My latest adventure brought me to the end of the road, past Waimea Canyon, through Ko’kee State Park, to Pu’u O Kila Lookout. Arriving before 8am, not a soul in sight, I started down the chosen path of the day, Pihea Trail. Immediately, I took in the expansive view before me, noting the joy of beginning with the magnificent view instead of having to hike a while for the payout. In the dewy morning light, the clouds pushed in on the right ridge as the sun lit up the valley beneath, scant white streaks of the waves in the ocean below. With a few deep breaths and the intention set to enjoy the morning and move my body, I got my feet under me.
I chose this hike because according to the Ko’kee National Park website, it is labelled as a moderate hike and it also had some distance, 3.8 miles out and back. For the first mile, the panoramic view of the Kalalau Valley held to my right, quickly being consumed by the clouds moving in, and to my left was the greenery of the Alakai swamp lands, one of the wettest places on earth. Listening for bird calls and noting the fluorescent green of the ferns lining the path, I couldn’t help but be very pleased with the moderate rated hike. However, that abruptly changed as I came up on the second mile.
As I dug farther into the trail, I began climbing sections of clay like mud. I say climbing because the slick red dirt required careful foot placement, pockets carved out my previous hikers, hands reached for the anchored branch or leaned into the mud to stabilize. It really wasn’t that technical, just required my patience because as I hike alone, I am very mindful of not rolling ankles or catching falls on my wrists. After a stretch of muddy-ups, the trail began sloping down. The mud slide prone areas required some tushy glides as I braced myself. As sweat poured down my face, I had the thought of ‘off road hiking.’ Doesn’t make much sense, but the path reminded me of a time I went off-roading in a Jeep in Arizona, except this time I was on foot and not tucked into the back of the car screaming while the driver my friends and I paid drove us around like a madman.
Finding level ground again, it was time to walk the plank. The national park trail maintenance team had done a fine job of installing wooden planks along the path, making it possible to weave through the swamp. Wearing long pants and grateful for them, the ferns and other plants coated with water, whacked my legs as I walked by them. Soon my already dirt-splotched pants were soaked through.
The third mile brought sloping paths and switch backs towards the river. The babbling brooks tickled my ears as the morning sun briefly dried out my pants before entering narrower paths with ferns and some thorny weed I had to keep stepping over.
After passing the sign at 3.5 miles, I knew I was close to the end. However, the end came sooner for me when I came upon a five foot wide stream, about three inches of water deep. The embankment on the other side was a steep slope and with zero confidence that I wouldn’t slip off the piece of tree used as someone else’s stepping stone, I decided to call it quits there. With my boots already soggy, my gut was telling me a grand leap wouldn’t work and balancing on the tree would insure my boots going for a swim.
So as I giggled audibly to myself at the idea of not knowing what the end of the trail held, I rerouted back the way I came with even more confidence of what was to come because I had already done it. Along the river, over the planks, down the muddy bits, and through the ferns. With a mile to go, the clouds had lifted, and once again the panoramic views fell before me. Passing by the late morning hikers, a few cute dogs, and a couple overlooking the valley below, I smiled inwardly and outwardly as I listened for the birds and felt the morning sun dry me off once again.
As I Mario-carted my way back down the canyon, I reflected on the lesson of hiking, going down new paths, and navigating different terrains. When I first head down a trail, my senses are heightened. I am hesitant in more difficult areas, mindful of each foot step, debating whether to turn around in parts. I am awed by the simple things, the red blooms on the tree, the bright green ferns growing on top of darkened, dead ones. But after turning around, I know what to expect. I am confident in the twists and turns, the ups and downs. I realize as I sit here and write this, this lesson is one I continue to engrain in my being; the anxiety of getting lost comes with the joy of what I find and once the path is walked once, it is no longer new.
I think I will leave that lesson to sit and ponder. Time to pack the bags for the beach!