East Coast USA & Hawaii Summary 2014

Lewis sitting on a bench looking cool and texting

August 11, 2015 | Posted in Hawaii, New York City, New York State, North Carolina, Places, Summary, Vermont, Virginia | By

New York (24 nights: May 2-7; May 16-19; Jun 24-27; Jul 1-14)

Distance cycled:123 mi / 198 km / 799,961 RJP
Elevation gained:3,845 ft / 1,172 m
Elevation lost:4,063 ft / 1,238 m

Naturally we started our trip in New York. Although homeless now, we used NYC as our home base for travel and concerts until mid-July when we finally got the hell out of there. We rode around the city quite a bit, but I only included miles to and from the train station and the Phish shows at Randall’s Island. We also did a mini-tour between a festival in Vermont and some shows upstate.

Lewis sitting on a bench looking cool and texting

This is what you do when you’re funemployed in NYC.

New Jersey (1 night: May 7; May 16; May 19-20; Jun 24)

We were in New Jersey several times, passing through to/from Virginia or the Newark airport. We spent one night there before catching our flight to Hawaii.

Pennsylvania (May 7; May 16; Jul 14) Transit only

We passed through Pennsylvania on our way to/from Virginia as well as on the train to Ohio.

Maryland (May 7; May 16) Transit only

We passed through Maryland on our way to/from Virginia.

West Virginia (May 7; May 16) Transit only

We passed through West Virginia on our way to/from Virginia.

Virginia (7 nights: May 7-16)

Our first trip out of New York was to visit Brandy’s folks in Virginia and drop off a vanload of crap we decided to keep. We did no cycling in Virginia. We drove through the night on the way back. That night is not attributed to any state.

Lewis hanging laundry

North Carolina – Lewis only (1 night: May 13-14)

I took a day trip down to Raleigh and Chapel Hill to visit a friend while Brandy stayed behind to finish some sewing projects. I ate good BBQ, went to a brewery and did no bicycling.

Approaching an iron bridge with Jersey barriers blocking it off.

I guess my map is out of date.

Spray painted on the road of the closed bridge, "If I find out who cut my ropes down Im'a fuc#"

 

Trays of BBQ and other delicious fixin's

Almost makes me want to eat meat again

Georgia (1 night: May 20-21)

We were stranded in Atlanta after we missed our connection to Hawaii, until we remembered that my cousin, Matt had just moved there. Luckily he had randomly chosen to take the day off work and we had a nice surprise visit with Matt and his family.

Hawaii (33 nights: May 21-Jun 23)

Distance cycled:36 mi / 58 km / 232,645 RJP
Elevation gained:1,542 ft / 470 m
Elevation lost:1,542 ft / 470 m
Broken spokes:3

We were lucky enough to come across some insanely cheap tickets to Hawaii in the months leading up to our trip. In the past we’d skipped similar deals because it just didn’t seem right to go there for only a week. Finally! We’d have enough time to give Hawaii our full attention. We spent over a month there and visited all but one of the populated islands open to the public. The people we met were incredible and showed us that the aloha spirit is still alive. Each island is unique and magnificent in its own way and we absolutely intend to return, possibly to live. We only did a small amount of cycling, on crappy rental bikes on the very bike-able island of Molokai. The bikes were in such poor condition that I broke several spokes on mine.

We paid for accommodations for 11 of our nights there, including 5 nights of backpacking on the Na Pali Coast. Our 19 nights of camping ranged from squatting with a homeless guy in Kona who claimed to be the deposed king of Hawaii to some of the most beautiful spots we have ever been. Of those, 13 nights were on the seashore.

A huge forest fire from the plane on the way to Hawaii

A huge forest fire from the plane on the way to Hawaii

Lewis in the distance on a tiny road along the coast

Vermont (4 nights: Jun 27-Jul 1)

Distance cycled:68 mi / 109 km / 438,646 RJP
Elevation gained:4,101 ft / 1,250 m
Elevation lost:5,016 ft / 1,529 m
Ass kicked by bike:1 time

There was time for one last festival with our buddies Austin & Elyza. The Frendly (sic) Gathering in Vermont attracted a much younger crowd than other festivals, but was a good time nonetheless. The festival fit in logistically well with the Phish three-night run at Saratoga Springs so we made a small cycle tour out of it. The Green Mountains were our first true climbing with loaded bikes. Just getting to the festival entrance was challenging enough, but we were shocked to learn that there were another seven miles and 900 feet of elevation gain to get from the check-in to the actual festival. The choice of riding or taking the yellow school bus was easy and provided some unearned downhill coasting when we left the fest on Sunday. Perhaps to pay us back our insolence, the road hypnotized Brandy to forget to unclip from the pedals going into the campground that night and she toppled over onto her poor knee. It was pretty bashed up, but luckily it was superficial and she was able to ride the next day. Sleeping arrangements ran the gamut on this ride: state park, free camping next to a creek in the woods, escaping a storm in our tent behind the house of a friendly jogger, Warm Showers hosts, stealth camping behind an Amtrak station.

Our friends chilling in a hammock in the woods

Hammocking it up with A & E at the Frendly Gathering.

Lewis at a rocky stream in the woods

This stream filled up with lightning bugs at night.

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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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Maui

The vibrant Haleakala Silversword only grows on the top of this mountain.

August 30, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii | By

I hadn’t seen my Portland friend Cameron for several years, so I was happy to find out she had moved to Maui a few months earlier. After remote Moloka’i, Maui was certainly a change. She picked us up at the airport and we went right out to a reggae concert in town. After spending the last couple weeks in some pretty remote places, we were suddenly dropped right back into the urban world.

Not Moloka'i

Not Moloka’i

Cameron’s boyfriend, Shane had a buddy in town too, so the five of us went up to Haleakala the next day to do a hike. Maui is shaped like a pair of boobs with two massive volcanoes separated by a large valley where most of the population lives. Haleakala is the larger and more sacred peak and you can drive all the way to the top at 10,000 feet and hike down into the crater. It is truly a breathtaking place both figuratively and literally as you are getting to the point where some people really start feeling the elevation.

Haleakala hike

The crater is 2,600 feet deep with an opening on the east side. The clouds come and go below you as you descend the slide into the hole. We didn’t seem to have any elevation problems, but could only hike part of the way in because Shane had a meeting. We strongly considered spending some time hiking down there but ended up spending that time out at Hana.

Haleakala hike crater clouds

The vibrant Haleakala Silversword only grows on the top of this mountain.

The vibrant Haleakala Silversword only grows on the top of this mountain.

After we dropped Shane off, Cameron took Brandy, Andrew and I down a short hike to a jungle waterfall where we could swim in the splash pond. You have to be cautious with waterfalls in Hawai’i because the rock is not stable, so you can get clobbered by falling stones and some are more stable than others. This one was a gentle fall ensconced by the forest with a deep cavern you could swim in.

Not the most majestic falls, but a great place for a dip.

Not the most majestic falls, but a great place for a dip.

Another treat from our dear host, we finally got our first taste of poke (pronounced like Pokémon). This is a common Hawaiian dish of raw fish marinated in various sauces or citrus juices and is quite the treat.

The next day we all drove out to Red Sands Beach in Hana. The Road to Hana is a two-lane road that twists along the tight cliffs where Haleakala meets the sea. The road has a few beautiful vistas, but it is completely packed with slow tourists so it takes ages to get out Hana and to be honest, it doesn’t really open up to the sheer beauty I was expecting until after Hana.

Red Sands is a cozy beach in a small bay protected by a sharp spine of rocks.

Red Sands is a cozy beach in a small bay protected by a sharp spine of rocks.

We spent the rest of the day at Red Sands getting weird and swimming around. At one point I shook the water off my hands and my wedding band flew off into the sand at the bottom of about a foot of water. I knew it gone forever, but still spent about five minutes pulling up handfuls of sand. I had about given up when I suddenly saw the gleaming silver of metal. My precious had been found!

We had driven almost all the way back that evening when Shane found out that the concert we were returning to see was actually next week! He was kicking himself because we could have camped out at Hana, but we still had a nice time watching the sunset at another beach, plus we caught a QUAD rainbow on the drive back, which I didn’t even know was possible.

The next day we got in touch with the sister of another friend of ours who lives on Maui, and she invited us to go with her out to, yup, Hana. So once again we twisted our way all the way back out to Hana. We spent two chill nights out there doing a little hiking, beaching and catching up on the internet a bit. On the way back Alice took us around the long way instead of doubling back on the main Hana Highway. This is where things got really rugged and beautiful.

We didn't catch the quad, but there is no shortage of rainbows in Hawai'i

We didn’t catch the quad, but there is no shortage of rainbows in Hawai’i

Our final days on Maui were relatively uneventful with much of our time spent internetting and one visit to a nude beach on the far southeast side of the island. If you have never done it before, buff is the only way to swim in the ocean!

The beach before the nude beach. The surf lifeguards were yelling warnings about the surf and spinals. "You, with the blue boogie board! Ey! If you don't know what you're doing, get outta the water!" Then we saw her get sucked back by a wave and bodyslammed face first into the sand. She almost got bagged again before she scurried out.

The beach before the nude beach. The surf lifeguards were yelling warnings about the surf and spinals. “You, with the blue boogie board! Ey! If you don’t know what you’re doing, get outta the water!” Then we saw her get sucked back by a wave and bodyslammed face first into the sand. She almost got bagged again before she scurried out.

We camped on the beach under kiawe trees the night before we left Maui. Of course that meant more thorns in the foot, but a steady breeze out to sea also meant another great fire!

Windmills and their tubes. There are a lot of fights about windmills in Hawai'i. With the prevailing winds, it makes sense to put them up, but of course on a small beautiful island, they are certainly going to be an eyesore for everyone.

Windmills and their tubes. There are a lot of fights about windmills in Hawai’i. With the prevailing winds, it makes sense to put them up, but of course on a small beautiful island, they are certainly going to be an eyesore for everyone.

Brandy loved Maui. I thought it was great and had fun with our friends, but after the other two islands it was feeling a bit large for me. It’s very car-oriented, which is not as much of a problem on the smaller islands, but it feels like it would be much more of a hassle to live without one on Maui, unless you lived in the crazy expensive areas.

A quick update about where we are now. Yesterday we got off of a 45-hour train ride from Wisconsin out to Seattle and are now about to set off from our WarmShowers host up to the San Juan Islands. We’ll spend some time on Vancouver Island before coming back down to Seattle for a few days. The plan is to cycle around the Olympic Peninsula and on to Portland. After that, we’re a little more foggy on the route.

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Sleeping Through Maui and Big Island

I’ll let you figure out what’s going on here.

August 6, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii, Sleeping Spots | By

We went into Kaua’i and Moloka’i alone, but we flew to Maui with the expectation of friends on island, so we ended up only camping on our final night there.

Our first night was spent at my friend Cameron’s apartment in Haiku, who I know from Portland. Her flatmate sucked, so the next two nights were at her boyfriend, Shane’s apartment who also had a friend visiting. We failed to take any photos of either place.

We then connected with our friend Lauren’s sister, Alice, who took us out to Hana where a friend of hers is the caretaker at a B & B. She didn’t have anyone coming in that night and it was pouring rain, so we were able to stay in one of the rooms.

Luxury accommodations

Luxury accommodations

We got back to Haiku to find out that sucktastic roommate and Cameron had a meltdown, so we went over to spend the night in Alice’s ROUND house!

Haiku round room

Dome house

For our final night on Maui, Cameron took us out to a beach where we could camp on the southwest shore.

Yet another beach sunset *yawn*

Yet another beach sunset *yawn*

Loving the hammocks!

Loving the hammocks!

We landed on Big Island (Hawai’i) with no real plans, so we decided to hitchhike up to Hawi on the NW corner of the island and got the local lowdown on where to stay. We received some major aloha from our next ride who went way out of her way and dropped us at the end of the road shortly before dusk.

We had this incredible valley all to ourselves from being dropped off until about 9:30 the next morning.

We had this incredible valley all to ourselves from being dropped off until about 9:30 the next morning.

Magical forest

Magical forest

Our camp spot was incredibly windy, but sunrise from the tent door was key.

It's way easier to catch the sunrise when you can watch it from bed.

It’s way easier to catch the sunrise when you can watch it from bed.

After two nights in that incredible place, we put up our hammocks in a kiave forest next to Makuhona Beach where we met a sweet Quebecois couple who hung out at our fire and brought us COLD beer! The pleasure of a surprise cold craft beer after days of camping is indescribable.

Thorny but lovely

Thorny but lovely

The following day we packed it up and hitched all the way down to Kona.

I’ll let you figure out what’s going on here.

I’ll let you figure out what’s going on here.

One day in Kona was enough, so we hopped on a bus all the way to the other side of the island to a farm in Poho’iki.

Pohoiki farm

The remainder of our time on island was with another Portland friend, Jess, who happened to be in town visiting her family at the same time as us.

Hilo bed

 

Her parents have a really cool house they built years ago.

Her parents have a really cool house they built years ago.

Her dad spends many hours a week cultivating this incredible garden, which produces most of the food they eat.

Her dad spends many hours a week cultivating this incredible garden, which produces most of the food they eat.

We only spent two nights on O’ahu, both of which were at the Shark’s Cove Hostel on the North Shore (highly recommended).

Sharks Cove Rentals seems to be by far the best value for the budget traveler on O'ahu.

Sharks Cove Rentals seems to be by far the best value for the budget traveler on O’ahu.

... and you have this right across the street.

… and you have this right across the street.

 

 

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Breaking Spokes on Moloka’i

Molokai beauty

August 4, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii | By

Our final two days on Kaua’i were spent at the Kaua’i Beach Hostel getting our shit together. I left my wallet on the bus, like a buffoon, so I was frantically trying to locate that and coordinate getting my passport overnighted in case the wallet didn’t come through so I could get on the damn plane*. All this between runs to the bathroom as I was also fighting off some douchebag bug that lodged itself in my duodenum. Everything turned around by the second day as the wallet reappeared at the police station, tummy rumbles subsided and we spent the afternoon hanging out by the sea listening to Lotus with some kids Brandy met in the park. We ended our visit with a sweet open mic night at a coffee shop across the way.

Our small plane “did the hula,” as one local put it, and dropped us onto Moloka’i late Saturday afternoon. Our plan was to hitchhike into town where our rented bicycles would be combo locked at the bike shop. We could then ride the three miles out to One Ali’i Park to camp. We hadn’t walked out of the parking lot before the first vehicle by stopped to see if we needed a ride. It was a U-Haul driven by Joe from Big Island who was in town working on installing fiber lines to the Hawaiian Homelands properties.

Hawaiian Homelands is land held in trust by the government on behalf of people of Native Hawaiian descent who can lease the land for a below market value price for homesteading. This can help Hawaiians stay on the islands even as property values skyrocket. However, the act that created the Homelands requires leaseholders to be at least 50% Native Hawaiian so many are critical that as time goes on, more and more Hawaiians are excluded from the land.

Joe dropped us off in town and as we cannot seem to go a day without at least one superficial wound, Brandy gashed the hell out of her knee getting out of the van. Once that bloody mess was taken care of, we finally grabbed the bikes. The price was right, and the bikes were… well, these:

Molokai Bikes

We finally rolled into One Ali’i Park just before sunset and pitched the tent in the waning light. The Trade Winds were blasting and turning the hammock rain fly Brandy made into a giant sail. Would we ever get to use the hammocks?? There was a party going late on the other side of the park, but we were tired enough that even the horrific karaoke couldn’t disturb us too much.

We’d hoped to get an early start to beat the Trades, but they were in force by the time we got up. The ride was hot and into the wind. It was only 16 miles, but it was tough on me. The scenery was beautiful though.

Maui in the distance

Maui in the distance

Molokai beauty

At one water break at a random overgrown field entrance I looked down and noticed a green pill bottle. I’m not one to check out every piece of garbage, but I had a feeling about this one. Sure enough, inside was a huge fresh J of super dank. It turns out this should be no surprise. Bud is common all over the islands, but Moloka’i seems to be bursting with it. A LOT of people grow it because there is just so much land where nobody goes with plenty of water. Unfortunately it sounds like the state has been sending helicopters to bust gardens of late, rather than taking care of the very real problem that haunts these and really any rural places: meth.

We showed up at Mike’s a couple hours early for the weekly volleyball game we had been invited to, as mentioned in our previous post, so we dropped our stuff and went off to explore the east end. I had already broken the first of what would be three broken spokes on my bike.

Shitty bikes, classy belly

Shitty bikes, classy belly

Wow! What a ridiculously awesome place to ride! Allow me to paint a little picture of the island. Moloka’i is shaped like a huge candy bar 45 miles east-west and 10 miles north-south. The north shore of the eastern half of the island is dominated by massive cliffs that drop straight down into the sea. In fact, these are the highest sea cliffs in the world and they are simply badass. The southern side of these cliffs slopes down to the south coast, more gently, but still fairly steeply. The western end of the island is relatively flat in comparison. The Trade Winds come from the east/northeast, so the cliffs, the mountaintops and the east end are lush rainforest whereas the west and most of the south are in the arid rain shadow. The main town of the island, Kaunakakai, is more or less in the south center with one main road extending to either end. There are no traffic signals on Moloka’i; it is quite the contrast from its densely populated neighbor to the west. Hence, traffic is light even on the main road and it all but disappears when you get to the east end. The road east of Kaunakakai passes mainly through ranch land with occasional beach access roads, but at about mile 19.5 the road begins to abut the coast. Quickly it narrows down and begins its dance with the rocks and surf, passing a series of tiny beaches and dashing in and out of small coves and over rocky heads for 2-3 miles before climbing into the sky for another couple miles. The entire way you can watch the clouds forming, dispersing, reforming over Maui’s western mountain in the distance.

Biking Molokai

Molokai E End

As the road climbs from the coast you pass through green grazing land before topping out in a thick mixed forest. There is a ranch at mile 25 signaling the top. You quickly drop into a deceptive valley that tricks you with a steep downhill before another big climb that hits you right around a sharp corner with no time to shift into the appropriate gear. After that climb, it’s a long, winding downhill with stunning views to the end of the road in Halawa Valley. We climbed to the top but left the valley for another day as we did not want to have to climb back out in the hot afternoon sun.

Molokai Coast

 

Molokai biking

As I mentioned in my previous post, we met some people at volleyball who would host us for the remainder of our time on Moloka’i. We finally got to use our hammocks over at John and Hannah’s place where we spent two nights looking out across the strait at Maui. It was such a relaxing view that inspired contemplation that we spent the entire day we arrived lounging around staring at the huge cloud around the Maui summit, watching puffy white clouds march across the sky between the islands to the soft rustling of the breeze through the tall, dry grass, punctuated by chirping birds and the sounds of the sea crashing below. It was my one-month anniversary of my last day at work, so it seemed appropriate to do nothing.

We finally drank this airplane bottle of vodka we’ve been carrying around for years. I could say that our guava vodka drinks were in celebration of the anniversary, but really they were predicated on the need to transfer our rubbing alcohol to a bottle that didn’t leak. I only left the property once to bike down to the store to pick up supplies for dinner with our hosts.

Did I mention that Moloka’i is small town? It’s so small that after two days on the island I already ran into someone I knew at the store! Everyone out here drives a clunky pickup truck with the family loaded up sitting on plastic deck chairs in the back. The residents want to prevent the fate that has befallen the other islands and fight hard against any sort of development. There are “No Cruise Ship” signs in yards all over the island. There have been clashes between residents and officials who want to bring in cruise ships. One ship was blocked from entering the bay by a flotilla of locals in fishing boats and on paddle boards or whatever sort of craft they could haul out there. The next time a ship came to port it was accompanied by the National Guard, but only encountered a few old guys with signs. The passengers were unhindered to take their excursion to Halawa Valley, but alas, through some brazen act of god, a giant tree had fallen and totally blocked the one road out to the east end. Also a few years back a developer attempted to build an exclusive luxury housing complex. They were finally forced to pull out after losing so much money to destroyed equipment and materials.

On our middle day at J & H’s we woke early to make the ride out to Halawa. Again we twisted our way through the almost unbearably quaint coves spotted with cute homes immediately alongside the road with colorful gardens and dewy webs gleaming in the morning light. A cool morning breeze and essential shade helped us conquer the hill with little effort and we spent the morning hanging out on the beach painting, reading and watching the rock crabs scurry around.

Halawa Beach

Halawa Valley

After gathering our things from John and Hannah’s place and taking a jungle hike up the next valley, we rolled over to the farm we had been invited on Sunday and were met by Charles, a really friendly guy in his 70s who runs the place. Charles had lived out there briefly about 30 years ago and had always wanted to come back. Raising a family and other bits of life prevented his return until after retirement. He came back in 2007 and worked as a flower grower for a few years before taking over the farm. There wasn’t a whole lot for us to do there, so I mowed the yard and picked fresh veggies to make a salad in the outdoor kitchen. The hens actually lay their eggs in a box right on the kitchen counter!

The farm itself is actually on top of an old filled in pond. The pond still exists beneath the edges of the planted area. The Java plum trees that have taken over the space actually grow a thick tangle of roots above the water. As leaves fall and matt over the roots an artificial ground is created. If you drop a large stone on the verge of the lawn you can feel the whole thing tremble.

Jonny, the guy who invited us, came by later with a couple of the others we met at volleyball. Donovan (who happens to be the one I ran into at the store) had scored a couple giant Samoan crabs and an ahi tuna from a local fisherman and we all cooked up an insane dinner that also included the fresh salad, hummus, quesadillas and shrimp. We stayed up late playing shithead with Jonny and Donovan before going to bed in the sweet beach house in the spooky mangrove forest.

Freshest sushi

Freshest sushi

The best crab I've ever eaten

The best crab I’ve ever eaten

The mangroves grow so intertwined that they creak and moan with every breeze.

The mangroves grow so intertwined that they creak and moan with every breeze.

The next morning Jonny made an incredible breakfast and we sat around chatting all morning before taking advantage of the tailing Trades to blaze it back to town and return the bikes before ALL the spokes on mine broke.

We were treated to one final piece of Moloka’i luck. Thanks to the good times we were having, we didn’t go anywhere near the legendary sea cliffs or the old leper colony on the north side. Fortunately our little puddle jumper took us around the north side with grand views of the entire coast as we flew to Maui.

Kalaupapa peninsula is home to a former leper colony and, apparently, a huge crater.

Kalaupapa peninsula is home to a former leper colony and, apparently, a huge crater.

Molokai Sea Cliffs

People pay like a hundred bucks for pretty much exactly what we got on our commercial flight.

People pay something like a hundred bucks for pretty much exactly what we got on our commercial flight.

* Note, you can get on a plane without ID. Tell the TSA make-worker that you lost your wallet and they will take you for additional screening. You will be asked a bunch of questions from public databases and presumably receive a full cavity search or whatever. Show up early though because some agents will harass you long enough to miss your flight.

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Moloka’i Sleepy Time

Brandy's watercolor interpretation of our evening

July 12, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii, Sleeping Spots | By

The format of our blog posts will be changing a bit for now. We have been photographing almost all of the places we have slept since we arrived in Hawaii because sleeping locations are such a prominent part of the type of traveling we are doing, and many stories can spin off of such. The only problem is that those photos tend to take up precious photo space in a blog post where we’d prefer to show some sweet scenery, or whatever, especially when some places or days are simply not worth discussing. So for now we will make an intro post with photos of our sleeping arrangements, and how those impacted our trip. These will be followed by a more comprehensive post about our adventures.

So, without further ado, here is our Moloka‘i kip down.

We flew in late Saturday afternoon, so we grabbed our bike rentals and headed to a park a couple miles out of town. One Ali’i Park is an ok place to crash, with water, showers and bathrooms, but it’s just a flat area in a municipal park, so it is certainly not awesome. The wind was too insane to put up the hammocks, so we tented it. There was a large party going on in the pavilion with bad late-night karaoke, but we still managed to get some sleep.

The wind was too insane to put up the hammocks.

The wind was too insane to put up the hammocks.

The next day we biked out to the east end of the island. Sunday nights are volleyball nights at this guy Mike’s house and he let us set up in his yard. Actually, the guy who rented us our bikes volunteered the yard on his behalf.Mike's place

Mike has spent the last several years turning the place from a barren yard next to the ocean into a productive garden. Brandy and I spent the moonlit evening sitting on Adirondack chairs staring at the stars over the sea and listening to the sounds of night in the tropics.

Brandy's watercolor interpretation of our evening

Brandy’s watercolor interpretation of our evening

When the volleyball players had mostly dispersed, host included, there were still a few people hanging around a pickup drinking beers. I was hesitant to join because I was tired and felt a bit awkward with the situation, and there were a couple of obnoxiously drunk dudes speaking incoherently. I decided to hang in there a bit, and that decision would shape the rest of our incredible stay on Moloka’i.

The lovely John and Hannah were among the not incoherently drunk numbers and they suggested that we come by the next day and set up camp at their place. They are caretakers for some wealthy people who own a bunch of land and come out from time to time to “rough” it. We had to schlep up this steep, overgrown trail, but it eventually led us to this:

We FINALLY get to use our hammocks!

We FINALLY get to use our hammocks!

With a view of this:

Maui view from our "bedroom"

Maui view from our “bedroom”

We spent two nights in this relaxing spot, leaving only once in the intermediate day to go to the grocery store. We had been invited by another volleyballer, Jon, as opposed to John, to check out the organic farm where he was working. By this point we’d decided to stay on the east end of the island, which is about the opposite of what I’d planned, so we called him up to see if we could spend our final night there. Jonny set us up in the WWOOFer tents and put us to work chilling out in the outdoor kitchen.WWOOFer tents

This kitchen pumped out some phenomenal food.

This kitchen pumped out some phenomenal food.

Some other volleyballers and one of the farm owners, Stormy, showed up later to hang out for the evening and make an incredible dinner. Sometime before her son hacked her wrist open with a machete, Stormy decided the tents were unfit for the likes of us, and upgraded us to her beach house on the other side of the property set into this spooky mangrove forest.Mangrove house

The most awesome outdoor shower I’ve ever used is in the mangroves on the left. There is just a single simple wall blocking you from the yard, with the shower open to the rest of the forest. There are some nice flat stones on the ground and the shower head with actual hot water is attached to a large tree.

Upgraded to a bed

Upgraded to a bed

Thus we ended our final night in Moloka’i in the lap of luxury. Our plans for the “Friendly Isle” were very loose, and we ended up on the opposite end of the island than anticipated. We were treated to relaxing days surrounded by some achingly beautiful scenery and great people. Stay tuned for more stories of our adventures on Moloka’i and some sweet photos. We have an 18-hour train ride and we’re hoping to break the cycle of anti-productivity we’ve experienced on past train trips. Until then, be well my friends!

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Kaua’i Trail Slideshow

July 3, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii | By

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Jumping into Kaua’i

Brandy on Crawler's Ledge

June 23, 2014 | Posted in Hawaii | By

We have simply been enchanted with these islands. It’s not only the spectacular beauty and fantastic weather. There is an energy and spirit here that soaks into your bones and cuts through any stress you may have been carrying. Our approach to Hawai’i* has been to research like hell, and then just go with the flow with very loose plans and open minds.

After the pleasant surprise stopover in Atlanta, we landed in Lihue, Kaua’i approximately 24 hours behind schedule. The two-mile hike to the bus stop at, of all godforsaken places, WalMart, confirmed that we simply had too much shit. The addition of food for five days on the trail and a full four-liter sack of water would require some creative repacking.

As the tiny Kaua’i minibus silently wound its way through the darkened countryside, we settled into that special state of relaxation known only to the backpacker who has all his stuff packed and in his possession and knows he is on the right bus. You are secure in the fact that you are where you should be and you don’t have to think or lift anything or be hassled at all for the next hour or so. These are the moments when you let your mind wander and contemplate where you’ve been and where you’re going.

After picking up some more supplies at Big Save, Brandy scoped out a sweet stealth spot in a grassy nook between a stand of trees and a taro field where we could pitch the tent. The stars were brilliant in the new moon sky and we could see the faint outline of mountains in the distance.

Our goal the next day was to wake early and thumb it to the trailhead to hike in as far as our energy or daylight lasted. Our rest was punctuated in the nether hours by one douchebag rooster who kept going berserk every hour or so, for some unknown roostery reason. Turns out Kauai is overrun with feral chickens. Of course, once one goes off, all cocks in the general vicinity erupt in a cacophony of bullshit. Despite our restive night, our early morning aspirations were met as we were reawakened near sunup by crunching gravel and bunka bunka shockingly near our tent (bunka bunka is the term Brandy’s grandmother and mother use to describe any vehicle with pounding bass). Running into irate property owners is always a risk with stealth camping, but a bunka bunka car is probably the type I’d least like to encounter. Brandy was less concerned, but it’s easy to be cavalier when your face isn’t the one most likely to be punched. Actually, it was probably just some kid working at the neighboring factory who wouldn’t have given a flying F. Nevertheless, we crouched low and packed in a hurry, slipping away along the field verge.

After repacking our mess of crap and stashing some surplus pounds under a stairwell, we ventured back to snap a pic of our camping spot from the road. We hadn’t even put the camera away when someone had stopped on the other side to offer us a ride to the trailhead. More great hitchhiking vibes have followed us all over the islands.

Kauai N1 camp

Picture this with stars and darkness and a whole lot of cock-a-doodle-doo.

I had read quite a bit about the hike we were intending to take. It has been ranked as one of the most beautiful and most dangerous hikes and really turned out to be one of the most incredible I’ve been on.

The 11-mile Kalalau Trail can generally be split into four distinct sections – mile 0-2: heavily-trafficked walk to Hanakapiai Beach; mile 2-7.5: super strenuous, unrelenting up and down roasting in the sun or slipping on thick mud through ridiculously beautiful valleys; mile 7.5-8.5: Sketchy McSketcherson, hope you’re not afraid of heights awesome part; mile 8.5-11: additional, but less brutal ups and downs with mud and/or sun and more beauty. What about the dangerous stuff? Ok, I’ll get to the intrigue in due time.

This is what you get pretty much right out the gate.

This is what you get pretty much right out the gate.

The first section is wide and filled with day hikers who will be asking you if you’re going all the way in and telling you how they wish they could still do that/had the time/etc. You’ll also run into people who turned back from the sketchy part, which will not fill you with a lot of confidence. It ends at the lovely Hanakapiai Beach, with a view of your first stunning valley.

Hanakapiai Beach

Hanakapiai Beach

The water is inviting and many people will be swimming, but be careful, lots of lives have been lost to strong rip currents here. This will also be your first river crossing, which gets me to the danger. A lot of people are concerned about the sketchy part of the trail, and yes, that part can be dangerous depending on conditions. Some people have been killed falling off cliffs, but the real danger comes from the river crossings. Many people underestimate the power of moving water, and those streams can swell quickly from upstream rainfalls. Just this past April, 121 people were airlifted out of Hanakapiai Beach because of high water. I strongly recommend to anyone hiking all the way in to give themselves a buffer of at least a couple days to wait for streams to go down if needed, especially in the winter. The specter of missing an impending flight can cause even the most cautious person to make stupid decisions on a flooded stream.

The second part of the hike truly brutalized us thanks in part to unrelenting sun and lack of the typical trade winds, and in part from the fact that we hadn’t done any real hiking in over a year.

Frequent breaks for our weary asses.

Frequent breaks for our weary asses.

After the first insane climb out of Hanakapiai, we crossed a fence at the ridge and BAM! ridiculous view of a stunning valley surrounded by cliffs jutting up to narrow spines, with golden rays of the afternoon sun blazing through huge notches onto the jungle foliage. The silver strings of distant waterfalls streaked down the backs of each of the valley spurs. Cue the Jurassic Park orchestra (indeed, that shit was filmed here).

Each further punishing climb was rewarded with an even more spectacular valley, and I almost fell to my knees from both exhaustion and awe upon entering Hanakoa, our final breathtaking valley of the day. None of our photos really do any justice to these valleys.

In the depths of one of the many valleys, we passed through a magical grove of fuchsia flower trees we later found out were mountain apples. The late afternoon sun was slanting through the trunks, lighting up the carpet of fallen petals. The deep hum of dozens of bees ensconced our heads as we slowed our pace to absorb the beauty of the place in that time.

We were utterly sacked and daylight was waning as we slouched into Hanakoa Camp at mile 6. It was not the ideal camping spot as it was a bit damp, smelly and buggy, but all in all, it was still quite nice and is well situated at the halfway point. The toilets waft a despicable scent through some of the sites, but we wandered downstream a bit, and found several nice spots under some massive old trees.

Hanakoa camp

Hanakoa camp

We stashed another pack of superfluous crap under some rocks near the camp and got an early start the next morning. Over the first ridge was where the sketchy part began. Down the next side we came to a steep, narrow switchback with plenty of loose gravel and a steep drop to rocks and crashing waves. We had no problems here, but we suspected we’d feel a little different after a bit of rain. Next came the infamous Crawler’s Ledge. The path reduced to a narrow stretch of rock with a vertical wall on one side and a sheer drop to the rocky surf on the other. The ledge turned out to not be as narrow as we’d envisioned and was actually a breeze to traverse. Conditions, of course, could change this. For example, a stiff gust from the Trades could and has been known to whip a burdened hiker off. (On our exit hike we met another couple that had turned back here when confronted with a wall of water pouring onto the ledge from above. Oh hell no!)

Brandy on Crawler's Ledge

Brandy on Crawler’s Ledge

Crawler’s Ledge ended at an easy ten-foot rock climb with our backs to the cove. Brandy summited first and I handed her our walking sticks as a boat full of tourists pulled into the cove, no doubt being regaled with stories of the dreadfully scary hike above. At that moment, Brandy turned and raised both sticks above her head in a Dune-like pose of triumph and received a roaring cheer from the entire passenger list.

The next and last part of Sketchy McSketcherson was a 40-foot traverse across a hard-packed path, covered in loose granules of soil. Oh yeah, it was also slanted about 10 degrees toward the drop-off, where you have about 100 feet of 45-degree slope on which you might be able to starfish to arrest your fall before plummeting off another hundred-foot drop onto, you guessed it, rocks. With great boots and walking sticks, this did not pose a problem for us, but I classified that one as something I would absolutely NOT want to mess with in the rain. Naturally, we would get a chance to test that theory on the way out.

The Kalalau Valley had been a rather impressive city in ancient Hawaiian culture, but was abandoned after the Europeans showed up. It is a state park now, but has become a home for several people who tend gardens and set up long-term camps in the ancient terraces. Most people come for some weeks or months at a time, but there are a handful of residents who have lived there almost continuously for many years, despite periodic raids by parks authorities who destroy camps and gardens and issue citations to those without permits. We’ve heard estimates of 15-30 people living there at any given time, but nobody really knows. It’s a very isolated spot and aside from the raids, people are generally left alone to live as they wish, as long as they don’t bring in bad vibes. Even down on the beach the short-term visitors feel pretty free to bathe in the nude and let the outside world fade from thought.

Entering Kalalau

Entering Kalalau

As soon as we entered the valley and reached the river, we were met by a girl wearing nothing but a ukulele. As she passed, she said, “Aloha, welcome,” and began strumming the uke as she continued on up the trail.

The official camping area extends in a grove of trees far along the length of the beach, so we tossed our packs in a suitable spot and went off to explore and see if there were any “super sweet spots”. We ended up getting into a conversation with Cooper, a guy who has been traveling around the world for the last couple years and had just hiked in barefoot. Time got away from us and suddenly the skies opened up and dumped a deluge. We were sheltered and relaxed, but Brandy reminded me that our packs were lying uncovered on the ground. We sprinted back and hunkered down under another camper’s tarp. The rain went on and on (Brandy used this opportunity for a much needed natural shower) and when we finally caught a break, we quickly set up the tent and climbed inside to dry out. It was early, but by the time we’d dried, we were ready to call it a night.

The next day we were informed of an impending storm and so we relocated down to the caves at the far end of the beach, as recommended by a regular visitor to the valley. Although the storm never materialized, this turned out to be a great move. We met a bunch of great people and everyone pitched in a little something to make a delicious stew based around a huge squash picked from the valley. Later on, this older Hawaiian guy came by with a boogie board full of Ahi he’d caught and cooked. Another group had hiked in a bunch of handles of liquor the night before, but abandoned them to the community when they left early in advance of the projected storm. Good times for all.

We missed the photo from our first night in the valley. Here's where we spent the following two nights.

We missed the photo from our first night in the valley. Here’s where we spent the following two nights.

Brilliant Kalalau

View from camp

View from camp

Our second night in the caves brought even more crazy windfalls. This dude, Bird, who had just hiked in for an extended stay, was staring at the goats roaming around on the cliffs above the beach when he said, “those goats fall all the time”. Almost immediately a kid goat made a false step and plummeted to its death and Bird ran over to clean and dress it for a luau on the beach in these massive cast iron skillets some crazy fools had hiked in. Upon returning from collecting firewood and wild veggies for the stew, I could see the entire cave group silhouetted in a line against the ridiculous sunset over the Pacific. When I rejoined the group I turned and saw why they had all come out. The falling sun had painted a brilliant rainbow over the valley and beach.

The cave cleared out the next day, so we moved to a peaceful spot we found in an old terrace upstream and spent the next two nights exploring the valley barefoot and swimming in the pools up the river. Our camp came complete with a large rock especially suitable for stargazing.

Camping in the valley

Camping in the valley

We had waited a couple extra days not just because we loved the place, but we were trying to hold out for some nice weather on the hike out. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The rain started coming down as we were breaking camp, and continued throughout the hike. It kept the temperatures down, but visions of a muddy mess on the sketchy stretch dogged our thoughts through the morning. Indeed, when we got to the sloped spot, things did not look good. We watched from across the valley as an older man well experienced with the trail attempted the traverse. We waited with baited breath as he slipped and fell onto his pack twice before crawling the last few feet to safety. Our fears had been confirmed; the trail was about at its worst.

As we approached, we thanked our luck on picking up great walking sticks on the way in as they would be essential tools for our safe passage across this stretch. I would enter the slant first. My heart was beating hard, but my focus pinpointed down to each step as I used my boot to create precarious footholds in the slimy red muck. I had no thought of the precipice, training all thought on each step. I finally put my boot on level ground and breathed a sigh of release, only to turn and feel even more tension as Brandy made the crossing.

We were feeling the pressure of time this day, but I’m uncertain that we would have proceeded had we encountered these conditions on the way in. After surpassing this challenge, the ledge and following switchbacks were a piece of cake. We mucked through massive quantities of mud and rain to Hanakapiai where we set up just off the beach under the serene gaze of another spectacular sunset. Here we met Maddi and Jon, a sweet couple from Wyoming. They gave us a hot meal, which was a delicious reprieve from our limited cold fare of peanut butter, trail mix and dry tuna. They also had a couple small bottles of wine, which was simply AWESOME.

Hanakapiai Camp

Hanakapiai Camp

Hanakapiai rainbow

The two-mile hike out the next morning was no problem and we got to look all dirty and badass in front of the day hikers. We took a well-deserved snorkeling break at Ke’e Beach while our sodden gear dried on the rocks.

The last two nights on Kawa’i were relatively uneventful as we holed up in a hostel in Kapa’a and took advantage of the internet and kitchen. Ok, my wallet was lost, then returned to the police, more hitchhiking went down, and we went to a great open mic night, but I have to check my desire to be thorough to a point of absurdity.

Stay tuned for a slideshow of more pictures from the hike.

*The grammatically super inclined will note here that I am butchering the ‘okina by using a close quote. As much as I’d like to do it correctly, I don’t have time to figure out how. If anyone knows a quick and easy way to do it, please let me know.

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Holy crap, Hawaii!

October 17, 2013 | Posted in Hawaii, Musings | By

Ok, so now there is no turning back. We just bought tickets to Hawaii for a month in May/June. If we chicken out with the whole ‘mini-retirement’ thing, we’re out 866 bucks.

We weren’t planning to fly anywhere after we quit, because that was part of the point of this whole thing – flying sucks and I damn well don’t want to do it anymore if I don’t have to. But I had to. The flights were $433 RT, and Hawaii is boldfaced on my list. I figured it would likely never be cheaper for us, and it really won’t be all that convenient in the future, even when we’re on the west coast. Really, it was just an offer I couldn’t refuse and I didn’t want to take the chance that this would be one of those places that constantly eludes us for years (see my forthcoming Montauk post).

Hawaii will be an interesting first test of our budgetary acumen. We are quite good at budget traveler, spending our time soaking up the beauty and culture of a place without spending gobs of cash, but HI is pretty expensive, and there will be more flying in our future because there don’t seem to be ferries between most of the islands. The flight to get there isn’t too bad. Amortized over 34 days, it comes to about $25 a day. We’ve calculated out a very generous $75 a day average over the likely period of our long-term travels, which would give us a good amount of time before we’re flat broke, even in the unlikely event that we don’t have any income whatsoever. We’ll probably go over that in HI a bit, especially with all of the internal flights, but we’ll make a go of it. If we spend another $500 on internal flights, that is another $15 a day, which still leaves us with $35 a day. Most of our time will be spent spending nothing on hiking and biking and very little on camping, so we may be able to pull it off.

Visit beautiful Peru

Visit beautiful Peru

I have already been spending a bunch of time planning the trip. It is INCREDIBLE to have so much time to work with. I cannot describe the relief of planning with this much time – it’s like a huge load of bricks has been taken off my face. We no longer have to skip tons of stuff we wanted to see, while still packing in ridiculous amounts of travel time. Man, we spent almost as much time traveling in Peru as we did on the ground. Exaggeration, but still, a huge percent was lost, and we were harried. I also don’t feel like we need to plan everything, but can leave a lot more up to chance. I do want to do this though.

Now, back to the planning!

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