« San Francisco to Hawaii, Second Attempt. Update #64 | Main | Hawaii to Tarawa Voyage, Update #1 »

April 5, 1999

Hike Across Hawaii Update.


Jason and I made landfall at Hilo, Hawaii aboard pedal boat “Moksha” on November 20th, 1998, after 54 days at sea from San Francisco. The prevailing Easterly trade winds make the west side of Hawaii the obvious departure point for the next leg to Kiribati in May, and it is here in Kona where we have been preparing for Jason’s first solo voyage.

Partly in order to fill the “human power” gap between Hilo and Kona, and partly just for the sheer hell of it, we decided to give pedals a wide berth in favor of walking the 80 miles across Hawaii unsupported.

We were delighted to be able to share this experience with 4 new team mates: Edie Leitner, a Spanish teacher in her mid twenties from Monterey, California; Travis Perkins, an 18 year old high school senior also from Monterey; Scott Morrison, a 36 year old marine propeller engineer from Alameda, California and Avery, a 42 year old hotel waiter from Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Edie and Travis had both been walking several miles per day with loaded packs in preparation for the hike. Scott was sweet-talked into the challenge by Jason at the last minute. Avery, a keen mountain biker, was the only person who could claim to be fit for this scale of endeavor, which demanded a steep hike from 0 to 6500 feet and down to the ocean again over an 80 mile route, all in 4 days!

As we clung to a large tarpaulin for warm in the bed of Avery’s pick-up truck on the morning of March 12th on the road to Hilo, conversation was minimal. Nervous apprehension evidently consumed the group. For me this is the most intensely exciting part of any challenge – the beginning, the fear of the unknown, the last chance to say “no”.

We left instructions with Mark, our driver, to drop a cache of fresh water 30 miles along the road in case we failed to catch rainwater. Jason and I carried the bulk of the supplies, buckling under the 80-90lb packs as we stepped carefully up the hill. (INSERT PICTURE 1) The climb quickly became a real struggle. By lunchtime we were all feeling the effects of dehydration and altitude, and Scott announced that he wanted to hitchhike back down to Hilo so as not to risk becoming a burden to the group. Travis also admitted to similar feelings, but after some words of encouragement and redistribution of Scott’s pack among the others (brilliant performance Scott!) we pressed on through the rain and finally made camp in a lava field as darkness fell.

Scott showed no sign of surrender or even fatigue for the rest of the hike (INSERT PICTURE 2), even after we reweighted his pack in the hope of slowing the guy down! Perhaps he found extra energy in the genuine feeling of solidarity, I think we all benefited from this strength, such that the combined energy was more than the sum of its parts. There was definitely the belief that all of us, or none of us, would walk triumphantly into Kona.

Early on the second day we stopped at a kipuka (literally “a hole in the lava” in Hawaiian), a complete ecosystem spared by the lava which periodically oozes out of Mauna Loa volcano. Kipukas allow us to step back in time to the original Hawaiian environment before the arrival of feral animals and plantations. (INSERT PICTURE 3) The diversity of birds and plants is breathtaking. My favorite is the spectacular Iiwi bird (red body, black wings and banana bill), that danced in pairs among the Ohia trees from whose bright red flowers they suck nectar.

The gradient had, thank Jeysus, leveled out early in day 2, and we (INSERT PIC 3) tramped steadily along Saddle Road through the lava flows with a following wind all the way to Pohakuloa Military Training Area. At this point we replenished our fresh water supply (INSERT pic 5) and headed off-road in search of a good campsite and dry wood for a fire. On our first night we had all huddled round a camp stove, silently enduring a wet blackness. Now, with a big roaring fire the world was a different place. We honored the occasion with laughter, music and a wee dram of medicinal whisky (INSERT PIC 6).

Day 3 found us slogging through the military training area clutching our written permission, keeping one eye on the meandering, dusty trail and the other on the surrounding scrub where bands of hunters chased wild turkey, goats and pigs. Whereas we were under strict orders not to veer off the trail in fear of unexploded bombs, it would seem that such lethal dangers did not apply so long as you were trying to kill something else.

The day was hot and long, though Scott did a fine job of buoying our spirits with bouts of chimpanzee impressions, and Edie bravely maintained the pace despite ruptured blisters over her feet (INSERT PIC 7).

After crossing the final lava flow at the close of day 3 (INSERT PIC 8) we were grateful to find grassland and a fresh supply of water (INSERT PIC 9) at Hale La'au hunters' cabin. Thus began a glorious day 4 of hiking down the historic Judd Trail to Kona, in which we soaked up the delightful combination of walking downhill with plenty of water, a perfect climate, among pasture and wooded groves filled with all variety of fruit trees (INSERT PIC 10).

I am left with two indelible impressions from the hike across Hawaii. The first is that hiking is really bloody hard work, especially when one has to carry everything one needs to survive. The second is that physical hardship exposes the truth about people, and in this case I honestly feel privileged to have witnessed the sheer guts and unshakeable goodwill which made the hike such a great success. Well done everyone.

To wrap up this chapter of the expedition, I have a few closing words from the heart: first from Edie Leitner (INSERT PIC 11):

"The journey was incredible - so challenging - really mentally tough and also hard on the feet. I learned that I can achieve an objective step by step - and that all those little steps, as little as they seem, take you along your pathway, yet maybe at a different pace than the rest. I felt an intense high on arrival, unexpectedly high - as if every bit of struggle, each blister, every beautiful site, every moment prior to that one, had led us there.

I felt a great appreciation for this earth, companionship, and dreams, and I also began a new journey to let go of my ego, understand humility, and allow others to help me more. Love from Edie."

Travis Perkins wrote:

"I once walked across the island of Hawaii in search of happiness. And now I no longer know if I am at vacation end, frantically searching for an epiphany, or if I am still meditating in the lava fields, realizing how terrible it would be if it were true.

I walked right through the physical and began a spiritual journey, at 2 miles an hour I was gaining insights and feeling better and better.

Now, at 70 miles an hour, I cannot re-enact my vacation, and I cannot take a vacation from daily life. In the forest, I moved so fast and quietly, from one idea to another; and now, life moves so fast I cannot catch up, and it only seems to push me backwards.

I don't know if it was better to never go on a spiritual quest, now realizing I would have to resume daily life."

Posted on April 5, 1999 8:48 PM