Lessons Learned Hiking Kauai

I grew up in an area where hiking was normal. It’s what we did most of our lives and after awhile, you take certain things for granted, such as common sense. The whole time I lived in Texas, I didn’t really hike more than one or two times. Moving to Kauai, where hiking is why people come here, I figured I could pick up where I left off, six years ago. On my days off, I made a point to explore a new part of the island. This particular day, it was the anniversary of my friend’s death, and the best way to honor him was to do his favorite thing: hiking.  I decided to hike to Hanakapai Beach, maybe to the falls if I was feeling adventurous. I packed a huge thing of water, my camera, cell phone, and an apple.

For those who are looking to hike anywhere on the north shore of Kauai, if there is one piece of advice, it is to arrive early. I got there around ten am and it was already packed. As in cars are lining the street more than a mile down the road. After driving around and attempting to park in questionable spots (if the sign says it will tow, believe it), I find a parking spot next to a bush with flowers on it.

I begin the walk up the road, camera in hand. The thing about the very north shore is: its gorgeous. The mountains are so massively tall and covered in green. The sky is a brilliant blue and there is color everywhere. Since I parked so far away, the walk itself was a giant adventure.

After awhile, I decided to stop lollygagging around and hustle so I can get to the beach before it rains. Another thing about the north shore, when it rains, BE CAREFUL! I never had a problem, thank goodness, but that is also because my uncle put the fear of God in me that I might get sucked out to China or washed away in a flash flood. The trails can get muddy and it becomes dangerous, especially because the hike itself is along the edge of a mountain.

The first quarter mile on the hike is straight up a hill. Working out in a gym and walking straight up a hill are using two totally different muscles. By the quarter mile marker, I took a break. Drank some water, caught my breath and looked around me.

Wow.

I saw a bunch of people in bathing suits or carrying fins walk past me. They all looked pretty happy, so I decided to go a bit further. Its only 2 miles into the beach and four to the falls. Since I’m used to clocking about 10 miles a day at work, 2 miles should be easy.

Around every bend, there was an even more beautiful view. The ocean was a color I have never seen before, and the sky almost merged into the horizon. I was so enchanted by the beauty that I kept going just a bit further. After what seemed like a really long time,  I asked some people walking back how far away the beach is. They were really friendly and told me not far, just around a few more bends. That seemed pretty mild, as I could see the bends from where I was standing. Around this time, I decided to take another break and take some photos.

After a few, I noticed my camera battery was dying. Ooopsy. That was the one and only time my camera battery died (on Kauai). Luckily I had an iPhone back up battery and still had access to a camera. I tossed my camera back in my bag, drank some water and continued on.

A few bends away was actually a really long ways away. I came up to a steep downhill and thanked my lucky stars that I was finally going down, which means I must be close, right? By this time my legs were burning and I was hot and sweaty. I was still sipping water but also starting to get hungry. My feet hurt and I could feel the sun burning my shoulders. “Not long,” I kept telling myself. “You’ve gone too far now to just turn around. Once you get to the beach, it will be refreshing and worth it.” I kept pushing on. As I was walking down the steep hill, people were passing me that looked angry and exhausted. I didn’t pay much notice because I was trying to psyche myself up to get through this last leg.

After the last bend, this appeared like a magical vision.There is a large stream with slippery rocks that I had to cross. Normally I wouldn’t care about falling into a stream except I had my camera with me and that was precious cargo. It made crossing the river a heck of a bit more difficult, but then next thing I knew, I crossed. The beach was the most beautiful thing. I could sit down, enjoy my apple, and drink some more water. A sea lion was snoozing near by, creating a crowd of onlookers. A few families were scattered along the rocks having a picnic lunch. A stream of water flowed into the ocean (which was freezing cold).

After hanging out and taking some pictures, I started my hike back. Dark clouds began to creep over the mountains and the last thing I wanted to do was get stuck in the rain on a dirt trail in the middle of the Na Pali coast with no way to get shelter.  A part of the hike is straight up the mountain with no shade. It’s steep and tiring. I got a running start and about a quarter of the way, I was done. My legs were burning, out of breath, and my vision went wonky. I huddled under every tree that was there, trying to get some shade to cool off. By the time I got to the top, I felt like I might pass out. Trying to force my legs to move when I could barely stand was difficult. Deep gulps of air did nothing to help and my heart totally felt like it was going to burst out of my chest and I had this weird pressure in my ears and head. There is a helicopter landing spot and I’m not the praying type, but I wished for a helicopter to show up and take me home. Of course, the helicopter never came and the only way I could get home is to finish the hike.

At the top of the hill, I sat down. By this point I was overheating, I couldn’t catch my breath, and felt queasy. A nice couple stopped and handed me a fan to help cool off. They chatted with me about sunstroke and where they came from. Eventually I felt human again and profusely thanked them for their kindness. The rest of the trail was manageable (and downhill). When I finally put my feet on the actual road and knew I was off that mountain, I’ve never been so happy!

Afterwards is another mile long walk back to the car. A nice fella in an air conditioned truck stopped and offered me a ride back to my car. My city instincts kicked in and I thanked him but declined the ride, even though the only thing I wanted to do was crawl in the front seat and blast cold air at my face. He chuckled and reminded me that I’m on Kauai, and hitchhiking is normal. I threw caution to the wind and got a ride back to my car, with cold air.

Needless to say, I slept really well that night.

Things I learned to hike on Kauai:

1. Bring more than an apple

2. Drink tons of water the day before – be hydrated

3. BRING MORE THAN AN APPLE

4, Listen to weather warnings

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