Beauty and the Beast
“Life itself is a privilege, but to live life to the fullest – well, that is a choice – Andy Andrews
I often tell folks that for me I have to come up with a title for a blog entry before I can start writing it. Then I find a quote like the one above and that is how the story develops. Most titles have double meanings and I hope you enjoy this one about our 12 day adventure to Costa Rica with our running buddies, Marathon Expeditions.
They say it is very beneficial for folks with Alzheimer’s, ALZ, to see and experience all the beauties of nature. Everywhere you turn here in Costa Rica you are sure to experience the beautiful sights and sounds. I have lost count of the number of trips we have done with this running group over the last 11 plus years, but I do talk about many trips in our book, Running All Over The World, Our Race Against Early Onset Alzheimer’s .
I even have, Chapter 13, dedicated to a running cruise we did with them entitled, How not to go overboard on a cruise ship. The last chapter even has a quote by our cohost of the excursions, John, “The Penguin”, Bingham.
“Every run holds both the promise of enlightenment and the threat of embarrassment, the capacity to embrace us or punish us. Every race has the potential to be a celebration or a humiliation.”
The original plan was for Catherine and I to only do the 7 day trip but the night after our arrival I started to wonder why we were going to leave just because everyone else were.
People often ask me if I miss flying planes myself and the answer is always a very simple, “nope”. After 37 years of going where and when my employer wanted me to go I really enjoy just sitting back and relaxing and let someone else make those thousands of decisions to get the plane safely from point A to point B.
I must admit on the flight from Atlanta, ATL to San Jose, SJO I did go into pilot mode. A snow storm had been predicted for the day of departure and a few days prior I went into contingency mode. I tried to figure out if there was a better way for us to get to SJO. When I originally booked our flights many months ago I bought main cabin seats. We got upgraded to comfort plus seats. However the two seats together were exit row seats. As time has moved on I did not feel it was a good idea for Catherine to be sitting there since she is no longer able to do all that is required to occupy those seats.
By now there were no seats together and First class was listed as full. I say listed since I was no longer able to pay for an upgrade even though there were a few seats they were holding to the side for day of flight upgrades.
So now the thought was to leave a day early and pay the extra price for First Class on that flight. The only problem with that idea was that I would have to pay twice the amount more than my original ticket. I was unable to swallow that pill so I looked at flying to one of Delta’s other hubs like, JFK, MSP or DTW a day early and then fly from there to SJO. Another problem with that idea was that they all came to ATL before going on to SJO. Lucky for me by the time I was ready to bite the bullet and pay the extra fare for the flight the day prior everyone else had already done so. No First Class, comfort or main cabin seats together.
All I could do now was hope that the snow and ice storm did not start until after departure time and the few First Class seats would still be available for upgrade just prior to departure. The next morning I woke up an hour prior to my alarm going off and when I checked the Delta app there were now 9 First Class seats. I can only speculate as to why that was but since Catherine and I are both Diamond Medallion and Million Milers. I felt pretty confident we would get two of those seats and it showed that we were in fact one and two for the upgrade.
The only thing left was for the weather to cooperate. At the ticket counter 2 hours prior six of those coveted first class seats were now gone but Cat and I were still one and two for the remaining 3 seats with none of them together but still in pilot mode I had a plan. At the gate I asked if I could get the window and isle behind each other and I would simply ask either person to switch since they would still get their requested window or isle just in a different row.
No problem there, however when we were all settled in about 15 minutes prior and the snow and ice now only about 30 minutes away there were way too many empty seats for us to push on time. So yes we did wait about 15 minutes for connecting passengers and come to find out those 6 first class seats that vanished earlier were taken by folks that had gotten stuck in Buffalo and missed their flight the day prior.
I knew then we were not going to beat the weather and to make it more definitive we had to wait an additional 15 minutes for a pushback tug. Just as predicted after push back we went to the deice pad and ended up being 2 hours late. The beast of the weather just slowed us down, however the beauty of San Jose, Costa Rica was still there waiting with all its glory.
The beauty of Costa Rica
As Catherine and I have run all over the world for the last seven years we have stayed at some very nice hotels and resorts, many of them being 5 stars but the Springs Resort in La Fortuna at the base of the Arenal Volcano was 10 stars, if there is such a thing.
It is suggested, and we do this a lot, during our travels, is to visit botanical gardens, but until this trip, I can not say I stayed at a hotel/resort that was in one for all intents and purposes.
Catherine often says to me, “build it and they will come”. Dubai was a prime example of that with all the one of the kind, biggest and tallest of everything. That is not the case here. The resort was built next to an active volcano but there has not been an eruption since 2010 and it feeds the multitude of hot springs. Of course because of them you have any and all outdoor adventure activities known to man. Too many to mention here.
Since grand adventures are no longer our forte we stuck with a hour hike across two of the four swinging bridges. Our guide kept trying to find snakes which is not high on my list of things to see but the Howler monkeys swinging and just relaxing in the trees was more my speed. The rest of the group went zip lining and stories told of top speeds on the two miles of zip lines sounded exhilarating.
We did also come here to run so while at the first resort for 4 nights we did do a 5K followed by a fantastic and very informative coffee and chocolate tour. My new favorite, honey coffee.
We are here to also run
The winner of that race were the fastest male and female runner and walkers.
The next race you could do either a 5 or 10k around lake Arenal. We finished up at the Howlers Monkey Bar and Grill for librations. We went for the 5k and caught the first bus back to the resort for some well needed hot spring time. The winner of that race were whoever got Aces that were randomly handed out from several decks of cards at the finish.
Right now we are at the back of the tour bus with me in the middle seat obviously for the leg room. Today we are going cross country to our beach resort for 3 nights.
How I write
I actually do a lot of my writing while in transit by planes trains and busses. Now back to how this 7 night planned trip turned into 12 nights. As I sometimes do I look at our schedule and see what we have planned and noticed I did have a zoom meeting, with a New Jersey running group. I had planned to do it back in ATL but had the same exit row seats with little chance of upgrades for the trip back.
Now with no real reason to have to leave, since all I need is the internet to do zoom. I started looking at flights on other days and ran across plenty of first class seats on Friday, 5 days later for only 300 bucks more.
At my last job at UPS, I was responsible for the flight crews flying out Miami for all parts of Central and South America and have very fond memories of layovers at the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen outside of San Jose which was probably one of the best properties in our system. As a matter of fact we ended up staying there near the beginning of our trek of running all over the world. We stayed there for a week prior to a Windstar Cruise thru the Panama Canal. Yes, you can read all about it in our book. 100k points later, we were all set and it turns out by staying here an additional 5 days it will turn out to be about 500 bucks overall cheaper, win win.
Where to next?
People often ask, where to next, which brings me to a project I have been working on for several months. I really enjoy talking about our lifestyle in hopes to inspire others to truly make lemonade out of lemons. The lemons being the beast of ALZ.
Back in November, womensrunning.com did a story about us and at the same time I was contacted by the online arm of CNN about a series they are doing about couples and Love thru trying times. We are now planning on doing some filming around the middle of February with us doing the Mesa 10k on the 12th. Of course I will be sure to let everyone know when it goes live sometime in March or April.
Just prior to that on the 9th I will be a guest speaker for a virtual event with ALZauthors.com. There we will be talking about Love with dementia. I was very honored to have them recommend our book. Especially since they are the authority on the subject.
In a nut shell showing Cat love and affection along with reminders of what we mean to each other goes a long way when she is occasionally less than cooperative. I have to keep telling myself that it is the disease and not her that is uncooperative. Making eye contact and a gentle touch goes a long way.
We made it to the Si Como No Resort and Wildlife Refuge, in Manuel Antonio, unscathed. It was a 7 hour bus ride door to door with an hour stop for a nice lunch. It was a slight step down from the resort we just left but by far better than 90% of the hotels we have stayed at over the years. They have stairs everywhere which is actually good for Cat’s coordination.
The beauty of Catherine
Something else that comes to mind when thinking about the title is the beauty of Catherine. Her beautiful blue eyes that captivated me when we first met and how they smile right along with her engaging smile. I point her towards the camera and say smile and they both come alive.
She also has a beautiful soul. One that is always willing to help a stranger, someone she knows or even whoever she talks to in the mirror. In her reality no one is a stranger to her and will treat everyone like they are her best friend.
The beast of Tony
Then you have me as the beast. The one that has to ask and sometimes gently tell her what to do constantly. It is my own fault since we are on the go all the time and with exercise and showers and all, I am there at every turn trying to get her to do such and such. We would not have it any other way. The constant changes to her environment, in my mind, keeps her engaged and with that keeping brain cells wired as best as possible.
I take my role as the beast seriously. There is so much to see and do in this vast world and since she might not live as long as most, however, she will still see and experience more than most and that is okay with us.
We enjoyed a great run on the beach the following day with some pool time back at the hotel. The group did a relay race format for 4 or 6 miles a half mile at a time. It was a predicted race with the winners coming in only a few seconds off their time. Since we now, always run together, we walked out 1/4 mile and then ran back for a total of 2 miles.
Many of us were out in the sun a bit too long but I still find it funny that we are all getting tans in January. We ended up calling ourselves, “the renegades”, since with Covid doing its thing, the 50 of us banded together to make this adventure a reality.
John and Jenny filmed us all running/walking towards the water and he commented on something I once said about them. “They could get this group of lemmings to jump off a Clift if they wanted”. They would not even need a club.
The last day of this 7 mountains to Pacific coast trip included a tour of the largest National Park in Costa Rica called the Manuel Antonio National Park. We had Sloths, Bats and Monkeys sightings. On the way back to the entrance to the park we were also able to witness the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica. They call them beach 1,2 and 3.
The Award Ceremony
The day ended with the awards ceremony where Cat and I got the Courage to Love award and were given the coveted yellow hat. You can read our book to get a good understanding of the story behind those hats. It took me awhile to fully grasp the meaning of Courage to Love since for me the Love that Cat and I have for each other takes no courage at all. I in turn was able to give them their very own autographed copy of our book.
I was even able to Autograph Laura and Ken’s book that they bought online and brought with them.
I was reminded however that some take the easy way out when going down this path. They throw up their hands and simply find someone else to do the daily tasks. You could also say on Cat’s part it takes courage to love someone as much as she loves me, to trust me to the point she does, most times, while not knowing exactly where she is and what we are about to do. The same trust a blind person has for their training and cane or dog. The other way to look at it is that it takes a great deal of courage to throw caution to the wind and follow you love/passion for running and combining that with your love/passion to travel.
I get great joy when Catherine musters up the words to express her thanks for all that I do for her or apologizes when the beast of ALZ raises its ugly head. I would not trade the journey with the love of my life for all the tea in China. It has taught me so much about myself and my real and perceived abilities.
Just the two of us
Tomorrow, most head back to their homes and I am so happy I decided to stay 5 extra days and not have to set an alarm and just sit back and enjoy the pure beauty of Costa Rica. I am sure Cat will ask, when it is just the two of us, “where is everybody else?,” as she often does, when these tours come to an end. My reply as always will be. “What am I, chop liver.”
I am going to close this blog entry out here since we will probably just be running and swimming for the next 5 days. Not much to write about there. I might get a hair cut, shave, and her hair done. Maybe find a gentle horse for Cat to ride. They say that is very good therapy and over the years we have been on many a horse back ride. I am always trying to find something to help her enjoy life as best she can for as long as she can. I don’t dwell on tomorrow much since one thing I know for sure is that no one is getting out this thing called life alive.
So, basically for the next 5 days we will continue to enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica and Catherine’s infectious smile and try to tame the beast of ALZ.