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Hitchhiking, Train Hopping, & Wandering

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The Road to Hana Nearly Killed Me


The Road to Hana

And there I was with tears drowning my cheeks, gushing out of my eyes uncontrollably, as Kelly drifted away up the stairwell behind TSA. Her flight left early that morning for Phoenix to see family before her job starts up at Space Camp in Alabama. Our 30 days of blissful camping under the stars made it an interesting honeymoon, hitchhiking the Hawaiian Islands. But, my flight did not leave from Oahu until January 12th giving me more than two more weeks to explore with my own two feet, only this time, solo.

The solitude never bothered me much. I spent a few years working seasonally and wandering between the gaps of my resume as a solo hitchhiker. This felt different though. The love hit me like a mist as I left the airport for yonder, the Road to Hana, which Kelly and I did not have the time to fully explore.

As I stomped down the road the splashes of puddles beneath my decrepit boots seeped between my toes, wrinkling them into knub-like prunes. My scowl followed as I marched towards the bus stop. The night prior I drifted off on an airport bench for a brief period of sleep, nothing adequately comfortable or refreshing. So I used all my energy to keep from falling asleep as to not miss the bus.

The Road to Hana

Welcome to the jungle – A bamboo forest on the Road to Hana near Twin Falls

Normally, I preferred hitchhiking, but for 2 bucks I just wanted out of the constant drizzle of sorrow, weeping away from the dismal clouds. It was rainy season in Hawaii and somehow after leaving Kauai I found myself in an even wetter jungle fever, Maui’s Den, as I soon called it.

The bus chugged along as my eyelids drooped forming deep craggy creases. When I came to, I realized the bus made its last stop at the mall in Kahului. Far from anywhere I wanted to start my trek for the Road to Hana. What the hell I thought…I missed my stop.

I tried to scrounge enough change together to catch the next route explaining my dilemma to the bus driver, but she bashed her eyes at me and thrust out her hip with a condescending, monotone voice, “Driver doednt carry no change hun. Ask someone around. No stores are open…”

I looked to my left and asked an old black man if he could spare change for my $5. And golly, he muttered a whole spiel about Jesus shouting verses from the Bible before handing me a one dollar bill, leaving me one short. My attempts remained futile, but then as the bus opened its door and revved its engine an act of kindness acclimated as I entered up the steps. The bus driver waved me on for free saying, “ohhh huney, well least you tried…” I felt like a lost puppy without any sleep.

Not long after fading away she dropped me off at the Haiku Community Center leaving me 50 miles short of Hana. I took about ten steps, roughly reaching the shoulder of the Road to Hana before a vehicle pulled off from the community center.

The road to Hana

A red sand beach on the road to Hana

Plumes of skunky smoke exited the vehicle as I set my eyes on an old Rastafarian with a Jamaican beanie, and a joint in hand. His glazed eyes tunneled past me as he said, “Hop in kid…where to?”

“Hana,” I said with a stern look on my face.

“Pfff…cough…cough…man why you headed there…with all this rain son?”

“I just wanna see it before I head out of Maui. Heard it’s some pretty country down there.”

“True. True. Well I can take ya a few miles son. Drop you off at mile marker 13.5…good spot to hitch from. Good luck to ya…”

I scampered off down the road waiting diligently with my thumb flick out in the most limp-like, depressing mood ever. 10 minutes went by. Then 20. Then the dreary swirls of gray above turned darker and darker and I decided to walk. I walked up the road and down the road, following a series of bends and bridges, with signs saying, “No pedestrians behind guardrails.”

I walked on cautious of the potential land slides and rock slides. The clouds always taunted me no matter where I tramped, laughing at me from above, bellowing between the soft whispers of the wind. Somehow I made it to a small pull off for Twin Falls. With a small pull off for parking I locked this in the back of my mind when continuing my journey further, down the Road to Hana.

For now I took a break, smoked any of the last remnants of tobacco that dwindled in my pouch, as I mustered up a filling peanut butter sandwich. I watched people flock to the snack stand spending the outrageous prices on coconuts and other fruits easily foraged on the island. Disgust likened their faces as their feet squished through the jungle mud. I laughed rhetorically. Their thick Nikon Cameras dangled from their necks as they bitched and moaned about the slippery dirt road to the overlook of the falls. After all, it was jungle. I understood their dismay and wondered why not stick to the pool or spa or confines of a luxury suite?

Blasphemy I tell you. The lack of a moving sidewalk put my mood in the toilet too, but really I just snickered. As I reached the overlook, the river water screamed, thick and rapid like a suffocating cascade of chocolate mud. It ripped up anything in its path taking much of the rocks, mud and debris of the canopy floor with it.

I scooted out of there, walking the wide shoulder in hopes of a straight-cut ride to Hana. But, it never ended up an easy task. Tourists halted traffic, stopping their cars in the road as they perused the perfect parking spot, angering drivers behind them, who in turn, did not pick me up either.

I sat and waited, standing, sitting, and eventually just smoking one last cigarette before a pickup truck flashed his beams at me. And just like that he revved up into 3rd gear headed straight for Hana. Despite only 40+ miles down the Road to Hana, it felt nauseating with all the bends, turns, one-way bridges, endless yield signs and slick, steep, curving roads.

The road to hana

A black sand beach on the road to Hana

The driver plowed through traffic, passing vehicles over the double line when legally possible, cutting corners, and straight-lining through both lanes. My stomach felt queasy as we rallied down the Road to Hana like derby racecar drivers, but the adrenaline subsided and I focused more on our intellectual conversation.

The old surfer hippie rubbed his chin as he talked to me about the Polynesian culture. He yanked on his gray, scruffy beard as he plunged into history about Hawaii. Apparently the Polynesians traveled thousands of miles by canoes bringing just 40 species of plants with them when they discovered the breathtaking Hawaiian Islands. They managed to transform these 40 species of plants into 200+ with their immense horticultural knowledge making Hawaii a thriving milieu for fruits, and vegetables with its perfect atmosphere. Each year about 160 new species are brought in by plane to the islands and sadly commercialism is slowly taking away the countryside that the locals and myself included love so much. But, that’s America for you…

The Hawaiians currently have a legal battle with the United States to reclaim their land.

We talked and talked some more. Before I even took the opportunity to gaze out the window at the beauty hanging over the cliffs on the mountainside, we reached Hana. The Road to Hana immersed a terrifying beauty of jungle flora and landscape, which I’d soon find out…

Hana felt like any old country town with a few local mom and pop shops and a lack of industry. It gave it that local vibe. The vibe where you walk down the street and everyone waves and says, “Hey Braddah.” The kind where people help the elderly with their groceries. A sense of anarchy within government. Signs plastered everywhere along the town saying, “More commercialism = No More Hana…”

It felt different out there in the thick of it all with mango plantations sprouting up all over and cattle grazing openly in the fields. Hana Ranch filled much of the land past the town and all that stood out yonder was only beach, country, small villages or hotel vistas by the coastline.

I simmered in paradise exploring the town stumbling first upon Hana Bay. It looked ordinary, like any other beach with black sand and too much rock to enjoy. Tourists flocked the Barefoot Cafe and I found myself wandering away down another path, a path down a dead-end road which lead to the infamous Red Sand Beach. Of course, tourists crowded this beach as well but the beauty surpassed the disturbance of other beings. So naturally I stuck around and slowly, one by one, people faded away, back to their luxurious hotels, and bungalows, while I sat there in solitude looking for a place to camp. The trail meandered around the coastline with washouts in certain sections that trickled rock and other debris down the mountainside. This spiked my interest as I searched for a way to the top of the ridge, nestling myself between Red Sand Beach and another cove with the endless Pacific. I wrestled my way up the red rock with multiple points of attachment as my fingers clenched tree limbs and roots, steadily scaling the mountainside. Surely enough, a flat ridge worthy of camping lay 50 feet ahead. I set up camp securing my tarp to the pine trees around me and settled into my bivy sack as my eyes drifted away in unison with the sunshine.

Morning came and I managed to evade the rain yet again and the persistent, blood sucking vampires of the night, whose buzzing I heard through my mosquito netting. It pitter-pattered during the night with intermittent showers trickling off my shelter, but I felt dry and refreshed, ready for a new day of adventures. So I set off for a pavilion to eat the normal breakfast, the breakfast of any train kid or extreme hitchhiker, good ole spam.

I sliced into its block-like sausage lining with my spoon taking off small slivers nibbling on them like a caveman and from a distance I heard a loud, “Morning dudeeee!”

Two bike-packers pedaled up to my picnic table. The one looked like a Norwegian skeleton and the other a red-head Jesus. I saw their inner-hippie illuminating off the surface of the table. They pointed me in the direction towards Venus Pool. “It’s a must see dude…my three favorite places in Hana gotta be, Venus Pool, Red Sand Beach and Black Sand Beach…”

So I took him up on his suggestion and moseyed my two little feet on over there. 3.5 miles never phased me before, but the constant change in grade made my legs throb slightly right where the quad met the knee. I tramped along fearing the inevitable change in Mother Nature’s mood like a manic episode of lows, but she stayed calm and overcast.

My feet trudged along through the many pot holes of muddy sludge along the non-existent shoulder. The Road to Hana took me beyond to a blissful, refreshing teal pool of tranquility. A pool next to God’s Eye where a fire pit and shelter deemed for a night of comfortable sleep out of the Jungle’s whimpering and tears.

And that night indeed it rained. It rained hard as I stoked the fire with a plethora of logs and driftwood engulfed in a starburst of colors. I cooked up the rest of my beans and tortillas and indulged in a festive dinner over a campfire.

That morning I planned on walking or hitchhiking to Seven Sacred Pools, but instead I turned around back towards Hana. My gut told me otherwise as the rain echoed its tumultuous pelting from inside the cave. I waited it out, walked and hitched back to town to replenish my water supply and see where the day would take me.

Black Sand Beach maybe and then back to civilization, perhaps? I wasn’t sure or too worried to say the least. I managed to avoid the inclement weather this long. What stopped me now?

With a few thumbs and the thud of my two feet clanking against the rough pavement I found myself at the Black Sand Beach. But my mind wandered along with my body and I moseyed away from the tourist infested pit of open sewage and the aroma of foul smelling trash. The clouds sniffled and let out a sneeze, warning me of what was to come.

I pranced up the hill with my thumb firm and hope on my side and I managed to pull off a short lift a few miles down the road. Then chaos broke loose and she struck down from above the most torrential fury I ever before walked through, a jungle flash flood on one of the most dangerous highways. I was stuck walking in it. My boots slowly filled with brown, bacteria infested, water, chilling my feet, up my legs and to my spine. I plodded forward as if marching through a sea or trying to part the sea before me. I did not know which. I just walked and prayed for it to end. The foot deep water turned into knee deep water, gushing off the slippery mountainside, taking rocks, mud, trees and any other debris with it. Trucks, cars and tour vans cautiously drove by spraying me with showers of diarrhea-like mud. I shivered and lost all hope as I walked for the nearest town down the Road to Hana, retracing my footsteps back to Hell. Just 40 miles I thought. If I’m lucky the rain will stop and I’ll get a lift tomorrow. No one ever picked me up in the rain before. Their car interior was more important.

It felt like an endless surge of spray desecrating my body as each passing vehicle sped by faster than the last. I shuffled over countless one-way bridges, which now looked like rapids seen in the Colorado River, trying gracefully to maintain my balance.

I gave up. I wanted to stop and just lay by the side of the road with my tarp over my head, but instead I heard the engine of a pickup in the distant and threw out a limp, pruned thumb. To my surprise the vehicle stopped and down rolled a window of three locals headed all the way to Paia. With no room in the truck I needed to lay in the bed on a long, cold, hour drive back to civilization. The wind roared. The rain bellowed. Goosebumps filled my body and a fear covered me like the aura of a spectre as if the grim reaper tried to suck the life out of me. We cruised around bends, bumping and thudding over fallen rocks like an off-roading course. Water rushed over the mountainside like roaring rivers forming new tributaries and with it came trees and rocks. Fallen rock lay scattered making lanes impassable and then it happened. A rock fell off a cliff smashing against the backside tire just inches from my dome.

I chugged my beer and smoked the rest of the joint they gave me trying to forget the realization that my life almost ended if I shifted just a few inches outside the bed. If that wasn’t extreme hitchhiking…well fuck…I don’t know what is…

All I know is I’m safe and soaked in the Kahului Airport awaiting my departure for Oahu.

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