Kealia Trail to the Kuaokala Ridge Loop

Day 1

Destination: The Kealia Trail and Kuaokala Ridge Loop comprise a 12-mile hike on the far west side of the North Shore. I planned to do this hike when I visited Oahu last February but couldn’t find the trailhead and had to settle for an amble around Ka’ena Point instead. While it was lovely to gawk at nesting albatross and see that shot they showed repeatedly on Lost, I’m excited to actually do the hike this time.

Focus: Nature, Hiking

Soundtrack for the drive: T.I. featuring Rihanna, Live Your Life followed naturally by NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (A ‘Best of’ edition with the extended Bill Clinton interview in which he kills it on a quiz about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

Quote of the Day: What you need to do is be thankful for the life you got, stop looking at what you ain’t got and start being thankful for what you do got ~ T.I.

H3 to the H1 to the H2. We’re starting out big in Waialua with the most challenging, spectacular and rewarding hike in the guidebook and by “we” I mean my dogs and me. Banjo is your standard 75 lb. brown dog, could be a mix of just about anything, met him in upstate New York in 2006. He was the five-month old puppy assigned to me at a week long dog training seminar I was attending. I fell in love with him when he fell out of the bed of my Catskills camper, both of us bolted awake by a loud clap of thunder during a rainstorm of epic magnitude. He’s been by my side ever since and thank goodness for that, because the following summer he saved me from a bear in that exact same spot.

Tobi is a 32 lb. black and white Basenji of 100% feral West African street dog pedigree. Forced on me at the tender age of twelve weeks because my sister could only find homes for seven of the eight puppies his mama, whom she brought home from Peace Corps, had labored through. He is the sweetest angel of existence you could ever imagine and I love him more than just about anything.

It’s 68 degrees on the North Shore this morning, bone chilling by Hawaiian standards, but I’ve just read a passage in the guidebook about the 18th switchback being followed by a long steep incline. Considering the impending workout, I doubt I’ll be cold for long. With the sun behind me and the mist out in front, it’s as though I’m walking into a rainbow over the ocean. The climb is arduous but we’re making good time.

Two hours in things start to get weird. It takes a minute for me to realize we’re in a storm cloud. That’s when the deluge starts. The wind plays a new song as an unorthodox symphony begins: tropical bird chatter to my right, far off machine gun fire to my left. Ka-kaw Ka-kaw Rat-a-tat-tat Rat-a-tat-tat Ka-kaw Rat-a-tat. I think back to the warning at the trailhead. This is a military training zone. Thank goodness I’m wearing bright orange.

The dusty red dirt Hawaii is famous for is turning into slick mudslides. Wet and getting colder I become weary of my decision to trudge on and start to wonder, what if I get shot? I’ve already taken a wrong turn and had to backtrack, what if I get lost again and can’t find my way? It’s been pouring for over an hour now. Can you get hypothermia in the tropics? Ask for an adventure and that’s surely what you’ll get.

Just when I think it’s time to give up and head back to the car, the sun returns to bake my pale Irish shoulders. It goes from 68′ and damp to 80′ and humid inside of a minute and suddenly I remember how totally fucking awesome it was back when it was raining.

Four hours in and we’re still climbing. Out of the storm cloud the views become amazing.

Little do I know it’s about to get ugly. The guidebook says to ascend the paved road we’ve just come upon until we get to a T intersection. Picnic tables await us on the other side so I decide to continue up the hill without a break. We ascend for more than a mile, passing abandoned cinder block military buildings and broken down sheds, machine guns still sounding in the distance. There is no T intersection to be seen and suddenly we’re trespassing on government property. We’ve arrived at the satellite tracking station at the tip top of the ridge. I can see it on the map – it is far away from the trail. There’s nothing to do but turn around and head back down the mountain but Banjo is overheated and exhausted. He won’t budge.

My reaction to his discomfort is that of a guilty scared mother. I’ve forced him into this position and there’s nothing I can do to make it better. This mishap has cost us two hours, a considerable portion of our physical strength and almost the rest of our water. The sun has been scorching down on us and dehydration is setting in. There’s a whomp whomp feeling in between my ears as if I just did a bunch of whip-its.

We’ve been on the trail for six hours now and Banjo and I are fighting. He wants to constantly rest; he’s pulling on the leash and laying down every few feet. I want to get us to the bottle of water sitting on the front seat of the Subaru. Stress is rising and I can’t stop thinking about getting shot. It seems as if we’ll never get back to our starting point. Finally it dawns on me: I should be chanting.

If you had told me at any point in my life that there would come a day when chanting the names of ancient Hindu gods would bring me more peace and happiness than oh just about anything… I would have looked at you like you were an idiot. I don’t try to explain it because it doesn’t make any sense to me, I just now accept it to be true and I keep doing it. Within the next half mile the Om Namo Bhagavate brings me back to some semblance of sanity. Somehow it clears out the gook and let’s me concentrate on how to make a situation better.

So I start to think maybe we don’t need to rush. Maybe Banjo and I can compromise on a slow steady pace. Maybe we can take a lot of breaks and enjoy the scenery. We do have to get to the car but we have plenty of daylight left and we’re not lost. Maybe the point is to experience the journey and not rush to the destination even if it’s been a stressful time.

The chanting calms me down and before I know it the most beautiful thing ever, we make it back to the storm cloud and the deluge welcomes us in. I have never in my life been so thankful for rain as I am in this moment. I let it wash over my face and try to catch raindrops on my tongue. Pine trees with long spindly needles catch the drops on their tips and I suck them off as we rush past.

The temperature drop quickens our pace. Everyone is excited now as we head down the mountain in this respite from the sun. In an hour we make it to the switchbacks. The rain has hit them hard and we slow down a bit so as not to slip.

At last after eight hours and fourteen miles we are back at the car gulping down water, reveling in the comfort of sitting down on soft seats. Today was challenging but was it rewarding or spectacular? I think it would have been if I could have spent less time in my head rushing about, desperate to get to the end. And I guess that’s what this whole month is supposed to be about, right?

Lesson learned: More water, less food.

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4 thoughts on “Kealia Trail to the Kuaokala Ridge Loop”

  1. Enjoying the journey…yes! I have spent far too many recent somewhat confusing, poorly marked hikes wondering when the end would come. I’ve been trying to remind myself of this lately. But the getting shot thing…yeah, that would scare the hell out of me, too!

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