CONTINUATION OF “Beyond the End of the Road: POLIHALE”
CHAPTER TWO: CHAOS
It started with our bank balances. We had gotten two small sandwiches to share for dinner and some groceries for the following week. Then we checked our bank accounts and to our immediate horror, neither of us had quite the cash flow we had thought. That night, we had been planning on a nice night in a backpackers’ hostel and a meal out. After all, we hadn’t showered or slept in a bed or washed our clothes in almost a week and we were counting on this one night in Kapa’a to refresh ourselves for the mid-island jungle hikes we had scheduled for the next few days. But as we sat at a small table by the Safeway grocery store parking lot, we quickly had to reassess our situation.
“No dinner at Wahoooo’s tonight” Leigh Anne said. I knew she had been looking forward to her fish dish that she had talked up since even before our departure.
“Ya know what bud? Not even the Backpacker’s,” I said slowly, testing it for a reaction.
We both knew that from here on out we would have to really tighten the purse strings and really rough it. We agreed that there would be only two reward feasts: one, at the end of the Powerline trail; and two, at the completion of the Kalalau. And so, with the new rules set out and the resolution that this was the way it was going to be firmly set in our minds, we set out for the first mission which was to find somewhere to camp for the night. We walked down the main road before turning down a side road that lead to a big, beautifully manicured resort. We felt like we were committing a crime just by being there, like a blemish on an otherwise perfect façade. We lumbered past with our heads bent, packs on our backs, dirty and scraggly. I felt homeless as I saw couples dressed up and newly showered on their way to dinner. But Leigh Anne and I would sneak little cheeky grins at one another and I could tell she was thinking the same thing.
We made our way down to the beach where it was a little after sunset. A bit further down the beach was another big hotel, so we found a place behind a row of pine trees that lined the beach, separating it from the golf course behind it. There was also a little group of bushes that would hide us from sight. It was just far away enough so that we would be relatively hidden from both of the hotels that flanked us on either side. We decided to wait until it was fully dark to put up the tent just in case we were spotted, and there were to be no headlights inside, as headlamps caused the tent to become a luminous sphere visible for miles around. We stayed up talking and laughing, trying to get excited for the rugged road that lay ahead. I lay awake hearing the slow roll of the ocean on the sand thinking that this will undoubtedly be, as it already has been so far, the adventure I’ve long awaited for. I didn’t know then how difficult this next chapter would be.
There were few hikes over these three weeks that really pushed us to our limit. The Makaleha hike pushed us beyond. The alarm went off at 6am and we silently woke and sat up. I turned to Leigh Anne and croaked “one week down”, she smiled. We ate a banana and broke camp once again in the pre-dawn light. We walked to the northern end of Kapa’a to Kawaihau Road, which would turn into Kahuna Road, at the end of which the trail would begin.
We waited for a long time, already sweaty from the hot morning hike to the start of the road and already hungry since the energy from the banana that we had at 6am was long gone. Finally a truck pulled up and a rough as guts local woman with sunglasses, a braided rat tail haircut and tattoos up and down her arms rolled down the window and told us to jump in. Leigh Anne jumped in front and I jumped in the covered tray. She dropped us off by a soccer field up the road. I turned to Leigh Anne smiling. “Interesting conversation” she said and we laughed.
The area seemed pretty residential, but we were happy to wait in the sun by a little shack surrounded by fruit trees. The smell of ripe fruit was in the air and the small neighborhood houses were just waking up. After a long while, we were picked up by a nice fellow named Parker who drove us right to the trailhead, which was somewhat out of his way. Once again, Leigh Anne jumped up in the cab and I took up my spot in the tray of the truck. It was a beautiful drive through this little town of brightly colored shacks, which were almost swallowed by the lush overgrown flowers, fruit trees and vines. Huge towering trees that looked like they had about twenty sub species of plant growing out of them lined the street as we wound our way up. The houses slowly stopped coming and instead there were vast farmlands that faded into a dense jungle, a waterfall dead ahead falling from some place high up in the cliffs.
It was a pretty good feeling that we had arrived at the difficult to reach trailhead this early. It must have been around 9 when we strapped on our packs and headed down the path past the big water tanks to the start of the trail. The trail itself started as a nice wide path, but before we had even walked a ¼ mile we had our first intersection with a false trail off to our right and a river to our left, with what looked like a path continuing on the other side. Straight away, Leigh Anne wisely figured that she was in for a pretty wet hike, so she rolled on across the river, soaking her hiking boots and pants. I was more careful, removing my shoes and wading across before drying my feet and putting my shoes back on. I should have just gone for it as Leigh Anne did, because in the end, it wouldn’t matter.
We decided to ditch the big backpack in the bush and covered it with big Jurassic Park leaves before continuing on our way. We reached the great bamboo forest, thousands of huge skinny poles jutting up vertically into the sky. We came across three large trees and it was about here when we started having to check our guide regularly at every single turn to ensure we were on the right track. Behind the third big tree, the path continued up and the bamboo became curiously smaller and thinner so that our heads almost reached the top of those leafy sticks. It was still early morning, so the bamboo was covered in dew. Every time my arm or bag would hit a pole, a shower of rain would pour down on me. The bamboo shoots were close together like prison bars, making it impossible to stray from the path. The trail led us up until we reached a cliff with ropes tied to trees that we had to scale down. Again our guide gave us cryptic clues such as “there are multiple ways to reach the river with a number of side tracks leading down through the bamboo. Take the third one.” There were too many, some vague, some clear but we assumed this one with ropes was the correct one, so we half slipped, half abseiled down until we found the trail that followed alongside the river. The path turned into a deep muddy bog, soaking my shoes instantly.
We followed the vague and muddy trail until it just ended at the river, with a pink ribbon on the other side. By now I had decided that there was no point gingerly jumping from rock to rock and just waded to across. My shoes were soaked through anyway. We picked up the trail which fell in and out of view, forcing us to bushwhack and river wade until we saw the track continuing once more on the other side of the river. If we thought it was bad now, then we couldn’t imagine what was to come.
We entered a dense forest of hau trees whose branches and roots struck out in every direction like a game of pickup sticks. It was such a mess of branches and the only way we could know that we were going in the right direction was a series of machete marks slashed every so often into a branch. And in this jungle of branches reducing visibility to a couple of feet, it was easy to miss them. For the next hour or so we had to contort our bodies like a spy maneuvering around a spider web of laser beams. Climbing over, bending under and squeezing through really took its toll physically. Often, we would get lost and, like an aboriginal tracker, I would look for a snapped branch or leaves that had been trodden underfoot.
We finally broke free from the claustrophobic grasp of the hau tree jungle and basically got dumped in the river, forcing us to boulder hop and wade the last 50 yards before coming upon the view. It really was beautiful, three waterfalls up in the valley and three streams converging where we stood. But we were so exhausted, having only eaten a banana at 6am and then halving a Clif® Bar at the start of the trail hours ago. I felt like I could hardly appreciate it, bending over to rest my bag on my back giving my shoulders a rest. We were soaking wet, exhausted and aching all over. We had to stop and recharge, so after some dried apricots and nuts, we charged on with a little fuel in our tanks. We took the river to the right and followed it up an additional 20 minutes, the huge towering cliffs leaning in on us until we were making our way up the riverbed with these imposing narrow rock walls squeezing in on us from both sides.
We reached the waterfall, the grand finale. It was a nice, two-tier waterfall enclosed by the massive cliffs with a descent pool at the bottom. Whether the half day battle to get there was worth it is hard to say.
A little pile of rocks adorned in flowers and leaves had been left there as a sign of respect…and probably as an offering plea for guidance on the trail back. I stripped off and dove into the refreshing pool. It felt good to wash off all the sweat and mud that covered every inch of me from the trek up here. We couldn’t stay long, as it had taken us four hours to get here and dark clouds were forming overhead causing concern for time and conditions for the hike back.
We were making good time, although I could already tell I was getting clumsy with fatigue. We made our way down the river before once more entering the dreaded Hau tree jungle for the hour long battle through it. We were doing okay when I heard a loud crash then thud echo through the forest. I looked behind me and there was Leigh Anne, in a small pile, soaking wet, cradling her wrists and knees in a muddy ditch. I ran back to her assessing the damage. Shaking it off, she said she was fine, but I could tell that this trail had begun to test us. We were being worn down by it, and it was definitely a hike where you had to concentrate closely on footing.
As banged up and exhausted as we were, we made stellar timing as we noted all the landmarks we had passed by on the way up: through the maze of hau trees and machete marks, down the muddy scramble, across the river time and again, up and over the bamboo forest, retrieving the hidden backpack and in record time broke out at the trailhead exhausted and overjoyed to have beaten the beast.
But the day was not over, and there would be more hiking to come. We sat in a patch of grass in the sun on the side of Kahuna Road to peel off our socks and shoes revealing corpse like feet. I felt like I may never want to leave, my feet finally free from those wet shoes, and the sun slowly drying me out. But it was late in the day and we had to make it back to Kapa’a to set up camp for the night. We were both hurting, but there was no traffic so all we could do was keep making our way down the hill and try to get a lift. Immediately around me was silent, not even a breeze to lift the leaves. We walked on and on without a car passing to pick us up.
Eventually, we got a ride from a bunch of hippies who dropped us at the bottom of the hill. We had just been walking for 7 hours, but this last mile to Safeway was the worst. Our legs, shoulders and empty stomachs were not letting us forget what state we had gotten them into as we trudged on, both completely sure that the walk from Safeway hadn’t been that long on the way here. Coincidentally, it was Valentine’s Day, so we were forced to walk past couples sharing a bottle of crisp white wine, my eyes momentarily resting on the bottle sweating in the ice bucket as they shared a sizzling mound of appetizers. Once or twice the diner’s eye caught mine and I had to look away quickly, feeling like a stray dog who had to scamper away to avoid a kick. We walked past smoky burger joints and sizzling shrimp huts, the never ending tease continuing on. Once at Safeway we bought a giant sandwich to split and a can of Coke each. We once again sat at the small tables next to the parking lot, sweaty, muddy and completely spent. Smiling at Leigh Anne, I tapped my Coke can against hers as the sun sank down over Safeway. “Happy Valentine’s Day bud.”
CONTINUE THE JOURNEY “Beyond the End of the Road: CHAOS – Part 2“