Thursday, November 1, 2007

Marathons, Mountains, & Memories in Australia by John Lent

Marathons, Mountains & Memories in Australia
By John G. Lent
October 24, 2007

It all started with my wife Mary Ann and her participation in the second annual 2007 international Dragon Boat Festival in Caloundra, Australia (about 1 hour north of Brisbane). “Dragon Heart Vermont” a breast cancer survivor team, paddled and competed along with nearly 80 teams from around the world. Their mission is to promote breast cancer awareness, advocacy and raise funds for research through this ancient water sport. One year in the making meant if she were going, then I would also go as a supporter. There was one caveat, I would have to find a marathon to run and we would have to climb the highest mountain in Australia. This is what we do for all our vacations.

The Dragon Boat festival was a huge success on many levels and the Dragon Heart Vermont team finished in the top third overall. Not bad for a team that trains 3 months of the year as apposed to the Australians who train 12 months of the year!

While in Coloundra it was especially fun to visit and run with an old friend and fellow marathoner Bob McNaught who after 32 years returned to his homeland. Bob is a 50 State (marathon) completer who plans to finish the Australia States & Territories next July. Our group trip continued north for us to experience the Rain Forests in northern Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, and then ended in Sydney. After 2 weeks traveling with 28 new friends it was time to part for our next adventure that began in Melbourne.

I found an apartment suite on the internet just two blocks from both the start of the Melbourne Marathon and finish line located in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The MCG seats 120,000 and is one of the premier stadiums in the world. The race was held concurrently with a half marathon and consisted of 2500 marathoners. A nice touch at the start was guest speaker, Rob De Castella (Melbourne native and marathon world record holder 1981), who encouraged the courageousness of first time marathoners. The course was an out and back with several kilometers along the scenic coastal waters of Port Phillip Sound. It was a perfect day to run with plenty of sunshine, cool breezes and temperatures ranging from the upper 40’s to the low 60’s. The water stations were nicely spaced every 2.5 KM however I had never seen “water sachets.” These were handy little 150 ml plastic tubes filled with water or sports drink. Incidentally, their version of a “Powerbar” is actually a sachet filled with a sports drink. To my dismay there was no food on the course. Upon finishing, I barely missed my 4 hour goal but was pleased with my time of 4:01:01 (admittedly without any long distance training). In the end it was a thrill to run a new country and my fourth continent.

With my marathon behind me, it was time for us to head to the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. We rented a car (or “hired” as they say) and set off to the ski town of Thredbo while steadfastly concentrating to keep on the left side of the road. Our route planning turned out to be the shortest distance, however we didn’t realize over 100 miles would be on a dirt road traversing what seemed like the entire mountain range. As night time came upon us so did the animals. Yes, I actually had to avoid hitting several kangaroos, wombats, emus, assorted livestock, and of all things brumbies (wild horses). It did take my mind away from driving on the left side of the road. Our scenic excursion took us 9 hours from Melbourne. We finally arrived at Thredbo around 8 PM with the gas light on and it looked like a ghost town. Since the previous day was the official closing of the ski season, nothing was open. Of course being experienced adventurers, we knew this is how memories are made. In the end, the Alpine Resort was open and there were actually vacancies! We would have paid just about anything at this point but instead received special post season pricing that included breakfast and lift tickets.

Our destination was Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia, at an elevation 7310 feet. The hike is 13 KM (8 miles) roundtrip which began at the top of the ski lift. With over 3 feet of snow still on the mountain, we “hired” snowshoes. Another picture perfect day we reached the summit in 2 ½ hours. What a thrill to be on top of Australia just 2 days after running a marathon. (This was my third continent highpoint.)

The rest of the week we toured through National Parks and southern coastal towns of Victoria staying in small hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Our final destination was “The Twelve Apostles” on the Tasman Sea which may be described as where the Grand Canyon meets the ocean. These were spectacular tall rock formation spires formed by eons of turbulent waves eroding its base. We took several pictures to capture yet another Australian memory.

As the saying goes, life is an adventure. Whether dragon boating or running marathons and climbing mountains, they are all greatly enhanced when performed in new places. Australia is one place you will find many new adventures with an unconditional guarantee that the memories will last a lifetime.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ben & Jerry's in Australia

Dragonheart Vermont proudly wore our Ben and Jerry's shirt at the Pink Parade to kick off the 2007 Abreast in Australia Regatta in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. Hmmmm, I see a berry pink flavor in B & J's future.

The Endless Friday

Breakfast buffet. Yes! Fijian Music. Yes! Tropical fruits.Yes! And one more swim in paradise. Ahmron took us once again to Natadola Beach. We lingered one more time in the crystal clear water and white sandy beach. If ever anyone felt lucky, it was us. Gisella left our mark in the sand for any future passersby. See photo.

By late afternoon, we once again we had to say goodbye. This time to Gisella and Tingo who had 2 more days left in Fiji while Red, Mary Alice, Pam, Jane, and Linda headed homeward. A deep sadness came over all of us. After almost 3 weeks together, we were parting. The journey began by bus at 5pm. We arrived at Nadi International Airport by 8pm. We board Fiji’s airline, Air Pacific at 10:30pm for a 10-hour flight back to LA. It was hard to sleep but we tried. Joel strummed on his ukele that he bought. Everytime I looked over the aisles to Red, she was as wide awake as I was! I was entertained by Mick, an Australian professional lawn bowler, who was heading to LA for a tournament . .. and people think dragon boating is unusual!!!!! We got to LAX at 6:39am on Friday morning. Was this a déjà vu!!!!!!

We took a taxi ride out of the airport to a restaurant in Manhattan Beach to pass the time before our next flight that unfortunately does not take off until 9:40 in the evening. Isn’t there a law that forbids an airline from booking a person on two red eyes in a row!!!! Trust me, there should be. We are so tired but almost all of us crunched into middle seats so sleep is not easy to come. Thankfully, the plane lands in Philly and it is no longer Friday but the start of Saturday morning and we are in the City of Brotherly Love. After 9 flights on our journey without a hitch, we should have known our luck would run out. The USAirways rep tells us that Red, Mary Alice, and Pam are set for a midday return to Burlington but alas Beth, Joel, and I are not. We strangely have a reservation but we do not have a seat assignment! So, assign us a seat, right? With this weekend being peak color for our leaves, every flight going into Burlington from ANYWHERE is not just booked but overbooked! Darn those leaf peepers!!! We sadly watched Red, Mary Alice, and Pam get on the flight but still had hope that we would get on. When the door was slammed shut, we knew the gig was up. We could wait until Monday for flight into Burlington or our only hope was a standby flight into Manchester, NH. Perhaps it was our long faces or our puffy eyes, but fortunately we made it on board this New England-bound flight. We got a rental car and Beth drove us the rest of the way home. Joel slept soundly in the back seat. Beth and I gabbed and stopped at every rest stop as we tried to stay awake. Home never felt so sweet. My first sight of John was even sweeter.

I want to thank all of my Team Aussie ‘mates for sharing in this vacation of a lifetime. It was so fun-filled. I was so proud of our teams for the great efforts. Our BCS team went out and gave it their all at the regatta. I do believe that we savored each moment of each and every day. Our supporter team was definitely awesome. Only a fulltime Aussie team beat them but trust me they were flying down that course. I speak for our entire BCS team when I thank our Team Aussie supporters for helping us every inch of the way. Such great people. We have so many stories and photos to share with you all. We surely wish that all of our Dragonhearters could have joined in. NO worries. I have 650 photos that I took myself. The 28 others of us on the trip probably have the same. Trust me, you will feel like you took this trip when you come to our photo party. Our Team Aussie was truly a team—people caring for and looking out for each other. I feel so proud and soooo fortunate. Special people. Oh so special time together. There are so many memories to share with you all. For me, the most touching moment of all was seeing our very own Dragonheart teammates assembling at the airport and giving us the most special send off. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the best!!!

NOTE: Team Aussie: Please complete the blog with your trip reflections. Filling in the missing pieces. Add some photos. Add your final notes. Contact me if you need instructions in how to use the blog. Marianne and John, we would love to know how John did running the Melbourne Marathon. How was your climb? Please blog it. Peter and Karen how was New Zealand? It surely was incredible. Please write it up with photos on your blog.

We would like to compile the best photos into a slideshow. Is there some Team Aussie member willing and able to take on this task? Please let me know ASAP. I would love to be able to share these photos at the Breast cancer Conference on November 2.

Our Last Night in Fiji or Getting Lei-ed in Fiji

Our last night in Fiji began with a long dip in the pool and a stroll over to Gisella’s and Rafi’s (we now have learned that Rafi’s nickname is Tingo) so —Gisella’s and Tingo’s bure. As the sun was setting, we sat on their front porch swinging on their hammocks. Tingo had been saving a bottle of champagne that he bought in the duty-free shop. He poured the glasses of Moet & Chandon with a chaser of African chocolates. As if this moment was not special enough, Joel showed up with a big box. What happened next took us all by surprise! Would you believe that we got lei-ed by Joel! Yes, Joel placed beautiful flower leis around our necks. He had arranged for the wife of the taxi driver to make flower leis for all of us. How incredibly sweet is that! The necklaces were made from the most fragrant flowers ever. We found out the flowers are called Frangipani. I think we call them plumeria in America. The smell is unforgettable. The look on Joel’s face when we said that we were going to tell all of you that we got lei-ed by him was priceless. Even better was Mary Alice’s comment that she got lei-ed in her room when Joel was chivalrous enough to deliver the lei directly to her room. Snicker. Snicker.

Our digestive tracts managed to take in one more meal. We even topped off the night with a special chocolate soufflé—a house specialty. It was delicious. Knowing our adventure was nearing an end, we took turns commenting on our favorite moments of our trip (Caloundra, Cairns, Sydney, & Fiji. All of our memories are so special. We can’t wait to share the stories with you. When we finally got up to go, we realized that we were the last of the diners in the restaurant. The waitstaff asked if this was our last night. We said it was and they asked us to sit back down. They soon assembled all of the waitstaff and offered up a special farewell song for us. The song was so beautiful. It expressed the best wishes for safe travel and happy life . . . until we make our way back to Fiji to be part of their family here again. Their voices blended so beautifully. I am sure that they sing this song night after night but they made us believe that they were singing this especially for us.

We took a photo of us all together with the waitstaff. Each and every server hugged and kissed us goodbye. When was the last time that this happened to you? We then took a photo of just them. They mugged and laughed for the cameras. They clearly loved it! We are going to send the photos to them and hope that they get copies. I know that we will forever remember this kind and gentle people.

Natadola Beach Day – Tuesday October 9, 2007

The day began with yet another breakfast buffet that has always included eggs, bacon, and baked beans! All of us hope in the Toyota van to explore the island with Ahmron. The goal is find the most beautiful beach on the island. Ahmron tells us that he knows just where to go. He takes us to Natadola Beach and clearly the beach is incredible. White sand beaches. Azure waters with gentle waves lapping op on the shore. We have the beach to ourselves, except for a few locals who are selling bead necklaces, coconuts, or horseback rides. The Fijians are extremely friendly and polite wherever we go.

We took our obligatory group photo and then swam in the 80° water until our hands looked like prunes. We dried ourselves in the sun under the rain umbrellas that we borrowed from the hotel. When our breakfast buffet finally wore off, we made our way to a little lunch place for fresh fish and fruit. Yum-O! After lunch we walked the beach almost pinching ourselves that we were in paradise. We loaded back into the van—did I mention that there are 9 of us squeezed into this 7-passenger van. And we check out the local village called Sigatoka for yes, anther shopping excursion . . . even Pam shopped with enthusiasm! By the time we returned to the Outrigger, there were only a few minutes to shower and change for the night’s activities. On tap was the Fire Walking Ceremony where yes, the Fijians do walk across burning coals in bare feet. OUCH!!! There were no stunt doubles here nor did any tourists offer to try it. Then it was off to a seafood buffet, tons of desserts (just ask Joel), and a traditional Fijian song and dance ceremony. I have never experienced such happy and musical people. They drummed on hollowed-out tree trunks, strummed on ukeles and small guitars, and acted out their traditional songs. The Fijians are so good that they make the Happy Birthday song sound mellow and so melodic. At one point in the ceremony, we noticed that Pascal (for those of you who went to camp and remember our Coach Pascal) was up and dancing among the Fijians dressed in a necklace of healing herbs and flowers in his hair. Clearly, he makes friends wherever he goes.

Bilibili Races Fiji Day

Flower Ceremony

Flower Ceremony