An Epic Odyssey- part 1

I returned home humbled, inspired, and with a full heart from an epic odyssey in Hawaii.  After months of consistent training and planning, my vision and goals came to fruition. I competed in three outrigger canoe races, two solo races and one solo relay, in three weeks. Two of these races were significant channel crossings ranging from 26 miles to 40 miles. I felt welcomed by the paddling community (ohana) and am forever grateful for that support of aloha in practice.

My first weekend, I warmed up with Kanaka Ikaika’s State Championship race on Oahu, a 12.5 “downwind” run from Hawaii Kai to Magic Island. Typically, it is a fun downwind run, but that day it was hot and flat, even the local paddlers complained about the heat. I suffered the heat but powered through to the end, happy to cross the finish. The rest of the week, I trained on the local waters of Kailua getting in some fun surf practice. I also spent time on the beach gazing out at the Kai’wi channel towards Molokai in awe of the expansive scale reminding me of the immense exposure of this channel crossing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I felt like a speck on this grand ocean, humbled and vulnerable. Before flying to Maui later in the week, I got in a fun downwind run from Hawaii Kai to Kaimana Beach, a local favorite. For me, re-connecting with the Hawaiian waters was important preparation for the next two significant channel crossing races.

The flight to Maui couldn’t have been better, clear conditions with minimal wind allowed our small plane to fly along the north shore of Molokai, a wild and steep shoreline where few people visit. Stunning. Blessed. Arriving at the small airport outside Lanikai symbolized a departure from the busy Oahu and I felt I was breathing a little deeper and moving slower. My first stop was the Aloha Mix Plate for some good Hawaiian grub and then a swim and chill out afternoon on the beach until Race check in. With these being solo races, I really appreciated the families who welcomed me into their homes. Pailolo Channel solo race was my next race, paddling from Maui to Molokai.

The race day forecast was for light and variable winds which translates to anything could happen.  That said, the Pailolo Channel is know to be the most consistent 26 mile downwind race in Hawaii. All fingers were crossed.  I had done my prep for this day and now just had to surrender to whatever Mother Nature had in store for us. Mother Nature was in charge.

The morning of race start, I was happy to see some familiar faces of fellow racers from the San Francisco Bay area. Winds were light at the starting line but built nicely as we made the channel crossing. Visibility was good. I could sight off of Kamakou, Molokai’s highest mountain on Molokai, as a landmark for my intended course. A couple hours into the race and closer to Molokai the wind and waves were aligned and made for some fun surf rides providing a sleigh ride to the finish line. At about mile 16, off of Kamalo point, I had to divert my line to avoid a breaching Humpback mother and her calf, only in Hawaii! Then, at mile 23, as I was surfing along, a giant sea turtle surfaced in front of my canoe and I turned right to avoid collision. The result of hitting a sea turtle with a carbon fiber canoe would be catastrophic, not for the turtle but for the canoe. The turtle would be like, whoa what was that, while on the other hand, the canoe would be broken!  I finished in just over 4 hours. My second Pailolo channel solo race completed. Tired and hungry, we all celebrated with food and beer at the awards ceremony. Good vibes among all.

The next phase of my epic odyssey was a week spent on Molokai preparing for the next race, the Kaiwi Channel crossing. Luckily for me, Jim Foti helped connect me with local paddlers. I met Ron Kimball and his paddling ohana, many who were women my age.

I had a blast paddling the downwind run from Kamalo Point to Kimball’s beach, an 8 mile stretch. The group of women, Desi, Cammie, Crystal and Lisa were incredibly skilled downwind paddlers who made catching bumps and maintaining speed look effortless, a true sign of competence and experience. Their motto, “no blow, no go”. On a windless day, my paddle mates were sea turtles. Without wind and waves, the water was crystal clear revealing the beauty of the coral reefs that extend 28 miles along the coastline. Island magic.

Besides paddling, my week was spent exploring the island including the remote east side, relaxing and feeling the Aloha. There isn’t a stop light on the island, life slows down and smiles come easily. I bought local vegetables and fruit from Kumu Farm and local grass-fed meat from the Molokai Livestock Co-op. The one and a half hour drive to Halawa Valley on the east side, approximately 27 miles, was adventurous and especially slow where Kamehameha V Highway becomes one way, very curvy and stunningly scenic. The ocean was calm that day. When I arrived to Halawa Bay, awed by the beauty surrounding me, I had to explore. After a short walk following the river mouth to the ocean, a steep north facing sandy beach revealed itself. The sun was beginning to sink quickly behind the towering mountains above the valley behind me. The ocean lured me in for a swim. I timed my entry with the incoming swell, the rhthym of Moana, another gift to complete my day. Well rested and feeling recovered, I was ready for the next part of this epic odyssey. I felt incredibly grateful and ready for James, my paddle partner, to arrive and do final preparations for our race together as Team Ocean Love.

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