Staying at a five-star resort in exotic lands means you’ve got a concierge, there and ready, to plan trips for you without all the pesky language and custom barriers that come with solo traveling. After my one-night stay at the Moorea Intercontinental Resort and Spa, I booked a three-hour snorkeling tour in the lagoon just north of the resort. There were fish and rays and sharks, oh my! with sunlight-drenched water and a color I can only refer to as exotic blue.
And then sometimes it’s just you and the water. Black-tip reef shark spotted but not captured. I thought it best to put the camera away and pay attention to my surroundings.
The quiet stillness of late afternoon, soft billowing clouds, the lapping hug of the South Pacific, dogs barking from afar, seabird caws, children’s laughter, lush green forest, and the smell of brine. Christmas in Tahiti.
Positive psychology, the brainchild of the brilliant Martin Seligman, asks the field of psychology to study those things that make us happy instead of why we’re not. Savoring, or remembering good memories, gives us the opportunity to practice happiness. We have all savored our favorite dish, a great book, and cherished memories. As snowy February wraps up and graduate school gets more intense and the layers of life pile on, I thought it would be a good idea to savor some moments from my solo jaunt to Tahiti.
Twenty years ago, reading Melville’s sensual Typee had me running to the bookstore to buy a map of Tahiti so I could dream and wonder and envision. Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, the story of a flawed dreamer who fled to Tahiti, sealed it. I would go. Some day.
I spent hours on Christmas Day reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, his account of how he and five of his adventurous friends sailed from Peru to Tahiti with no modern navigational tools to support his theory that the Polynesians had settled East to West. His tale included riveting stories about the crab they befriended, the sharks they avoided, the playful dolphins, and the terrible storms they endured while wearing fast ropes. The climax includes their getting stranded on a reef and the primitive ship that endured thousands of nautical miles being torn asunder. The isles of Tahiti and its atoll brethren are surrounded by reefs, which means Moorea, where I was staying, was an island, surrounded by a lagoon, flanked on all sides by reefs.
My new Franco-German friend and I started out early one morning to explore the calm, reef-filled waters on the southwest part of the island of Moorea. We crossed the channel, in some small way fearing for our lives, but soon entered a seascape with coral clustered into boulders.
During those two hours of kayaking, I savored easy paddling, the mid-morning calm, the windless scape, the companionship of a new friend and kindred spirit, the bright colors of living coral, the flitting fish, and the sense of freedom that being on vacation and having no itinerary can bring.
I would typically call New Year’s Eve amateur night. Lots of fussing over just another night. One of the best parts of any New Year’s Eve worth its volume in champagne is the viewing of puegos pyrotechnicos. To wind down our ten days in Cabo San Lucas, I and my traveling partners hit Medano Beach around 11:30Pm to catch the fireworks and ring in the New Year.
The all-inclusive resorts that front Medano Beach were roped off, having their own party with live music, fancy, lit-up dance floors, and folks with their dancing shoes on.
We went a little more low key, opting instead of ooing and aahing between the two sets of fireworks going off, with the banda soundtrack in the background!
After a three-year hiatus from Mexico and surfing, it was time to get back on the ocean-horse and see if I can still paddle. We spent three hours at Zippers, a fast, mushy point break between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
Above is the highlight of the day, a full ride into shore on a 10-footer. Excellent day.
Road trips rock. Even Hollywood knows that. Pile all the hot folks into the classic convertible, have them eat gas station food, camp out in the desert (even though they didn’t pack sleeping bags), and run into all sorts of trouble on their way to their destination. For Hollywood, it’s about depicting the journey as the destination.
For snowboarding powder days in October, it’s about the destination.
It was Friday, October 7 and I was all packed for Moab. I had neat piles of boxes and bags in my kitchen. I had slept four hours a night for two nights, going over maps, cooking food, double-checking my toiletry bag. I hadn’t been to Moab since Thanksgiving 2008, and I had been missing it sorely. I was psyched to go. Mountain biking is my first love, after all.
But somewhere around Thursday night I had heard it was dumping at Wolf Creek, my favorite ski area. The knot-nag in my stomach was telling me I had committed to Moab and needed to push powder pipe dreams out of my head. I was going mountain biking, not snowboarding that weekend.
But then plans fell through. At 7pm on Friday, I was no longer going to Moab for the three-day weekend. I was free to go to Wolf Creek. I went to bed at 8pm (not hard, as I was working on maybe 10 hours of sleep for two days) and set my alarm for 4am. Two hours of cleaning and a little repacking, and I could be at the lifts by 11am and board until 4pm. Five hours of boarding powder for $33.
But the thing about snow dumps on your favorite ski area is that they’re not very cooperative with your driving schedule. And so it was, early Saturday morning on October 8 that I drove right into a snowstorm. It wasn’t snowing heavily and the conditions were not white-out, but the roads were icy. Driving on unplowed, icy, snowy, and dark roads is something I’ve done (a lot) and something I hate. I drove with an envy for the other, paved side of the road that only extreme dieters can understand. I white-knuckled it in places, slid a little here and there, and arrived at Wolf Creek by 11am.
Temps were warm, maybe upper 30s and I wondered if I hadn’t overdressed with three layers on the top and two on the bottom. My first run was off the Bonanza Chair, a long, winding, easy-peasy run that’s good to warm up on. It’s called the Great Divide and it’s a great introduction back to snowboarding after a three-month hiatus. But the trail was longer than I or my legs remembered and somewhere, about three quarters of the way down, it burned, burned, burned. That IT band, it burned, and the calves followed suit.
The iron deficiency thing I have kicks in just over 10K feet, so I was huffing and puffing like an emphysemic wolf at the straw house. I chilled out for a few minutes at the lodge before I headed over to the the Treasure Chair, where I would stay for the rest of the day. The Treasure Chair had the powder. That’s the beauty of Wolf Creek–the more eastern you go, the further away you get from the main lodge, the more powder you can find. And I found it by ducking into the trees along the Tranquility run. I was swishing and laughing, all by myself, forgetting that it was October, that I had driven five hours to get there, that I hadn’t sleep much that week, and that I was 41 years old. I forgot all that and used my x-ray vision to find more untracked powder even though it was getting on in the afternoon.
I found an open field of untracked powpowpow, which had what looked like pieces of straw sticking up. I leaned back on the board with my weary-heavy legs and shifted my weight back so I could literally surf over the snow. That feeling of gliding over snow is what makes skiers turn into snowboarders. Snow-surfing is surreal and full of quiet, save the the board fwapping over the straw in the field. I went back for more. And again.
Exhausted by 3:30, I called it after about 10 runs. I had packed my New Mexico maps just in case I wanted to duck south and do some mountain biking. I knew I wanted to mountain bike Penitente Canyon on Monday, but I love northern New Mexico I dream about it. Often. So I headed to Chama.
The drive down the mountain to Pagosa Springs is ridiculously scenic, so I pulled over, with a dozen other cars, to the overlook to click and capture some magical moments:
I took highway 84 down to Chama, New Mexico, home of the famous Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad that winds through the countryside/mountainside just like back in the days of old. I was hoping to stay in Chama and ride my mountain bike nearby the following day, but there was no room at the Chama Inn. Or the Chama Motel. There were no beds on which to rest my weary head.
So I parked in town, watched the sunset, then drove north through another snowstorm.
If you’ve been following by non and mis-adventures you might be wondering why I’m not in Moab this weekend. The Moab trip had been in the works for a month and yet the night before fell apart owing to work obligations of one of our party. I was sad not to be visiting the homeland, but this now meant I was free to head down to Wolf Creek’s opening day as the first ski resort to really (more on this later) open in North America.
I’ll have more to write later, but I’ve got to get back to my road trip, which includes hiking and sandboarding and mountain biking Penitente Canyon.