I kicked off The Summer of Epic Adventures with a return trip to Kauai to hike the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast. Just like last time, I kept a running journal to document some of the experiences along the way. Enjoy!
Finally finished packing my bag. I had almost everything already set in my bag, but adding food and putting the finishing touches on it took a lot of time. As usual, it weighs far too much and looks way too big. Since 2006, this bag has had a tendency to swallow up everything around it, no matter how lightly I try to pack. It especially craves wine. I know I'll pay the price tomorrow as I haul it 11 miles in the heat, but I like the challenge.
Earlier today we landed in Lihue and drove down to a breakfast place in Kalaheo. It was closed but we went down to a little fish market in Koloa where I ate some delicious poke and smoked sword fish. Then we drove up to the Kilauea Lighthouse where we were able to avoid paying the $5 entry fee because the park ranger was fretting over some distressed kayakers in the rough sea below. We spotted the kayakers, who had paddled to safety, and then we let the ranger know that they were alright. She was very relieved and didn't ask us to pay up. I think everyone came out winners in the end.
When we finally arrived at the resort in Princeville, we quickly discovered that we had hit the jackpot. The place is loaded with pools, tennis courts, and great views. The condo is spacious and has a great big lawn that overlooks Hanalei Bay. We're right next to a smaller pool and a grilling patio. Part of me wishes I could just stay here all week.
While watching the sunset at Hanalei Bay, I was reminded once again of the serenity and beauty of Kauai. Hanalei Bay is a very special place that possesses the elegance and beauty of Waimea or Lanikai but just feels more pure.
Tomorrow we hit the trail early. Back in Italy, Matt Miller and I used to use the term "Spiritual High" to describe the feelings we encountered when we were out in nature exploring new trails or jumping off new rocks. I can't wait for the spiritual high that awaits out on that trail.
Shepherd of the Unwilling
Sore feet, aching shoulders. Paradise again.
We hit the trail so early this morning- 6:12 a.m. to be exact. The sun was just coming up and it was cool and calm. We encountered a light rain before we reached Hanikapi'ai Beach but it passed quickly. We started at a pretty steady pace but definitely lost steam after reaching that first beach. I felt pretty good, especially with the help of a walking stick I had found at the trailhead. But my pack was so harsh on my shoulders that I couldn't stand to go slow, so I'd venture ahead and then rest my bag while waiting for my companions.
My favorite part of Na Pali is that the further you get, the more breathtaking the views. Every overlook was more and more spectacular, just as I had remembered it. We had a classic salami and bread lunch at the halfway point, Hanakoa, and then set off for the treacherous second half. Mile 7 was an eroded trail on a balding ridge with a steep drop and fierce winds. The girls were nervous as we approached the obstacle and two girls who had passed us earlier had turned around and were heading back away from the ridge. They said they were unsure about the condition of the trail, but I told them to turn back around and follow us through it. I became a shepherd of the unwilling, leading the fearful into the feared. I gave a brief tutorial on how to walk on unstable ground, along with some encouraging words. Then we went forward. Pollard took up the rear, nonchalantly snapping photos and patiently waiting while the others struggled along the crumbly trail.
We made it through alright. I had a blast, just like the last time. The only thing I feared was that the strong wind would blow away my Chinaman hat. But it didn't. I held onto it and we carried on to the final four miles.
By now the pace was far from grueling and I was growing nervous. When you spend this much time on a trail, I thought, you're just baiting Mother Nature to unleash some sort of havoc. But all I had to do was remember where I was and look out over those dramatic peaks, and I knew it would be okay.
Those peaks. I tried to take photos but they never do it justice. So at one point I just sat and stared, mesmerized by the beauty and mystique. I wish the whole world could be that green and wild.
When we finally got to Kalalau Beach, it was still only about 4 p.m., but that meant that we had spent 10 hours out on the trail. My shoulders were burning. We set up a nice little shelter and then Pollard and I jumped in the ocean and then rinsed off in the waterfall. Back at camp, I simply lay down and relaxed, staring out into space.
The Curse of the Wine
Two weeks ago we did a "practice run," hiking up to a spot near Peacock Flats up on the North Shore and camping out under the stars. It was a blast and we ended up quenching our thirst with lots of wine. I figured it would be prudent to bring some wine out to Kalalau, and since we would be out there for two nights, a decent amount would be required. I went with the Franzia boxed Merlot- five liters of the cheap stuff, and best yet, it could be reduced to a durable plastic sack that I could easily jam into my pack.
Even though there was no glass bottle involved, the bag still weighed about 20 pounds. I kept telling myself it would be worth it as I hiked the trail. When we got to the end, it wasn't worth it. No one was in the mood for wine. But we thought we might be as the sun set, although no one had brought cups. I bravely sacrificed one of my water bottles by pouring out the water and filling it up with the wine from the bag. After a few sips, we all realized that indeed we didn't want the wine.
What a waste, I thought. I went down to the ocean, dumped it out, and tried to rinse out the water bottle in the waves. A large wave rushed up and drenched my only dry pair of shorts. Bringing along that bag of wine has quickly become one of the worst choices I've ever made. So now, the only question that remains is who wants an already open bag of Franzia Merlot? The good news? It still has four liters left.
Our makeshift camp wasn't too bad because it separated us from our beatnik neighbors. They were pretty loud and one of them was definitely on shrooms (he kept yelling "Whoo!" really loud for no reason). But one had a guitar and he could really play. We were up in the woods a bit and I joked that if the Night Marchers came down from the hills, we'd be the first ones they came across.
As I got ready to fall asleep, I kept hearing strange noises in the trees nearby. It was the crunching of leaves, almost as if something or someone would take a couple steps and then just stop. Pollard said he had heard the same sound during the daylight, but when he went to investigate he saw nothing. So we could rule out wild boar and goats. But ghosts of past Hawaiian Warriors? Maybe not.
Every time I was about to doze off, I heard that sound. I tried to ignore it, but just when I forgot about it, it would start up again. The eerie crunching of leaves in the darkness was like an alarm clock or a shot of espresso. I was wide awake now.
Eventually the noises got closer and closer to my pillow. Whatever it was was right there. I reached for my flashlight, and as I did so, I finally figured out the perpetrator. Just to confirm, I turned on the light, and there it was right in front of me: a big, yellow toad.
Treat others kindly and they will treat you the same. That's what I've always been taught and it usually holds true. It did yesterday when we met an older couple from Canada halfway down the trail. We chatted them up and wished them luck as they set off. That evening when we had finally reached Kalalau, the girls ran into them again and chatted some more. They had found a marquee camping spot way down the beach in a cave along the seashore. It was sheltered from the rain, wind, and hippies. It was way better than our makeshift shelter in the toad forest. The couple told the girls that they would be leaving the next day and that we could take their campsite. So at 6:30 a.m. this morning, we swooped in and scored one of the best spots in the campground before anyone else could.
If you had been shipwrecked on this beach, I'm certain that this is the place you'd end up taking shelter. It would be a no-brainer. We spent a lot of time just relaxing in our cave today, out of the wind and sun, but still right in the face of the blue ocean. I love the way that the walls of the cave mimic the crashing waves. I think it's safe to say that I will sleep much better tonight.
On our last night at Kalalau I saw two things that I'll never forget. One was expected and one was a surprise.
The sunset that night wasn't quite as spectacular because there were clouds on the horizon. Still, I've found that my favorite sight in not the sun on the ocean but the shadows and light that the sunset casts on the cliffs behind me. I found myself sitting with my back to the sea just watching the shadows crawl up the jagged green ridges. The moon waited right above the cliffs and I couldn't wait to see what its light would do to the Pali.
So when the sun was completely gone and the stars came out, I left the cave and walked the beach. As soon as I got out in the open, I realized that the moonlight was quite strong and you could see pretty much everything. The shadows on those cliffs were still there, only this time they were cast by pale moonlight. I sat in the sand and looked up in awe at the moonlit cliffs, so bright and majestic in the navy sky. It was beautiful.
I woke up at 4:40 a.m. to get ready to hit the trail as early as possible. Before waking the others, I walked out of the cave and looked up in the sky. Now the moon was gone and the stars were piercing. The best part of it all was that the scene was totally mine. The echoing waves, gentle wind, and the bright stars- no one else could take it in. I knew that the rest of the day would be strenuous and trying, but at that moment, I was more at peace than at any other time.
70% Chance of Rain
At dawn Pollard and I stood by the outhouses, waiting for the girls so that we could hit the trail. There was no way we could be out there for 10 hours this time. The pace had to be faster.
"What if we made up some sort of story?" I asked. "Like that a typhoon is on its and we need to move as fast as we can?"
Pollard thought about it for a second and then came up with a better idea.
"Let's just say that there's a 70% chance of rain at 11 o'clock today."
At 6 a.m. sharp we began hiking. This time I took up the rear and Pollard led the way.
"Listen," I said calmly, "I don't want to freak anyone out, but I just spoke with an Asian guy who got in last night. He warned me that there's a 70 percent chance of rain around 11 a.m. today."
I think they were buying it. "I say we get as far as we can in these next five hours," I continued. "Then we'll be better off when the rain hits."
Truth be told, it wasn't a total lie. Fact: we did run into an Asian man that morning. He complimented my hat. Also a fact: it rains just about every hour in Kauai. There very well may have been a 70% chance of showers at 11 a.m. But I'm no meteorologist.
Ethics aside, the story worked. We reached the halfway point before 10 a.m. and kept going. The urgency to beat the storm, coupled with a few false time checks (I said it was 10:30 when it was actually only 9) made the hike move a lot faster. We were off the trail at 1:08 p.m. sharp, meaning that this time we had completed the hike in about seven hours. It's amazing what a little motivation can do.
I had been looking forward to relaxing at our resort from the second I set foot on the Kalalau Trail back on Wednesday. Don't get me wrong- there are few places I'd rather be than on the Kalalau beach at the base of the Na Pali. But the prospect of sitting poolside at a resort with nothing in the world to do except sip on a margarita is pretty enticing.
Luckily, I got to live that life for a full weekend after the hike. Walje, who had passed on the hike and stayed back at the resort for those two nights, quickly showed us the ropes on how to live the resort life. The next two days consisted of sleeping in, laying at the pool, playing crochet on our scenic lawn, grilling, and catching sunsets at Hanalei Bay. I also went to one of the coolest beaches I've ever been to and swam and ran Hanalei Bay.
Today before flying out we took a road trip up to the very scenic Waimea Canyon (Grand Canyon meets Donkey Kong Country) and the Pali Lookout, where we were able to look down at Kalalau Beach from thousands of feet above.
Now I'm on a plane, flying over the channel that separates Oahu from Kauai. It's only a 30 minute flight that separates these two islands, but to me they are two completely different worlds. It's sad to leave such a great place behind, and now all these experiences will become only memories. But I've learned that as time passes, these memories grow fonder and fonder, warmer and warmer, until the memories themselves are even more valuable than the actual experience. The trip may be over, but I will always be able to look back and smile.
Aloha Kauai. Until we meet again.