March 23, 2009. I remember how it felt that morning: the anticipation, the excitement, and the relief in knowing I was finally breaking away from the busy routine that had become my life. Adventure – that’s what we were so desperately seeking. But who knew this particular one would change me forever?
It is hard to believe that exactly two years ago I set off on a life-altering trip to Maui. You have heard us say before that this adventure marks the birth of Trails of Freedom. And though it is difficult to put into words what this experience meant to all of us, on this our 2-year anniversary, I will do my best to recount the tales of the journey that would grow to define my life.
Taking the first flight out from O’ahu, John, Avi, Sabrina and I arrived on Maui just after 7am. With only a few dollars in our pockets, we loaded our backpacks into the rental car, strapped our surfboards to the roof, and set off down the road. There was no way of knowing at that point what this trip had in store for us, but somehow I just knew I it would be epic. And judging by the hopeful smiles from the rest of the group, they all felt exactly the same way.
Our first stop was Haleakala Crater, known to the Hawaiians as the House of the Sun. This East Maui volcano has remained dormant for quite some time, with the last eruption occurring in approximately 1790, but experts say that this volcano will erupt again in its lifetime. The summit of Haleakala rests at about 10,000 feet, offering visitors incredible views from above the clouds. The landscape is so unlike anything I have ever seen. With the red dirt clinging to the crater walls, it almost feels like you have landed on another planet. Excited to explore, we headed down the Sliding Sands trail, which leads to the bottom of the crater.
With the high elevation, the hike back up the crater walls was pretty killer, taking us twice as long to walk back up as it had to climb down. We made it back up to the top just before sundown, having hiked almost 8 miles for the day. Though tired and hungry, we were all smiles while watching the beautiful sunset – a perfect ending to a perfect first day.
Sunrise atop Haleakala – many have argued it is the most beautiful in the whole world. Having been lucky enough to have witnessed this twice in my life, I can honestly say that this claim may be true. Watching the sun rise above the clouds and illuminate the walls of the crater is somewhat of a spiritual experience. It should definitely be on the top of any visitors “must-see” list on Maui. I am obviously not alone in thinking this, for every day, hundreds journey to the top of the volcano before dawn. It is an awesomely powerful way to start the morning.
Leaving Haleakala behind, we made our way down from the volcano, excited to explore more of the island. Still a bit chilled from the biting summit temperatures, we decided an hour or two on the beach were necessary. After a small breakfast, we arrived at Kahekili Beach Park, home to some of West Maui’s best snorkeling and scuba diving. Underwater, our snorkeling experience was enriched by the whales we could hear just off shore. We swam along the reef for about an hour before agreeing to continue up the coast.
The drive up west Maui is absolutely beautiful, with beaches and gorgeous cliffs tucked behind every corner. But today, we were on a search for some waves, itching to test out some of Maui’s great surf spots. We had our hopes set on Honolua Bay, a break well known in Hawaii. Unfortunately, no surf-able waves were found, so our quest would have to wait for another day.
John and Avi made there way out first, and I followed slowly behind. The boys had made it to the outermost pool, and I watched carefully as the waves battered down on the surrounding rocks. They jumped from the ledge of the pool into the water and emerged with huge grins on their faces. Though the waves were crashing, the pools seemed strangely unaffected by the floods of water. I decided that I had to go out there and join in on the fun. It was so awesome to have giant waves pounding all around, but to stand at the center of it all and remain completely untouched. What a rush!
After a great afternoon spent splashing around, we headed back down the coast towards Ka’anapali, where we had a feast of a picnic on the beach. We watched yet another perfect sunset before setting up our tent at Oluwalu campground. The night was spent stargazing, as Sabrina taught us all about the constellations. It was amazing to see so many stars in the clear night sky, and I wish I would have more opportunities to do so.
The following morning, we were again off to an early start, leaving the campground just after dawn. Today we would tackle the Road to Hana, the beautiful “highway” famous for its twists and turns, behind which pristine waterfalls can be found. Most visitors complete the Road to Hana in one day, appreciating the gorgeous ride through lush rainforest. But for us, Hana Highway would become our home for the next three days, as we searched for every path, every waterfall and every new experience we could find.
We started off following the trail through a thick forest of bamboo. There seemed to be a waterfall around every corner of this hike, and all were very unique. One stood tall with water gushing down. The next had quiet flow dropping of into a serene pool. But our favorite was the last waterfall we reached – a steady flow of water cascading over a giant rock formation, all emptying out into a large, pristine pool. It was such a beautiful setting, and we eagerly climbed into the water and swam to the falls. We spent an hour or so just relaxing underneath the waterfall, and taking turns jumping off its ledges. This is one of my favorite memories of the trip, and one of my most-loved hikes on Maui.
Happily exhausted from our adventure-filled day, we stayed the night at a small YMCA cabin along the Road to Hana. After enjoying our first shower in three days, it was a quick lights out for our crew. We wanted to be well-rested and ready to take on another awesome day when morning came.
Day 2 of the Road to Hana began with even more waterfalls, and every jump from their cliffs only strengthened the invincible feeling that was taking over all of us. At this point, adrenaline had become a drug, and to this very day, it is still something that I need to feel complete. In a particularly daring moment on one of our hikes, John and Avi had wondered if it was possible to ride the aqueduct between two waterfalls. With only one way to find out, the boys jumped into the channel and disappeared into a tunnel. Sabrina and I anxiously waited on the other end, hoping to see our friends emerging unscathed. Moments later, they popped out the end of the tunnel, laughing as they crawled back onto the trail, thankfully no worse for the wear.
Making a few more stops along the way, we finally reached Hana, the endpoint for most who have traveled its long highway. The main attraction is Waianapanapa, the famous black sand beach. It was a very impressive place, and the colors were unreal – the vibrant green Naupaka plant poking up through the black lava rocks, all surrounded by an ocean and sky of brilliant blue. The only downside was the amount of people. We had spent the majority of our trip isolated from the masses, and here we were thrown right back into it. We swam around in some of the freshwater caves, but decided to move on in search of a beach away from the crowds.
With no actual campgrounds nearby, we parked our car out on the end of Ke’anae Peninsula. We didn’t even bother setting up the tent, for we wanted to spend our last night on Maui directly underneath the stars. It was a very real night we had – just four friends enjoying stories, music, and memories. It is difficult to describe, but I will forever remember that night as one of the best in my life.
But our trip was not over quite yet. We still had one complete day to enjoy the rest of the island. We spent the morning paddling out into the little waves we could find, but with no real swell to surf, we quickly moved on. After conquering almost every waterfall on the Road to Hana, it was time to take on the mother of them all – seven waterfalls flowing consecutively, one after another, after another… the Seven Sacred Pools, known to the Hawaiians as O’heo Gulch.
The trail leading up these waterfalls cuts its way through a massive forest of bamboo. It surrounded every inch of the trail, and seemed to go on for miles! The hike snaked its way along, exposing a new waterfall around every turn. We gave in to our temptations and swam around in the freshwater pools of the falls. The water was a bit chilly, but was a nice refreshing swim. We continued our way up and finally made it to the top waterfall. Reaching almost 100 ft high, this waterfall is definitely worth the 2-mile hike.
We made our way back to the car, reluctant to leave this all behind. Following a road less traveled, we drove along the coast, just enjoying the scenery. We had to make our way towards the airport, though none of us wanted to leave. It was a silent drive back, an unspoken feeling between all of us. This trip may have started as a spring break adventure, but it had turned into something much more.
Somewhere along the way, the experiences we encountered had changed us. Strong bonds of friendship had been formed between each of us, but also with the island. This place had offered itself to us as a home for our time spent here, and gave to us some unforgettable memories. It was this trip that made me realize the deep connection I felt between myself and nature. I knew that I had to continue along this path for the rest of my life. For me, Maui marks my birth as an explorer and an adventurer, and I am still so grateful for this entire experience.
To John, Avi, and Sabrina: thanks for all the memories!