Shifting Gears: From Stationary to Nomadic

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September 27, 2014 | Posted in Musings | By

This is the first rambling in what I hope to be a series of such called Shifting Gears –  How dramatically altering our lifestyle has affected us, how we have changed and are still changing, and how we grow from our experiences.

I already had some experience with travel, as well as with “roughing it”. The weekend-long or longer camp-out music festivals I attended in the 90’s and early 00’s taught me to embrace being a dirty free spirit (today’s fests offer a lot more creature comforts, like showers!). And thanks to my solo cross-country jaunt when I was 22, as well as many of the trips I have taken with Lewis, I am no stranger to not knowing where I am going to rest my head from one night to the next. Constantly packing and unpacking? Done that. However, this cycling adventure is pushing things like these to a new level that is taking some getting used to.

There are many things we have to remind ourselves of that were once just basic thoughtless routine. Brushing teeth, for example. It is one thing to forget to brush your teeth once or twice during a weekend outing, when you are heading back to the normal schedule on Monday morning. But to regularly skip this daily hygiene ritual once or twice a week or more? As I sit here at our campsite on Orcas Island, WA, sipping coffee from the Jetboil and watching Lewis experiment with fire-building techniques, I wonder did we brush our teeth last night? Yes… good. When living on the road, it is easy to become distracted and forget things like this, or to be too lazy to unpack the toiletries, or too tired from a long day – who wouldn’t rather go directly to sleep than fumble around in the dark with such a tedious chore? A habit of skipping it in such a situation, birthed from short-term excursions when we knew we would be back in the routine soon enough, could become a regular bad habit if we are not disciplined.

We might look so clean and so fresh, but I wouldn’t stand too closely if I were you.

Along similar lines of hygiene… we don’t often have access to a shower. I am not one who needs to be squeaky clean and proper everyday… even when I lived with a shower, I would often skip a day and be fine, as long as I didn’t smell (noticeably) bad or do anything that caused me to be dirty or sweaty. Now, just existing in this new way of life makes me soiled and smelly, and quickly. Riding a bike for 4-7 hours a day does not leave one feeling fresh. When we are several days along without a shower, we can make do with public restrooms, baby wipes, and fresh clothing so as not to offend the waitress at the diner… but I can’t help but wonder, at what point does a bit of dirtiness start to be a health concern? Another thing we have to pay close attention to.

The packing and unpacking that goes along with bike touring is more tedious than we are used to, since it is happening on a daily basis and we have a lot more stuff than we have ever traveled with before. It is a time consuming process that we have to build hours into our mornings for, depending on the degree to which we unpacked the night before. It is frustrating when we get up at 6am but don’t hit the road before 11. Luckily that doesn’t happen often (usually only when we have stayed at a place for 5 days or more and have really settled in). We have streamlined the process quite a bit, and everything has a very specific spot; the bags are packed such that like is with like, and seldom used things are at the bottom, so that everything does not have to be unpacked every time. It has taken a while to get to this point, and it is still a work in progress. We have already sent some unused or unnecessary things away, and I am constantly contemplating what else we can get rid of. The fewer things we have, the simpler our lives become… something we all know, but now I am seeing quite clearly in action.

At least we don't have all this stuff anymore!

At least we don’t have all this stuff anymore!

Another benefit of fewer things is lower weight to carry on the bikes. Right now we are carrying quite a lot compared to the typical bicycle tourist, because we are not just bicycle touring. We are traveling long term, as a lifestyle, and are not intending to be on the bikes every day. We need (or think we need) options. After 3 nights in the tent, having an opportunity to sleep in our hammocks is a great joy and luxury that I would be pained to give up. Our “kitchen” is minimal but more than most would carry, but we want to cook our own food as much as possible, with options of how to do it. For example, having small pots and a pan afforded us to have cooked apples and pears alongside our scrambled eggs this morning, and the Jetboil gets us quick coffee too. Not having a few options to allow creative cooking would lead us to eat at restaurants more than we care to afford. We also carry more clothing than is necessary for biking, but again, we are not spending all the time on the bikes. I especially, with my interest in fashion, want some varying outfits for when we spend a week in Portland, or a month somewhere in Mexico. But the weight may eventually get to us (or the bikes), and we may find ourselves sending more and more things home to our mothers.

Part of our kitchen... yum!

Part of our kitchen… yum!

The transition I am most eager to see is an increase in my strength and stamina. I was noticeably stronger after our short tour from Vermont to Saratoga, NY a few months ago, but we have not been steadily on the bikes since then, except for some days in Wisconsin, which is relatively flat. Riding Orcas Island recently was a challenge, and was my first feeling of real discouragement – if I cannot handle these hills, how can I make it over mountain passes in Chile? Everyone says you really get into a groove after two weeks of riding; I hope that groove includes the ability to power through long and steep grades.

All these challenges sound like a real pain in the ass! Ha! Well, it is true. But I love it. It is something different, something new; it all comes with the territory in this new life direction we have chosen to take. You know what else is a pain? Commuting to the office every day, and getting only precious short weeks to see the world. This is a trade we have been happy to make!

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From Hawai’i to Wisco

Partying around the bonfire at Pop's Campground

September 23, 2014 | Posted in Michigan, New York City, New York State, Vermont | By

After returning from Hawai’i we had a couple weeks on the east coast to hang out with friends and catch some of the Phish summer tour before leaving NY for good on July 14. We got our first taste of bike touring with a little trip in Vermont and around Saratoga Springs. We caught a ride up to Manchester, VT and immediately ground our way over the Green Mountains to meet up with our friends Austin & Elyza for the Frendly Gathering music festival. We had done very little climbing on previous tours and this one started off with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain right out the gate.

Much needed break after a looong climb.

Much needed break after a looong climb.

Imagine our chagrin when we got to the festival address only to find out that this was where we would get our wristbands and the actual festival was another seven miles, straight up a mountain. Yup, we weren’t having any of that and loaded our bikes up on the old school bus shuttles they provided. No shame, none at all. We would have had to push our bikes up a steep-ass ski slope to where we’d camp, but we met a sweet couple who were asking about our bikes and they insisted on pushing them up for us.

View from the 'Frendly Gathering' camp

View from the ‘Frendly Gathering’ camp

We had a great time hanging out with our friends and listening to some excellent music in this beautiful setting, but before too long it was time to pack up and roll the bikes back down the slope for our next leg. The bus had taken us up quite a bit, so our Sunday out of the festival was a nice 13-mile coast down 1,740 feet to Jamaica State Park.

Easier down than up, bombing the ski slope fully loaded

Easier down than up, bombing the ski slope fully loaded

When we pulled up to pay, Brandy couldn’t get out of her pedals and toppled over right on her knee. She was bleeding all over the place and we were concerned that she might have really hurt her knee, but luckily it felt better the next day when we again tackled the Green Mountains.

Up and over the mountains we went back to Manchester, an expensive conglomeration thriving on the hyper-consumerism of suburbanites spending their life savings at the outlet stores. Really. We met some locals who work in the stores and people spend an INSANE amount of money in these stores. We’re talking a decade worth of clothing spending for me in one spree. Whatever, people can spend their money how they want. I choose to take a mini-retirement and travel the world for a couple years. Others go for a Lexus and a Gucci bag. I think I got the better deal, but who knows. The locals told us about a great spot to free camp just outside of town on a lovely little creek where we could take a dip and watch the lightning bugs winking about. I’ll take it!

Brandy does not like rising early.

Brandy does not like rising early.

The first half of the next day was a perfect ride. We wound down completely empty back roads to Arlington, VT where we got a delicious breakfast and hopped on the perfect highway that took us into NY. It twists through a mountain range, but followed a beautiful river and is mostly flat the entire way despite the great mountain views on both sides. Shoulders are wide, but it didn’t matter because there was hardly any traffic. The river also provides several great opportunities for swimming along the route.

Quiet Vermont riding

Quiet Vermont riding

and a perfect road...

and a perfect road…

The next half was not as nice. It was hotter than hell and humid and we were already getting tired when we got slammed by a steep, sunny hill with tons of traffic whizzing by. Luckily we found another swimming hole a few miles further on, right about where we planned to camp. As brooding storm clouds menaced overhead, we went on a wild goose chase for a place that had been recommended. Luckily a kind jogger offered up her yard and we got into the tent just in time for a massive thunderstorm to tear through.

Our reward for a brutal climb

Our reward for a brutal climb

We had camped only a few miles from town so we casually rolled into Saratoga Springs the next day and on to our first Warmshowers hosts, who turned out to be incredibly cool and made us feel right at home. Our last day of riding before Phish gave us some big hills, but we only had to go 18 miles on back roads to the campground, so it didn’t destroy us.

Our hosts have a beautiful house decorated to the nines.

Our hosts have a beautiful house decorated to the nines.

The long weekend was a whirlwind of Phish shows, partying, friends and the debacle of trying to run the shuttle bus between the campground and venue. After that stressful and tiring weekend we decided to skip the Philly shows we’d planned to hit and chill out in NYC for the week.

Partying around the bonfire at Pop's Campground

Partying around the bonfire at Pop’s Campground

The nice thing about riding up huge hills on one way of a round trip is that you’ll be flying down them the other way. The ride to the Saratoga train station would have been breezy and uneventful, but Brandy got bitten really hard on the ass by some jerky bug. Ha! The last train of the day was sold out, so we grabbed a six-pack of Dogfish Head and set up camp in the forest next to the station.

Rustic lodging at the Amtrak station

Rustic lodging at the Amtrak station

After a week saying goodbye to friends and another weekend of shows, we hopped on a train to Toledo and finally left NYC for good.

Visiting some friends in NYC

Visiting some friends in NYC

Fatty Bandito cat

We had intended to ride from Toledo up to the farm where our friend Colleen was living, but we were annihilated by insane headwinds and she had to pick us up a few miles short of our goal. I discovered that I despise headwinds. They tear into your soul as they buffet you and push you back. There is no downhill to reward you for your effort, just endless grinding with dust blowing in your face. You slowly lose your sanity and are driven closer and closer to fury each time the wind subsides slowly so you don’t notice, and then blasts you with a gust to remind you that you are nothing but an insignificant spec daring to challenge its great power.

Getting spanked by headwinds in flat southern Michigan

Getting spanked by headwinds in flat southern Michigan

A short and lovely visit later and we were back on the bikes and good ol’ Amtrak to wrap up our Phish summer tour in Chicago from which we would jump off to a month riding around Wisconsin.

There's a cool but sketchy treehouse on the farm property.

There’s a cool but sketchy treehouse on the farm property.

And a nice lake for an afternoon dip.

And a nice lake for an afternoon dip.

Before long we were back on the bikes to the Amtrak station in Jackson, MI. No headwinds this time.

Before long we were back on the bikes to the Amtrak station in Jackson, MI. No headwinds this time.

Loaded miles: 220.4
Loaded feet climbed: 7,884
Loaded feet descended: 7,280

Unloaded miles: 28.9
Unloaded feet climbed: 518
Unloaded feet descended: 518

New counties bagged: 11

One last nighttime ride over the Brooklyn Bridge

One last nighttime ride over the Brooklyn Bridge

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Hawai’i by the numbers

These little guys are all over the place. Pretty, but apparently a bit of a menace.

September 10, 2014 | Posted in Budget, Hawaii | By

The Hawai’i trip was a fluke add-on to the beginning of our mini retirement thanks to some cheap tickets that popped up. We knew it was an expensive place, so we approached it as a little experiment in frugality. We made our goal to be $75 per day, including all flights, but realized that would be a bit unrealistic, so made a hard cap at $100 a day. This is much more than we intend to spend on the rest of our travels, but is still low considering how much flying around we’d be doing.

 

The BS

Nights total (inc. Atlanta): 35
Nights in hammock: 2
Nights in tent: 17.5
Nights indoors: 14.5
Nights on plane: 1
Paid nights: 9
Rainbows: Hawai’i turns the rainbows up to 11!
Miles biked: 66 miles
Counties bagged: 4
Wallets lost: 1

How did we do with the dough?

Our grand total expenditures came to $3,359.88 over 35 days, or $96.00 per day, just barely under budget. Yikes! That is an expensive trip for us and adds up to over $35,000 a year. This clearly is not a sustainable level of spending, especially since it does not include health insurance or any other bills (basically just phone and website costs, both of which are pretty negligible). At this rate we’ll be back in the office in no time. Luckily we’ll be offsetting that with many VERY cheap months in other parts of the world. Of course, $3,400 is still pretty good compared what a lot of people spend on a Hawai’i trip. The results of a quick Google search hint that an average Hawai’i trip will cost more than that for just a week! Holy crow! I didn’t realize there were so many investment bankers and CEOs out there.

Expenditures by type:

Alcohol  $189.36
Banking  $13.45
Clothing  $20.00
Coffee  $61.53
Entertainment  $40.00
Food  $631.62
Gear  $13.92
Gifts  $5.16
Hygiene  $11.85
Laundry  $3.50
Lodging  $466.80
Misc  $25.00
Transportation  $1,877.69

How did we stay on budget?

First of all, I think it is important to note that we approach travel a little differently than most people. Travel is our hobby and for now, our lifestyle, not a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip, or big event in any way. It is not a way for us to get away and relax, so we don’t feel any need to spend money on luxuries or doing expensive excursions. We didn’t go on any helicopter rides or whale watching tours or take surf lessons. I’m sure these things would be awesome (although helicopters are horribly intrusive and obnoxious and everyone hates them). We would have done them if they’d come up for free, but they didn’t and we still had a really incredible time and fell in love with the place. Let’s take a closer look at some of these categories and see what’s going on.

Alcohol ($189.36)

This is quite low, despite the high prices in Hawai’i. It’s easy to spend a lot on drinks when traveling, but with us camping most of the time, it just didn’t make sense to carry heavy warm beers around. Hawai’i also isn’t much of a party place. People are here for the outdoors, so things tend to roll up once it gets dark, except in overpriced touristy places, but we avoid those anyway.

Entertainment ($40.00)

The best entertainment in Hawai’i is natural, and there is plenty to do without forking over a lot of cash. We saved a few bucks by riding with friends with parks passes for both national parks we visited. I think the entire entertainment budget was spent on one concert on Maui.

Food ($631.62)

This is a bit frustrating considering the poor rations we had. It is the only part of the trip that at all suffered because of the budget, but it’s important to note that I had totally forgotten how boring our diet had been until now thinking about it, and in fact, I had been raving about the food in Hawai’i. The reason our food was bare-bone actually had as much to do with logistics as budget. We spent a lot of time camping, but didn’t bring our cooking implements because we were taking so many flights and would have needed to discard the fuel on every island. If we’d stuck in one spot, like we probably would if we go back, we would be able to cook more at home and also take advantage of the awesome farmers markets.

Gifts ($5.16)

This is another huge savings for us. I stopped doing souvenirs after my first trip abroad when I realized that my only options were to spend half of my trip looking for great gifts, or buy some useless generic crap made in China. If I come across something special that I know someone would appreciate, I’ll pick it up, but that is pretty rare. I enjoy sending and receiving postcards, but we just didn’t got around to it in HI.

Lodging ($466.80)

Oof, this one can really break the budget for a lot of people and is where we really were able to keep the costs down. This really comes down to experience and a willingness to rough it. The more you do budget travel the easier it is to figure out how not to pay for closing your eyes for a few hours. We were lucky on this trip in that we were able to stay with friends for a good number of nights, but even without those friends we probably would have kept this cost down pretty well. Almost half of the lodging spending came from our camping permits on the Kalalau hike, which were very expensive. Other than that we only spent four nights in a hostel and two nights at the farm in Poho’iki. The rest of the nights were free camping, staying with friends, or staying with people we met. In the future we’d probably not move around as much and rent a flat or work at a hostel or farm for room and board. Paying $100-$300 a night for some hotel just doesn’t enter into our thoughts as a possibility.

Transportation ($1,877.69)

This is the big one. Over half of our expenses were simply to move two watery meat bags and their accouterments around. Our flights to and from Hawai’i were actually quite low – $433 pp – but we spent quite a bit of cash because we really wanted to get a taste of as many islands as possible. We bought four interisland flights, which would have been five if we hadn’t been able to use our missed connection in Atlanta to our advantage. We also rented bicycles on Moloka’i, rode a few inexpensive buses and gave our friends some gas money. We saved an asinine amount of money by not renting a car. Hitchhiking and buses were just too easy for that to make any sense at all.

All in all it looks like we did fairly well with our budget, although it would have been great to stay under $75 a day, and I know there are a lot of people who can keep it at way less without being bummy. The high spending in HI will be offset as we move forward by much less spending in other places and we have been watching our average daily spending slowly inch downward. Once we start paying for health insurance, that will take a bite out, but it should be under control. Watch for a post about that in the near future. We loved HI and absolutely plan to go back someday for a more extended period of time. Until then, I’ll leave you with this little guy:

These little guys are all over the place. Pretty, but apparently a bit of a menace.

These little guys are all over the place. Pretty, but apparently a bit of a menace.

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Big Island Bums

Eye art

September 8, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii | By

We hitchhiked to the airport on Maui with a woman who owned a coach bus company on the west coast and was working remotely without her employees’ knowledge. I learned quite a bit about the for hire transportation business, something I never really explored in my career, but actually seems quite interesting.

We didn’t really have much in the way of plans for the Big Island aside from meeting up with my friend Jess later in the week (note, the island name is Hawai’i, but most people just call it ‘Big Island’ and write it ‘BI’). I had some vague recollection of hearing someone say Hawi (‘w’ is pronounced like a ‘v’) on the northwest tip of the island was cool, so when our little ring-a-dinger plane bounced us down in Waimea, we hoofed it a couple miles into town for lunch and thumbed it a gorgeous 20 some miles up to Hawi. We made straight for the kava bar (i.e. crossed the street) for my first taste of the beverage and some local recon on camping.

Ring a ding

Kava is an herbal beverage sold all over Hawai’i, and in fact is found throughout the Pacific islands where it has been used ceremoniously for centuries. In Hawai’i there is this entire ritual you’re supposed to do, including tossing droplets over your shoulders and all over the place and then chugging the entire bowl at once, but nobody really does that anymore. The girl at the bar had us do it the first time because we were n00bs. The beverage supposedly has myriad qualities such as muscle relaxation, feelings of well-being, attentiveness and making you more outgoing. It sounded to me a lot like alcohol + coffee without all the negative aspects. I drank a pile of it in Hawi and didn’t really notice much difference, although the effectiveness varies by strain, preparation and freshness. Anyway, kava bars are generally the place to go in town to meet cool people and get info. We were told by several people to go to the end of the road and hike into the valley for some great camping.

Note the heady crystal in front

Note the heady crystal in front

 

Aloha and Hitchhiking

We had pretty good luck hitching on the other islands, but on BI it became our primary transportation plan. Our first ride out of Hawi would really show us some of the true aloha spirit that I had kind of thought was a myth before we left the mainland. We needed supplies, so we were hitching just a couple miles to the store down the road. A local woman with her son let us hop in the back of her pickup and took us to the store. Once we got there, she insisted on waiting for us while we shopped. She told us that her family had descended from King Kamehameha, who was from the area. Kamehameha was the first king to conquer and unite all of the islands, primarily because he was the first to trade with the Europeans for guns. I wondered if everyone in the area happens to be descended form Kamehameha, but she told us they had just been in the Kamehameha Day parade because of their lineage. When she got to her stop, she decided that she would take us the remaining few miles because it was getting late and she didn’t want us to have to walk the road nor hike the trail in the dark. She seemed very proud of the aloha spirit and her people and lamented the fact that some people had lost that spirit. It was definitely strong in her and I am glad to have met her. When she dropped us off she told us that her family used to live in the valley, but her grandmother lost the land when she couldn’t pay the taxes. She used to hike in there as a kid, but hadn’t been inside since she was a teen. This brings me to a point about people on the islands: they live in this beautiful paradise that is small and easy to navigate, yet many never leave their towns. Maybe for this one it was an emotional thing, but the hike is easy and there were not a lot of people besides a few tourists, so she is clearly not the only one who does not come down there. Another example is the guy who picked me up on Kaua’i. He was in his 20s and had never been to the Waimea Lookout (not to be confused with the Waimea we flew into on BI), despite the fact that you can drive right to it and it is the first thing that everyone suggests when you ask what to see! I suppose it is like that everywhere, but on the island, they seem to take localism to an extreme.

Hawaiian beaches and hikes can be dangerous, but I think they slap these up everywhere because they got sick of being sued by tourists.

Hawaiian beaches and hikes can be dangerous, but I think they slap these up everywhere because they got sick of being sued by tourists.

Danger everywhere, but what a view!

Danger everywhere, but what a view!

We hiked down into the valley just before sunset and found ourselves in yet another magical place. The camping area is among some sand dunes covered by a grove of windblown pine trees that do not seem to grow anywhere else in the valley, which is otherwise very damp and leafy. The Trade Winds blow in at about 30 degrees off-perpendicular to the expansive black sand beach and the steep walls on either side seem to funnel it into the valley. After an entire day and two nights here, we could read the advancement of the trees as they slowly moved with the wind and sand. The shape of the dunes could be felt in the endless wind.

Dunes and trees

The progression from sea to valley goes thus: The surf breaks far out and rolls in on a gentle grade into a wide strip of black sand. The sand stops abruptly at a dense cobblestone field with some brushy plant life and small pine trees. The stone field gradually gives way at the beginning of the full pine grove to a floor of softer grey sand and pine needles interspersed with larger stones dotting the area up to the steep dunes that rise 30-40 feet. The pine trees are widely spaced and there is very little understory so you can see through almost the entire length of the grove. Many of the trees are infected (not sure if malignant or not) with some sort of colorful fungus that dusts the bark and changes color from windward to leeward side. The top of the dune wall supports the old and gnarly pines where the land gently drops back down towards the inland lake and swamp. The end of the pine grove is sudden and demarcated by a wall of thick brambles and bushes with a few leafy trees, followed by a large lake that extends deep into the valley. We had this incredible environment to ourselves from the moment we started hiking in until around 9 a.m. the next morning.

Tree colors

Back valley

Back valley

There seems to be a lot of love for the place and a lot of people add their own little touches.

Eye art

A whole pile of ship rope and netting had washed ashore and over time people had used it to string up swings, log benches, net chairs, etc all over the grove.

A whole pile of ship rope and netting had washed ashore and over time people had used it to string up swings, log benches, net chairs, etc all over the grove.

Despite the winds, we chose to camp on top of one of the dunes because we wanted the full view of the enchanted forest. Our tent is badass. We were rewarded with a sunrise view right from our doorstep; we didn’t even have to leave our sleepingbags!

We wandered around the grove and beach on our middle day, content to just soak in the place. We were swimming in the afternoon when suddenly my leg registered what felt like a stunning jolt of electricity and I knew immediately I’d been stung by a jellyfish. I saw the douchey blue sack a few feet away and fled the water immediately. The pain was rather intense and after a few minutes I started feeling it in my lymph nodes. I knew nothing about what got me, so I was understandably nervous that it could be something nasty. Luckily there was a group of locals hiking in at that moment who assured us that it was not a jellyfish, but a Portuguese man ‘o war and their sting is more like a bee sting in that a few people have bad reactions, but most simply suffer intense pain for an hour or so. Indeed, the pain subsided after the appropriate duration and left me with a circle of dark blue dots around my leg. The PMOW is interesting in that it is actually a colony of four genetically individual creatures that are dependent on each other for survival.

Douchemonger

Douchemonger

The four kids who gave the info were the only other campers that night, so we hung out around the fire with them for a while. Aside from the PMOW, the only other poisonous thing on the islands is the centipede, and these guys are pretty gruesome. It seems they give everyone the heebie jeebies and after what we saw at that fire, we were initiated into that group. The ‘pedes in Hawai’i are these thick, almost muscular tubes with really long legs and humongous antennae. One emerged from a log at the fire and made straight for a disc of sausage someone had dropped in the dust. While it was munching on the meat, one of the dudes had the idea to start prodding it with a stick. The bug grabbed onto the end of the stick with its ass end, all the while chomping on the sausage at the other end. The real kicker was when dude picked up the stick and the thing held tight on both ends, dangling from the stick squirming all over the place and holding onto the sausage piece mid-air. We are not talking about some little schnivel, but a half-inch thick slice of a real link. Everyone was pretty much freaking out, but nobody would throw it onto the fire because there is a myth that they mate for life and the mate will then spend the rest of its days pissed off looking for revenge. Finally it got fed up with the bullcrap, dropped its prize, released the stick and bee-lined it outta there.

Our time in the valley was unfortunately limited by our water supply, so we hiked out after two nights and hitched down to another beach campsite further south. The guy who took us down there turned out to be a retired bus driver from Spokane, so we talked shop a bit. When we pulled into the park we got our first and only view of sharks feeding. There were about a dozen of them flopping around out there with dorsal fins flying high and all. We camped in a kiawe grove and bid the day goodnight around a small fire with a sweet couple from Montreal who brought us COLD BEER, a luxury in our lifestyle.

In our little kiawe den

In our little kiawe den

Just above our little campsite

Just above our little campsite

The next morning we did a little impromptu snorkeling. When I emerged from the water I noticed I’d cut both my foot and hand so I strolled over to our stuff to dress the wounds. I was almost there when I stepped full force on a massive kiawe thorn. The flurry of curse words that emerged from my mouth seemed to have no effect on the tree, so my only recourse was to grumble and chalk this one up as payback for all the kiawe I’ve burned.

Ya got me, scoundrel!

Ya got me, scoundrel!

We decided to check out Kona, so we headed up to the road to catch a ride. Unfortunately we were in kind of a desolate area, so we had our worst luck thus far, waiting almost an hour after our first short, rather odd ride. This girl with a beer between her legs and a dude in the passenger side picked us up and it didn’t take long to realize she was tweaking on something. She started asking questions a mile a minute.

“You’re not cops, are you? I f***ing hate cops. Do you want a beer? They’re warm. Don’t touch my stuff. Do you have any needles? Just kidding. Where are you going? What are you doing here? I can only take you a little ways, but I’ll drop you off somewhere better.”

After a mile or two, we passed a car stopped on the side of the road and she asked her buddy if she could drop us off ahead and circle around. After dropping us off, she u-turned and within a few minutes we saw the car that had been on the side of the road come by. He did not pick us up.

The next couple was really cool and we considered just going with them where they were heading, but realized we couldn’t stay in that car because it somehow had a colony of ants in the trunk and they were coming up the back seat. We then caught a ride most of the rest of the way in the back of a local pickup from which we had sweeping views of the ranches and lava fields. Our last ride into town gave us some more great aloha, handing us a delicious lunch when she sent us on our way.

Lava view

After spending a couple hours at Kona Brewing Company (yes, I know they are an A-B InBev brewery but they were right there and I wanted to check out what they were up to), we decided that the hostel was too expensive and far away so we took a stroll through town to scope out a stealth spot. Kona is heavily geared towards consumption tourism and while it is sort of cute, it is not at all my kind of place. I have very strong feelings on the tourism industry, particularly consumption-based tourism. Someday I may elaborate, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

We got to the end of the strip and sat down to discuss our options. This end of town seemed a little more boisterous and therefore more promising. It was then that we noticed a block of thick trees across the street next to a hotel. When Brandy returned from her exploratory mission, she had good news. She had followed a path into the woods and came across an obvious squatter who she felt very comfortable with and who had agreed to let us pitch our tent in his space. The place was a little more messy than Brandy had let on and the guy was clearly nuts, but it was also obvious that he was harmless, so we decided to go for it. He talked pretty much constantly as I’m sure he was thrilled to have an audience for his whacky tales that wasn’t laughing him out the door. He talked to us until he needed to go out and collect cans, which is his cover for his real job working surveillance for the real king of Hawai’i, who apparently has come forth to reclaim his crown.

Must be Obama

Must be Obama

The next day we spent most of the day at a cute coffee shop right on a little park by the water, and then caught an afternoon bus outta town. We originally planned to ride to the northeast corner of the island, but then chose to go all the way down to Poho’iki in the Puna region in the southeast corner.

Ok, listen up bus nerds. The Big Island bus service, Hele-On provides single-fare service all over the island. It costs only $2.00 to go all the way from friggin’ Kona, up to Waimea, and then down to Hilo, which is a distance of 94 miles (76 miles directly from Kona to Hilo). Then, once you get there, you can transfer to a local bus for free. The local bus we took brought us another 20 miles. This is absurd, and by that, I mean awesome!

We were planning to go down to this farm where you were able to camp for $10, but the problem was that the bus dropped us off a few miles north of there and it was pitch black. We walked for about ten seconds until the tree canopy closed above our heads blocking out even the faintest bit of light and we realized we’d need to hitch it or pitch it there. Hitching at night is quite a hassle, especially on a relatively deserted road, but again we had luck and some dude picked us up and brought us all the way to the farm.

The farm was a nice spot, but the place was a bit of a dysfunctional mess. The owner is some old guy who is having medical issues, so isn’t around much. There are a couple of caretakers and several other random people who are supposed to do work for their stay, but I’m not sure that actually happens. One caretaker is an alcoholic who can’t get along with anyone, and/or he’s just fed up with all the hassle. He liked us though. There seemed to be constant drama but we still had a blast while we were there.

The next day I wanted to get back to Hilo to meet up with my buddy Jess, but Brandy decided to spend another night at the farm. I got a few rides on my way back, including this guy who only could take me about a mile, but he got me away from a crappy hot sunny spot AND gave me frozen lychees! Aloha, brah. My final ride turned out to be none other than a retired traffic engineer. He had done the traffic signals and roadway plans for a gigantic Boeing plant. WTF, this now made a total of three of my rides that were fellow transportation workers. The next day I borrowed the family car and went back to pick Brandy up.

We spent the rest of our time on island with Jess and her fiancé bumming around the area. Jess’ parents live in a unique open-plan house high above Hilo Bay. Her father spends a huge amount of his time tending his incredible organic garden, which provides the vast majority of their food, in addition to food for barter. He has an elaborate 16-pile compost system and has cultivated seeds to produce plants that are best suited for this particular patch of land. He is a really unique fellow and I enjoyed talking to him while we were there. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Japanese dude with spray tanks on his back chasing angry chickens out of his yard.

Kick-ass garden

Kick-ass garden

We did some of the tourist things, visiting the beach, waterfall and the excellent Hilo farmers market. The highlight of these visits (aside from the bushels of great food we ate) was Volcanoes National Park. We were disappointed to find out that the lava was flowing where it was impossible to see (well, not impossible, but extremely dangerous, expensive and difficult), but the park was still really cool. It’s neat to realize you are walking on some of the youngest land on earth, and then right next to that are some ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.

One hike takes you down into the crater Kīlauea Iki, and across the solid bed that was a liquid hot lake of lava in 1959.

One hike takes you down into the crater Kīlauea Iki, and across the solid bed that was a liquid hot lake of lava in 1959.

Unfortunately, that was the only photo we managed to snap off before the Panasonic batteries we had bought gave up the ghost after only two days! From now on we will stick with Duracell and Energizer, which have lasted much much longer for us.

Hehe

Hehe

From Hilo we flew over to Honolulu to catch our flight back to NYC. We had originally planned to skip O’ahu, but decided to spend two nights there in order to visit a friend of mine from my Budapest semester. Unfortunately, she could only spend a bit of time with us on the day we arrived, so we just chilled out at our hostel on the North Shore catching up on the things we’d neglected while on the islands. The area was pretty and we had a nice beach for snorkeling (sea turtles!) and sunsets right across the street, but like a lot of the rest of the island it is overbuilt and a bit too touristy for our tastes. One interesting bit about the beaches there, the sand was perhaps the most perfect texture. It was kind of stiff and almost felt damp and didn’t get broiling hot in the sun. It felt cool and almost massaging on the feet. The granules were a bit larger than most sand, so it didn’t get in your hair and brushed off easily.

And so went our final night in Hawai'i

And so went our final night in Hawai’i

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