Mary had to prod me to get around to booking it. It’s easy to retreat into your shell and stay home when that is what is working for you and facing your limitations while traveling looms a little scary. This is an ongoing struggle that I have already alluded to. When you go through some pain and you now have something that’s working, you tend not to want to rock the boat. Do you charge ahead or pull back? I know that I and most of my friends would always say “live life to the fullest, keep fighting”. I agree with that and am doing a pretty good job of that, but there is such a thing as reality. If something is truly out of the realm of capability, beating yourself against the wall and failing has little benefit. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Also, the risk of real set back and injury is significant.
We were originally planning to go to Costa Rica because it was less travel time and less expensive. When talking to the hillside resort that we were considering, they were hesitant about whether I could get around in my electric wheelchair and were thinking about ways to handle it. In the end, we realized that the US disabilities laws were a good thing, so off to Hawaii we went.
To make things a little simpler, we stayed on the North Shore of Oahu at Turtle Bay resort for all five days. Normally, I would want to get to more places and climb as many mountains as possible. A new repertoire was needed this time as all hiking and mountain climbing was out. Mary was still free to hike and climb but she did not want, or was kind enough not to, take any long excursions on her own.
Almost exactly one year ago, snorkeling in Honduras with Mary and family went extremely well. That was then and this is now. A lot has changed since then. I was walking around almost like a regular person then. What the heck was I even complaining about? This is an ongoing theme that I am sure I will be uttering in the future when thinking back to this time. We were hopeful about snorkeling but knew that we would have to figure it out and test it. I was even a little worried about the possibility of drowning.
Upon arriving in Honolulu in the late afternoon, we rented a car, figured out how to get my electric wheelchair loaded in the trunk (everything is an experimental learning experience) and off we went. On the hour drive to our resort on the opposite end of the island, we stopped at Bonzai Pipeline at sunset. This is one of the most famous, primo big wave surfing spots in the world. Apparently, we had just missed the end of an international, televised surfing competition. Upon getting to our destination, Mary and I did our normal thing of breaking in a new place with a before bed local bar. The recent surfing event was on the television set. While watching, I said “wow, that’s an interesting (I might have said funky) looking dude”. I then looked just to my left and the next thing I said was “and you’re him”. He wasn’t too happy with his performance at this event. He finished in eighth place, just out of the money, where usually he’s on the podium. As a stereotypical surfer dude, he nevertheless seemed to be quite cool with eighth place, and with stupid looking tourists in wheelchairs calling him funky looking. I tried to remedy the situation by further making an ass out of myself. I started to ask him about what the financial aspects of a career in professional surfing is like. He actually had a masterfully vague answer that would have made the best politician proud. It involved things that sounded something like “It’s difficult to tally all the benefits of sponsorships and the like”. What I finally realized is that what he was really telling me was “I like riding my board, I like my life, quit being a boner shrinker and leave me alone dude”. Actually, some embellishment admitted to, he was extremely nice and we all had a good time.
We had heard that the beach hut that loaned out the snorkeling gear at Turtle Bay had a beach wheelchair with balloon tires to get one into the water. Upon arriving for our first try, they hesitated for a bit, mentioning that someone had stolen the arm floats off of it and a wheel was bent. I did not need the arm floats, just needed to get to the water. A slight panic set in for just a moment but they could not have been nicer. As someone was finding the chair, the head, rather large, indigenous looking Hawaiian man smiled and said “I’ll carry you if I have to”. We could tell that not only did he mean it, he was more than capable of achieving such a trivial task. They truly were interested in being helpful.
After getting me to the ocean, which I was afraid would garner everyone’s attention and be embarrassing, I was set free as if someone was releasing a fish. I’m sure that people noticed, but no one really cares, they’ve got their own things to do. Try to fight your reluctance to do something because you might be embarrassed. This goes for anyone, about anything.
I’ve never had any trouble donning the mask, snorkel and fins before but was instantly having to come up with something new. I found that I needed at least one arm to be free at all times to keep me from downing, even in shallow water due to the wave action. Putting these things on one handed while bobbing around was a bit of a challenge at first, but with help from Mary, we were off.
Mary was hovering around me so close that we kept bumping into each other. Knowing me as she does, she kept it to herself, but she was staying close, protecting me, ready to save me. I was thankful and appreciative but I very much did not want to put her in any danger on my behalf. I am a certified SCUBA diver and a fine swimmer, but the target is always moving and I have to keep testing and learning. The actual act of testing and learning is not a bad thing. It’s just like learning anything else new. The important thing is to think of it as new. Forget what you used to do. I feel this is also important for aging athletes who want to continue enjoying their sport. After some time, I became comfortable and confident in my level of control over my environment. Mary was still hanging close, I love her company.
We snorkeled four out of the five days that we were in Hawaii. The most beautiful spot was at Hanauma Bay, which is collapsed volcanic cone where the center sunk below sea level and one side opened to the ocean. The coral is not as good as in the caribbean but the fish were magnificent. Hanauma Bay, being a pay to enter park, also had a balloon tired beach wheelchair. No one would help, but we could use it. When I was coming in at the end of our swim, while in just a few feet of water, an eel slowly swam directly under me going in the opposite direction. It had a bright yellow head, grey speckled body, it swam on its side, had an impressive row of white needles for teeth and had grown to a length much larger than the book said they can actually get up to. What do books know? It seemed undisturbed and relatively uninterested in me so I turned around and followed, swimming just above it. In hindsight, I should have realized what an unwise risk I was taking in doing this. Sometimes excitement gets the better of us.
Now I’ve tried to keep it under wraps, but 25 years ago, while I was swimming in the Atlantic ocean in Florida, I was yelled at and given a ticket for “Molesting Manatee”! “I was in the open ocean, it was purely consensual, and how can you tell if they are underage?” I argued, but Barney Fief had a bug up his butt and was tired of manatees being trafficked in such ways. How long is the offenders list kept on your record? Is it species specific, or does it apply to mammals only? These are questions that I should have had answers to before embarking on my foray. The hush money that my lawyer paid, out of his personal funds and having nothing to do with me, seems to be working. Before you think that I might actually be creepy, a bunch of us were just swimming off the beach around them. Go figure.
The beach wheelchair had turned out not to be too embarrassing when it worked easily, but getting out at Hanauma bay was different. The sand was soft and the beach was rather steep. Mary was determined with an “I can do it”, but watching my poor wife, all 100 plus not too many more than that, pounds of her, struggling to push, pull and yank me up the beach one inch at a time was, bless her heart, hard to take. Luckily, there always seems to be a couple of guys to quickly run down and help. It’s one of the few times that we’re glad to get unasked for help.
One of the cool things about the swimming pool/beach bar at Turtle Bay is that locals actually go there. Even though most people were there on vacation, it did not feel touristy and we had some good conversations with the people who lived there. It surprised me just a little, as to how little difference there was to anywhere else in the states.
On the non-snorkeling day, Mary rented a mountain bike and I rented a helicopter. Well, actually, I rented it with two other people and a pilot came with it. I only flew a helicopter once, and it wasn’t that pretty (with an instructor, of course). We paid a little extra to take the doors off, which is totally worth it unless you’re chicken. The couple that sat in the back experienced a problem that many brand new couples face. He was gung ho, she went along because she wanted to please the new boyfriend, she was absolutely terrified the entire hour. The pilot was having some fun with me and didn’t know about the white knuckled panic going on in the back. It was well worth it, but I can’t speak for her. At the end, the pilot was telling me about models of planes that don’t use foot pedals to fly. Very nice of him for the suggestions, but I don’t think that I’ll be getting checked out in any new planes soon. The mountain biking around Turtle Bay is fairly flat but has a lot of whoops, almost like a pump track. Mary thought it was pretty. We missed each other a little. There is an ATV area in the hills not too far away.
All in all, the trip was very nice and we had a good time. There is a level of fear and trepidation that goes along with travel now. We, or I should say I, was pretty close to the edge of being able to accomplish what we did. The fear is that when you go past that line, things could get ugly and unpleasant. This went well.