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Triathlete Blog

Shangri La

By October 2, 2009July 13th, 2015No Comments

Yesterday started in the darkness of early morning at 4:45 am.

Either we’re racing or traveling.

And thank goodness today it’s traveling.

Kona via San Francisco via Portland via Seattle via Chicago. That, my friends, is what happens you buy last minute tickets. You end up taking a tour of the Pacific Northwest even though your final destination is over 2000 miles west. By the time we get to San Francisco, we’ve been awake for 14 hours, flying for 9 hours and still have 5 hours to go.

Next to running, and swimming, riding my cyclocross bike in autumn, definitely eating ice cream, devouring a tub of peanut butter cups, drinking coffee, cuddling my dog and marveling at the quirkiness of my husband – travel is quite possibly one of my favorite things.

Travel takes us places. In so many ways. It gives us permission to be a different person in a different place. For a few days, it changes your perspective and shifts your point of view. You see the world differently, you see yourself differently – simply by changing your place. At its best, travel is life changing, eye-opening to what lies beyond our circle of comfort and understanding. At its worst it is escapism and overindulgence.

But then again, maybe that’s what makes travel so damn good. We give ourselves permission to be free – in whatever sense freedom is to you.

Spending over 14 hours flying, however, is not freedom. In fact, it can be downright hell. With an aerial view. My first flight from hell takes place from Chicago to Seattle. Awkwardly I make my way into the prison cell I shall call my seat for the next 4 hours while balancing my coffee and my laptop bag which has grown fat with a bottle of water, a dozen magazines, two books, a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear (years of travel have taught me that when making more than one connection it is best to carry the only two things that when dirty give you the illusion of being clean – a toothbrush and clean panties). The foreign woman to my right offers, “I can catch it for you” (translation: I will hold your coffee). A kind gesture that expires about 30 minutes later when she starts coughing, sniffling, sneezing before finally saying to me “I think I am catching a cold.”

In a moment, it strikes me that she touched my cup, then I touched my cup, then I touched my mouth.

In five days I will have the swine flu.

I made it through that flight, another flight, and yet another to arrive in San Francisco somewhere between late afternoon and early evening. But since I never finished that cup of coffee it still felt like morning.

The longest leg of the trip was still to come. This is the flight that can truly make or break you. California to Hawaii. Over five hours. I don’t fly internationally so as far as I’m concerned, this inter-continental flight is eternity.

In the six times I’ve traveled to Hawaii, only one has been on a direct flight. That one trip was my honeymoon. Chicago to Honolulu. Special trips call for special accommodations – like flying first class. By the time I deplaned that flight I think I had gained ten pounds in freshly baked cookies.

And it was worth it.

But not today. I was gearing up for getting cozy in the 12 inches of space I would call my home for the next 5 hours in seat 25A. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Unless you are in 26 A. Which is a mere one row in front of the bathroom, the same row that contains the screaming kid and the guy that talks really loud about himself.

As I start preparing myself for survival in coach class, doling out one magazine per hour, plotting to make yet another attempt at the airline magazine Sudoku (my brain just does not understand that language of Sudoku, I see numbers and empty boxes without patterns, it infuriates me so much that I will spend over an hour on the “Easy” puzzle until I make a critical error before finally giving up and calling the whole thing dumb and myself smart for not wasting any more time on something so dumb), it was somewhere in between magazine and Sudoku planning that Chris hands me something.

It was a ticket. For seat 2A.

I upgraded us, he said.

Lucky for me, my husband – who truly made a last minute ticket decision to join me – spent years business traveling now leaving him with thousands upon thousands of miles. And today for the small fee of xxxxx miles, I now have a seat in first class.

Switching from coach to first class is like switching from a steel to a carbon bicycle. Both are bicycles, but we’re talking about two completely different rides. One is so harsh you might as well have a the seat post stuck up your ass absorbing every bump in the road by ramming itself painfully up further and further until….first class is like riding a carbon over a bed of cotton.

There is no comparison.

Immediately I am delivered not just nuts but warm nuts. Chris makes a crude joke about delivering his own cup of warm nuts the really make me wish I could turn his volume down sometimes. Like the other day when he tried to explain the term “dry paw” to my mother.

Some things are better left unexplained.

Next up, wine. Not just any wine on this flight but my favorite – Malbec. This is when things become a bit too rich for my blood. Something about airline travel and drinking red wine signal First Class Trouble to me. I decline. Chris, however, accepts. Not once, not twice, but three times until I ask him to please hold off because I will not be vomited on in first class. I checked the seat pocket and they don’t put barf bags up here.

They feed us. Macademia nut encrusted chicken which the flight attendant ensures me is delicious. It is not. One forkful reveals a taste that reminds me of floor cleaner. Kind of like the other day when we were at a local restaurant and I took of bite of Chris’ steak only to tell him I couldn’t eat it. Why, he asked. Because it tastes like the smell of a latrine in the forest preserve in summer. I can’t eat latrine. It reminds me of all those little flies.

Meanwhile, the wine is being poured. In excess. The attendant tells the women in front of us that he will open another bottle of Chardonnay but they have to promise to drink half of it. Ok, pusherman. He offers me a glass but I decline – again. Just say no to Chardonnay. It’s like the mashed potatoes of wine. Have I ever blogged about potatoes? I only say this because next to my macadamia warm crusty nut chicken was a scoopful of gravied mashed potatoes. In addition to pizza, I place mashed potatoes, and gravy, on my list of things I do not need to eat. I don’t understand the potato. I don’t like the potato. I don’t like the word gravy. I can’t eat something if I don’t like how it sounds. Like fettucine. Or veal. Or horseradish.

I’m a picky eater and rightfully so I picked at my chicken and salad. I passed on the potatoes and ate the top off of the black forest cake. All the while, I felt a twinge of pity so I turned around to look at my formerly coach class brethren. They sat crowded in dark rows sipping their one cup of juice.

I’m in first class sipping my glass of promptly refilled water on ice with a hint of affluence.

I may never fly coach again.

In a few short (barely) hours, I’ll be arriving in Kona. And as soon as I step off of the plane, I am going to take a moment to inhale. A few weeks ago, Chris and I were driving up to Wisconsin and looking for conversation. In the ten years we’ve know each other, a lot has been said. A lot doesn’t need to be said. But we both needed to stay awake and music wasn’t cutting it. Something needed to be said.

Conversation cards. This is where having an iPhone pays for itself in fun. A quick search for conversation starters and google produces pages of suggestions. I found one that contained over 80 questions that went beneath the surface asking about the more important things:

If you could live in one television household, which would it be?

My answers may have been Twin Peaks. Which wasn’t really a household, but I’m thinking more the city. A sleepy city tucked away in the Pacific Northwest with a sense of mystery in the air, cherry pie and damn good coffee.

I’m there.

And what did my husband answer? The bat cave.

The bat cave?

During this game I also learned Chris’ favorite smell in the world. My favorite smell is the scent of the air when you first step off a plane in Seattle. Evergreens. Chris tells me his favorite smell is when he gets off the plane in Kona. And in a word, or maybe it was the suggestion of a memory, I know immediately the smell. I can smell it. I cannot describe it but I know how it smells and I agree – it is a smell that says to me: aloha, and welcome to Hawaii – and relax. You’re in a different time zone now and we move about life in a different way. Slow down, relax, find the beauty of taking your time with island life.


Sometimes it seems like Boss likes nothing better in the world than spending a few days at Chris’ parents house. Aptly nicknamed, we call his parents house Boss’ Shangri La. Shangri La is a fictional place from the movies. It is a place of perfection and beauty. It is paradise. In Shangri La Boss has the constant attention of 3 adults, a fenced in backyard, twice daily delectable meals of chicken (not just any chicken but organic chicken), carrots, pumpkin and broccoli freshly prepared by Chris’ grandmother as if cooking for the dogs fills her with a sense of purpose that once cooking for 3 grandchildren or cooking for her own child gave her.

Shangri La – it’s kind of like Hawaii. It is not easy to reach and when you spend over 14 hours to get to a new place – you expect big things. Like finely diced organic chicken. You expect beautiful things. Like valley views embraced by cliffs. You expect to see an ocean deep with blue beauty, a sun that shines daily, fresh fruit, warm breezes, hell you expect warm nuts.

As we begin out descent into Kona, the sunset, like most of the landscape in Hawaii, is perfect. Fiery oranges with warm pink set against the most perfect of blue. This is Shangri La. Maybe I have come here to escape. Maybe to overindulge. Maybe to hide. But watching the sunset, I realize there need not be a plan or even a reason.

Because I’m on island time.