Apr 13, 2006

The long road to Honopue

About 10 miles from home, at the very end of highway 19, there is a forest preserve which begins at Pololu Valley and extends to the last major valley along the coastline, Waipio. It encompasses five other valleys besides Pololu; Honokane Nui, Honokane Iki, Honokea, Honopue, and Waimanu. Though the preserve is not humongous in terms of square mileage, it protects the oldest and most rugged and beautiful rainforest and temperate forest on the island. It is also incredibly easy to get lost in. Even the forested floor of Pololu Valley alone would take more than a couple days to explore.

The coastline is comprised of dramatically tall, verdant cliffs, and cut into them are hundreds of small gulches and drainages. When it rains hard enough, this can mean hundreds of waterfalls plummeting over the cliff faces and into the sea. Inland is a realm of remarkably deep, narrow gorges with constant waterfalls. There are valleys with steep, foreboding walls, that twist and wind up into the mountains seemingly endlessly, the rivers on the shady floors bending back and forth through damp forests that see sunlight maybe three hours of the day. Such places are almost constantly in a mist, either due to nearby cascades or an almost constant drizzle from clouds that hug the tops of the valley walls.

Fortunately, the preserve is accessible. Well, many areas within it aren't. There are some places no human has likely ever set foot in. But there are some superbly designed hiking trails, built decades ago for the purpose of maintaining an irrigation ditch project, which provide access to some truly marvelous places. Without trails, the rugged terrain would be nearly impossible to travel through. Even though they are there, most of them are hardly ever used by the public. Guidebooks only guide visitors a fraction of the distance they could go, and that's barely enough to really get lost in it. Civilisation can be left behind entirely. After traversing two or three valleys and progressing farther and farther into the heart of the wilderness, I begin to feel as if I have placed a very secure barrier between myself and society.

The only way I could discover what was along these trails was to follow them myself to see where they went, with the aid of a topographic map. Much of the time, they're fairly well-maintained and easy to follow, since they're often carved into the side of a cliff by necessity and follow contours, but not always. Wild pigs, which own the woods in many places, make their own trails and slop up the real one, making it much harder to follow the genuine article. In certain places, it can be downright frustrating. But the captivating scenery, and the feeling of having escaped into another world, makes it all worthwhile.

One evening last week, I was sifting through an old box of my junk. In it, I found a photocopied map of the forest preseve, with the vast network of trails highlighted in orange. As I studied it, my eye caught a massive feature; a valley whose walls exceeded 1,500 feet high on either side. A trail led deep into the valley and up along the opposite wall before continuing on even farther. I remembered having been there years ago, as a child. I had not been back since. I could vividly remember two distinct features: a narrow footbridge crossing a deep gorge, and a well-kept cabin. Oddly, these two images had served as the settings for so many dreams I have had. To revisit this majestic, otherworldly place known as Honopue Valley, would almost be like taking a step into my own sub-conscious.

I decided to take the trek the very next day.

So ambitious was I that I was on the trail well before sunrise. Though, I might have taken more of a risk than I should have in my decision to circumvent having to climb up and over the ridge to the second valley. I figured it would be much easier to walk around the base of the cliff along the shore to get to the next valley, but the surf turned out to be a bit more powerful than I thought it would be. In a few spots, there were no dry boulders upon which to walk, for the waves surged with intensity right up to the base of the cliff. I got my feet wet very early on, but I was lucky that I managed to time things just right so that I didn't get pounded against the cliff face. The first quarter mile was the worst, but after overcoming that, I was able to walk on a much wider and safer boulder beach and take the time to enjoy the sunrise.

From then on, I made good time walking up into the second valley, relocating the trail, and hiking up and down the narrow ridge into the next valley over. From the top of that ridge, I admired the view of the segment of my journey I had just conquered. I also felt content to spend a bit of time by the gorgeous Honokane Iki stream. The valley is tiny, but is also exceptionally beautiful, complete with a cabin and surrounding garden. Of all the times I have been there, I have never seen another occupant.

It soon became time to enter the long haul. The trail out of the valley weaved back and forth up a tall, steep wall before leading higher and higher up into the mountains. At one of the highest switchbacks, I was granted another exceptional view. After another hour of pressing forward, I came upon a painted white gate that bore the name "AWINI," and I knew I was close to my first destination, the Awini cabin. I had been to the cabin a few times before, and for good reason. Though it is reachable only by foot or horseback, it has always been so well-maintained, and even has fully functional plumbing. The surrounding atmosphere is also to die for. Located high up the slopes, it is always pleasantly cool, and mostly cloudy most of the time. And it is peaceful. Incredibly peaceful. The birds living in the trees provide any and all background noise. It has a nice, big, spacious backyard, and of course, no neighbours to see you running around naked and free.

I stopped there for lunch and took advantage of the full functional plumbing, then proceeded up the trail. Last time I had come this way, I took the trail that led into the depths of the spectacular Honokane Nui valley, but getting to Honopue necessitated taking the other fork. And the Awini trail was a pleasure to follow, for it so expertly and efficiently leads a traveler in, out, and over a series of deep gulches of impossibly dense vegetation. Not to mention, it was muddy, but very well-maintained.

I eventually reached Honokea Valley, a very scenic place in its own right. The weather was also unusually clear this particular day, which worked well for me. Much more could be seen when the heavy clouds weren't rolling into the valleys, and the sunlight brought out a striking verdancy in the surroundings.

The closer I grew to Honopue Valley, the more antsy I became. I was eager to see this place again, finally. A place of my dreams. The trail seemed to meander about excessively, in and out the back of one little gulch after another, before finally leading me to what I ultimately desired to see: Honopue Valley.

It appeared so suddenly as I just came over a steep hill, that it stole my breath away. I could see straight across the valley and instantly recognised and noticed the cabin on the other side, seemingly so close, yet so far away. A towering waterfall began just below the trail on the opposite wall and plummeted into the valley, farther than my eye could follow. Vertigo.

My ultimate goal was to reach that cabin, but I also had to see the bridge again. I peeled myself away from the riveting sight and continued down the trail, which was so impressively carved into the wall. It led all the way into the back, where the valley became incredibly narrow but no less deep. When I laid eyes on the bridge that connected the two steep walls and confirmed it was still there, I became enthralled. Alas, the bridge was unsafe. In truth, it is shaky and flimsy-looking enough to strike fear in the hearts of those who aren't even afraid of heights, especially if they look down. Oh, the thrills and chills were just so fulfilling.

It really was quite intimidating, however, especially since in my dreams, I had fallen from that particular bridge head first on a number of occasions. It always toppled over, and I could never hang on. It always resulted in terror. Now, I was standing on it reality, and nearly became terrified when I felt an invisible force push me up against the steel cables. For a split second, I expected them to break as I bore my weight against them, but they held fast. I regained my composure and ran off that bridge to the other side as fast as I could. I concluded that this was a place full of spirits not to be messed with, and I hoped that by offering my respect, I might not be haunted by them in the conscious or sub-conscious world.


As soon as I made it a fair distance along the eastern wall, I already felt the general mood of the area becoming lighter, and more normal. Even the sky seemed to brighten up signficantly. Something was truly beginning to weigh on my heart and soul back at the bridge, and I had only spent a few minutes there. I couldn't help but wonder how I would have begun to feel had I stayed longer. The trail led right past the the top of the waterfall I had witnessed earlier, and became nice and grassy. Oh, the temptation to go barefoot... I already began to feel as if I was in heaven on Earth. The atmosphere up here was decidedly much more welcoming. At this stream, there was an Eden-like pool which looked quite deep and inviting- no doubt the place to bath for any cabin dwellers. I wish I had stopped for a dip.

It wasn't long before I arrived at another gate and had another chance to peer into the valley. And then, and then... after half a day's work, I reached the cabin. There was clearly no one inhabiting it, but the backyard seemed very well-maintained. When the edge of your backyard overlooks a majestic valley, it might certainly be worth maintaining. The cabin's front door was unlocked, and I found it to be fully stocked with food, kitchenware, books, furniture, bedding, and all sorts of clothes. It appeared as if someone had just been living there yesterday. I even spotted a jar of money atop the bedroom dresser, but I of course didn't steal a cent. Everything was so nicely kept, tidy, and organised, it was almost unreal.

Whoever owned the place might have been into furry art, at any rate. On the kitchen wall was a framed print of an anthro boar warrior, and on the adjacent wall, another boar was taking advantage of a nude woman. It is such a pleasure to find anthropomorphics in the most unlikely of places...

I can hardly find the words to describe what a beautiful place it was. It seemed so full of positive spiritual energy, I was amazed a place of so much negative energy was so nearby. I could have spent another hour on the lawn resting up for the trip back, but instead, I decided to be stupid. I followed the trail past the cabin and farther into the woods, farther and farther and farther, hoping I might reach the end. I never did. After a certain point, I gave up and turned around, for not only was the trail getting so badly overgrown, I knew I didn't have all the daylight in the world.

Only when you backtrack over the terrain that you already covered do you realise how far you actually went to get to where you were. I had simply gone too far, and my body was paying the price very early on. Even though I consider myself a conditioned athlete, there is a limit even to what my body can handle before things get outrageously comfortable.

It was a rather hurried trip back to the first cabin, since I wanted to make the most of the afternoon daylight. I crossed that dreaded bridge without even thinking about it, and just pressed on. My body was already feeling the stress. By the time I reached the first cabin, the light had grown dim, and was I ever sore. Distances seem so much longer when you just wish you were already home.

I don't know how else to describe the rest of the trip back, other than "nightmareish." I was tired, see, and getting dehydrated. I could never have brought enough water for such a long, humid trek. My feet were in agony, and after awhile, I could feel several large blisters swelling. Pain coursed through my right leg whenever I took a step. My body was simply telling me that I overdid it this time. Way too much.

It was a test of my resolve... I had been through so many similar situations involving pain and discomfort, and I knew that getting through it all without cracking was a matter of putting my mind in the right place. I forced my mind into the right place and continued to make one painful step after another. I still had three valleys to traverse. At certain points, I felt as if there was a good possibility I would simply pass out. I was out hiking after dark, meaning I had been rambling around continuously for more than 13 straight hours. Crazy, crazy wolf.

I sang a few songs so that I did not have to focus on the pain, or the fear of what could happen to me. My biggest mistake would have been stopping, laying down, and succumbing to it. My entire body was searing with agony, but somehow... I clunked along, wincing, moaning, whimpering. I walked along the beach of Pololu Valley, and it seemed to be at least twice the length it usually was. In fact, it never seemed to end. When I got to the last uphill portion up to the lookout, I was almost crawling, but somehow, I made it all the way to the parking lot.

It may sound like I exaggerated this some, but that's not the case.

When I got home, it was a challenge walking into the house and standing up long enough to take a shower. I drank liquids feverishly, and I began to feel feverish as well, shivering incessantly. After tending to my poor torn-up feet, I felt as if I had just hiked thirty miles. Realistically, I might have.

The next time a nagging feeling tells me it would probably be better to play it safe and not push it too much, I won't ignore it. Next time, I'll go no farther than the cabin, which is a great distance anyway, or just stay overnight.

At least I was reminded that even my energy has limits.

Apr 12, 2006

The brief idiot's guide to Costco

∙ If it's there, and you want it, grab it. Chances are it'll be gone tomorrow. Forever. And you'll kick yourself so hard.

∙ Do your own research instead of coming in expecting a sales assistant to explain to you the concept of a "computer."

∙ Never enter the building through the exit door. Whether you are a clueless child or the warehouse manager, YOU WILL BE SLAPPED ON THE WRIST BY THE RECEIPT CHECKER.

∙ Don't look at any of digital cameras on display too hard, or you'll make the alarm go off.

∙ Say hi to the birds nesting up in the light fixtures. They provide the store music.

∙ Kirkland Signature is brand name quality at generic label cost. I mean, I use Kirkland men's body spray all the time. Trust me, it smells just like TAG or AXE, and whenever I have it on, all the hot chicks with celebrity bodies just can't keep themselves away from me, let me tell you. Sure, you can get lucky if you chew the right brand of gum, but nothing gets you laid like putting on Kirkland Signature Body Spray, you can count on my word.

∙ Don't come in asking where the mp3s are. We don't carry them, as they constantly get stolen or lost. They're invisible, you see.

∙ Almost everything small and inexpensive is sold in bulk. Don't come in expecting to purchase a rose, a pencil, or a Koosh ball. Unless you want three Koosh balls. Three jumbo Koosh balls that come in a container the size of a suitcase which is mostly just plastic trim.

∙ If you want headphones, you'll have to buy the iPod they're attached to.

∙ Always bring a cart in with you. Most products are bulky, heavy, and awkward, like your average McDonald's patron.

∙ Make sure you have decent collision insurance before entering the produce section. The cart traffic in that section is congested enough, but imagine members being in even more of a hurry to get out of the refrigerated area as quickly as possible.

∙ All children must be leashed and fitted with a muzzle before entering the store. We shall have no unruly, uncivilised beings climbing up the steels.