better view from the top, maybe a nice calm and cooling breeze – was the most valuable part of my 32-mile ride along the Ironman course.  And the part that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Mahalo, Hawaii.