Returning: THE SHIPMENT!



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The shipment disappeared down Buffalo Thorn Rd in Johannesburg on June 5. That orange container sailed the Atlantic, arrived in a Charleston SC shipyard, placed on a train to Charlotte, NC, loaded on a truck to Asheville, and finally arriving at 7 Digges Rd on August 12.

Image may contain: plant and outdoorHaving successfully emptied our storage units, packed/unpacked our UHaul, strategically placed stuff around the house, the challenge now was to figure out where all of our overseas stuff would fit.

It’s a collision of worlds. Overseas stuff……..America storage unit stuff. In 1985 we went to India with just suitcases and a small box of air freight trailing behind. I remember going to the old-old Delhi airport to pick up that air freight a few weeks after arriving in India. It was, no surprise, a hot and humid August monsoon morning. Mr Swami (our business manager shepherded me through the throngs to some behind the scenes office. He bought me a Campa Cola (no Pepsi or Coke in India at the time). He taught me to drink out of the bottle without your mouth touching the bottle, adapting in India at the time required attention to hygiene he explained. I remember the moment, the heat, the flies, the throngs, the ubiquitous vibe of busyness that is the vibe of India, and the half-ripped cardboard box we had naively packed up and sent via UPS from our Vermont home 5 weeks earlier. Anyway, that’s what we had in 1985, a small box of what newly overseas educators considered “essentials”.

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Returning: Wait….It’s August but I’m still in America.

When we left SA it was cheaper to buy a round trip ticket then a one way ticket. KLM just notified me that our return flight to SA is coming up in a few days……it feels strangely odd to be here, I’ve over stayed my summer holiday, is it time to pack up the suitcase, last minute shopping, fill the extra bag with supplies?

It’s August 3. The last time I was in America during August was 1988. 31 years. I was a grad student in Boston. Corey was 1 and Jared was yet to arrive. We’ve had thirty (30) July trips to JFK or Logan, or Albany (en route to O’hare). Trips always made in July, often dropped and farewelled by Rhona’s parents throughout the 90’s and 00’s. Flights in July – 4 to Israel, 17 to Indonesia, 5 to Ghana, 4 to South Africa. Flights thru hubs of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and onward to our homes overseas. I know my favorite early morning coffee/snack routine while Continue reading

Returning: The DMV


The DMV….yes, the Department of Motor Vehicles. D M V – three initials that generate immediate distaste. The DMV is the punchline for jokesters. Who enjoys a visit to the DMV? Simple answer: The 17 year old teenager who, for the first time, is receiving that prized drivers permit. They are smiling, excited by this rite of passage. I saw several of those teens arrive at the DMV, led by their mothers, during my three (yes – 3) trips to the DMV last week.

We all have a history with DMVs and, truthfully, there was only one joyful memory – as a 17 year old getting my driver’s license. But, getting my 17 year old driver’s license required managing obstacles. Namely, I failed my first written test. Damn road signs. I should have studied harder! Passed my 2nd time but my 1969 Chevy station wagon was deemed unsafe for my first road exam (bald tires) I boycotted the Dunellen, NJ DMV in favor of Rahway, NJ the next time and finally earned my license. I even parallel parked successfully. It was a journey and I remember it well.

Not to mention, the DMVs I’ve frequented in India, Israel, Indonesia, Ghana, and South Africa. All grueling experiences. All with people in uniforms, wielding some sort of intimidating government authority, controlling your fate. I have survived DMVs on three continents, I was certain I could handle the North Carolina DMV.

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Returning: The Trek to Asheville

Image may contain: outdoorRented the U-Haul truck in Boston, drove west to Lake George, NY on July 15. After an hour of bouncing along the Massachusetts turnpike with an empty truck, knowing what lay ahead for a couple of days, Rhona posed a serious question: “Do you think we are too old for this?” My initial response – “No way” transitioned to “Possibly” and finally “Probably” as the miles continued and the AC in the U-haul stopped working. Interstate driving with the windows down in steaming heat is best left for a younger crowd. We both had our meltdown moments, and over a bowl of matzo ball soup (comfort food) we agreed tension and emotions are part of this journey and we’ll be just fine. After an uneventful evening at the Baymont Motel, Exit 19 on I-87, we set out on July 16 and worked alongside a couple of packers to load up our U-Haul.

Turns out we had a couple more items for the landfill……

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Returning: Unpacking Storage Units


“One man’s junk can be another person’s treasure”. Isn’t that the expression?

7 years after selling our house and storing our stuff (definitely Not Junk at the time) in two 10×20 storage units (the largest size on the lot) we were set to dig in, wade through the aged cobwebs, accept gifts left by mice that took up residence, acknowledging each itemized box or piece of furniture as a source of memories. An archaeological dig kind of experience! A potential journey down memory lane! We were ready to embrace the task.

We opened units 607 and 610 and took up the challenge! We sifted, lifted and gifted, and tossed. What a surprise!! It turns out we have some junk after all. Loaded a pick-up truck several times and between the local landfill and the Salvation Army we off-loaded some of our junk & treasure. More than once I wondered how, given the $$ math, (2 units, X dollars/month, 12 months, 7 years) this all came to pass. You can drive yourself nuts by going down that path. Then my voice of reason reminds me that it must be treasure because who would be stupid enough to pay those storage fees for anything that turned out to be junk? Never again!!

So, we tackled the task and sorted our storage units, assuring ourselves of our readiness for loading up our 26 foot U-haul truck for the big trek to the south – destination Asheville, a mere 15 hour drive away! Shorter than a non-stop Singapore to JFK flight!

Returning: The Car Shopping Experience

The auto industry must be doing well in the US. Heaps of new cars on the road. Options galore. We’re in the market for a new car. The last new car I bought was in 1981. It was a Mazda pick up. I bought it in Montpelier, Vermont. I wanted a pick up (living in rural Vermont required a pick up). I rocked up at the car dealer and there was a single model of a pick up on the lot so that was the one I wanted. It was a Mazda pick up. Simply called a Mazda pick up. There wasn’t a brand or sub brand or multiple options for the Mazda pick up. There was an AM/FM radio and two speeds for the windshield wipers, and a rear bumper was optional.

I loved that pick up.

I’m thinking about another new pickup today. Toyota’s are popular. The Tundra (too big), the Tacoma (short bed, long bed, short cab, extended cab, long cab, super cab…..4×4, 2×4…..). The F150 Ford Ranger is the best selling pickup in America according to my millennial son. OK….let’s look at it. How can a pickup price range from $30,000 to $65,000? The bells & whistles, the bed length, the options on the cabs, etc etc. So many choices – just like the salad dressing section at Whole Foods.

I loved that mazda pickup in the 80s – ahhh, the good ‘ol days, life was simpler with fewer choices.

We find ourselves googling car models as we drive down the interstate or cruise the parking lots. It’s a regular discussion….it’s fun too. So many choices! True to form, Rhona’s all over the electric cars.

We’re in negotiations. I still like the idea of a pickup.

Finally, I enjoyed renting a Nissan Rogue. I discovered it’s part of the Compact SUV model line. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Since when is an SUV Compact?

Returning: First Days and Feeling the Support!

Rhona and I truly appreciate the messages of support and good wishes as we step away from Image may contain: sky, nature and outdoorinternational schools after 34 years. It will be odd in July when, for only the 3rd time since 1985 we won’t be hopping on a plane at JFK or Logan or O’Hare, crossing an ocean, and returning to work. We will build a life in Asheville, North Carolina in a place where we never lived but briefly visited. We are grateful and nervous and excited as we move forward. Relationships matter and maintaining and nurturing these, from a distance, will be important. Social media will be invaluable to sustain contacts from our international worlds. If you’re in the SouthEast of the US, PLEASE visit. Asheville is a fun town. 

And for those interested in triathlon, there are 3 major 70.3 races within 5 hours and heaps of other opportunities in the area to race.
Finally, we’ve been in the US for a week now. We’ve already started a list of odd moments of ineptitude – like not recognizing that the EZ pass in the car rental wasn’t set up right and having to walk across three lanes of EZ Pass truck traffic upon entering the NY State Thruway in order to beg a bewildered and probably amused toll booth operator for a ticket to enter the thruway. I felt like a total rookie!

Finally, for the first time in 20 years, I have had to arrange for my own phone plan. Do you know how many options Verizon has, let alone Sprint, or AT&T? Where is Russell Layton when you need him? Too many choices! Luckily our
millennial son came to our rescue to sort us out! I can feel a collection of blog posts coming on during this transition!

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Today we’ll travel from Lake George (we’re staying with our dear friend Mary Fox in LG as we tackled our storage units here in New York) up to Vermont for a couple of days (and visits) before heading back to Boston. Mid-July is our target date for landing in Asheville! All systems are go!


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I Guess I am Finally an Ironman!!

So, I’m an Ironman.  I know it because Paul Kaye said it.  He’s the voice of Ironman here in South Africa.  As you run down the red carpet to the finish line of an Ironman race, it’s announced “Geoffrey Smith, You ARE an IRONMAN”.  Every age group athlete has fantasized that Ironman moment and hears those words in their head while imagining it over and over.  On many long runs, bike rides, or pool workouts I played out the red carpet moment, crossing the finish, hearing those words.  That moment would be an ultimate moment of this journey


.  “You ARE an IRONMAN”!  I also know it because I have a photo of myself crossing the finish line!

I’ve had my eye on Ironman events in South Africa since we arrived on the continent in 2010.  When we decided to move to South Africa 2 years ago, access to those events was real.  After connecting with TRIFACTRI a year ago, I knew my opportunity for taking on a full Ironman was a reality.  My decision was made to register and commit to the training journey in August, 2016.  I set the target, and set the height of the bar.  In my 61st year I latched onto a hope with enthusiasm, excitement, and committed passion.  I am blessed, lucky, and grateful.  To have the capacity to latch on with such intensity, at this point in my life, feels really special.

If you can put in the time for the training, you can do an Ironman.  Since August 2016, I swam 150 km in 75 hours,  I biked 3800 km over 224 hours, with an additional 40 hours on the bike trainer (while watching Netflix!) and I ran 610 miles in around 110 hours. I’ve committed around 450 hours to preparing for the Ironman!  I know, because my “masters” over the months – my Garmin watch and Training Peaks app – don’t lie.  My life was focused upon preparing for April 2, 2017.  Lucy and Des laid out the path, I just needed to step up and do it!

Race Day finally arrived on the morning of April 2!

Rise at 3:45. Breakfast at 4:00.  Two dozen wide awake athletes eating the hotel buffet, quiet silence permeates the restaurant.  One guy orders an omelette with 10 egg whites!  Seemed a little extreme compared to my plate of scrambled eggs and I chuckle to myself! He must really know what he’s doing!  There’s a shared experience and a long day of extremes lies ahead.   A 5:00 date with my sweet Quintana Roo in the transition zone to make sure there’s air in my tires! It’s a dark and cool morning. The breeze off the ocean is gentle, the transition zone packed with 2300 bikes.  Last minute adjustments to the run and bike bags, air in tires, minor bike checks.

The coolness of the sand is noticeable and I converse with strangers as we all await the start on the beach. It’s good to run into Johan from Trifactri and we’re on pace to enter the water together. The South African national anthem welcomes a gorgeous sunrise. Sunset is 12 hours away!  We begin to edge closer to the swim. Nervous energy, helicopters buzz and hover overhead and the crowd of thousands lines the beach.  It is a special feeling.  Collectively, we just want to start, to feel the water and make that first left turn at the red buoy floating 300 meters off shore.

I enter the chilled Indian Ocean, allow my wet suit to settle onto my skin, the thin layer of insulating water mitigates cold. After 8 months of preparation (and 400+ hours of preparation), I’m off.  I need to compose myself in the first 100 meters, calm my nerves, regulate my breathing, empty my mind of negative or doubting thoughts, find a rhythm.  The chop of the water and the swells make the first 2000 meters challenging.  I absorb several mouthfuls of seawater! Left at the first red buoy, then count the four yellows at 400 m apart until the next red.  One buoy at a time, patience, and keep your sights on the crane in the distance!  It was a bumpy ride.  The return felt smoother, easier to site the Radisson Blu hotel tower and the pier.  The end in sight!  The final right hand turn and 300 meters to the beach.  I body surf a wave, sort of!  Generally, you are expected to sprint through transition, save time, and get out on the bike course.  Sprinting was not a consideration. I needed a moment in a chair to strip off the wet suit, dry the feet, put on the socks and biking shoes…..and find my way to the bike.  A long day was lay ahead.  The 180 k cycle was a spectacular ride along the Indian Ocean coastline.  45 km out, 45 back and Repeat!  I knew the ride would be between 6 and 7 hours. The day would be warm, the sun intense, and of course where you have ocean riding there’s always WIND.  While not too bad, there were definite headwinds.  I return to the city after 90 km and head back out. Halfway is significant and now that I have the map of the course in my mind, the 2nd lap will be easier.  Headwind out, tailwind back!!   My Quintana Roo triathlon bike moves beautifully on a slight downhill, with a tailwind! Perhaps I’m a stronger with a tailwind?   I was satisfied with the bike ride, though I always believe I can move a bit faster.  I entered the 2nd transition with some wobbily legs, while knowing I had at least a 5 hour marathon in front of me on the 4 lap run course.  I’ve never run more than 26 kilometers (or 3 hours) at a time, now I had 42 k (and 5 hours) in front of me.  But, likewise, I’d never biked 180 km or finished a 3.8 km ocean swim, each part of the day was a new personal best on my Garmin watch!!  It took a couple of km for my reluctant quads and resistant calves to get the message.  Yet, I truly felt strong on the run through the first couple of laps.  Marine Drive was lined with thousands of cheering spectators who yelled out your name with brilliant energy and encouragement. I ran with a smile from ear to ear, slapping high fives, and soaking up the moments. My Trifactri mates shouting encouragement as we passed one another. The heat of the afternoon began to cool as evening approached.  The shadows of the buildings lengthened. The sun, lower in the sky, could now only be found in breaks between buildings. The wind picked up and half of the run course was into a headwind which, as evening approached, cooled by the minute.  Running with a tailwind, though more pleasant than a headwind, simply doesn’t ensure the same impact on speed as it does on a bike.  The wind doesn’t pick you up and increase your stride length.  It’s still one foot in front of the other. The sun disappeared, the wind continued to be a factor, and darkness over took parts of the course.  With each lap, there were fewer triathletes on the course, as more finishers found the red carpet, Marine drive emptied. The crowds thinned but ardent supporters remained.  I would find my way to engage in various conversations with other athletes to pass the time and look forward to every 5 km when I would see Rhona or Corey – my dedicated support.

On each lap runners are given a cloth bracelet – a band. You collect your 4th as you head out on your final lap.  Slipping that 4th band on was a defining moment.  I was not returning to this end of the run course!  I was headed home in 8 km!    But the last 10 k were less than friendly.  Nausea and tightening muscles were upon me. The nausea was a bother. After 12 hours of gels, power bars, coke, and water my system was in revolt!  My game became street lamp to street lamp – walking and running.  Alternating lamps was my strategy.  Move Forward!

Over the last 2 km I increased my speed!  I was there, ready to finish.  The red carpet looked spectacular.  Bright lights, still a cheering crowd,  the music, the voice of Paul Kaye.  My arms pumped as I crossed the line…..and then it was behind me. 14 hours and 11 minutes from the time I stepped into the water!  I only wish I would have stood on that finish line and absorbed the moment. (Not to mention a better photo!)  Instead, the medal was slipped over my neck, a volunteer wrapped me in a space blanket…..and I searched the dark for a place to sit down! Exhausted, satisfied, thrilled.  But, oddly, I didn’t feel emotion.  I was numb,
nauseous, and fighting to stay coherent…..I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew my body needed to rest and my thoughts needed to be calmly gathered.  The hug from Rhona and the photo with Corey……..made my day.  If they hadn’t been there I’m not sure how I would have contained myself.

FB support and encouragement was incredibly positive and important over the IM weekend. Rhona posted photos during the day.  I felt this immense wave of support from friends new, old, and “very” old (read-childhood friends – those who warmly take us back to our teen years when they call me SMITTY), former students, and family members around the world. The messages were more than humbling.  Training for an endurance event is lonely. I spent many hours running, biking, and swimming alone with my thoughts over the past 8 months but throughout the Ironman weekend, I felt alive with connections and support.  A consistent piece of advice from experienced Ironman athletes was to enjoy the moment. I did. I embraced it. I absorbed it all.

Cygni trains us twice a week… awesome trainer!

I am grateful.  Grateful to Cygni for the twice a week physical training sessions for Rhona and I at home.
Grateful to Renata my physical therapist for ensuring my legs are strong and loose.  Grateful to Lucy and Des and the Trifactri team.  Grateful to my Trifactri mates who supplied encouragement during training rides and races. Grateful to my co-workers who offered so much support. Above all, grateful to Rhona who has journeyed with me over the years in our athletic pursuits – from Indonesia to Ghana to South Africa!  We love our rides together.

Des is a great coach!


Thousands of people do Ironman events each year.  Yes, doing an Ironman is a big deal but it’s entirely achievable if you can make a commitment to the training and to a training plan. I am so very happy and proud to have accomplished my goal. It is a special feeling.   Will I do it again?   I want to better my time and position in my age group!  Maybe that’s my challenge. Maybe that’s my commitment. For now, I’m enjoying my weekend and I didn’t have to wake up to an alarm and a workout!!!


The Trifactri Team in Port Elizabeth!



35 year wait BUT Tri Day is Near (#IMSA) – April 2

My last post was December 2015.  Trump – the School Yard Bully. I’ve been uninspired as a blogger since then….

I’m exhausted by the political discourse.  I’m caught up in it, following every move, every day…..reading the NYT or Cable News 4 or 5 times a day – re-reading articles sometimes in disbelief.  Anyway, I’m caught up in it…..but I’m also caught up in my own journey with the unbelievable support of Rhona and others.  I’m caught up in participating and hopefully completing my first full Ironman – next Sunday!!!!  I anticipate 14 to 15 hours of action.  3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42 km run. I’ve worked hard, I’m hopefully ready……  But, anyway, here’s a blog post that I wrote about my journey to get to this  point…..