Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Cliffs of Insanity!

I did not go to Kauai this past weekend to die. It occurred to me while hiking the Kalalau trail on the Na Pali coast, however, that I just might. Crouched in a squatting position on an 11-inch goat path overhanging a 600 foot drop decorated with loose gravel and the promise of an untimely death, I just couldn't stop crying. It didn't really occur to me to feel silly, although I have no doubts that I looked it. Tears on my dirty cheeks dropping onto the defiant gravel, my mind was swimming with reminders. Reminders that life is short. Reminders that I love my life and would like to keep it as long as possible. Reminders that I am not as brave as I like to think I am. And most terrifying of all: a reminder that I am not a quitter and wasn't planning on letting a little landslide-death-hike start the trend.

Jeremy and I went to Kauai with four friends (Shestin, Bridget, Elizabeth and Mark) to hike the Na Pali coast. Armed with our respective backpacks sufficiently sausaged with enough food, camping equipment, and clothes to last us three nights, we set out on the trail early Saturday morning with the plan to "play it by ear". Fifteen minutes later, the breathtaking views were paralleled only by the lack of breath in my lungs. The combination of steep uphill climbs, a trail littered with stones and ragged tree roots, and the 40 pounds on my back had me wondering if I could make it for three days.

Once I resigned myself to the endless pour of sweat from all areas, the inevitable destruction of all of my clothes, and the sharp burn in my gluteus maximus, however, I began to actually love the challenge. This was the ultimate workout to the backdrop of some of the world's most impressive coastline. The dream retreat. A much-needed cleanse of the clutter of career, technology, and the everyday grind that lately seemed to be tipping the balance of my life in the direction of humdrum. As I felt the burn and the sweat accumulate, I couldn't help but smile. What kind of crazy people do something like this on vacation? Ha. Us.

Some people say that women do not sweat, they glisten. I am here to tell you that this is a lie. I sweat. I sweat like a thief in church, a pig on a spit, like the cheddar cheese in my backpack after three days of hiking in full sun. It has always been this way for me. However, the kind of sweat produced by this hike was like no other I have every experienced. I was constantly wet. A passerby on the trail might have easily confused my condition for a recent swim in a nearby waterfall but no, sadly, this was not the case. Let's just say that on that first day of the hike, I drank 2 liters of water yet I never peed. Not once. Is this too much information? Sorry. Three days of doing my business in the woods kinda changes a lady.

Here is a brief montage of the main events in that first day's hiking: Burn. Pretty view. More burn, dripping sweat, a brief stop at a beach, more burn as the switchbacks pushed us further and further up the edge of the coast. Sweat, sweaty, sweatier. Ooh. . .look at that view! Legs shaky, I slip, grasping a feebly young branch. Jeremy kisses the branch. Morbid yet oddly romantic. Hurling my pack to the ground. Lunch. Burn as we rejoin the trail, my legs bitter and rebelling. Sweat. Shirt twisted and misshapen from a dynamic combination of my pack, my sweat, and the odd contortions necessary for the sometimes all-too-vertical climb. Blurred vision from sweat and, let's be honest, exhaustion. And. . .mile 6. Our camp for the night.

There is no sleep like the sleep after a day of hiking. It can only be described as the sleep of the dead. The tent, a sarcophagus embracing you and your smells. The sleep of the dead is not a restful sleep. It is deep but never adequate.

If sleeping after hiking can be compared to being dead, waking up the next morning is what I imagine Lazarus felt like when he stepped back from death---feeble, clumsy, and for lack of a more powerful word: sore. I believe my exact words that next morning were "I feel like I have been run over by a truck". I have never been run over by a truck but I imagine that the pain you would feel would be indescribable and all-consuming, emanating not so much from one area but rather, everywhere. I walked through that first morning feeling like the exposed mannequin in my 5th grade health class, embarrassingly aware of each muscle as I tiptoed around camp relearning how to walk.

One hour into the hike on day two found me where this entry began: crying on a cliff, contemplating my own death. I do not over-dramatize. Here are just a few of my thoughts on that cliff-side: I do not want to be another tourist nightmare story on the 6:00 news. "She came to Kauai on vacation, but instead, she fell off a cliff." What would my students say on Tuesday when they showed up to school and had no teacher? Am I really supposed to believe that these hiking boots can defy gravity?

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine that you are standing on a path 11-inches wide (that's less than a foot for you math geniuses out there). To your left: a sloping cliff shooting skyward, covered in loose gravel and dirt speckled with the occasional dead root. To your right: more gravel sliding down a steady slope to shockingly blue water---600 feet below you. Ahead of you: more goat path covered with, you guessed it, loose gravel just waiting to deceive you into believing that you have a sturdy foothold. With each step you feel the sole of your hiking boot skim across the rolling gravel and think to yourself, Oh my gosh, I am sliding to my death. This is what we call "The Cliffs of Insanity", so named for the insanity that the cliffs summon in the heart as well as the insanity it takes to naively will yourself to attempt to cross them.

Goat path. Ha. Now here's a little side note about goats. They are everywhere along the Kalalau Trail. We heard them, we saw them, we stepped around their poo. Let me tell you where we did not see them: the Cliffs of Insanity. Why? Jeremy later innocently shared that he read in a guidebook that some of the catamaran tours along the Na Pali coast will occasionally find dead goats floating in the water. Even our 4-legged friends can't handle this stuff. Lovely. One thing to say, Jeremy: That is exactly the kind of information that would have been useful to me before I enthusiastically signed up for the pleasure trip to Kauai. I don't believe that junk about "What you don't know can't hurt you". Ha. Tell that to the goats.

Have you ever wondered what you're made of? Are you the kind of person who thinks they would like to sign up for boot camp (minus all of the war stuff) just to see how tough you really are? Me too. That's exactly the kind of pondering in which I indulge occasionally. Let me tell you what I have discovered. I am made up of the following: shaky hands, uncontrollable tears, whimpering noises, and equally stupid---a fear of failure so strong it outweighs my fear of death. Nothing brings the mirror startlingly close to your face than a stroll along the edge of a slippery cliff.

Squatted down on my goat path, shaking and negotiating with Jeremy to let me turn back, I realized something: I can turn around and go back now. I am an adult. I can give up if I want to. But here's the problem: I don't want to. Let me elaborate. My body wants to go back. That fight-or-flight response was alive and commanding it's easy choice: Flight! Flight! I said flight! My brain wants to go back. My intellect tells me that hiking three more miles to see some beach is not worth the calculable risks on my safety. But deep below the powerful and persuasive layers created by my body and my brain, there was another part of me that knew that my body and brain were just pontificating. Going back was never an option.

Now this is the part where you are probably hoping for some heroic tale of me stumbling to my feet and marching fearlessly and persistently to my destination, determined and resolute once again. Sorry. I never promised you a heroine. My recovery was not a graceful or fancy one. My memories of the rest of the cliffs are a blur of some comical combination of booty-scooting the rest of the trail and side-shuffling in an unflattering (although definitely bum-sculpting) squatting position with my back to the water, Jeremy telling me when to move each foot. All of this to the tune of my own whimpering and occasional squeals.

Hiking the rest of the trail, the Cliffs of Insanity behind us, a thought occurred to me. As the shaking subsided, a feeling of accomplishment (albeit marked by humility) steeped my thoughts. And with this sense of accomplishment, came a realization. No, I did not come to Kauai to die. I did not want to die. But if today did turn out to be my cosmic day of reckoning, the Na Pali coast would certainly be an incomparable place to go. I cannot think of a more inspired backdrop to the final moments of my life. And maybe, friends, that is what life is all about. Seeking beauty in the most remote of places. Living life in such a way that you are forced to frequently face the eventuality of your own death. Searching yourself for bravery and forgiving yourself for what you find. Looking over treacherous cliffs to the ominous waters below. Knowing that each awe-inspiring step may be your last. . .but taking the step anyhow.

A Tour of the South of France

This past April Jeremy and I made the long trip out to Europe to visit family and most of all, celebrate the 60th birthday of my Mom and Dad in the heart of Provence. It was a trip marked by yummy food, amazing wines and the joy of celebrating with family.

Here is a slideshow with pictures from our many parties as well as a trip Jeremy and I took through wine country with my cousins. Warning: This slideshow contains more than your daily recommended dose of coconut bras.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sorry for the MIA blog

Aloha All

Sorry it's been so long since we updated the blog. Life here in Hawaii just kind of ran away from us and then it just got too overwhelming to update after so long. The all-too-familiar procrastination trap.

So here's the solution: I tell myself I don't have to update on EVERYTHING, shelve my perfectionist for a while, and resign to do this thing piecemeal until the spirit moves me with the inspiration to blog anew.

Here goes. . .

We are fast approaching one year here in beautiful Hawaii. How crazy is that? Very. It continues to be amazing here. Each new season has brought fresh adventures. Summer was marked by fantastic days of clear blue water and superb visibility for North Shore snorkeling with sea turtles (honu). Fall and winter brought new surprises with tremendous waves, the North Shore surfing frenzy, and, yes, our very first whale watching season. Incredible. The recent spring brought with it the rediscovery of calm waters here on the North Shore and with it, a renewed enthusiasm for our favorite snorkeling spots now that the waves have shifted from hulking monsters to gentle shore-ticklers. Spring was also marked with pineapple showers (soft rain sprinkles) and an abundance of rainbows which I have learned have the magical power to wipe away bad moods. How can you scowl in traffic when your car window frames the perfect arc of a full rainbow?

Time in Hawaii so far: 11 months. Rounds of visitors: 6. Not bad, huh? Keep 'em comin'!

Here's a highlight reel of some of the best pics from our adventures with visitors:

1st Visitors: Katherine & Sage. Sept 2006.
All dressed up for a fancy dinner at Haleiwa Joe's.

2nd Visitor: Mom in Sept-October 2006.

A hula lesson with Mom at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

3rd Visitor: Paul. November 2006.
Paul getting ready to body-board with Jeremy on his Hawaiian Thanksgiving visit.

4th Visitors: Mom & Dad. February 2007

Mom & Dad sneak a kiss during a Waikiki sunset.

Mom and Dad checking out the surf at Hanalei, Kauai.

For more pics of Mom and Dad's visit, check out the following slideshow:

5th Visitors: Kira and Sean. April 2007.

Sean and Jeremy getting ready to surf.

Kira and Sean with Diamondhead and Honolulu in the background.

For more pics from Kira and Sean's visit, check out the following slideshow:

6th Visitors: Liz and Sean. May 2007

Liz surfing for the first time at Waikiki.

Sean's turn.

For more pics of Liz and Sean's visit, check out the following slideshow:

6 and counting: Who's next???