Many years ago, while I was single and in college, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Hawaii for a backpacking trip. And not tourist-trap Waikiki either, real honest-to-goodness Hawaii....KAUAI! I spent two weeks in the Hawaiian Islands, with eight of those days in Kauai. The first three days were spent hiking the amazing Kalalau Trail, an eleven-mile trail that covers the only roadless section on the perimeter of the island. Crossing the famed Na Pali coast, a very rugged section of Hawaiian wilderness, it is a very ethereal experience. We spent another five days "living" on Kalalau Beach once we arrived. The island of Kauai contains in its upper ramparts, the wettest spot on earth, Mount Waialeale. Because of this fact, the entire island is covered with the lushest blanket of green you ever saw, and the Kalalau Trail crosses many creeks and streams and gazes upon the steep canyons and valleys carved by the enormous runoff from Waialeale. It really is a beautiful sight!
So why, some ten years later, am I writing about my trip to Kauai? Well, in a nutshell, it was the turning point in my life. I hope to recount my visit to Kauai in hope of providing some insight to the amazing way that God works...
For those of you who don't already know, I'm involved in a recreational pursuit called County Highpointing. I try to get to the top of every county I can. Right now, I'm collecting California county highpoints. There are 58 counties in California, with a total of 56 highpoints; two of the highpoints can be claimed for two counties since the peak sits right on the county line. I've completed 17 of these 56 highpoints, and plan to have four more done before the summer is finished. There are some amazing spiritual lessons I've learned from climbing, from good effort and the joy of victory over challenging circumstances. My highpoint trips are always spiritually refreshing. My trip to Kauai was paramount in that regard...
The County Highpointing community, as a whole, is trying to complete the entire collection of county highpoints, with there currently being a total of 3,142 county highpoints in the United States. When all the county highpoints in a given state have been surmounted, that state is said to have been "completed". California was completed many years ago (in 1992-1993), and the process chronicled in a wonderful book I enjoy immensely, California County Summits by Gary Suttle. Until recently, the state of Hawaii has been an uncompleted state, the highpoint of Kauai County being a rather troublesome spot. The highpoint of Kauai County is a mountain called Kawaikini, and sits a mere mile from Mount Waialeale, along the same ridge high above the Alakai Swamp, an almost impassible tropical rainforest that separates Kawaikini from the nearest trailhead.
First Attempt, May 2005
SUCCESS! February 2006
Bob Burd's dayhike attempt, April 2006
As I watched the pursuits chronicled in the links listed above, it made me think back to my visit to tamer territory in Kauai County, yet no less dramatic from my perspective...
I arrived in Kauai on New Years Day, 1995. It was winter break from college, and we had six weeks off from school. I flew with my roommate and some friends of his. We changed planes in Honolulu, and then flew into the (now private) Princeville Airport on the north coast of Kauai, right next to Hanalei Bay. The Princeville Resort is the major draw to this northern part of the island, and must have been the main reason to have an airport in Princeville. Maybe since 1995, they've realized it isn't economically feasible to have the airport open any more? The main airport on the island, in Lihue, is on the east side of the island, and most of the resorts that the tourist go to are clustered around Lihue, and down toward the southern part of the island near Poipu.
We arrived in Princeville, and quickly got about figuring out our transportation options. Knowing we had about 12 miles of road to cover to our trailhead at Ke'e Beach, we set off doing what any good Kauai local does to get around in Kauai: hitchhike! We started walking the road toward Ke'e Beach, and quickly picked up a ride. Drivers in Kauai are very friendly to hitchhikers since there are proportionally smaller numbers of drivers there than there are non-drivers. We got to the road's end, bid our gracious driver adieu, and set afoot on the Kalalau Trail, setting our sights on Hanakapiai Beach, two miles into the trail. There is a spur trail that heads inland along Hanakapiai Stream from Hanakapiai Beach to Hanakapiai Falls, and this is quite the tourist destination. So, the Kalalau Trail is miserably muddy and in poor shape from Ke'e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. We set up tents and spent our first night, New Years night, in nice campsites at Hanakapiai Beach. It was very temperate, and it felt like we wouldn't need our tents. Little did I know of the Na Pali coast weather mid-winter...very windy at night! It blew our tents like crazy!
Next day we set out for our next day's destination: Hanakoa Camp, some five (5) miles distant. Since almost nobody went further along the Kalalau Trail than Hanakapiai Beach, we found the quality of the trail increase markedly. We found ourselves acclimatizing to the Kauai weather more this day, and made it to Hanakoa Camp around lunchtime. We set up camp there, and found a neat place along the creek where there was a small pool with a large rock above. We had a BLAST diving and jumping into the pool. We had dinner, set up camp again, and dealt with another windy night.
Next day we set out for the terminus of the trail, and the goal of our trip, Kalalau Beach, some five (5) miles distant. This is the most rugged section of the hike, but amazingly, this rugged five-mile section of trail was MUCH easier to negotiate than the two-mile section on the first day. It's amazing how you acclimate! We made it to Kalalau Beach around lunchtime, and set up camp under the brush back from the beach. We proceeded to walk the length of the beach to the far end to see the famed Kalalau waterfall. After a long day of hiking, this waterfall provides an awesome opportunity to clean off and get a natural "shower". While at the waterfall, we came to know some other folks who were staying at Kalalau Beach. We came to find out over the next few days that these people actually LIVED on Kalalau Beach, and in hamlets up in the nearby Kalalau Valley, the massive valley formed by the Kalalau Stream as it erodes the "Pali" or cliffs on its journey north to the ocean. Not only did these folks live out here, but their choice of clothing (or lack thereof) was a bit surprising. No matter, without any morals to speak of, neither me nor any of the other members of my party had any objections. We made friends quickly, and were invited to our first community Kalalau Beach dinner later that evening.
We had a great dinner of passionfruit, oranges, guava, and the "native" plant of Kauai, taro. The taro root is much like a potato, and is usually boiled like a potato in order to eat it. Guava and passionfruit grow in abundance up in the Kalalau Valley, where many of our hosts made their "permanent" residence. The feeling of community was strong, and I really enjoyed it. Our hosts regaled us with stories of living off the land and traveling into "town" at Hanalei and further to Kapaa and Lihue to restock. Hitchhiking was always the means of transportation when off the trail. We visited until much after sunset, and then retreated to our tents under the trees.
I spent the better part of the next three days doing much of the same. Relaxing for many hours on the beach, swimming in the ocean, climbing up the use trails (there are no official trails) into Kalalau Valley to forage for taro and fruit, and exploring the many neat hideaways that Kalalau Beach has to offer.
During all this free time, I had a great deal of time to think. It was here, on Kalalau Beach, 3000 miles from home, that I decided that I needed Jesus. My life was a mess. I had been in a physical and amazingly UN-fulfilling relationship with a woman that ended very badly. I had been spending a lot of time with Christian friends during my college years, and their life and behavior was markedly different that the friends I now spent time with. Even with all the majesty and grandeur of Kalalau, all the freedom to live any way I liked, I was still lonely and in need of a Savior. A friend had been talking to me rather intently about Jesus just before I left for Hawaii. He knew all about the unhealthy relationship I had, and knew I was ripe to know of a Savior who would forgive and love me regardless of the things I had done.
I spent time journaling while in Kauai. I had never been much for journaling, but here it seemed appropriate. I mostly bemoaned my poor life choices, but talked as well about how amazing the place was, and how blessed I was to be enjoying it. I don't remember actually writing it down, but during my quiet times alone on the beach, I knew this experience would be the beginning of something big for me. I would go back home, and ask my friend more about this Jesus. I would find out how to get involved in a life with meaning and value.
I returned home after spending two amazing weeks in Hawaii a new man. I talked with my friend, and within two weeks decided to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. The day was February 4th, 1995.
Life has never been the same since...