I've been meaning to write about this since, well...since it happened. Here goes.
Our first temporary home during our trip to New Zealand was the Papamoa Beach Top Ten Resort. I wrote a bit about it earlier, so I won't go too deep into that now. What I will say is that one of my favorite activities (besides the bouncy pillow!) was the opportunity to walk/run on the beach in the morning before everyone else woke up.
Well, I say everyone else, but honestly I'm not sure if Rob ever slept on our trip...I just know that my biological clock kept waking me up just before the sun came up, and no one else was ever moving around...so let's just assume I was the only one awake.
Most days, I'd go down and just walk. Pick a direction and walk until I got tired of walking, then turn around and walk back. Look at shells. Admire the seagulls (Mariel, remember Onesie?) Hold out hope that I'll find a shark's tooth on the beach. (Not yet.)
Anyway, on a trip where most of our travel was four people, luggage, and camping equipment stuffed into Hotel Mercedes, I didn't have a lot of privacy. My morning walks on the beach at Papamoa were my opportunity to get out by myself, clear my head, and just GO. Maybe my opportunity to control what was happening in my life...
I'd ended a 6-year relationship right before the trip, so I was still dealing with that pretty solemnly...in fact, I'm not sure I'm ready to even write much about that right now here, so maybe I'm still suffering from the fallout of it...so maybe someday I'll share my thoughts on it. Maybe not.
In any case, it was freeing to get out and walk with purpose away from everyone else. Don't get me wrong...I love Rob, Fen, and Mariel, and I had lots of fun on our trip...but I did have my moments of claustrophobia. Once I'd had my fill of walking, I decided to run.
I don't know if anyone knows this about me, but I hate running. I love playing sports...but running for running's sake? Nope. Did I run track in high school? Yep. Do you want to know why? Because I had a HUGE crush on Lindsay Speer. (She was all-state track/cross country, gorgeous, and immensely intelligent.) But I was a sprinter; nothing long-distance.
When I got in the Navy, our PT (exercise) was to run. You'd think the Navy would prefer you learn to swim long distances...but nope. Mile and a half. Again, hated running...so I'd just trudge along at the slowest possible pace. My knees hurt, my shins hurt (we were running on the concrete sidewalks at Navy Nuclear Power Training School in Orlando, FL) and I just detested this daily torture...until I figured out something interesting:
I can run. Fast.
If I ran way faster than anyone else, I could literally lap everyone and get back in bed earlier. It was over quicker. So my mile and a half time went from 15 minutes to 7 minutes. (Don't worry, I still hated running, but I don't mind running fast...)
Anyway, let's take a pause and go back to high school. When I decided to try out for Track, I was a senior. I had also decided to audition for the school play (made it into Harvey as Dr. Sanderson), the school musical (made it into Oklahoma as Dancing Curley), Journalism Club/the school newspaper (wrote several awful articles), French Club, FCA (that's gotta be a surprise for some of you, but Lindsay was in it...so there you are), Fine Arts Club, etc...but I wanted to letter in a varsity sport. I wasn't about to try out for football, no matter how much the coaches wanted me to (same with wrestling) and the soccer coach wanted me to play fullback due to my height (no thanks.) I found out that the track team had graduated most of their sprinters the year before and desperately needed people to fill out the team.
I remember running the 100m at tryouts in floppy worn-out tennis shoes. I remember finishing at the head of my group, then looking over at the coaches and seeing the look of surprise on their faces. Wait, this goofy looking white kid won his heat? Okay, let's put him in a faster group. Guess what? Still won.
So I made the track team. Even though I had the fastest 100m times, I don't think I ever ran it in an actual competition. I mainly got put in the 200m, 4x200m and 4x400m relays. Side note: I remember them REALLY needing hurdlers, and them asking me to try it out. Of course, no one took the time to explain how to properly run over the hurdles, so after a couple times of me jumping over the hurdles with both feet out to the side, that quickly came to an end. Funny note: I was still keeping up with the others doing it this way. Imagine if someone had taught me how to do it properly!
Anyway, blah blah blah, track in high school. You might be wondering: "Did you ever ask Lindsay Speer out? That was the only reason you tried out!" The answer is....almost.
I didn't have a date for Senior Prom, and I desperately wanted to go with Lindsay. Of course, I was absolutely terrified to ask her (I've always been like this, really, and still am), so I waited and waited...finally, a few days before prom, I heard that she didn't have a date. I was a bit stunned that someone like her wouldn't have a date...but that was the moment I decided to go ask her. So I'm walking out to the track field...and on the way down I pass one of my friends headed in the opposite direction. I say, "Hey, what's up?" because he had a shit-eating grin on his face. He says, "Oh, nothing, just asked Lindsay Speer to go to prom with me and she said yes."
So I didn't go to Senior Prom, meaning that I will never, ever understand 50% of high school coming of age movies.
Anyway, back to the original story. I still hate running, and I hated it even more after putting up with a year of running track (I did get that Varsity "O" though.) But for some reason at Papamoa Beach, running seemed like the right thing to do. I started a playlist of Kanye and started a jog, of which I quickly became bored...so I started sprinting. Now, I haven't run since...Navy times? So I didn't run all that far. But it felt good to run. For the first time ever.
So I walked until I felt like running again, then sprinted as fast as I could until I had to stop. It felt awkward...like my body didn't have the coordination of sprinting any more. So I decided to keep going. Each time, it felt better and better. Finally, on the eleventh sprint, it happened.
I felt like I was flying on top of the ground.
I literally had the sensation that my feet were barely touching the sand. Every movement was completely smooth. Every breath flowed in and out without any effort. My joints felt loose; my head just floated along and seemed disconnected from the rest of my body, which had melted completely away.
It. Was. Exhilarating.
It was honestly the best my body has felt since my car accident during my senior year at Illinois (where I broke my neck and didn't know until a year ago. Way to go, Carle Hospital Emergency Room. Way to be thorough.)
I glided to a stop and turned around. My footsteps were in a straight line behind me, tiny dots where only the balls of my feet had touched the sand (I have always sprinted like Michael Johnson.)
I sprinted once more, trying to catch the lighting again...but by this point I had done the equivalent of about a mile of sprints...so my legs started tightening up. I enjoyed the rest of the walk back to camp, but I made it a point to remember that moment where I flew in New Zealand...because you can't forget those types of moments: first kisses, when someone tells you that they love you for the first time, that look in your niece's eyes when she screams, "Uncle Ben!!!" and then tackles you...
These are the moments you can't forget. The ones you hang on to for the rest of your life.
Because there are plenty of failures, plenty of missed proms, plenty of trudging through unnecessary ordeals...all to get to these brief moments that remind us of how wonderful it can be to transcend the normal, to step outside of the limitations we set for ourselves, and to be alive.
So I guess what I'm saying, after all this, is that I remembered how to be alive in New Zealand.