Whew! Sorry it's taken so long to catch up, it's been one heck of a week! So hectic in fact that last week's Half Iron Man feels like a distant memory but it still never fails to bring a smile to my face. Yes folks, I did it and I didn't crawl - in fact I didn't even walk, I ran every step of the way! What's more, I loved every single minute of it. What a difference to the way I felt just 12 hours before. There we were at the briefing, lined up beside some of the country's fittest and immediately I started to think to myself 'Penny, what the heck are you doing here?' Everyone looked more confident, fitter and more experienced than me. By the time someone pointed out champion triathlete Kieran Doe, he who has taken out Iron Man titles all over the world, I was just about ready to go home! Fortunately I had half a dozen reasons not to turn tail - the fact we had forked out $200 to enter for starters! Jo and Alex, my team mates and Noel and the boys - my loyal support crew and number one fans! I had to do it for them. I can't begin to tell you how much Noel has supported me all these weeks leading up to the event. He has done everything from bring me enormous breakfasts in bed before a big run to driving around the countryside handing me bottles of water. You name it, he's done it - not to mention nag me where necessary to get my lazy bum out of bed and go for a run! What a star!
So I had to do it for him most of all. The day got off to a less than auspicious start when we couldn't get a carpark and poor Alex was still a good 50 metres from the lake start when the horn sounded for the swimmers at 6.35am! Fortunately being the speedy chap he is, he made up time and completed his two-kilometre swim with hundreds still behind him. Jo came through her 90km bike ride unscathed, apart from losing a shoe, which Noel rather helpfully spotted and retrieved for her! At last the waiting was over and it was my turn. Everyone was so friendly and I realised on my way around that it wasn't just the elite who took part - there were middle aged men puffing their way through and to my delight - quite a few mums with wobbly bits like me! The weather couldn't have been more perfect and after months of running up countless hills and holding my nose past steaming hot stinking roadkill in rural Waikato, the almost entirely flat course around picturesque Lake Taupo was quite frankly a joy in comparison! I crossed the finish line two hours and 10 minutes later with the biggest smile on my face I think I've ever seen. If you want to have a giggle you can see it too here!
Our main mission finally over, the next stop was DeBrett's Hot Pools to soak those aching muscles! At last we could relax and enjoy a few days of Taupo hospitality. I was amazed to find I could still walk the next day so we set out for a day on the lake, swimming and dragging each other along on the sea biscuit. We packed a picnic and as I sat on a tiny secluded beach all by myself with a bottle of cider and a chocolate cake, I couldn't think of anywhere in the world I would rather be at that moment! Simple pleasures are always the best ones aren't they? We were extremely fortunate to have some friends lend us their holiday home in Acacia Bay and we loved just hanging out there, surrounded by bush and birdsong. Evenings were for playing cards and Scrabble (and for the boys, pillow fights) but the days were hectic and fun-filled. The boys had always wanted to play paintball and we agreed they deserved a treat after their outstanding end of year reports, so we arranged for an afternoon's combat in the bush. However, Noel was the only one out of the five of us who had played before - and it showed! I was too terrified of getting hit to come out of my den and Liam shot almost all 100 of his 'bullets' at anything that moved within the first five minutes and ran out of ammo. The guy who owned the complex spent the whole time roaring with laughter at the sounds emanating from the forest - Ali's pitiful wail and dramatic collapse upon being shot in the chest by his Dad and Liam's great yelp immediately on being shot in the backside, also by his father. Alex and I shot each other respectively and the only one who emerged without battle wounds was Noel. We found it great value for a whole afternoon's entertainment and it was also a great team building exercise!
The team building carried on into the next day, which was my birthday. Noel was very excited about giving me my present, and after receiving a toilet as my gift this time last year, I was more than a little wary but couldn't see how he could get any more bathroom-ware down to Taupo without me noticing. However this year he really surpassed himself. I was gobsmacked (and I admit, quite teary-eyed!) to unwrap a beautiful eternity ring. An extravagant gift indeed but he reminded me of how we hadn't been able to afford a proper ring when we got engaged at 19 and how he had always felt bad about it. Then there was the $75 wedding band, which I had been forced to have cut off when I was pregnant with Liam in 1996 and had swollen sausages for fingers. After 17 years together he felt it was time I had a diamond - and who am I to argue!
I could hardly ask for a better start to a birthday than that and even the weather was kind, which meant we could do what I wanted to do more than anything while at Lake Taupo - kayaking! We found a great bunch of people at Wai Maori and we were all looking forward to a day peacefully cruising the waterways. Unfortunately nobody could have predicted what a dreadful combination Liam and I would be in a double kayak together. We managed to go in any direction but forwards, I seemed completely incapable of steering and in typical fashion Liam sped us along at 100 miles an hour, crashing us into absolutely everything along the way. The other three moaned and groaned behind us in frustration until Noel could stand no more and insisted we swap and I partner up with Ali instead. As soon as we swapped kids I was filled with an air of calm as Ali (the youngest and only first-time kayaker among us) seemed to know exactly what he was doing and would tell me which arm to paddle in which direction and when! Peace was restored and before we knew it we had wended our way along the river and reached the mightly Lake Taupo! Which feels a flipping lot different when you're floating in it on top of a kayak compared to cruising serenely along in a decent sized boat, especially when the water's decidedly choppy!
I don't mind admitting, I was completely terrified! Ali and I did our best to plough on through the waves without capsizing but we were getting nowhere fast. Noel was yelling directions in despair and Ali seemed hell-bent on dragging us under the pier before Liam managed to steer us both in the direction we needed to go. Phew, we made it! From then on it was an easy row back up the other side of the river, which would have been idyllic had we not made the decision to swap kids again. Whilst Liam's rowing had improved dramatically under his father's guidance, he found it great sport to scoop up great oarfuls of water and throw them behind at me. Before long I was sitting in a huge puddle and my indignant shouts had got the attention of Alex, who decided to give Liam a taste of his own medicine. The entire river stretch evolved into a duel between the two of them, with me sitting helplessly at the back while they continued to soak each other - and me. At last we were on the home stretch and Liam and I settled back into our pattern of crashing headlong into blackberry bushes, flax bushes and goodness knows what else. I think I now know from experience where the saying 'dragged through a hedge backwards' comes from. At several points I thought I was actually going to die laughing, particularly on one occasion when I was stuck fast in an enormous bush, collapsed in hysterics. I opened my eyes and jumped in horror to find someone staring down at me from the top of the bank as if I had gone completely mad. It was one very large and inquisitive goat. That finished me off completely! Actually, it was Liam who finished me off completely, when we arrived back and he stepped safely off his kayak before gleefully rolling me off it into the river. It had been a brilliant birthday!