Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coast to Coast

Our second year here, the heat and driving don’t faze us, we have our favorite doubles stands, and we know more about what’s going on around Trinidad. Last year, we celebrated Diwali by lighting off fireworks. This year, we propelled ourselves from the north-eastern tip of Trinidad to the north-western in an adventure race called Coast to Coast. As race day approached, I still wasn’t convinced I could do it, but Aaron’s enthusiasm and my curiosity got us and our relay team mates, Mark and Karen, to the debriefing meeting. Of the 40 competitors, three were women, four had come from other countries to compete (from Australia, St. Maarten’s, the UK, and Canada), and nobody’s body fat was over 10%.
The first leg started in Toco at 6AM. As the sun pinked up above the water, at the point of the peninsula, the cyclists gathered on a quiet road surrounded by banana and haliconia plants. It was a small and tall enough crowd that my chances of coming in last were distinctly possible.
We ran 1.5 k to our bikes on the beach, put on our bike gear, and began the 32 k ride to Matelot. The road felt more like a single-track mountain biking trail; taking your eye off the road for one second meant a flat tire. For most of it, the beach was on my right, giant green leaves drooped in a canopy over the road, and I was happy. And then I reached the “Do you believe in God? Hill” that the bike shop guy had warned us was right at the end. Only the adrenaline of knowing I was nearly done got me to the top, where people pointed to a bridge so narrow we were required to carry our bikes across it. Karen tore off my Velcro timer and took off for the 32 k bush-and-beach hike to Blanchisessuse.

Aaron had finished the bike leg before me, but paused briefly to drop his bike gear before starting the run himself. We’d all done this leg last year, but to run it solo increased the challenge immensely.
Six hours later, they finished, and neither could talk much. We filled them up with Gatorade while we waited for Ashmir. Eventually, he appeared and told us that he’d gotten lost and had flagged down the Coast Guard. They’d offered him a ride but noted that that would disqualify him, so he asked them to take him back so he could start over from the beginning. He said that he couldn’t, as the ISPS athletics director, tell his kids he’d given up.

Sunday morning, the 62 k bike ride started at 5 AM. Right at 4:30, it started to pour rain. The hills started right away; I had to wonder what I was doing on this steep, slippery, and holey hill, all by myself, soaking wet, and completely blind since my bike light was too dim to be helpful. I didn’t start enjoying it until the sun came up around 6:30 and I began to pass familiar beaches. About halfway through, as I climbed up a 500 ft. hill at a grandma pace, I looked up and saw Aaron’s giant grin framed by the window as he yelled at me in Trini, “Push it, gyal!” (He’d started strong, but had thought that 2 extra tubes would be enough. The roads were so bad that he got three flat tires.)

I reached the top, only slightly teary, and stretched my legs and back while I cruised at 50 km/hr down-hill. I started to think I might be able to finish. And then I reached the final hill: Morne Coco Hill. The second I looked up, I was no longer on my bike; my body decided on its own that more was insanity. I stood there, in the road, for about 20 seconds, self-talking myself back on my bike. It worked, barely, and slowly, I reached the top. The last 5 k required soca—music designed to keep people going during the long hike of carnival. Finally, I reached Karen and she took off, slapping the bracelet on her wrist. Then, we had to go find Aaron, who had hitch-hiked back to town, and drive to Macaripe, where Karen’s 10 k running leg ended.

As we refueled and shared stories, The potholes! The dark! I passed that guy! I didn’t come in last!, we watched other competitors jump in kayaks to finish the last 32 k. The sweat and smiles, the perseverance and pride—every time it made for fantastic entertainment.

When Karen appeared, sprinting to the beach, I couldn’t stop hopping. She handed the bracelet to Mark and we all stood knee-deep in water to watch him paddle out of the bay and into the sky.

At the finish line, there was curry, a cricket game blaring on TV, and a masseuse. For the first time, the first place solo competitor was Trini. As he crossed, drummers drummed and people applauded and placed a medal around his neck. When Mark finished, Karen, Aaron, and I ran to meet him and run across the finish line with him. We were all a bit wobbly, especially Mark after sitting cramped among 7 foot swells for hours, but ecstatic that we finished. At the after-party, the announcers gave kudos and awards. One superwoman had completed the whole thing by herself. Karen and I looked at each other as we realized that spots 2 and 3 for Coast to Coast 2010 were up for grabs.

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