Monday, March 31, 2008

leap of faith.

aloha from hawaii! (I blame the long period of silence since my last blog entry on polynesian paralysis.)

D and I left the ice on 17 february -- our first trip on the same C-17. we had always deployed and redeployed on separate flights, so it was fun to experience it together for once. our flight left right on time and we were in christchurch by early evening. the flights after ours, scheduled for the 19th, 21st, and 23rd, weren't so lucky. they were victims of various weather delays, and the final summer pax didn't depart pegasus field until the 25th.

on this trip to NZ, I was determined to see more of the south island than I had before, so D and I rented the world’s cutest hatchback (painted a lovely sinus-infection color) and headed north to maruia springs, a japanese-style hot springs resort nestled in a green valley.

next stop was nelson, where we set up D’s tent in a hostel’s backyard. we spent the next few days lazing around, exploring abel tasman and farewell spit, knitting, watching movies on the laptop, and generally recovering from six-day workweeks.

D did most of the driving, which I was thankful for – I can drive on the left side if I have to, but I was nervous that I would forget and go barreling into the wrong lane, which would probably be cause for at the very least a dirty look and maybe a rotten kiwifruit lobbed in my direction. I kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn indicator, which was embarrassing. on the way back to christchurch we stopped in punakaiki to see the famed pancake rocks, curious geologic formations that resemble stacks and stacks of pancakes piled onto each other. I started to think about breakfast foods and of course then I got hungry, so we had to leave.

after my first season on the ice, I hiked the banks peninsula track, a 35-km trail that originates and ends in akaroa on the south island. the track can be hiked in either two or four days, and in the interest of time I had done the two-day option. it was pleasantly rigorous and the two huts I stayed at were quaint and comfortable, but I made up my mind to someday return and do the four-day option to take in the stunning views at a more leisurely pace and to stay in all four huts. D hadn’t hiked it before (not properly, anyway – he had hiked most of the peninsula’s roads but hadn’t seen a lot of the coastline), so we signed up to do the track from 25 – 28 february.

it could not have been a more perfect hike. the weather was absolutely gorgeous, the views were just as ridiculously breathtaking as I’d remembered, the other two huts were something out of a dream, and our fellow hikers (five older kiwis from the north island) provided great conversation and company in the evenings.

being middle-aged, they would start out early in the mornings to get a head start, but D and I would inevitably pass them by 9:30 or so. there was lots of good-natured ribbing about this and also the fact that D was diligently working on a knitting project during the downtimes. one of the kiwi blokes, a guy named ross, took every opportunity to poke fun at D (in a chummy way) about his feminine qualities. D took no heed and produced a very respectable hat knit in stockinette stitch with a one-inch, 2x2 ribbed trim at the bottom and a pom-pom on top.

in the evenings, we would settle into our huts, cook up a simple meal and open a bottle of wine (available on an honor basis from the tiny stores that also sold staples like bread, milk, eggs, meat and canned goods). there were tree swings and bathtubs under the stars, dips in the cold southern ocean and hunting for clams on the beach. it was a perfect four days.

upon reaching akaroa, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to christchurch to meet up with megan and susie, who had just come off the ice. the four of us flew up to auckland and checked into a seaside cabin at orewa beach, a holiday community north of the city.

the weather was marginal for the next few days, but not to worry – we located the town’s one yarn store and went crazy. the four of us could not have been happier stuck inside the tiny cabin, drinking endless cups of tea, eating biscuits and working on our respective projects. the ducks that frequented the holiday park would waddle up onto the deck and even into the cabin looking for a handout, and ducks are inherently funny creatures, so we were never at a loss for cheap entertainment.

the real reason we were killing time in auckland was because – thanks to my friend benny, who plays bass guitar for santana – we had guest passes to the santana show on 4 march! as if this wasn’t enough, benny treated us all to thai food the night before, where I presented him with some proper antarctic schwag in return – a hat from the south pole and an icestock t-shirt. he was very excited and promised to wear the shirt on stage the following night. sure enough, when we showed up at the vector arena for the concert, he walked onstage sporting his antarctic finery.

it was an amazing show – full of blistering solos by benny and his bandmates, infectious afro-caribbean rhythms, and the unbelievable musicianship of carlos santana himself – but the icing on the cake was backstage access after the show. benny graciously introduced us around, and we were properly starstruck – but the band members were acting like WE were the celebrities, having just come from antarctica!

here we are, L-R:
drummer dennis chambers
bassist benny rietveld (

the band manager even expressed interest in getting the band down to the ice for a concert. perhaps I will have to go back for another season after all.

here is benny modeling the latest in antarctic concert t-shirt fashion.

coming down off the santana concert high, we then took off for three days on the coromandel peninsula east of auckland, an area reputed to have the best beaches in the southern hemisphere. some family friends, john and juanita, maintain a holiday home (or ‘bach,’ as they are called in NZ) there and had invited us to come check out these beaches for ourselves. we were only too happy to oblige.

john and juanita proved the consummate hosts, stuffing us full of food and wine, introducing us around their holiday community, pointing out such essentials as the hammock and the lounge chairs, taking us to a private beach accessible only by a fifteen-minute hike, and providing scintillating conversation. in return, we duly told them more than they had ever wanted to know about life on the ice.

all too soon, the three days were over, and as we packed up our car to leave, john mournfully said We didn’t know what we were going to do with you before you got here, and now we can’t imagine what we’re going to do without you.

truly some of the best people I know.

back in auckland, we said goodbye to susie and megan and flew off to sydney for a week and a half in australia. D attended ‘uni’ in wollongong for a semester and still has a number of good friends in the area, so we crashed with some mates of his before flying off to perth. a highlight of our time was a rugby game at aussie stadium – my first! D’s friend cameron is the strength and conditioning trainer for the sydney warratahs, and we were able to get tickets through his connections. I found rugby much more exciting than regular old american gridiron football, and more complicated than soccer. a very entertaining evening.

the next day we flew to perth to visit with my friends marilyn and allen, as well as marilyn’s son scottie, a chef who is staying with them while looking for work in australia. marilyn was feeling stronger and looking better than a year ago, when she had recently completed several months’ worth of cancer treatments, and it was a joy to see her back to her old vibrant self.

the three of them treated us to a week of gourmet meals, leisurely beach time (they live two blocks from the indian ocean, which was much warmer than the water in NZ), knitting tips for me and D, and day trips to nearby sights.

we picnicked at serpentine falls and made friends with the local kangaroos; and took in a sculpture exhibition at cottesloe beach; but the highlight of the week was a visit to penguin island, a nature reserve where marilyn volunteers.

penguin island is home to several orphaned fairy (or little) penguins, the smallest penguins in the world. we got to see them being fed and then strolled around the island viewing the other wildlife. it was clear to us that this was a very dear place to marilyn, and it was truly magical – a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the real world, where the birds would practically eat out of your hand.

our time in perth at a much-too-soon end, we flew back to sydney and took a day trip to kiama, a lovely little seaside town south of wollongong (where D had attended a semester of uni). we spent several hours dipping our feet in the salt-water swimming pool, strolling around the quaint downtown area, and soaking up the local ambience (mostly in the form of meat pies).

as the crowning touch to a great trip, we were able to get an audience with one of the world’s newest people, my friends doug and belinda's six-day-old son finn. he was charming, debonair, well-versed in the various nutritional properties and benefits of breast milk, and only pooped once (to my knowledge) while I was holding him. what an absolute cutie.

on the 19th, it was off to hawaii for a few weeks with my family. today is the 31st, and it’s been nothing but mellow good times with friends and rellies (including susie, who stayed with us for four days), swimming adventures with tate, house-sitting for my sister’s boss high above honolulu in st. louis heights, catching up with pals (old for me, new for D), lots of potlucks, and – now for something completely different – my first skydiving experience.

as an end-of-season thank you gift, myrna and christina had gifted me with a skydive. I was touched and suspicious all at the same time. what does it mean when your co-workers tell you to jump out of an airplane? anyway, I didn’t want to read too far into the gesture, so we set up the appointment for monday the 24th. christina and her boyfriend brian would be meet us there. susie didn’t want to jump (she had done it once before) and so she would be the event’s documentarian.

we met out at dillingham airfield, on the western point of o'ahu, bright and early. it was perfect weather -- clear and sunny with very little wind. we checked in, signed about sixteen pages of legal waivers, and met our tandem instructors to get into our harnesses. after a short briefing, we walked out to the strip.

our airplane was a tiny twin-otter-like craft, with two benches and a rolling door. all four of us went tandem, so there were eight of us in the airplane. we trundled fast down the airstrip with the door open. my instructor, jason, rolled it shut just before takeoff, placing himself precariously close to the opening. I didn't know whether to be terrified or relieved that this was such a casual affair.

D and his instructor jumped out first. they went to the door of the plane and -- POOF -- they were gone! christina had warned me that it would be weird to see a friend there one moment and gone the next, and it was. it wasn't like they had just stepped around the corner and were hiding -- they were gone! next it was my turn. for some reason, I wasn't nervous, just very focused. they don't give you time to think or to be scared -- it's very streamlined and efficient.

maybe I wasn't nervous because jason was a very laid-back dude wearing shorts and chaco sandals. he had done over nine thousand jumps, so I figured he knew what he was doing. and if something went wrong and our chute didn't open, least my death would be quick.

jason gave me a few brief pointers, we went to the door, he counted one two three and out we went. I thought I would go mad for the first few seconds when I felt like I was falling. I REALLY hate that feeling. but very soon we reached terminal velocity and it didn't feel like falling anymore, just like we were in a wind tunnel. I kept trying to breathe normally and relish the freefall because I knew it would be over too soon, and of course it was.

jason tapped me on the shoulder twice, a signal that he was going to open the chute, and then we SCREECHED to a halt and started floating. it was much calmer and easier to take in our surroundings once the chute went up, and very peaceful. he did a few turns so that we could get a 360-degree view of mokuleia, and then it was time to land. he maneuvered us perfectly onto the landing field and we trotted to a stop.

sorry it’s taken me so long to update the blog – thanks for reading this far! I hope this finds everyone well and enjoying either spring or fall. D and I will be back in seattle on 9 april and are looking forward to catching up with that contingency.

until the next entry,
parachute love,