Living large on the Big Island - Part 1

By Reade Brower | Dec 08, 2017

It's vacation time on the island of Hawaii, the one they call "The Big Island," a place I called home for the fall of 1976. This is a time to relive old memories and create new ones.

Leaving behind the tax debate and the recent vote to radically revamp our tax system is an added plus; that decision is squarely on the Republicans to prove that something that has never worked in the past, trickle down economics, will boost our country to unprecedented prosperity.

The estimates say this tax cut will create a $1.5 trillion shortfall, offset by $0.5 trillion in economic stimulus. This will be troublesome to those most vulnerable and the middle class. Paying for the $1 trillion deficit will affect them, their children and their grandchildren as the deficit zooms out of control. If the corporations and elite pay less, who do you think will get stuck filling the gap?

I'm not an economist, so here's hoping that I'm wrong. Now, on to the vacation on The Big Island.

***

"Go big or go home" is a saying my son Isaac adopted as his mantra when deciding to enter the world of entrepreneurship as a senior in high school. He and his partner, Steven, bought a food truck and began Duo's, a business that would provide his summer employment through college and give him lifetime lessons.

When making a life decision for myself, at age 24, it came down to two choices; did I want to be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? Where we fit in is critical in our life's calling, and this is my chance to think about the decisions I have made since college.

I am writing this week, while on vacation on the Big Island, where 41 years ago I was on a college exchange program from UMass Amherst to Hilo, Hawaii. I turned 20 on the island and had many adventures that have remained etched in my memory; with my fellow exchange student friend, Joe, turning 60 this month, we decided to celebrate by coming back to Hilo and the Big Island, for the first time, to relive some memories, including the day we almost died.

Before we get to the cliff-hanger, which we will repeat, but with a better plan (the first time, the problem was -- we had no plan); the second time will be the charm. We are saving this adventure for the end of our eight-day retrospective.

As I write part one, days one, two and three have proved that you can't go back in time; your memories will get you only so far, life is about remembering, forgetting and moving forward.

Getting from Rockland to Kona included 13 hours of air time and was grueling; but compared to the first time, which included several weeks of hitchhiking across the country, this trip was cake.

Our first day proved that sometimes you don't get smarter with age; I'd like to blame it on lack of sleep, fatigue and jet lag, but frankly, living large takes a certain amount of stupidity. If you stopped to think about what you were about to do all the time, you probably wouldn't do many of the things that provide the best memories.

We headed out mid-morning for an easy day to start the trip; unplanned, we sat at breakfast with brochures and guidebooks, with a map and open minds. We picked Hapuna beach about 20 miles away; we didn't remember if we had gone there 41 years ago, but it was rated as the best white sand beach in the USA, which sounded like a pretty good jumpstarter. I mustered the energy to run a 5K on the beach and did some bodysurfing before we headed out to explore the north end of the island. The plan was to drive until the road dead-ended, catch the sunset and head back to Kona with a pit stop for a Mai Tai.

The plan took a detour; the weather changed and rain fell as we drove the final miles. Upon arriving, we could see the magnificent rocky coast descending into an inlet cove. I checked the path down and it was muddy; two women who had just finished the climb before the rainfall told us it was about 45 minutes' roundtrip on the trail and that it was spectacular at the bottom (that jived with what I remembered).

With 20 minutes of light, no hiking boots, I urged my buddy on saying; Cc'mon, I have a headlamp with my running stuff, I'll fish it out and we'll be fine."

The headlamp didn't work, the red clay was soft in spots, slippery and deceptive, but off we went. What could go wrong, I muttered under my breath.

The switchbacks seemed never-ending and the natural light dimmed quickly; we knew we were pressing our luck, but on we went. "One more switchback" I would announce, over and over, while Joe kept asking; "Are you sure you don't want to turn back?"

I assured Joe that when it got too dark to see the trail, we could use my iphone flashlight; an option that did not exist in 1976. We made it to the bottom, touched the rocks that touched the ocean, took mental notes of the cove, and headed back up the steep trail. Muddied and tired, I turned on the phone flashlight, immediately realizing that I had not charged it all day and it could run out of juice before we reached the top.

Coming down had been tentative; slipping and sliding, I had fallen several times and had mud caked on my legs up to my bathing suit; my only protective clothing other than my Hawaiian shirt.

With the renewed vigor that comes from adrenalin caused by the fear that you about to be in a pickle, we vaulted up the steep inclines, battling the lava rocks and mud. The flashlight provided a clear path and some growing confidence that this may have been a bad idea, but in spite of it, we would indeed soon be celebrating with a Mai Tai.

With enough juice in the phone for our GPS to get us back to civilization, day one would be a success and a memory; no selfies and not even one photo of the grandness of the valley and cove we had just visited. I did shut my eyes to embed the scenery in my mind at the bottom before saying a little prayer to the gods of Hawaii, asking them for mercy on our climb back up.

On day two, we revisited the little bay where we got our scuba certification; not sure why they didn't fail me after I dropped my entire scuba gear, including my scuba tank, weight belts and gauges, into the bottom of the Pacific, on purpose, after I swam out of a riptide that had smashed me into a coral reef.

I had surfaced, then panicked, unbuckled my gear, let it drop and sink to the bottom of the ocean, before swimming in the direction of the boat we had jumped off the back of only 10 short minutes earlier, 200 yards away. Luckily, you can see down 100 feet, so the scuba company was able to return to the area of my discontent and retrieve my gear, leaving me with some shame, but without a bill for lost equipment. After the ensuing fish-fry and cold beer, all seemed forgotten and forgiven.

Day 3 on the trip's agenda included exploration of the south end of the island, where we hiked into one of only a handful of green sand beaches in the world. A mineral called olivine somehow miraculously turns the sand green and makes for a must-do adventure hike. Talking before the hike, Joe and I remembered it being a strenuous two-hour hike over volcanic rock and arriving to an empty beach.

Joe, and I and our two New Mexico exchange-student friends would be joined later in the day by a couple who came in by the water on a sailboat; it was a day we knew was unique, even when it happened, and would stand the test of time (in the sense that at 61 years old, your brain cells can only remember so much and this is one memory that is embedded, and time may have altered, but has not taken).

Most of the hike in produced flashbacks. The hike wasn't as difficult as we remembered, but we also realized that hiking boots, versus the flip-flops we wore back then, made quite a difference. The other noticeable change were the ATV's, monster trucks and assorted four-wheel-drive vehicles that were taking tourists over the rough terrain to the beach. When we arrived at the beach, we looked down and it was just as we remembered; a lone couple inhabited it, writing love notes in the sand.

We ambled down and introduced ourselves with a "sorry to invade your solitude." Within the next 15 minutes the beach began to overflow with tourists; at its peak, there were no fewer than 40 people, most of whom, instead of hiking in, had paid $20 to be driven the three miles. They all had boogie boards and the group included small children and out-of-shape men and women. They snapped pictures continuously and some frolicked in the water.The sunny conditions came with blustering winds, causing sand to whip up against our faces and this time, there were no boats in the harbor.

It was the same, but different; art imitating life.

Next week, part two will explore the rain forests in Hilo, the volcano and black sand beaches, and the day we almost died.

***

“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”

--- Jean-Luc Godard, film director (b. 1930)

Comments (2)
Posted by: Kerry Hadley | Dec 11, 2017 21:51

Oh Reade!  Glad you made it back to tell all!!

 



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Dec 08, 2017 15:40

Interesting! Look forward to more copy!



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