We landed in Lihue with a sinus infection and the onset of a case of the common cold, precisely not the way you want to feel when you arrive on “the garden island” of Kuaui, reputed by many visitors and all locals to be the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands.
Despite our illnesses, we were excited to explore the oldest island of the chain. We quickly picked up the rental car and headed north to Hanalei Bay, a perfect horseshoe-shaped, white sand beach with the dramatic, tropical green, jagged, sky-reaching cliffs of Na Pali serving as a backdrop.
The town of Hanalei is a few roads of shops, restaurants, smoothie and shave ice stands that cater to three distinct groups: 1.the khaki pant, Hawaiian shirt and flower-print dress-wearing ,middle-agers on the vacation of a lifetime, 2.the local surfers, and 3.the wanna-be local, sometimes-called back-to-the-earth, granola white kids sporting bad attempts at dirty dreadlocks.
Not really fitting in with any of the groups, my wife and I spent the evening resting alone in preparation for the next day’s trek.
The Kalalau Trail begins where the road ends on the northwest side of Kauai. For eleven miles it climbs in-and-out and up-and-down the Na Pali coast before ending at a secluded beach accessible only on foot or by boat in the summer.
Immediately from the trailhead, the slippery, muddy, rocky and rooty path ascends the cliff under a rainforest canopy. Having gotten on our way a little later than planned, I was already questioning our ability to make it the full eleven miles in one day.
Two miles into it, we reached the first beach. Due to high seas typical for winter in the south Pacific, there was no sand, only rocks the size of basketballs and bigger.
We crossed the river and continued on.
For the next four and a half miles, we billy-goated up, down, and over switchbacks with narrow passages where one slip of a foot would have sent us over the edge, our saviors being bushes and scrubby trees that more than likely would have stopped us from falling to the rocky coast hundreds of feet below if we had we fallen. The terrain was never flat, consisently rocky, and forever meandering. The sun was getting hot and we were getting tired.
“Around mile seven or so, it gets real intense. You have to keep your concentration. One slip and you are going over for sure. That would be it. It is beautiful though…watching the waves crash on the rocks below. It’s only for 20 minutes or so that its like that.”
In all the research we had done on the trail, we had not heard about this dangerous section. The fellow trekker’s report spooked us for sure. My wife and I became independently deflated, both independently accepting that we were not going to complete the trek. We both submitted to what we considered an unnecessary risk when propped up against our love.
“One slip” is not what is was when we were younger. The excitement, the challenge, the thrill were no longer sensible. “One slip” now meant “grave loss,” “horror,” “deep pain,” “inexcusable guilt.”
We returned to the mid-way camp just beyond mile marker six. It was mid-afternoon.
More than likely we would have navigated the extra-precipitous area just fine and reached Kalalau Beach sometime around 4:30. We were satisfied in knowing that we would bed down together again that evening, however.
After hiking out the following day, we drove around to the other side of the island and up through Waimea Canyon to check-in at a cabin we reserved at Kokee Lodge, situated at 4000 feet above sea level.
Mark Twain considered Waimea Canyon equal in beauty to the Grand Canyon. We agreed.
Strata of yellows, browns and southern Utah redrock red warmed our bodies via our visual sensory perceptions. The air was cool, the sunshine was perfect-for-napping warm, and the sky forever blue.
Our Hawaiian trip was coming to an end. Truth be told, we were tired, sick, and haggard. We needed a vacation from our vacation.
Before departing, I have to tell you that while on Kauai we saw an upside down Hawaiian flag flying by the roadside. On it were the words “the U.S. stole this nation” written in dark black.
I can remember being in grade school and seeing how far Hawaii was from the mainland U.S. on the globe. It seemed odd to me then that we had a state so far away. I have since learned of its geopolitical importance.
May Pele bless the people of Hawaii.
(written 29 February 2004)