Spinning at the gym late last week, it hit me. I needed to get away—get outside, in nature, and most importantly, in water.
I swim. I’m religious about it. Ever since my wheels (legs) began to fail four winters ago, I’ve swum 4-7 days a week. It’s what I’ve got, so it’s what I do. And truth be told, I’ve fallen in love with swimming, maybe because I’ve always been haunted by water. But swimming laps at our dungeon of a swim center just isn’t the same as being outside, under the sun, breathing fresh air and connecting to place. Before my chronic Achilles and degenerative hips, I loved winter. Cutting turns at Bridger Bowl and cross country skiing on Yellowstone’s Northern Range provided respite from the darkness and cold of Montana winters, giving me something to look forward to. But when life strikes, we adapt and thrive or wither and flounder.
Exercise makes me happier, healthier and more productive. I’m unwavering about working out. Pushing through the discomfort and fatigue of spondylitis isn’t debatable—it’s a necessity. It makes me better at what I do. But being active in nature, on a trail, a wave, a river, in water—where I’ve always found my greatest peace, joy and self—is challenging during the six month Montana winters.
As I wrapped up my workout Thursday morning, I shot my wife (who works for Alaska, which entitles me to buddy passes) a text, “Can you get me to Hawaii?”
“Of course,” she responded. “When?”
Five minutes later: “It looks like I can get you to Maui.”
“Maui it is.”
I’d never missed one of my daughter’s games, but she was with her mom for the weekend, and I had a window, and though the idea of traveling solo, stand-by, on red-eyes and with a three hour time change made me hesitate, I knew what I had to do. One of my best friends calls me the King of Wing for my ability to wing presentations or speeches, but when it comes to the daily grind, I’m regimented. Anal. I’ve been trying to foster more spontaneity, and I desperately needed this, so I went.
With no lodging, rental car or plans (except two big lap swims and time in the ocean), I journeyed to the only one of the four main Hawaiian Islands that I didn’t really know. And though it was exhausting, it was glorious, and precisely the spirit food and nutrition that I hungered for. Two days on Maui.
I’ve watched the inspiring women on the World Surf League tour end their season at this iconic break for many years, but never experienced the glory of Honolua Bay in the flesh.
On this night, from this spot, I spent over an hour on the phone with one of my best and oldest friends, Mike Iosua, my big, my guy, one of those who watched over me throughout high school, making for a truly meaningful and multilayered experience. Talking story to Mike (a lawyer doing important work on Oahu), while I watched the surf at Honolua, represented one of those in the moment times of deep gratitude for life, and symbolized the power and importance of connection to people and place.
Maui was crazy good. West shore. Lahaina. Kaanapali coast. Kihei. Paia. Kanaha. Sunshine, water, warm air, palm trees, cook pines, trade winds, ocean mana, HUMPBACKS. Winters in Montana are long. I yearn for Hawaii and her waters. Two days. Two nights. Two red eyes, medicine for the soul.
Lean into uncertainty, lean into discomfort, and trust your intuition, and when it’s time to go, if at all possible, not realistic, or practical, but possible, go. It’s what Eddie would do…
With aloha, Michael W. Leach