Beth, Make Me Some Eggs
Tamara K. Adelman
Tamara K. Adelman
Tamara K. Adelman is a massage therapist, triathlete, and freelance writer living in Santa Monica, California. She has a B.A. from George Washington University. Devoted to training and traveling, she has competed in Ironman races in Brazil, South Africa, the Canary Islands, and Europe. Equally devoted to developing her writing, she has attended the Taos Writers Conference and is enrolled in the Creative Nonfiction Certificate Program at UCLA. As a freelance writer, her work focuses on travel, fitness, and action sports. She can be found most days looking out at the Santa Monica Bay as she writes the next story or trains for the next race—in passionate pursuit of perfection: the finish line. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, Ducts, Folly, Forge, Hospital Drive Magazine, North Dakota Quarterly, RiverSedge, This I Believe, Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine, Verdad, and Waterski.
I'm virtually adopted by the race director before I even get to New Zealand. Your money's no good here, Hooksie writes in his email—just bring something unique from where you're from for your billet (his word for host) family as koha (Maori for a gift). Triathletes often feel like family, perhaps because we don't really compete against each other, we compete against ourselves. Or maybe it's because we embrace self-torture so wholeheartedly that only our fellow sadomasochists can ever understand us.
Shane Hooks is his real name, and the race is called Hooksie's Half. It's famous, if only because of Hooksie's reputation for doing whatever he wants, pissing racers off, or for the "after" party at which attendance is required.
Here's how it works, he writes: Tell us what flight you're on, I've got a billet family that will pick you up, put you up, take you down; you won't need rental cars, nothing, the last thing you'll be is lonely. It'll cost you though. You have to help out at registration on Friday, and bring a box of cold piss (his word for beer) for me for brokering the deal. You pay up at the after party. Walking in with twenty-four cold ones on your shoulder'll make you look like a real cool Kiwi chick. I'll tell Virgil to clean out the spare room.
I've never done a home stay before, and I'm not sure about people who seem so happy to go out of their way for a total stranger. Before I can rule anything out, Virgil e-mails me, says his real name is Mike. We all have nicknames, here, he says. I understand that you are looking for accommodations for the lead up to Hooksie's Half. So you know you are more than welcome to come and stay. Just so you are aware: We live ten minutes from the airport, so picking you up is no problem at all. I live with my partner Doris and our dog Ronin. Both are mad for anything triathlon or multisport. He includes a picture of a dog sprawled across the top of a car loaded with bicycles and says if I buy Hooksie piss, he will love me forever.
Mike picks me up in Auckland and I'm instantly relieved. He doesn't seem like a white-slaver; he just looks like a guy about thirty-three with short brown hair who's wearing blue jeans. They live near the bush outside of Auckland, and I'm running within an hour of my plane landing. The bush is lush and thick with layers of ferns and branches that are dark like pesto. I tell Mike and his friend Paul to go ahead—they've got to be much stronger runners than I am. I'm just going to get the kinks out. Mike says something about just remember Cantuga Close—the name of their street. Doris should be back soon; she's out on her bike.
I emerge from the bush into a cul-de-sac. I'm glad to see pavement and houses, civilization. Now I just have to find their house. What did it look like again? Thing is I never looked back. I remember going down some stairs. There was a deck. A woman goes by on a bike . . . Doris? Lucky for me, this is how we meet. Then we sit on the deck and wait for Mike to get back. The sun is warm in the late afternoon. She's pretty, with short dark hair which she says she gets trimmed every three weeks. She has implants, which are uncommon in New Zealand, the most natural place, but she says she's a lot happier since she got them. She would get her ears done, too, she says, since she thinks they stick out.
Doris is interested in me, where I've been, what races I've done. I tell her about a woman I know from my hometown, who's turned pro, Heather Gollnick, we've traveled together—Oh, I know her! She's a mom? Yes, three kids—two of them with special needs, even. I tell her how she left her nasty muddy clothes in the hotel bathtub for days, how she left her fermenting sport drinks out for almost a whole week on the side of the sink. I just don't see how someone who's a mom can be so selfish and inconsiderate, I tell her. Doris says this is a common trait of triathletes, especially at the professional level. She can't believe this woman had three kids with those flat abdominal muscles. Two are twins, I say.
I'm really from Australia, Doris says, I basically left my family behind, and I really don't like my given name, "Caron," she says. I got the nickname, "Doris," after "Doris the Turtle," since I used to be such a slow runner. Hooksie started calling Mike, "Virgil," when he was training for his first ironman since he was such a rookie. You'll see, you'll probably get a one, too, everyone has one. Ronin lies next to us on the wooden deck, I wonder if that's his real name.
I stay two nights at their place, waking to birds singing and staring at the tree with the purple flowers outside my room. I make a fruit salad for Mike and Doris. They have to work the rest of week, they're police officers, and they think I should go up to Taupo with Hooksie and hang out with his race crew in the days leading up to the race, since it's more of a vacation place.
The next morning Mike takes me to Hooksie's house for breakfast. I meet his wife who gives me a beautiful bracelet, which she made, just because I am there. It's like an opposite hostess gift. Of course, Hooksie calls Mike, Virgil. They hate Lance Armstrong. This is very different from American sentiment. For cyclists, they love Jan Ullrich, the German pro cyclist known as "the Kaiser," and the underdog who is always overweight at the beginning of the Tour de France from eating too many kaisers. He's a diesel engine; it takes him awhile to get going. He eats pies, crashes cars, crashes bikes into cars, and gets busted using cocaine with hookers. Mike wears a black band that says, Livewrong in contrast to Armstrong's yellow band that says, Livestrong. Mike says Lance is a lying, drug-using cheat. As I get to know them more, I know that when Mike says, "Doris, I hate you," he really loves her. She says when they sign cards, they write, Love Doris, No Love, Mike. I wonder if they actually love Lance Armstrong down here at the bottom of world. Maybe not.
Hooksie comes to get me in what he calls his "fat rig." It is a mobile home with wheels. I climb up the stairs and sit in the passenger seat. He backs the thing up with some difficulty because the thing does not bend. It's so long, there's a hallway inside, and we put my bike there. Lake Taupo, Hooksie tells me is pronounced "toe paw." It is only a couple hours away, he says he's got the iPod ready to go. We'll stop for lunch later, he says.
He's got some calls to crew members. "Frank," he yells into his mobile, "at the center of my angst," did he really say "angst?" Between the word choice and the accent, I almost laugh, but we've lost the way, and we're nearly out of diesel. I'm hungry and notice the fumes. He pulls over, parks the rig, gets out and sprawls on the ground, slamming his hand repeatedly onto the grass by the seaside. The waves are loud.
He manages to shake it off, and I decide to pay for lunch, maybe even the gas. I feel sorry for him. We get back in, and soon we're on a road that cuts through a river gorge. It's made smooth by light drizzle. The tree canopy emits moisture from the natural thermals beneath and look like steamed broccoli. Hooksie sorts through his iPod, and pretty soon we're singing duets like "Suddenly" from Xanadu and "Every Day I Write The Book" by Elvis Costello, and I feel rooted in a place far from home.
The smell of rotten eggs singes my nostril hairs as we reach Rotorua, which seems like the end of the world. Seagulls inhabit the bleak flat rock of the volcanic plateau, the smell of sulfur and the rising steam are remnants of past eruptions. Hooksie says, let's stop at a spa so you can try some of the sulfur baths, and I can take a nap. Since I'm a triathlete, I always have my bathing suit with me. The place is half-indoors, half-outdoors, and this makes up for Hooksie's prior indiscretions on the grass. It looks like hell on the moon here, with craters and gray, ashen rock ledges, but after soaking for a while, I don't care about the smell anymore and even dunk my hair. In Taupo, I can't wait to meet this Frank guy who caused Hooksie all his angst, and though I am suspicious of him at first, he seems like a nice guy. So does his buddy, Clinton.
The rental house has a great view of Lake Taupo, but there's no bathtub or garbage disposal. Borrowing one of their cars, I drive on the wrong side of the road, with my heart rate well above race pace, to the Pac & Save to stock up for cooking because this is the area where I'm most needed. I'm cutting down on training before the race, so I have time. I go for the blinker, but I turn on the windshield wipers.
The boys love my cooking and give me the nickname Beth, after a "hard" woman in a New Zealand film, Once Were Warriors, who makes eggs for her abusive husband. I've never seen it, but I'm glad to hear she eventually leaves him. I wish I'd been given a sweeter name.
During the week, Clinton and Frank take me to some unadvertised thermal springs nearby. I bring some of the potato water I'd boiled and stored in old Gatorade bottles, since I've heard the leftover water is loaded with potassium. The boys tease me about all my "preparations." Clinton says, "Beth, make me some tea," but his machismo is completely negated by the sarong he wears. That night we invite the Australians over for dinner, Mike and Caron arrive, and by the end of the night we're bonded by piss.
Race morning arrives with drizzle. We're all standing at the swim start not moving and getting wet anyway. Raindrops tap the back of my neck. My hair is tucked under a double layer of swim caps since the volcanic-formed lake is cold. Reluctantly, I remove my flip-flops, leaving them on the beach. The stones are like pumice on my feet. I dig my toes under to try to feel the warmth of the thermals below. The gun goes off and I use my arms as paddles to pull through it, but the swim seems long after ten minutes, when I probably have at least a half hour to go. It's about sixty degrees Fahrenheit, but they say last year it was worse, so I feel like I can't complain.
As I swim along the shoreline, the lake is so clear that I can see golf balls on the bottom. I find out they look closer than they are as I dive down to grab one. There are more and more of them because there's a hole-in-one raft in the middle of the lake. It's hard to swim with a golf ball in your hand so I drop it and swim on. On land, I shimmy around trying to get free of my wetsuit, but it's hard to move because I'm numb, and I still have to run up a hill to get to where the bikes are racked.
About to mount my bike, I notice that my right cycling shoe is bent in at the heel. My foot is frozen, so I can't feel it. None of the Kiwis say a word about the rain and cold, and I follow their example. The bike course is flat and easy, along roads with a chipped surface. I've heard Americans complain about it because it's bumpy, but I'm accustomed to rough roads because I grew up on a rural Washington Island. I'm glad there aren't a lot of potholes or grease to slip on in the wet conditions. Wind comes at me from all sides, but there are a few patches of forest that provides some protection. By the time I reach the transition area after the second loop, I hear that the winner of the race has crossed the finish line.
Triathlons start early and the twenty-eight hour time change across the International Date Line makes me feel out of sorts. I crave coffee now that it's lunchtime, and I feel like I'm getting my period even though it is not due. I brought a travel clock to leave on home time and took my birth control according to this, but my body knows it's not the same time. I decide the best way to cope is to stay in the moment.
The run course is part park, part residential with an incline—three loops of approximately 4.3 miles each. I stay to the right, which I find is the wrong side as I collide with the people who are making the return from the first loop; so obviously an American, thinking my way is the right way.
There's a girl in front of me running my pace, and I hope she's on her first loop—she's smooth and steady. I'm already in trouble since the bike was so hard fighting the sideways rain. Maybe I went too hard, there being a fine line between confidence and arrogance in this sport.
On a hill on the second loop I catch up to her when she starts walking. I say I'm so glad to see you, come on, stay with me. She'd helped me without knowing it, and now I'm helping her. She starts running again. Her name is Rachel. Running the hills, I get a second wind, racing the rest of the way with Rachel. Our approach is simple: Just keep running—in silence until we are almost done—then it'll be safe to talk.
There are times on the run I think I may not finish. Times I think I should do something else with my life—something meaningful like having a child or becoming a doctor. But this is the way the mind works, disassociating with a difficult experience. The weather's making me dig deeper than a half ironman should as opposed to a full ironman race with double the distance. My right foot hurts where there's a bunion. The plane ride over and the taper before the race usually heals any nagging injuries, but that is not the case. Maybe I need new shoes, or new running form, or a new foot, something.
Mike and Doris are faster than me, so they've finished the race by now. As I make the third loop, Mike jumps out from behind some bushes yelling, "Good Job!" which comes out, "Good Jab!" in his fake American accent, because making fun of Americans is popular in almost any country.
Kiwis do not say nice work or good job at their races. They say, "Aren't you done yet?" or "throw it in now, you look terrible." Doris has a latte waiting for me at the finish line—this would be our treat for racing in the rain. "Beth, look at your time!" She's as happy for me as I am. It's taken six hours and thirty minutes. I say good bye to Rachel and we high five.
In the transition area, I left most of my stuff in my backpack since it was raining so much. Usually at triathlons, you spread out all your stuff, but keeping the backpack loaded was the only chance of having something dry. We get in their van with our bikes and drive back along the course on the way to the friend's house that we've rented, sweeping up my errant items along the way: the flip flops I left at the start, the fuel belt which is an around-the-waist water bottle holder that I tossed off by somebody's mailbox during the run.
Back at the house, since tomorrow is my birthday, I get to take the first shower. Then we must attend the post-race party at the local high school. Kiddie swimming pools are loaded with mounds of ice and bottles of beer for the prize giving, as they say, instead of "awards ceremony." Triathletes are not known for their ability to party, but there are seven hundred of us here. Hooksie calls up all the international racers and makes the men moon the audience.
I am sad to leave; I wish I had friends like this at home. When I'm back in LA, Doris sends an e-mail that Ronin had been sniffing my bed, and that they all miss me, and that, of all the people that have stayed with them, I am the most special. And the most beautiful inside and out. But I brought the box of piss to the party, and that is the Kiwi way.