Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


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One day in paradise is pretty much the same as any other, but each day on the beach is decidedly different.

The sea seems to change its make-up from day to day, varying its look from gentle breakers rolling over the submerged lava rock and coral to a pounding surf that can strip the sand from the beach in a day, although storms of that intensity are rare. And, of course the sand always returns, carried back by the same force of nature that carries it away.

Very few tourists ever take to heart the advice to never turn your back on the sea and even fewer know that more drownings occur on the Hawaiian Islands than anywhere else in the United States.

Only once have I ever looked at the Pacific Ocean with trepidation and that was in the months following the Boxing Day tsunami that killed more than 200,000 in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. After watching the news coverage of that 2004 disaster, I remember the first morning on the beach here in Maui looking out to the horizon and wondering ever so slightly, what to do if the ocean suddenly drew back, like a huge watery intake of breath, preceding a killer tidal wave.

I don’t remember if I came to any solution, but it was probably fatalistic, as the choice on this stretch of the beach, where there are no buildings within a minute’s mad dash is between a natural marsh — the Keali Pond, home to several kinds of native birds — and a two-lane highway, neither of which would be much use in escaping a tsunami.

None of that ever kept me away from any ocean, indeed any body of water. Curiously enough for someone who is so powerfully attracted to water, I can’t explain why I live inland, where there are few lakes that aren’t man-made and only two rivers, the Bow and the Elbow, which join forces in Calgary. The America painter, Robert Henri, put it best: “Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.”

That’s what makes a long morning walk on the beach seem less like exercise and more like contemplation or meditation.

Fear of the sea is the furthest thing on my mind when each day arrives clear and calm with just a few puffy clouds. To the Hawaiians, this is winter and when the temperature dips to 69F, the locals haul out their hoodies and fleeces while the rest of us are so grateful for the warm sun and the knowledge that nothing needs to be shoveled, that we laugh when the television weather reporter talks about the serious cold front. I remember one year watching the news when a television reporter — wearing long pants and a sweater — interviewed two bathing-suit clad people on Waikiki Beach asking them what they thought about the unseasonable cold weather. The look they gave the reporter was priceless, but maybe it was only the Canadians who could truly appreciate their cryptic response. She couldn’t stop laughing and he said only three words: “We’re from Winnipeg.”

Cold, after all, is relative. And cold in the valley between Maui’s two mountains, the volcanic Haleakala at more than 10,000 feet and the smaller and less-poetically named West Maui Mountain at more than 5,000 feet is sometimes just a matter of altitude. Those tourists who trek to the top of Haleakela to watch the sunrise are warned to bring something warm to wear. Of course, to people who live with the Rocky Mountains as their backdrop, the Maui mountains are little more than big hills. But their presence as the central spine of the island leads to Maui’s nickname, the Valley Isle. According to the excellent, no-nonsense guidebook, Maui Revealed by Andrew Doughty, eventually the land bridge that acts as the island’s waist between the two halves of Maui will vanish, worn away by erosion leaving at first two islands and eventually the islands themselves will erode away. The volcanic action that made the Hawaiian Islands will also be their destruction as, writes Doughty: “ the weight of the islands ensured their doom. Lava flows on top of other lava and the union of these flows is always weak. The lava also contains countless air pockets and is crisscrossed with hollow lava tubes, making it inherently unstable.”

Luckily none of us will be alive when the end comes a few million years from now. “Maui’s volcano, Haleakala,” writes Doughty, “awakened from its long sleep and is in its final eruptive stage. It probably last erupted around 1790 and will continue with sporadic eruptions for a (geologically) short time before drifting into eternal sleep.”

Even just going for a walk each morning presents a different aspect to the confluence of mountain and ocean and particularly here in Ma’alaea Bay, the whales are a constant, albeit mostly unseen companion.

The more than 1,000 humpback whales don’t come for the sun and sand, unlike we land mammals. They come to what is their breeding grounds and nursery and if you’re lucky, you can see them with their calves. While they spend most of their time out of sight of people, Maui is, writes Doughty, “the undisputed whale-watching capital of Hawaii. The shallow water between islands here is the whales’ preferred breeding area. Few industries in Hawaii bring as much shameless phony advertising as whale watching. Computers allow fake scenes with relative ease,” and all those pictures which seem to show whales breaching right next to the boats that take tourists out into the ocean are shameless lies. Federal law forbids the boats from coming closer than 100 yards from the whales and, says Doughty, the fine for “violating a whale’s personal space is obscene.”

One doesn’t need to pay for a boat trip, all one has to do is have a decent set of binoculars and a place to sit on the beach. The whales perform — while not exactly on cue — every day. Naturally, they don’t think they’re there to entertain us, they’re merely tending to their nursery.

The first morning we were here, just as the sun was clearing the top of Haleakela and I was walking alone on a deserted stretch of beach, I was stopped in my tracks by a sound I have only ever heard before on tape — the unmusical but nonetheless thrilling song of a male humpback somewhere between me and the horizon.

Exercise doesn’t get more fulfilling.

Walking the beach each day — an average of six and a half kilometers or four miles — more than fulfills the “requirement” to walk 10,000 steps each day.

As the National Post put it, in a 2002 article about a study of obesity in Canada: “Instead of dwelling on the negative thoughts about food and weight, the program allows participants to meet a positive target. Taking 10,000 steps a day is the equivalent of walking about eight kilometres and burns between 2,000 and 3,500 extra calories a week.”

I had tried this experiment, diarized it, wrote about it, and promptly forgot about it. I blamed winter and the Christmas season for abandoning the program. It simply became too difficult to meet the target in a winter city.

First, though I got smug. Here’s a diary entry: “The first day’s tally: 13,517 steps and 7.6 miles. Check pedometer, can’t have walked that far in one day. Only other time managed that distance was golfing Silvertip and running up and down the side of the mountain, due to 90-degree cart rule and really bad golf game.”

In outlining my own personal experiment, I wrote in the Calgary Herald: “I know how Helen Fielding’s title character feels, with her diarized obsession with weight, cigarettes, calories consumed and ‘alcohol units.’ Instead, feeling like Bridget Jones’ much-older sister, I record steps, water intake, exercise and mileage.

“I’ve been wearing a pedometer everywhere, except in bed, and my diary records a depressing inability to consistently walk those 10,000 steps, even when most days include a 45-minute cardio workout on a treadmill.

“Another compulsive Bridget -Jones moment: Find myself pacing the bedroom in nightgown to reach goal of 10,000 steps. Give self lecture on stupid compulsiveness and stop, only to discover I’ve reached 10,019 steps; 5.6 miles and a sloshy total of six, count ’em, 591-ml bottles of water. Up at 2:40 a.m. to, you guessed it, go to bathroom.

“Day What Feels Like 100: What began as spontaneous experiment has become compulsion and challenge. Today record highest steps of all — 14,115 and 8.0 miles. Admit to myself, although not to diary, that the only reason for the extra steps is having lost my watch and retracing my steps through four floors of downtown department store. Bless the cosmetics clerk — she has found watch.”

I lasted a month and then the Christmas party season started in earnest. But the pedometer stayed and I‘ve been wearing it each morning as I walk the beach as briskly as possible. Soft sand is the problem, although after a few days my legs no longer feel as if they are nailed to my hips.

The pedometer shows I’m certainly getting in more than 10,000 steps each day. Indeed, I’m logging an average of 13,000 steps on the beach before breakfast every morning. And, because I am still somewhat compulsive I’ve actually recorded each day’s mileage, for a total so far of 117 kilometers or 72 miles.

NEXT: I meet the Maui Caramac and am doomed.


Written by Catherine Ford

February 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. When you come for the Italian dinner, I will show you my Garmon – which is only a little larger than a sports watch. . .it not only calculates distance traveled – but your heart rate, pace and calories burned. It’s like a super pedometer.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    February 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm

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