Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Under Construction

I've decided that I need to do a re-vamp of this blog.  I find that at times I'm unmotivated to post, because I feel like I need to be talking about all these great adventures and not necessarily all the things that are going on in my life.  Most of the times these things are good, but sometimes they are not so good.  But I need a way to get things off my chest or that are on my mind without the "fear" that people are going to worry about me.

One thing I've found, now that I moved to London to be with Angie, is that I need to change the way I communicate.  She and I had become so reliant on our e-mails, that I got very good at telling her stories, telling her how I was feeling, what was going on in my life, etc.  Now that we are both around each other, in person, we've both had to work on that and we're coming along quite well.  However, I still miss that opportunity to get my thoughts written down.  Since I'm not one to keep a journal (even though that's essentially what this is), I need to re-configure how I'm going to approach this whole blog thing.

My apologies to those who have been checking in on a regular basis to see the same post over and over again.  But thank you for hanging in there and continuing to check.  Many, many thanks to those handful of people who not only check in regularly, but consistently tell me to keep writing (you all know who you are).  I sometimes feel like I'm writing specifically for you all.

Hopefully, with this Gouda re-boot, things will become more regular, more diverse, and more entertaining.  How many times have I said something like that before?  But THIS time I mean it.

Monday, August 16, 2010


After two weeks of searching, Angie and I found a flat in Hackney (a borough of London) in an area called Dalston. Hunting for flats here is much different than finding apartments in US. Most flats in decent areas go off the market 1-3 days after going on the market. You have to be ready and primed to jump on the tube and rush off to see the small, over priced space that you are going to live in the next 6-12 months and have money in hand to give to the realtor to say that you are serious about the place.

We started poking around different areas when I visited in March/April, just to find an area we liked. We did that and as soon as we started seriously looking when I got here earlier this month, we quickly realized that cost of rent does not equal quality of flat.

The first area we looked at, without knowing much about London was Bethnal Green. It was a decent area, but something about the lack of green space turned us off from the area. Then we checked Wanstead, which we fell in love with. This is where we found out about flats going before they were even being posted online and the ones that were able to be viewed, were a bit cramped. We then tried Leyton and Leytonstone, which proved to be quite scary. One flat could have been used in a horror movie set, complete with a downstairs neighbor who was looking at us through a barely cracked open door (all I saw was an eyeball glaring at us).

After this, we went for a drive and found this huge green space called Victoria Park (apparently one of the larger public parks in the city). This was in Hackney and we fell in love with the area again, but also found that prices right around Victoria Park to be quite high. So we went back towards Leyton to an area called Stratford.

Stratford was nice and it's being built up for the 2012 Olympics. We found a really great house, yes - house, not flat, that was the perfect space, but something still didn't feel right about the area. We did tell the realtor that we were 90% on getting the place and he really liked us, so he said, go check out your last place for the day and call me back. I'll hold it for you without you putting the money down.

We really wanted to check out more of Hackney to see if we could find a little pocket that would be affordable and feel safe to be in. So we went to see the last place scheduled for the day. The flat was in such a great neighborhood - one that we would definitely feel comfortable in. But the flat was in the basement, decked out in late 60's/early 70's furniture (and not in a chic retro way either - more of an old and decrepit way), with a bed that had springs poking out, a couch that felt like it was made out of bricks, and a shower that was build under a slanted wall (meaning that the only way to shower would be to squat...the ENTIRE time). Oh, did I mention the teal toilet and bathtub? We had to say no, even though we loved the area.

But I recalled seeing this realtors name on another flat when I was poking around online, but never found the ad again. So I asked him about it. It was a bit on the high end of our price range, but nothing ventured nothing gained. As soon as we walked into this place, we were floored. It was perfect. It was a newly built, gated apartment complex. The area around it was bustling and felt positive and there were about 12 buses that stopped about 3 minutes from our flat so we would have many access points to other parts of the city.

The realtor claimed that he had someone coming for a second viewing (although we both felt that even though flats go quick that this was a ploy on his part) and that we should act quick if we like it. Considering that we loved the flat, loved the area, were fairly close to Victoria Park, and know how quick flats do get snatched up, ploy or not, we were ready to make the jump. So here it is...

These are all pictures from the realtors website, but it gives a good idea of what the place will be like. Oh, the bathroom is huge too.

Woo hoo!!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

That's more like it

Since I got to England about two weeks ago, it's been warm and sunny every day. Ok, maybe not sunny, but definitely warm. And hardly no rain. Until today. There has been a slight chill in the air and the rain has come off and on all day long, even a bit of small hail at one point.

But this forecast seems more like what I expected...

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Even though I have only lived abroad for two years (and really only began international travel about three years), I feel like I'm a fairly adept traveller. I feel as though I can go with the flow and adapt to the circumstances. Especially in a country that speaks English.

Now, I thought this same thing when I moved to Trinidad and I came into a major culture shock for the first few months. It was my first exposure to driving on the left side of the road, Caribbean English can be hard to decipher, especially when you aren't accustomed to the slang, and the everyday choices (ie - groceries) had some similarities, but for the most part was pretty different.

Moving to London, I was prepared for all of that. After all, I'm "experienced" right? Given, I'm more familiar with the slang after having a couple of British friends and students in Trinidad, the last two years, watching some British TV, and having visited London a number of times. So I was good there. However, my first into the Tesco (national grocery store chain), put me in my place right quick.

We started in the produce section and Angie started grabbing all of her regular, favorite goods. I picked up a mango here, some plums there, and that was about it. I was a little overwhelmed by the choices. I had no idea that there were so many different types of lettuce. In Trinidad we had Iceberg and cabbage. Then throw in all the options between organic and non-organic and it started to get to be a bit much. So I said, I'll just follow your lead and add on here and there. My way of getting out of making any decisions.

We moved along and when we got to the bread aisle, it was more than I could handle. Wheat, whole wheat, multi-grain, oats, different sizes of each one, and on top of all of that, you had to check expiration dates, because stuff is fresh over here. By the time we got to the aisle with snack bars, and various other boxed goods, my head was spinning. I almost felt like I was having a panic attack. I felt short of breath and I couldn't even figure out if I was looking at a brand name on the box or the name of whatever type of food it was. I just couldn't do it anymore and I had to throw in the towel.

Angie agreed and said she remembered how overwhelmed she was when she first went shopping there and her running around like an old pro and break-neck speeds (because who really wants to spend an afternoon at the grocery) didn't help my situation. She then took a step back and really took in the panicked look on my face and said, let's go check out. I felt like such a tool. Who freaks out at a grocery store?

The next few days Angie had to work so I was kind of on my own during the day. I did some stuff around the house (laundry, making dinner, etc.), looked for flats on the UK's version of Craig's List called Gumtree, and went downtown once to visit a friend from Trinidad who was visiting family here (she's now teaching in Kampala, Uganda - Hi Sam!). But then, in order to be able to drive Angie's car that is provided by her work, I had to take a driving induction class, where they basically see if I'll be a danger on the roads or if I can be trusted behind the wheel of an automobile without killing anyone or driving on the wrong side of the road.

All I heard about driving in England is how incredibly difficult the tests are - the written and the actual driving test. We have all been told that most people do not pass the first time. There are many differences that you will be graded on, besides the obvious of driving on the "proper" side of the road. For instance, you cannot cross your hands while driving or turning. You can check your blind spot, but cannot turn around when driving. This includes going in reverse - all checking needs to be done from your three mirrors.

And then there are the signs, paint and the roundabouts. There are more signs on the sides of these roads than I have ever seen. They have signs that tell you that you are 300 meters from the upcoming exit, then 200 meters, then 100 meters. But you don't know that is what they are telling you, because they are just slanted lines. The national speed limit is noted by a white sign with a black line through it. But you can't just remember that the national speed limit is 70. No, no. You have to know from this same sign, what the different speed limits are if you are on a dual carriage way, rural road, or motorway. You also have to determine what speed limit you need to drive in residential or urban settings by the street lights - not necessarily a posted speed limit.

The streets are also painted with loads of different markings as well. If there is a white zig-zag (like on Charlie Brown's shirt) you cannot park there. If there is a double yellow line, you cannot park there. But if there is no zig-zag and no double yellow line, you still might be cited because you may block the flow of traffic. There are arrows galore and there are giant triangles painted on the road to let you know that an intersection is coming up, in case you couldn't tell by the traffic and road crossing your path.

THEN there are the roundabouts. Oh my are there roundabouts. There are roundabouts that are as small as a painted circle in the middle of an intersection and roundabouts that are so big that they are as big as half a city block and have buildings built on them. There are roundabouts extending off of roundabouts and signs that look like something out of Pee Wee's Big Adventure (I'll try to get a picture of one sometime).

But it's not just the roundabouts, because in all honesty, they do keep traffic going. It's the supposed etiquette of the roundabouts. If you are turning at the first exit, you must be in the left lane with your left turn signal on. If you are going straight, the you don't have anything on and you stay in the left lane. If you are going "past 12:00", then you need to be in the right lane, with your right turn signal on and when you past the second to last exit before your desired exit, you need to get in the left lane and when you pass the exit prior to your desired exit, you need to make sure your left turn signal is on, and then you can exit. I swear there are rules to the rules just to have rules and it gets quite ridiculous, if you couldn't tell.

Fortunately, I have always kind of enjoyed driving and while I may not always follow the rules, I tend to know them. Angie warned me that when she went out for this driver's induction class, the instructor kept grabbing the steering wheel and moved her from one side of the lane to the other. She told me how incredibly stressful it was and at the end of her class, the instructor let out an exasperated sigh and told Angie that she would most certainly fail the exam, but they will let her drive for now.

When I got behind the wheel, I had a slight advantage because I was used to being on the left side of the road from driving in Trinidad. We drove for about 30 minutes and I asked a lot of questions as my instructor was telling me where to turn and what not. After the 30 minutes, we pulled into a retail garden center and he gave me a quick summary - I followed the cars a little close on the highway (he keeps about a 4-5 second rule for distance so he's a little extreme), but said on the whole, that I was a very competent driver and then asked me if I would like to go have tea. I thought that was nice, so I did, we chatted and he dropped me off at home.

Angie was a little perturbed by the difference in our experiences, but is now very happy to know that she can hand over the keys and not have to drive everywhere anymore. I guess I'm happy with that too.

I'm also happy that things are starting to get a bit more familiar for me now that I've been here a couple weeks. Hopefully the differences won't be as extreme, although I'm sure they will continue for months to come.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The big jump across the pond

I've made it to England...finally! It's been a long time coming, a year in the planning as a matter of fact. Well, maybe not so much planning, but a lot of talking and a lot of throwing things out there and waiting for them to fall in place. A couple things have fallen into place and a few things are still up in the air. But this is not about that, let's instead talk about my journey and first experiences as a new "resident".

It began with a trip to O'Hare airport in Chicago. Angie and I were dropped off at Terminal 2 for Air Canada. We both flew Air Canada to Ottawa on different flights and then to London on different flights, but flying at the same time. We waited in line for about 30 minutes and finally got to the representative (no self check-in's for Air Canada). She looked at us perplexed and said:

"Oh, your flight is being operated by United, you need to go to Terminal 1. Have you really been waiting in line this whole time?"
"Yes we have."
"Oh jeez. I better check to see if anyone else is waiting for that flight too..."

So off we went to United, in Terminal 1. Fortunately it was only about a 3 minute walk and the representative for Air Canada gave us a push cart to load our bags on. We had two suitcases, a giant duffel bag, and to packed backpacks (carry-ons) filled with my stuff, Angie's roller derby gear, and her clothing from her 3 week vacation to the States.

At the United counter, we weigh our bags and (of course) they are over weight. The weight limit is 50 lbs and we had my duffel bag at 52.5 lbs, one suitcase (fairly large) at 60 lbs and the last suitcase (a normal carry-on sized suitcase) at 40 lbs. The charge for overweight bags is $200, regardless of how little or over the weight is. So we stepped aside to a counter where no one was at and started digging through the bags, weighing each item we removed and put it either into our carry ons or into the small carry-on sized suitcase. With my masterful skills, we got both overweight bags down to exactly 50 lbs and crammed that little carry-on sized bag up to about 45 lbs. These things were busting at the seams. I realize that this may all seem impertinent, but it comes back into play when you least expect it.

Anyway, we move back to the check-in counter and Angie asks if we can get on the same flight to Ottawa. Yes, but there will be a fee. (No thanks) We ask if we can get on the same flight from Ottawa to London, considering that both planes are leaving and arriving at the same time. Yes, but there will be a fee. (Again, no thanks) We check in and are off...

Angie is the first to fly. I get her on her plane and I kill about 2 hours until my flight. I hop on my plane and arrive to Ottawa to be greeted by a very nice, but very inquisitive immigration agent. He's asking me why I'm going to London. I'd like to say "What's it to you?" but decide to take the nice honest route and tell him that I'm going to meet my girlfriend who is living over there while I look for work. He then proceeds with the 3rd degree:

"What does your girlfriend do over there?"
"Is she American?"
"Do you know that you can't work on a visitor's visa?"
"Do you know the requirements to get a work visa?"

This goes on for a bit and I'm thinking...Holy crap! If this is what it's like to just pass through Canada, what's going to happen when I get to England? He eventually let's me pass and I meet up with Angie on the other side as my plane is getting ready to board. Not many planes were flying out of Ottawa at 10:30 PM in the international terminals. I ask her where her plane is boarding and she informs me that we are on the same plane. That my flight got merged with hers due to lack of seats being sold. Wait a minute!! Wasn't that lady at United going to charge me to get on the same plane with Angie? Whatever.

The flight is great. Sleeping pills work wonders on a red-eye flight. We arrive in London and proceed to English immigration counter. I'm starting to get nervous, but we decided that honesty is the best way to go. We tell the guy what the situation is (her working, me looking for work) and he says:

"You know you can't work on a visitor's visa. Just be sure you follow the proper procedures for getting a work visa and leave/re-enter the country properly if you do find work. Now be on your way."

??? I love the crack security in Canada for someone visiting England, but England is just like, "eh, whatever." Fine by me. And our adventure continues on the long tube ride from Heathrow to the connecting Central Line in London proper. Here is where it gets fun...

As we are heading up the escalator to get to the Central line, I'm pulling/pushing the large suitcase, carrying my backpack (nearly 50 lbs as well) and lugging the large duffel bag, while Angie leads the way with the heavy carry-on sized suitcase and her carry-on bags. As I approach the escalator, I try to get the suitcase on one of the steps straightaway. But I misjudged and it's balanced on the edge of the step above the step in front of me. So I try to slightly pull it back towards me, but apparently I pulled just a weeee bit too much. Being not so balanced with my heavy backpack and the heavy duffel slung over one shoulder, I proceed to fall over backwards, down the escalator. Fortunately there was no one directly behind me, because I fell down 2-3 steps. Two guys down the escalator a bit run up and help me get up asking if I was all right. I respond, "Yeah, I'm ok. Now that's not something you see every day." They didn't laugh. I felt (deservedly) like such an ass, I had to try to make light of it somehow. Maybe I should have told them a pirate joke.

We got to the top. A guy in front of me who grabbed the toppled suitcase hands it back to me and the guys behind me ask again if I'll be ok. "Yeah" I grumble and I catch up with Angie who is rushing to get to our train connection. We get there as people are piling in and I ask her if we can just wait a minute. She looks at me a bit perturbed but agrees and then looks down at the blood that I have streaming from the palm of my hand and yells, "What the hell happened to you?" Apparently she was the only one on the escalator who did not see what happened so I fill her in.

Fortunately, the rest of the travel was fairly uneventful. We got to Chelmsford (where we are staying for the next 3-4 weeks while we look for a flat closer to London) and proceeded to crash out for close to 14 hours.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fusion 2010

The tagline on Fusion's Facebook pages says, "When you cross the finish line, you'll know more about yourself!" This could not be put in any better words. This year, Fusion found us a year wiser, but they usurped us in what to expect, because this year was exponentially harder than last year.

Again, there were a number of us from the school who participated and we again were split into two teams. My former teammates, Charlie and Nick were in a team with a couple of our friends from Ultimate Frisbee, while I teamed up with Aaron, Katie and another friend of ours from Ultimate, Steve. Last year the two teams were unofficially dubbed "team fast" and "team fun". I was on "team fast", but due to my ankle injury earlier in the year, I told them that I could not participate in a competitive fashion because I thought that I might just be too gun shy to take the trails like I did last year, in fear of re-injuring myself after 6 some odd months of physical therapy. Fortunately for me, "team fun" welcomed me with open arms.

The race began at our favorite beach, Maracas, at 3:30 AM. The first leg of this three leg race required all four members to participate. We started at one end of the beach, had to race to the other end of the beach, gather a plastic bottle and cup and then run back to our team. At which point, another member took the cup back to the other end of the beach, filled it with red water and brought it back to fill up the bottle. It took us 3 cupfuls to fill up our bottle. After checking with an official, we were off into the bush with headlamps on, looking for red flags with reflective tape on them to guide us through the rain forest. I have run these forests before on hashes, but never in complete darkness.

The statistics for this leg were that we would be running about 6.5 miles and ascending 5,165 feet. The ground was wet and muddy and the humidity was thick. We all felt really good and strong for most of this leg. Fortunately, because it was before dawn, the real heat hadn't set in yet. Don't get me wrong, we were all soaked through and through with sweat, but as we knew, the worst was yet to come. For a good portion of this leg, we moved at a decent pace. We passed a few teams and a few other teams passed us.

At the approximate halfway mark, there was a short multiple choice test about Trinidad and the race. Each answer had different time penalties if skipped or marked incorrect, but we felt that we did very well with this. We never did check to see if we missed any at the final results, but I'm going to go on the belief that we were correct across the board. We continued on, climbing, running, scrambling...

At one point, there was a team gaining on us and feeling strong, we tried to hold them off. The sun had risen by this point and we were trucking along the trail. As we continued along, one guy in the back of the red teams pack yelled out, "Hey! Wait!!" Being at the back of our pack, I happened to stop and turn around along with the rest of his team. He pointed up to the right of a point we had just passed, and there was a large Gillette Fusion flag up on a hill by a house. I called out to my team, and we all turned around and followed them up the hill.

We were extremely fortunate that this team was on our tail. When in the heat of the race, you often focus solely on the team ahead of you (as Red was doing to us) and you could very easily miss a turn in the trail. We were very happy to get passed by these guys at this point as they potentially saved us a lot of time. We had friends on two other teams, and both fell into a similar trap of following the teams ahead of them. Once they realized that they were on the incorrect path, they had to turn around, get back to the main trail, and proceed - now being behind teams that were much slower than them. They both said that their detour cost them 25-30 minutes. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been because not only did you extend your time, but passing on these trails is very difficult and can only be done every so often if you want to do it safely.

After following the red team, we came to our second mental challenge of the race, which was to decode a message. Not very difficult, but kind of time consuming. We handed in our sheet and continued on. At this point, we were starting to get a little tired and of course, this is when we had to climb an extremely steep and muddy hill and then back down that extremely steep and muddy hill. We had to take it slowly and we made it without incident, but we were certainly starting to feel the aches and pains of this first leg. Katie had twisted her ankle (after the first challenge, but can't remember if it were before or after the second challenge). All our knees were hurting a bit and hills never help sore knees. We finally saw the ocean through the brush, and knew that we were almost to the finish of this leg. Soon after, we cleared the brush and ran down a road for about 5-10 minutes to the finish line. After all of that, we were the 17th team (out of 59 teams) to cross the finish line.

It was now about 7:15 AM and the sun was up and you could start to feel the heat for the day coming on. We anticipated that the second leg of the race would be back up and over that same mountain range into Port of Spain. However, we found out that the next leg was to begin at 11:00, at the top of Lady Chancellor Road, which is a somewhat steep road that you will always see people walking/running/biking and that looks out over Port of Spain. Fortunately for us, John, one of the guys on Nick and Charlie's team, lived nearby there, so we all went over to his apartment and sat by the pool, rinsed off in showers and relaxed in the shade.

Before the race, my knee had been bothering me and as mentioned, I was worried about my ankle. My ankle was good, but my knee was a little sore. Katie and I had discussed that one of us would drive if this were a 3 person leg, which it ended up being. But now with her new ankle twist, I told her that I would go on this second leg with Aaron and Steve.

This second leg of the race was told to us as being 13 km (a little over 8 miles). I was feeling good as were were looking out over Port of Spain and because I had just run a 10k race in Tobago the weekend before. That ended up being a lot of false optimism.

The horn blew and we were off. We started down this steep road that branches off of Lady Chancellor Road and headed down into the valley below. Once we were in the valley, we hit a very, very brief flat spot and turned left. It was a hill, but I noticed that everyone stopped to walk. Usually on any given hill, there are some people trying to run or go up it fast. We followed their lead and started walking...and walking...and walking...

This was a hill like I have never climbed before. Granted it was all paved, but that did not account for the incline, heat and humidity. It felt like the longest hike I had ever been on. I was dogging it real bad. Finally, we reached the top. It was a beautiful view, until I realized what I was looking at. Here is a shot I took the day after the race.

I was looking down this hill, thinking the worst was over, but then I noticed something in the horizon. That road, just to the left of that big white house, had a whole mess of people walking up it. I was devastated. Not devastated like a losing a loved one, but I felt all motivation and inspiration leak from my being. But I struggled on. At least I had a momentary reprieve going downhill.

We continued on, passed the white house, but the hill didn't stop. I didn't know what was going on. How could we continue to be going up? This was all that I saw in front of me.

It may not look like much, but it was steep. It felt like we were going straight up. And as you can see, it looks like it goes up for ever. Now, after the fact, we realized what we were climbing. If you go back to the picture with the road and white house, we're actually climbing that hill that goes up to the left. Allllll the way up. And then up some more. I did some research after the race and where the house picture was taken was probably about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile up this 2 mile road/hill. We went from probably just over sea level to 1500 feet in that 2 miles and were only at 525 feet where the house picture was taken. The incline was about 15º at one point up to about 25º at its maximum incline. To put this in perspective for those who watch NASCAR races, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has it's corners banked at 9º and the Daytona International Speedway has corners banked at 31º.

On top of that, the tar on the road wasn't even. It was melted and almost like waves of tar dripping down the road. This could either be from the continued heat that is the Trinidad climate or it's because the incline was so steep that it couldn't set in an even fashion. Also, to give you a picture of the gradient of the road, as we were climbing up, a 4x4 truck drove past and its tires skipped as it was trying to climb the hill. When I drove up this road the next day, my little Yaris was whining and crying and giving it all she could. Her tires were also skipping as I tried to drive to the top.

Needless to say, it was intense. What little life I had left in me was sucked out. My heart was racing, I couldn't catch my breath, the 90ºF heat at noon time was beating down on us and I just felt like I couldn't go on. For most of this hike past the house in the picture, I kept thinking to myself, "Is there a way that I can quit without penalizing my team? Is there a way that I can call an official to take me back to the start without our team being disqualified?" All answers led to "no" and I forced myself to carry on.

We got to the top of the road and realized that we had to continue to go up, but now though a wet, muddy trail. We continued up and up. Aaron in the lead and me and Steve in tow. Steve was feeling very much the way I felt though most of this leg. Aaron on the other hand, has become an exercise machine and seemed barely winded. I know it was tough for him, but he did not feel it anywhere near the way that Steve and I did. Aaron even carried Steve's hydration pack for a short while as Steve was recouping on the trail.

We managed to get to the top of the hill at last and started a short decline, which quickly came to a halt. We found ourselves at our first mental challenge for this leg. I didn't know how we were going to to, but we sat down on the road and dug in. This particular challenge was doing "deltoids", which are puzzles like: 52CIAD and you had to decode it to 52 Cards In A Deck. The best part of this challenge is that every one we got correct took 4 minutes off our time as opposed to penalties for getting them wrong. We sat there for about 15 minutes or so working on this challenge and got around 20 of them. We felt like we got the ones we could, have now made up the time we lost for the slow trudge up the hill, and moved on.

The rest was actually exactly what we needed. We were now going downhill and hitting some flats. We were actually running at a number of points as well. We passed a few teams, had to cross some river beds and ravines using ropes that were set up for us, and just continued to move as fast as our bodies would allow - which may not be as fast as normal. But all things considered, we were doing quite well.

We hit the final stretch, which I recognized from hiking Lady Chancellor Hill before and we turned on the speed as best we could to finish strong. At this point, my right foot cramped up and it felt like my toes were curling under my foot. Not a good feeling, but again, I muscled through and we finished strong. We now had another 90 minutes or so to kill until the last leg began. So we all went back to John's apartment again.

After more resting, showing and eating, we headed back to the savannah for the final 5k. The same run around the savannah to the port authority that we ran last year. We found out we were in 18th place and we also found out that Nick and Charlie's team were in 1st place. We knew that they were hovering around 4th again after the first leg and finishing kind of strong on the second leg, but we didn't expect this. Apparently, at that mental challenge on the second leg, they answered more than the other leading teams and it shot them to first!

Like last year, our whole team decided to run the final leg under the feelings that we started as a team and we're going to end as a team. Steve was still struggling and Aaron was still strong. Katie was doing well keeping up with Aaron as she was able to rest for the second leg (and her ankle was feeling a little better) and I was somewhere in the middle. I felt like I could have kept up with Aaron and Katie, but I held back with Steve to encourage him on. He was feeling bad for going slow, but I was there to reassure him that we ALL decided to do the race as a challenge to ourselves, and not to compete and win. Considering that the longest race he has ever done was a sprint triathlon (approximately 1.5 hours long), this was something that he (and any of us) really expected.

We carried on. We met up with Aaron and Katie towards the end of the race and we all crossed the finish line together, just as we wanted. Our overall place was 18th and we finished in 6:27:06 over the course of this 15-16 hour race. And as it turned out, Nick and Charlie's team took 2nd place. The other two teams behind them came out strong and John was tanking really hard on the final 5k. He gave everything he could and they were actually worried that he wasn't going to make it all the way to the finish line. The made second place by 44 seconds. Another close one, just like our finish last year.

Looking back on the race, I think I can say that this was the most difficult race that I have every participated in. Harder than my first marathon. Harder than my second marathon that was cancelled and turned into a "fun run" due to extreme heat (which looking back was equivalent to the heat that I did this race in). And much, much harder than last year's Fusion race. But the thing that I will take away, the same thing that I took away from each of those previous races that seemed to get progressively harder and harder; if I can put my mind to something, I will get through it. It may not be pretty. It may not be the fastest and it may not be as strong a finish as I would like. But I will make it through.

Fusion has definitely taught me a lot of things and I do know more about myself. I am grateful to be able to have participated in these races the last two years and it will be one of the biggest things that I will miss when I leave Trinidad.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Leatherback Turtles at Grande Riviere

Last weekend I went to the NE corner of Trinidad to an area called Grande Riviere to watch the leatherback turtles lay their eggs. This is one of the last things that I felt like I had to experience before moving from Trinidad.

Leatherback turtles are pretty amazing creatures. They have to be the closest thing to dinosaurs left on earth. They measure from 1 -3 meters long, about 2-3 feet tall, and about 3-4 feet across. They can also reach about 800-1200 pounds. I realize that I'm math teacher mixing measurement units - deal with it.

Here's the story of how these turtles lay their eggs...

When the sun sets and darkness falls across the beach, these massive creatures come out of the ocean, back to the very beach that they were born. When the eggs hatch, the hatchling turtles dig out of the sand and by the touch and smell of the sand, they know where they were born.

They find the beach by following the moonlight. This sometimes causes problems with hotels on the beach, because the turtles think the lights from the hotel are the moon. Apparently the turtles do not see (or are not effected) by red lights, so all the lights outside our hotel were red. Also the tour guides from the Trinidad Forestry Division have red head lamps to show you around at night. Most of my pictures were taken after dawn, when the last stragglers were on the beach.

After finding a spot that they feel is suitable, they start digging a hole with their back flippers. These flippers take out about 2 tablespoons of sand at a time. They go back and forth with each flipper, digging and digging, until they get a hole about 2 feet deep.

After they feel the hole is deep enough, they lay their eggs. They lay about 70 eggs and do this every 2-3 years after they mature. It takes about 15 years for the turtles to mature, and they can live to about 80-100 years old. About a third of the eggs that they lay (the last third) are infertile eggs. They do this because after the eggs are laid, they bury them with the sand and then compact it with their hind flippers. These infertile eggs act as a buffer to the fertilized eggs in case the sand crushes the eggs or if they get dug up by stray dogs, other turtles, birds, etc. While they are laying their eggs, the turtles go into a trance and this is when white light does not effect them and also when the Forestry Division will tag the turtle for data tracking and conservation purposes.

The picture above is the only picture in this series that was taken at night.

After the eggs are covered up by the hind flippers, the turtle then takes its front flippers and starts swooping back the sand around it to cover up and camouflage the nest. The span of these front flippers are about 6-7 feet when fully outstretched.

Once the turtle feels the nest is fully camouflaged, they head back into the ocean. The whole nesting process generally takes around 45-60 minutes. Although one that we watched at night was up for about 2 hours. She was really big and we guessed that she was a little more experienced with the process, so she was a little more careful about making sure her eggs aren't dug up by predators.

Look at that. Doesn't it look like some kind of ancient dinosaur? So cool.

Some other interesting things we learned about these leatherback turtles is that they have some of the softest shells of all sea turtles. This is because their defense against predators in the ocean (sharks, whales, boats, etc.) is to dive to extreme depths in a short amount of time. They can descend to 100 meters in 6-7 seconds. This is close to the length of a football field, including 1 end zone.

Being a diver now, I can attest to the pressure that can be exerted if proper measures are not taken to equalize when you descend. If the turtles did not have a softer shell, the pressure of the depth would crush their shells.

This had to be one of the coolest things that I've been able to experience while living here. And it was also kind of cool that we were there on Mother's Day.