Hitchhiking Kauai really surprised me with its diverse scenery from tropical jungle flora to arid desert canyons similar to the Grand Canyon. The Garden Island lived up to its name. Originally we started this neck of the trip with no expectations or destinations, wandering wherever our thumbs and feet took us. That’s what we did until the end. We hitched the whole island from the Kalalau Trailhead to the Kalalau Lookout in Waimea Canyon. We cast our footprints on Hideaways Beach, Kealia Beach, and Glass Beach among others which remain unnamed solely because we never knew their names.
Hitchhiking Kauai, the random cemetery we stumbled upon…
We wandered in the sun and rain. I found hitchhiking Kauai on the North Shore far easier than the west side, but we managed either way. The last night of hitchhiking in Kauai really came as a surprise.
We awoke early morning in our camping spot cuddling one another in our bivy sacks. Fire ants marched around in a frenzy of rage as they devoured any crumbs leftover on the loose dirt beneath us. They attacked with ruthlessness leaving us with itchy bite marks on our backs and chest. The fire still glowed with an orange hue from remnants of embers from the night before. We made breakfast. Oatmeal and Ramen sufficed.
Then I fell back asleep feeling the sickness of the past few days crucify me to the ground. My nose dripped. My head throbbed. I felt less than ideal for wild camping, but rest was rest.
Kelly woke me up as the soft pitter-patter of raindrops plummeted from the sky. We rushed to cram our shit together as we scampered along the glass beach full of coral, and slippery rock to our nearest safe haven, a pavilion. Salt Pond Park had a ton of them along the coastline.
Another dismal day of rain, and angry clouds shadowed us above bringing back daunting memories of our time along the Na Pali Coast. Frankly, I did not want to relive it. The mud puddles, wet boots, and miserable chilling feeling of Mother Nature’s fury made me want to leave the island.
Thumbin’ It…Garden Island Style
So that’s what we did. We left or at least we tried to leave. From the Salt Ponds we started our trek down Route 56 towards Lihue. We walked and walked some more hoping a kind soul might pick us up by the side of the road. The rain sprinkled gingerly goading us to keep walking closer to the airport for our next adventure, Maui. The scenic overlooks along the road gave us the perfect eye candy to keep us moving forward. We flashed our thumbs, with no luck. But, kept trucking forward. Slowly 21 miles became 16 miles and 16 miles became 12 miles, taking us through small villages to nowhere.
The sun crept away taking daylight hostage with a brief glimpse of its blood scattered across the night sky in a Starburst red. It felt like Arizona, a home away from home. Still we walked into the night with less than ideal spots to camp and shield us from the cries of the sky.
I held hope. I held a feeling of optimism deep in my gut. We would find a spot to camp. As we inched closer to Lihue Airport it felt light years away without wheels.
Our flashlight emitted a faint ray of light striking the ground beneath us. We hobbled with achy feet and damp socks, almost losing any hope we once held onto. It sucked. I felt a numbness drown my feet and walking became less than pleasurable almost deplorable. I capitulated and decided to lay it down anywhere off the road way, like a true homebum.
But then it happened and our situation changed entirely. A car stopped on the opposite side of the road like any other parking on the shoulder. The beams flashed briefly. The window rolled down and out yelled a Hawaiian man. His voice full of joy, merrier than Santa Claus himself. I never caught a glimpse of his face or of the passenger’s, but they gave us a lift.
In that moment, we hitched a ride from the middle of nowhere right past Koloa all the way to Lihue Airport. My jaw dropped and spirit lifted. The gift of hitchhiking comes with its price, but somewhere, somehow, the universe finds a way to help you out. And that’s how we spent our last day hitchhiking Kauai, hitchhiking to the airport with the kindest locals, on a night to remember.
The Kalalau Trail came and left like a faint glimpse in a dream, but our efforts continued to explore Kauai for an undetermined amount of time leading us to Princeville Hawaii. After a tedious 22 mile hike through sopping, mud puddles, and unstable, jagged terrain, I left the eye-dropping cliffhangers behind for a new adventure, hitchin’ Kauai.
Now my wife never really hitchhiked before. As a kid she once hitched a ride with a milk man when her mother’s car broke down, but all this came new to her. And with every new experience came its own fears, but it started off quite smoothly.
Hitchhiking to Princeville Hawaii! Sure does rain in Kauai a lot…
With mud dripping from our legs down into our boots, dribbling down our toes and under our feet, we flung off our damp, crusty clothes, and changed into shower attire. The shower at the bottom of the Kalalau Trailhead felt luxurious sprinkling down my greasy curls, dripping down my back, my hairs standing straight on their ends. We lived in the mud for three days, avoiding ponding mud puddles like land mines for fear of getting drenched. But we did not avoid it. We got soaked. If not our sweaty shirts, our moist shorts, and under garments from brushing up against the moist jungle flora all chanted our need for a shower. I stood there shaking as I scrubbed the grime off every limb and out of every orifice. The shameful feeling of rubbing soap on my balls and shaft while quickly dousing him in water felt less than pleasing, but I whimpered with joy once I was clean.
We plopped along the picnic benches in the parking lot waiting for Senator Morra to complete the trail. I bumped into him yet again after etching my moniker into a rock while trekking off the trail. He offered us a ride around 3 to 4 PM, giving us 2 hours to relax, and eat any crumbs that remained in our packs.
But the spirit of adventure flowed through our gypsy blood and we found ourselves shortly hitchhiking Kauai with a young couple to Wainiaha, leaving Senator Morra behind. The state closed the Hanalei Bridge leaving us stranded from the rest of the island so we walked down the road with no expectations. Kelly threw a thumb out gingerly as we moseyed along the winding, narrow, jungle roads, with not much room to comfortably walk.
We hoped to land in Princeville, Hawaii as we heard about the Tahitian, blue, lagoons scattered along Anini Beach, a wonderland for snorkeling, but anywhere away from the rain encumbered bliss. A pickup truck pulled off, and we hopped in the bed, getting as far as Hanalei before hitting the bridge closure traffic. We waited, idling behind a frenzy of perturbed drivers’ all land locked from their homes, which resided on the other side of the bridge. The clouds taunted us above with grueling colors of gray and shortly after, misty pellets speckled our faces, fogging my spectacles and causing us to flee for cover.
We fled to the super market, indulging in sweet gummy bears to boost our spirits, while we walked closer to the bridge. The imminent flash flood warnings that closed the Kalalau Trail also kept the Hanalei Bridge closed. So we waited as it neared closer to dawn with little hope for Princeville in our future.
Patrol vehicles cleared the road block within the hour and we tested our luck thumbin’ it once again. A construction worker picked us up within minutes. We sped along through the roads ransacked in crater-like puddles as we looked out at the picturesque kola fields shimmering beauty. Their bright green leaves illuminated the misty skies clouding the mountains and we smiled big and bright. We finally got over the bridge. We finally made it to Princeville. But where would we sleep in this ritzy town of private golf courses, expensive resort towns and condominiums, with the night sky falling? The beach. The Jungle. We did not know.
Hiking Kalalau Trail Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike
We landed in Kauai rather late after hitching a ride to the airport with Kalei’s ex-boyfriend. As we walked out of the airport I sensed a more laid back environment than Oahu. Maybe the rural, scenic highway walking down Route 56 skewed my judgement, or maybe walking straight for Kalalau Trail from the airport without a shuttle, taxi, or bus did it. I did not know.
But, that first night walking past the WalMart, wild camping off in the jungle with Kelly felt more memorable than ever. We slept at the top of an embankment off the highway with vines, palm leaves and roots all cattywampus around our bivy sacks.
Despite the drastic temperature change from Oahu, I slept well. Our only plan for Kauai involved hiking the Kalalau Trail off the Na Pali Coast. I heard about its beauty from a few buddies at Pacific Skydiving and it felt like the hike of a lifetime from all the stories they reminisced.
We walked down the coast, planning on taking the bus or hitchhiking, with no definite timeframe in mind. The weather held up nicely as we trucked our packs along on our first backpacking adventure together as a couple.
Kelly did not backpack. She did not really hike or hitchhike, but she joined and surprisingly did quite well for her first time.
After a few food stops and a gas station, we quickly learned the only way to Kalalau Trail without a rental car was by hitchhiking as the bus took people as far as Princeville. We thought about taking the bus, but shortly after leaving the gas station, strapping on our packs for the road, two hippies pulled off the road and gave us a lift. They noticed the sign I rigged up earlier in red marker, “Na Pali Coast Trail” in bold capital lettering. They just completed the trail recently and agreed to take us to Princeville. The driver told us tales of the valley. His wavy, brown long hair, and scruffy five o’clock shadow resembled that of a Senator Morra lookalike from Limitless. We felt the love in the air, the spirit of travel, the wanderlust, as he told us of the people whom lived in the valley at the end of Kalalau Trail.
Pickin’ Guava along the hike with Kelly
Before the annexation of Hawaii a small community of locals lived off in the jungle of the Kalalau along the Na Pali Coast. They lived off the luscious, soil-enriched land, with dense tropical vegetation from native guavas, nuna, java plum, and limes to non-native species planted by man. The terraces stretched for miles into the end of the valley of Kalalau with mango trees, jackfruit, bananas, etc. So much fruit you could taste its essence in the air by sticking out your tongue, like a mist of sugar in a chocolate factory.
But after getting pushed off their land, the terraces and goats became an abandoned relic of the past, a hidden gem in the valley. Hippies from all over the world took this opportunity to grow fruits and help fix the terraces, living in the valley off the land. The past 50 to 60 years all different types of travelers got lost in the valley, finding themselves in an oasis of epic proportions with godly views of the Na Pali Coast. With that tale you can bet we held on for an adventure.
The passion and love flowing in the conversation took us further than Princeville. It took us to the start of the Kalalau Trail. With five hours of daylight left we set up camp off the coast underneath palm trees overlooking the thrashing ocean.
We just missed the rain, but not for very long. What no one told us about the Kalalau Trail, we completely overlooked the obvious, jungle climate. The first six miles we trudged along the coast on a six-inch wide path of muddy, slippery rocks and sludge overlooking cliff-face after cliff-face. I did not fear heights or the squishy, slick, narrow pathways, but Kelly looked terrified, with a fake smile plastered over her ghostly grin.
It felt like eternity hiking up and down and around these mountains along the Kalalau. It took much patience on my part to accept Kelly’s less than thrilled enthusiasm for this hike. But, it was not the hike itself she disliked. She just hated the steep, chilling fear of getting vertical close to the edge of a devastating dangerous ledge, which felt endless. Probably because it was…
For the first six miles we completed them in just under seven hours. I lost much of my patience watching her lollygag behind me, but I truly did not know she feared for her life. She pushed her limits to the max and it made me appreciate how much she loves me.
I sat on that thought for the rest of the night while I set up camp under a lemon tree by the restroom. We stayed pretty dry with the tarp shelter I rigged up. Although, the massive rainfall left our campsite in a ponding mess of puddles like mud-pie craters sprawled across the ground, somehow we managed.
The whole hike felt damp, misty and wet with mud brushed across my legs and wrinkled, moist feet. My boots felt like five pound weights that got heavier with each daunting step through the harsh jungle mud. Kelly endured my pain equally, but she stood firm with her decision to end her hike at the six-mile mark. Crawlers Ledge, the more open cliff-faces, excessive erosion and limited food supply solidified her decision to stay behind.
So I kept on hiking and to my surprise she made the safe choice. The hike intensified as I crossed rivers thigh deep in fast flowing water in flash flood hazard areas. I maintained my footing, bracing myself with my walking stick as much as possible. I tried not to look down at the huge drop-offs overlooking the swell crashing against the rocky walls of the ledge I scrambled past, but that’s where the view lay. So I looked. My heart thumped slowly, but as I kept a steady pace any fear subsided as I gained confidence along the way.
Kalalau Trail approaching the end of Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike off the Na Pali Coast…
Surprisingly, after the 8-mile mark the rain subsided for the first time on the hike. I hiked free. I hiked alone. I hiked at my own pace. It felt relaxing and heart-breaking at the same time. Since all I thought about was my wife’s well-being and how she held up at the 6-mile shelter. The path finally dried up and for the first time I walked on solid, stable, ground, free of potential landslides and rockslides or any slippery escapades to my demise.
I squabbled along the ridge looking out at the erosion sheared next to me, with open root structures freely dangling in the wind. One step might trigger a landslide, or not, but I made it this far so I kept going as the sun winked its rays in approval.
The mountains felt infinite in both directions as I circled in a panoramic view of the coastline from a few hundred feet in the air. Their silhouettes stacked in the distance enduring an eternity of crashing breaks from the heartaches of Mother Nature. It’s no wonder the park service closed the trail whilst we hiked it. Erosion, landslides, fallen down trees, and rock slides occurred frequently in damp, rainy weather. I lucked out as I stood there overlooking Kalalau Beach without a tear in the sky.
Approaching the 11-mile beach on the Kalalau Trail
Although, my presence on the 11-mile beach felt short-lived this hike goes into the memory bank as not only my most dangerous hike, but my most cherished because of the moments I shared with my Kelly. She stuck it out, in the cold, in the rain, wild camping, hitchhiking, hiking and walking like a champion. I am very proud of her and the many more random adventures we will share throughout our travels around the world.