World by Bike 11: Island Time
The public transport in the US sucks. With seemingly no direct connection from downtown LA to the airport at LAX, I had to get fat uber across town with my bike box to catch my flight to the Southern Hemisphere. The man at the Hawaiian Airlines check-in desk was friendly enough and didn't completely ridicule me for the state of my bike box, despite the heavy packing tape barely keeping the box together. Fortunately my bike box was underweight and within normal luggage size, meaning no extra costs on this flight. However, boarding the plane to Kona, Hawaii, for my first of two stopovers, taking my cramped window seat at the back of the plane, I gazed in horror at the empty hole in the back of the seat in front of me where a TV screen should have been. They announced over the speaker that to access in-flight entertainment you'd have to have downloaded the Hawaiian Airlines app, which prompted a scramble of passengers diving for the phones to disable flight-safe mode and get access to the app store. I don't know how downloading an app suddenly makes a TV screen appear though. Even after downloading the app, you'll find you have to pay for movies. I guess it's five and half hours of catching up on blog writing then.
As the huge cloud and volcano appeared on the horizon, looming over the big island of Hawaii, I immediately felt a sense of great anticipation arriving at the home of Ironman-distance triathlon. They've held the Ironman World Championships here every year the last 40 years and I've followed the race every year since I got into triathlon a few years ago, back at university. After alighting the plane for my 18 hour overnight layover, I discovered how small the Kona airport is - no walls and no 24 hour staff. Retrieving my bike from baggage claim I pleaded with the staff to let me store my bike at the airport, despite there being no official storage facilities. The lovely lady was compliant enough and took my bike and a bag, and informed me it'd be an hour wait for the bus into town. I took a seat on the curb, cooking in the humid 28°C weather, planning the most efficient touristing session of Kailua-Kona of all time.
The bus experience introduced me to the laid-back style of island life, with airport stuff having no idea about whether a bus would turn up, when, where and in what direction it would be heading. When one did arrive, I boarded and we weaved down the Queen K (the name is too long to attempt to spell) highway, where the Ironman bike and run course take place, whilst the driver sat slumped in his chair driving one-handed, with a bottle of Pepsi in the other. He even stopped the bus at one point, left the engine running and went off to use the bathroom, leaving me and two locals waiting around.
The town itself had a really cool atmosphere, and I immediately headed for Kailua bay for a little splash in the warm water. It was December 5th and an open water swim felt quite bizarre. It was then off to a cheap but highly Trip-Advisored restaurant for Moco-Loco, with beef patties, pork, chicken, and balls of rice topped with two fried eggs and Hawaiian brown gravy. After demolishing the super-size platter, and receiving comments of admiration from the waitress, I headed to the sea front to sample a cup of rich Hawaiian coffee - the beans are a real art. At the counter I was asked to select the type of bean, each coming with a recommendation of what time of day it should be savoured and whether or not it should be paired with milk, alongside the origins of the beans, who grew them, the flavours they released, the beans' mother's maiden name… incredible detail. It didn't end there however. I was then asked to decide how the coffee was prepared with various methods of grinding the beans and pouring water over them. It was like being in a coffee museum, watching the barista pour water carefully over the beans like watching a historian pour over the Declaration of Independence or old Biblical manuscripts, so careful and precise in their manner.
The intense, chocolate, plumy, oaky mug of Joe (or so my Kona bean description told me) accompanied with the waves along the sea shore in an empty coffee shop was beautiful. It was 9pm Island Time, and staring out into the pitch black I took some time to reflect. Being on such a small spit of land, in such a vast ocean, with nothing beyond the darkness for thousands of miles is quite a humbling experience. There is something about the vast emptiness of the ocean that makes you realise how small you are. However, savouring the rich flavours of a straight up black coffee, seeing a few cars quietly drift along Ali'I Drive on the sea front, made me realise how amazing it is that people live in such a remote place, let alone make it a place that's got smooth roads for cars, trade links to stock it's Walmart, farmers to harvest coffee beans, and a place that's one of the most desired holiday destinations on the planet. I sat and thought about the fact that whilst being humbled at the size of the individual person size in the this vast sea, I could take confidence in the fact that each little life was significant to those around them, and the people they encountered. The island is small, remote and seemingly insignificant compared to the ocean, but the daily actions of the individuals that live here have made it an incredible place to visit, live and experience, in what must have been an incredibly tough environment initially. I think there's comfort in that thought. Also, the deeper I went with the thoughts, the longer I sat there, meaning I could more easily justify spending more money on a second cup of coffee.
I went back to the airport around midnight before my 6am flight to avoid splashing out on a hotel, and was quickly told by airport security that it wasn't a 24 hour airport, and that I couldn't stay on my comfortable bench in baggage claim. They moved me on to a bench outside a convenience store where I found another couple of over-nighters. I managed a couple hours sleep before crossing back across the street to await check-in. Rather naively in hindsight, arriving at the airport three hours early like you'd normally do was probably overkill, but after sitting around until 90minutes before my flight at 6am, and no sign of staff in sight, I started to get worried. When someone did turn up I was promptly frowned at for storing my bike at the airport, which triggered a frosty relationship with the check-in staff. They initially refused to let me leave the US as I didn't have a flight, out of Australia….but I'm going to New Zealand, why do they care about Australia? After alerting them to the fact that New Zealand and Australia are different countries, and that if I was to illegally overstay my visa in Australia, it was a problem for New Zealand, not the US, we proceeded on to the next round of issues. They said that despite the fact that my luggage was within normal luggage size, it was clearly a bicycle and that I'd have to pay $150, as bikes are extra. I knew I was already on thin ice so neglected to ask whether I'd get it for free if I told them I was transporting a small piano. After receiving a threat to retroactively charge me for my box on the plane from LA, I decided to pay the $150 and hope a strongly-worded email to Hawaiian Airlines will bring some cash back to me.
My next flight was just 45 minutes to Honolulu, state capital of Hawaii, and much more built up and tourist-focused than the big island. Avoiding the morning rush hour - contemplating just how cool I would be to have that 45 minute flight from Kona to Honolulu every day on your way to work, watching a spectacular morning sun drift over the horizon, on this Hawaiian 'commuter service flight' - I went to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour. The area is free to enter, but you have to start paying for some of the more detailed exhibits, audioguides and submarine tours. Coincidentally enough, I'd arrived the day before the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, which meant there were lots of military personnel present, setting up for a series of memorials and speeches the following day. It was a humbling experience standing on the edge of the harbour in the early morning with the sun just about climbing above the palm trees, the morning birds chirping and the water still. It was humbling as I can't imagine the scene was too dissimilar just a few moments before the attack happened at about 8am on a sleepy Sunday morning in 1941, and how people were just going about their lives when it happened. I'm very grateful I've never been in a situation like that and it does make you think, as the memorial quote from Eleanor Roosevelt says ' help me to remember that somewhere out there, someone died for me (…) I must then ask, am I worth dying for?'. I read that as, 'am I living a life worth living?', one worthy of the sacrifice that someone, somewhere made for me to have it. It's a thought-provoking place.
The short six hours in Honolulu concluded with a final diner breakfast of French toast and Hawaiian coffee, concluding my time in the United States. It's been incredible.
I arrived in Auckland 32 hours after I took off from Honolulu, disappointed that Hawaiian Airlines just provided the one meal despite my claim that although the flight only lasted nine hours, the fact that I lost a day crossing the date line should mean that I get compensated with three additional meals. I was picked up at the airport by my friend from church back home, Sam, who'd been in Auckland at Bible college for the last year. He took me to the family he'd been staying with and over the next few days I met a whole bunch of familiar faces I knew from church back home, all studying in New Zealand. It was fascinating hanging out with people I knew, and great insight to how this trip was moulding me, testing whether I'd revert back to standard social practices or act differently.
The bike had also arrived, surviving a battering from the US Department of Homeland security, and it was functional for the most part. I replaced the chain, fitted new brake pads and put the bike back together and we were ready to hit the road again for Leg 3: New Zealand!