CONTINUATION OF “Beyond the End of the Road: KALALAU – Part 1”
We spent the next two days enjoying the beach that we had worked so hard to reach. It felt incredible really, not to be packing up the tent and rolling out onto our next hitching/hiking marathon for the day. Instead I slept in, enjoying just lying there warm and dry, listening to the sound of the crashing waves. I got out of bed, stretching and jogging lazily down the beach before going swimming, plunging into that beautiful clear water. The waves were pretty wild so for most of it, I bodysurfed, getting pummelled and slammed into the sand by the pounding surf. At one point, I even found the top third of a snapped surfboard which I used (or attempted to use) as a bodyboard. Leigh Anne and I made a fire pit from the rocks and boulders surrounding our campsite and went on a firewood mission, real hunting and gathering stuff.
I ran down the beach to fill our water bottles in the waterfall, a beautiful two-tier set of falls trickling down the cliff at the southern end of the beach. As I made my way up the little trail, I saw two beautiful and very naked women bathing in the falls, like a pair of nymphs. Not knowing where to look, I waited before refilling the water bottles after a stuttered greeting. I would become very used to this over the next two days. It seemed like the residents of Kalalau Beach preferred nudity to the hassle of clothes, and would sunbathe, swim and just hang out naked much of the time. I felt almost over dressed in just my shorts.
The rest of the day was spent swimming, reading and writing. As the sun went down, we lit our bonfire, which we felt somewhat proud of as it blazed away. We boiled three pots of water for drinking, and I would run down the beach in the moonlight to fill the water bottles in the waterfall. I felt like a wild animal running down that beach, barefoot, to the watering hole, the milky stream flowing endlessly under the light of the moon.
The next day was almost identical. I wondered if the people here just lost track of time, days, even weeks. We lay in the tent with the flaps down, reading, the lightest of warm breezes flowing through. The only sound was the ocean and the light disturbance of the leaves from the wind. From where I was lying, I could look out at lush vegetation, first, the tree over the tent with large oval waxy leaves, and then palm fronds clacking behind it. In amongst the palms were noni trees with their ugly misshapen fruits hanging awkwardly from the branches. Then behind, as always, those giant faded green pinnacles against the cloudless sky. Eyes drooping, I fell into a blissful sleep.
I woke again to a call from out to sea. I stumbled out of the tent to see a little skiff with an outboard motor pulling in just behind the break. I recognized its captain to be the same guy I had seen yesterday who had been launched off with his fishing net and kayak by a tribe of naked men pushing the kayak off like ancient Polynesians. In fact, they reminded me of the Maori launching their waka in New Zealand. But this morning he was sending out the call to the people off Kalalau, who emerged from the bush like insects from the woodwork. They were running down the beach, stripping off and diving into the ocean to retrieve big plastic bags that were being thrown overboard by the captain. I assumed it was the weekly or monthly food drop and the bags were filled with items that they couldn’t grow or hunt for here. Everyone was helping out, even a little blond girl who I had seen around the place. A dog leapt around barking at all the excitement.
The rest of the day was again spent either swimming or reading. I went for big long solo swims in the pounding surf and while I was underwater in the calm, I could hear the whales singing out to sea in their disjointed whines and clicks. Before sunset, we decided to really experience Kalalau as the locals did and stripped off for a naked swim. We splashed around, diving underwater and wriggling to the surface before running up the beach to our clothes. Even though it was a small period of nakedness, we still felt liberated and wild. We enjoyed our last sunset and looked around us, trying to remember, or to soak up every little piece of this paradise that we had called home for a while.
The way back…
We were back to waking up to alarms at 6am. I peeked outside to see the dark cloudy skies and wild ocean, only the faintest of light letting us know that morning was on its way, albeit still a fair way off. We ate the last of our blueberry bagels with the peanut butter and jelly “goober” spread. We broke camp and rolled up our tent, and with one more look out across the empty Kalalau beach, we were off. We walked in relative silence, still waking up, as we made our way down the first section of the track which cut alongside the ocean on one side and the sleeping tents on the other. The walk reminded me of waking up for a dawn surfing session, when you are making your way through sandy bush tracks before your body or mind have really woken up. I was just moving by muscle memory, as if sleep walking but someone had dressed me and put this enormous pack on my back.
We had been dreading two parts of the trail for the way back, the first of which was looming ahead of us now in the early morning sun which had just broken through. It was the same endless slope of crumbly red clay up out of Kalalau that I had thrown myself down in a halted jog on the way to the beach. In the lead up to this mammoth hike back, we had pre-arranged how it would go. I would plow ahead, head bent and legs going in a steady rhythm, which was the only way I knew how to approach such strenuous uphill climbs. Leigh Anne would focus her eyes at the top and begin her mental pep talks to get her to the end. And so, with no further ado, I propped my bag on my shoulders, tightened my waist strap and dug in. It’s funny where the mind turns on these continuous rhythmic climbs. I conducted a whole interview with David Letterman in my head as I climbed on up, joking with the audience and being generally witty and academic in my answers, as well as sharing a scotch with Dave himself. Before I knew it, I had reached the top. I was soaking with sweat and groaned as I swung off my pack, my fingers shaking to undo the clasps to get out my water bottle. I cheered as I saw Leigh Anne rounding the bend. After a quick break, we continued on our way laughing and relaying our mental journeys up the hill. It turned out that while I was shmoozing the audience of Letterman, Leigh Anne was channeling the determination and willpower of the old man from the book we had completed reading aloud the night before.
We carried on past the familiar twists and turns, the weather holding up with patches of sun breaking through the clouds. In fact, if we weren’t being drenched by a momentary downpour we were becoming drenched in sweat from the uphill slogs in the sun. We had been approaching such an uphill climb with a certain amount of dread. It was the endless zig-zag up shingle after the little goat track cut into the cliffs. But again, head down and falling into a rhythm, I made it to the top, surprising myself with the small amount of strain it took. We were just chatting away as we passed back through the campsite in Hanakoa valley around the 6 mile marker. Although we were making great time, it was very apparent that we hadn’t eaten since 6:30am and so decided to lunch at the big rock that jutted out over the water before the descent down to Hanakapi’ai. However, with the lead up to those first two climbs that we had mentally prepared for, we had somehow omitted the mammoth climb that was ahead totally from our memories. In fact, that initial climb out of Kalalau seemed like child’s play in comparison to this endless uphill schlep. It was unrelenting, not giving us any relief until the rock, which I reached in a shower of sweat, my legs screaming for a break. I eased my pack off with a groan, stretching out my neck and shoulders and taking a seat on the rock. After a short while, Leigh Anne came around the corner, grimacing as I’m sure I had done. She gave me a look that said, “Where the heck did that come from?!”
We sat out on the small grassy ledge that dropped down on all sides to the sea. We ate our tuna snacks, watching the whales perform and soaking up the sun in an effort to dry out our sweat soaked shirts. We reluctantly got to our feet, now more than ever feeling the 8 miles we had walked. We trudged on until we reached the switchback track down to Hanakapi’ai, which was still a muddy mess. We skidded and slipped our way down, laughing and knowing in our minds that we were approaching the 2 mile marker, which would bring us back to civilization. The river seemed unrecognizable. It was like a trickling stream, in comparison to the raging torrent we had crossed days before. Once on the other side, we tied on our wet and muddy shoes and started on our way to the end of the trail.
There was a sense of redemption for Leigh Anne as we made our way up the steep climb out of Hanakapi’ai. She had done the Kalalau Trail years before, at a time when her health wasn’t at its best. She recalled the heartbreak and disappointment she had felt on this leg back then, stopping every few steps to catch her breath. She told me that at various points, she thought that she actually could not go on. And now, here we were on the home stretch, her legs strong, her breathing consistent. She had finally tamed the beast and I could see how proud she was, and I felt the same. In fact, we had both made our way out of Hanakapi’ai with ease, it being evident that our legs were stronger and the last few weeks had increased our fitness to a new level. We reached the last lookout before we would dip down into Ke’e Beach and the end of the hike. We stood for a moment, gazing out at the endless Na Pali coast, retracing where we had come from since that morning. The sky was now an intense blue, matching the ocean in color, which crashed against those wild magnificent ridges. I became overwhelmed. I felt a strange but powerful connection to that place, like there was an unspoken mutual respect between us. We had been tested to our extreme and we had passed the test. The hills seemed to arch their backs and stretch their shoulders, lifting their peaks to meet my gaze. I silently thanked the whole stretch of coast. When Leigh Anne turned to me her eyes were moist. She too was farewelling the place that was our home for a time.
We walked the remaining mile in silence, not looking back, as we both reflected on not only the Kalalau but the entire trip. We reached the end and embraced in a long hug. We walked down the road, past all the cars and people with beach towels and umbrellas. We marveled at the state of ourselves, haggard, drenched in mud and sweat and it would be a minor miracle if we were picked up. And yet, amazingly, we were. And it would be that very ride which would lead to great things. As we stood there and assessed our mud-caked legs and pruned feet, we heard a call from the other side of the street. An older guy was getting out of the car, grinning wildly and waving us over. He introduced himself with a hearty handshake as Tom Hardie. Tom and his wife Barb were from Minnesota, but had once lived on Oahu where they had raised their kids. They had been coming to Kaua’i for 15 years. They dropped us right at Bubba’s Burger and wished us luck, and that was the end, or so we thought. We devoured our Triple Bubba burgers, onion rings, fries, hotdogs and sodas. It was the most we had eaten in weeks and we were stuffed to the hilt. In our post-feast coma, we could do nothing but lie down on the benches and let it all digest. It was then that I heard Leigh Anne yell, “Barb!” And I looked up to see Leigh Anne giving her a big hug. Barb then proceeded to tell us that she and Tom had been talking. They had an extra bed at the Marriott in Poipu if we would like to take it. It seemed like such a generous offer that we couldn’t quite fathom it, and we just looked at each other dumbly. Although my mind was screaming: “Yes! Yes of course we’ll take it!” Instead, I heard myself explain that we still had one more hike we had to do the following day and that we would take their number and call them later if we decided to take them up on it.
We were left to assess our next move, and as we made our way to the beach to set up camp, some big clouds were rolling in off the sea. It was already late in the day and our bodies were aching. We found the spot we had camped at previously and rolled into our sleeping bags. We laughed again at the state of ourselves. We had become so used to sleeping in our tent which was now muddied up and encrusted with sand, much like our bodies. It was simply how we lived now. We both knew that we could have been sleeping at the Marriott after a hot shower, but neither of us mentioned it. The rain began to fall as I drifted off to sleep.
The rain fell hard throughout the night and didn’t stop until the morning. Not long after we had broken camp in the downpour, we found ourselves once again soaked to the bone. We made the easy decision to head to Kapa’a where we would ring Tom and Barb to see if the offer still stood. It wasn’t hard to hitch out of town, but we only got a ride up to the bus stop in Princeville. By now we both were shivering, and every inch was soaked through and the rain wasn’t letting up. There was one moment when I wondered to myself if there would ever be a time when I would be warm and dry. It seemed like it was a state that was so far off that it was difficult to imagine. The bus stop itself was full, so we were forced to stand outside, trying to take shelter under the little overhang of tin roof that jutted out above, spilling over with rain water. There was one disheartening moment as we attempted to hitch, when a car pulled up and overjoyed we approached it. But a girl got out and sheepishly said “Uh…my mom is just dropping me at the bus station.”
When the bus came, everyone crammed on and we thankfully found a seat. We drove all the way to Kapa’a where miraculously the sun was out, a far different scene from the one we had left in Princeville. We lay all our stuff out on the ground to dry and called Tom. It went straight to voicemail. We could do nothing but wait.
It was getting later in the day and about an hour had passed with no word from Tom and Barb. We began to plan where we would camp and which Safeway sandwich we would half for dinner. Then, Leigh Anne’s phone came alive, the name Tom Hardie flashing in green. Leigh Anne ran to talk in a corner while I stood biting my fingers in anticipation. She came back a few moments later with unsuppressed joy.
“They said of course the offer still stands…that we should make our way over, that they had been expecting our call!” She was almost jumping up and down as we hugged then hurriedly started to get our things together to make our way to Poipu.
It took 6 separate rides to get there. But most of them were in the tray of trucks, and as we sat in the back racing closer to our destination, with the warm wind all around us and the blue sky slowly changing color, it felt like a different island to the one we had left in Hanalei. After about 4 rides, when we had passed Lihue, we were picked up by Pe’a who had given us the second ride of the entire trip to the foot of the canyon three weeks before. He was amazed to see us still on the road and congratulated us on the journey so far. We were dropped at the entrance to the tree tunnel, a beautiful stretch of road which was flanked on either side by tall trees which arched over forming a tunnel of trees, hence the name. The sun was now sinking behind the horizon, what was left of it burst through the trees in dappled light on our faces. The sky was pink and we could see through the trees to the vast pastures on either side, with cows with their heads bent, apparently oblivious to the beautiful evening that had erupted around them. I closed my eyes momentarily, realizing I had found what had seemed impossible while shivering under the bus stop roof in the rain. I was dry and en route to a bed, with the warm evening air all around me.
We had made it to Poipu and called Tom to say we weren’t far away. “Stay right where you are,” he instructed “I’m coming to get you.” As we waited on the side of the road, I felt out of place, not only for the Marriott, but for the whole town of Poipu itself. It was an insane contrast to everything we had seen before it in the past three weeks. Little bulbs of fairy lights were coiled around well pruned trees and impeccably manicured hedges and lawns. Signposts to the Hilton, the Hyatt and the Marriott stood by the roundabout, which featured a sandstone water sculpture. Before long, there was Tom and Barb once more, helping us get our packs into the back. A flood of thanks and gratitude poured from our mouths, but were waved off. “You just relax and enjoy yourselves” they laughed. “I think you’re gonna like it,” winked Tom.
We pulled up to the Marriott. Endless nights before, we had camped without another soul or man-made structure to be seen. And now, as we drove down a wide driveway lined by stone walls, flowers and flaming tiki torches, a series of beautiful buildings came into view. We parked the car and made our way to the magnificent entrance with soft Hawaiian music being plucked away on the guitar. Marble tiled floors led to high walls with portraits of Queen Kapiolani and other royals. The woman at the desk looked up with a smile and a gentle “aloha” as we passed. I felt like I simply shouldn’t be allowed to enter. Noticeably muddy and bearded, our packs still sandy and muddy and wet, I thought we were infecting everything we touched with our filth. Tom and Barb led us to the room, which turned out not to be a room at all, but an enormous apartment with a kitchen with black marbled counters and a grand living area with a giant flat screen TV, and a series of couches and lounge chairs around the place. When they had offered us a bed earlier that day I would have never imagined the Californian king size bed that stood before us in our own room, with private ensuite bathroom complete with washer and dryer. We were not hiding our joy and overwhelming excitement too well, with every other sentence being a stuttered version of, “Oh my god! Look at the…”
It wasn’t until we were left in our room that we silently squealed in excitement at one another, jumping up and down, hugging and on the verge of tears, pointing at all the features of the room. Tom told us just to relax and have a shower, Barb would make us dinner. He then offered us a beer – the frostiest, tastiest IPA I have ever had to this day. Of course, it went straight to my head having not had a beer in three weeks. It was then time for a shower. I stood under those streaming hot jets for what seemed like hours, scrubbing every inch of my body, causing the pool at my feet to turn a dark brown. I washed and re-washed, scrubbed and scraped, and then just stood there with my eyes closed feeling the hot water pulse against my back.
When we had showered, Barb made us a feast of chicken sandwiches and salad, and then said that we still had time to make it to the hot tubs before ten if we hurried. So Leigh Anne and I, without a pack on our backs, strolled with our plush white towels with the Marriott emblem on them to the bubbling hot tub and soaked our weary bodies under the lights of flickering tiki torches. We went back to the room, thanked Tom and Barb a thousand times over and retired to bed. We approached the bed and its mound of six pillows. I crawled under, unable to hold back my exclamations of comfort. We lay there facing each other. After three weeks in a tent, sandy, muddied and wet, we were now dry and under the soft layers of pure white Egyptian cotton sheets, having washed and eaten at the Marriott in Poipu. It was our last night and there was too much to say. We tried to say it all – recounting every hike, every trouble or cold night, every hungry climb, every muddy fall. We kept telling and re-telling stories with smiles on our faces until our eyes shut and our voices petered out. The next day we would be flying back to O’ahu, back into the city of lights and high-rises and people. Back to the shopping bags and Taco Bells, back to the bars overflowing with drunken tourists, back to the homeless sifting through garbage cans next to Prada and Gucci shops. But here we lay, without a sound, our bodies finally at rest after an adventure of such a scale it couldn’t be retold. Leigh Anne and I both knew that this was the end of it, and we fell asleep that night with images of those great Na Pali cliffs imprinted in our minds.