Sunday, December 30, 2007
I'm sitting here totally fucked up, I can barely walk but I'm ALIVE.
The last forty eight hours have been insane. Amazing.
Midnight Thursday, I've got to be up at 5AM to fly to Kauai and hike the Napali Coast.
It's the most remote island landmass in the world -- the same place they shot King Kong and Jurassic Park.
The Napali ecosystem is intricate, exotic, unbelievable. Think of it like going back in time.
Eleven miles in and eleven miles out in 48 hours...
Potential for a rainout with the Kauai government "discouraging" use of the trail during the winter time...
Three quarters of the pathway running along the sides of the towering seacliffs, 12-18 inch wide trails with a life-ending 1000M vertical drop down to the ocean below...
"What if I don't fall asleep?? I can't hike that far on no sleep... Damn, I really need to fall asleep..."
I psyche myself out and wind up not sleeping.
Looks like I'm about to hike this thing on zero hours sleep. Smooth.
5AM hits and I grab my girlfriend and my buddy John and we head for the airport.
Island hop over to Kauai, rent a car and head up to the North Shore.
We have to hit the trailhead early to have any chance of reaching camp by sunset and avoid traversing the open cliffs in the pitch black.
The first two miles are covered with Japanese tourists with raincoats and makeshift walking sticks... Funny.
We make our way up, up, up the hillside. It's been raining so it's muddy with water running down between the rocks like an extended waterfall.
This is actually the easy part.
About two miles in we descend back down to a stream that basically separates the wheat from the chaff.
The tourists sit there dazed and confused while we cross waist deep through the current. John saves the day by getting across first and lifting our bags through without getting overly soaked.
We break for lunch on the beach, eating spam sandwiches and dried mangos. Funny how good this stuff tastes when you're hiking.
Then we head back up, the first of many ups and downs through the valleys, about an hour ascent up to a huge phallic shaped rock lookout.
We stare out over the ocean and the seacliffs in both directions in amazement, drink a bit of water and keep moving.
Back down into the next valley, absolutely amazing. Breathtaking panoramic viewpoints. Awesome.
We run through the waterfalls coming down off of the mountaintops, walk through streams, push back up into the next valleys.
Eventually we push through mile six, where the first campground is located. It's getting into the middle of the afternoon and with sunset at 6PM we're anxious about the possibility of not making it to the camp on mile eleven.
Should we keep going?? Yes, we decide to keep pushing.
Mile seven is insane, terrifying.
I have no pictures of this. Taking photos at this point isn't exactly a priority.
The earlier cliffs had vegetation on the left side which allowed us to grab fistfulls to keep ourselves from falling down the side. That's over.
Mile seven is open faced, pure rock, with a tiny little 12-24 inch wide trail that descends straight down the side of the mountain into the ocean.
It's real simple... DON'T LOOK DOWN.
The only real threat is getting vertigo. If you think about it, you don't normally just fall over while you're walking during the course of your everyday life. This is no different.
All you have to do is just walk a straight line, jump over the odd breaks or rock barriers in the path without falling, and you'll be good.
I can't stand watching my girlfriend who's ahead of me. If I fall it's over real fast, but if she falls I have a lifetime of guilt ahead of me. I give a total trust in the new hiking boots I got her before we left and let her push ahead with John so that I don't have to look.
Walking behind I see mountain goats all over the place. Very cool.
I'm focused, in the moment, just thinking one step at a time. Apparently we all make it which is great.
It's getting later in the afternoon and there's several more valleys to push through.
There's all sorts of amazing plants and vegetation. All sorts of variations of palm trees, even some amazing "upside down" versions.
We pass an old couple in their fifties who are in better shape than any twenty year old. They apparently spend half the year living in Michigan, the other half living on the trail.
We watch them moving through the cliffs as nimbly as the mountain goats, taking breaks at the viewpoints to smoke marijuana and hold hands.
"How much longer??" I ask them.
"Every step you take, that's one step closer. Just focus on that" is the old woman's reply.
We hit a ridiculously narrow part of the trail, grabbing more fistfulls of vegetation to keep from sliding off the cliff as we move through it.
We're walking fast. The fear of having to do this in the dark if the night hits is more significant than the danger of walking too quickly.
Eventually we hit a huge red hill of loose volcanic dirt. We walk down the path the wrong way annihilating our knees and ankles while trying to make it down.
Finally we make the final descent into the last valley where the beach is waiting for us off in the distance...
On our way in we stumble across a colony of hippies -- very similar vibe, if not identical, to the hippie tribe in the Leo DiCaprio movie "The Beach".
Apparently sometimes when people come to Napali they're so caught up in the beauty of it that they decide to stay there... forever.
They just leave everything behind -- their houses, their job, their bills, and live out their days in the valley.
On a certain level it's like they're running away from their problems, but I also felt a higher degree of respect for their chosen lifestyle than I do for the legions of unthinking masses who live out their lives defeated and embittered in civilization.
The hippies offer us to "smoke a big fattie" with them and we decline.
They also seem to think that there's some sort of energy or healing properties in the waterfalls. They call it "Kalalau Clear".
I tell them that I'll be iodine-purifying the water regardless and they look at me like the personification of capitalist scum. I note to myself not to make mention of the water again and part ways, joking with John and Roxana that we should have busted out the Eckhart Tolle and "Out-Hippie'ed" them.
We make it to the beach with just a squint of daylight remaining.
The beach campground is as climatic as you'd expect it to be. There's the ocean smashing the beach in front of us, the lush green mountains behind us, and an easily accessible waterfall coming down from the cliffs off to the side.
(Here's me jokingly pretending to have energy the next morning...)
I yell at my girlfriend to fetch water out of the waterfall while we set up as quickly as possible because I'm so dehydrated I can't think straight.
My brain feels like a dried sponge.
We fool around with our new $29.99 tents, fumbling with our mini-maglights... It takes about a good hour to figure it out and set everything up.
Dinner is a feast of beef jerky and more spam. The idioned water is sweetened with Crystal Light. Yum.
We sleep on the beach, exhausted, waking up every few hours just because of the intermittent rain and the unfamiliar environment.
The tents managed to stay up in spite of the rain. Glorious.
I think I sleep about 5 hours. I wake up feeling like I've been punched in the face but it's all good. I've woken up on the edge of the world.
We sit at the base of the waterfall and purify more water, trying to guzzle down a few bottles full before filling them for the last time and hitting the trail.
The way up is infuriating. We take a wrong turn and climb and climb up to the peak of this loose dirt mountain.
Exhausted, we get so high up that to look down is vertigo-inducing and scary as hell. We realize we've gone the wrong way.
The possibility of not finding the right trail is racing through all of minds, unspoken.
Eventually we find the trail, and despite losing about an hour of daylight and energy we're thrilled.
There's a drizzle of rain that's actually pleasant, but there's a concern that it might get worse as we skirt the open mountain face cliffs on the way back.
Sure enough the drizzle picks up a bit and we traverse the sketchy open faced part trail on the slippery rocks. It's not horrible but it's not great. Really it could have been a lot worse, we were very lucky.
Like the day before, I notice how grateful I am to be alive during this crossing. I'm so focused, so in the zone.
I just walk and walk, looking only a step ahead at a time. No thinking, no analyzing, just taking each step carefully like a cat with no forward momentum.
We cross the sketchy open mountain part in about an hour and hit the path where it's about 10 inches thick and you have to take fistfulls of vegetation to hold yourself from falling down the cliffs.
A few clouds have lowered into the valley today and the moisture has got the trail muddy and slippery so the going is getting very slow.
The plants seem to have evolved to be spikey over the years so our hands and arms are all scratched up.
Basically it's a choice between scratching yourself up on the prickley plants or falling down into the void. It's really a no-brainer.
We cross through more valleys, getting more and more tired. We're breaking more often and eating the remainding food. We're doing well, and at lunch we eat in a stream at the base of a waterfall with the cold water cooling off our swollen feat and ankles.
Eventually we push through several more valleys and at one point come across some massive goats with huge horns right in front of us on the trail. These things are much, much bigger than the previous mountain goats we'd been seeing, kind of startling.
We pick up some rocks in case they try to charge us off of the trails and keep moving -- finally reaching the amazing lookout that we'd come across earlier on the previous day.
We're exhausted, but very happy at this point because we know that for sure we can make it back to the trailhead before sundown -- no matter how hectic it might get.
We push through more muddy trails and eventually down to the original first beach and stream.
At this point we're beyond our "reserves" -- running on fumes.
I'd always thought that I'd pushed myself before, but during this trail we all found reserve strength that none of us knew we had. It was like we tapped reserve after reserve, right down to the skeletal muscle or something.
Everything on all of us is in pain. John jokes "I can't say my legs hurt or my arms hurt.... It's just *I* hurt...." We're laughing though, we think it's funny. When you're in this situation you just laugh at the lack of control because it's ultimately the only option you have.
Finally we push close to the trailhead and a couple of tourists ask us to stop and take a picture. My girlfriend stops to take the picture, multiple angles at their request, but when we start walking again her knees have locked up and she falls over.
I knew it would be tough because right when we started moving again I felt my own body lock up, and I knew her knee was shot from earlier in the day. The tourists look like they feel incredibly guilty, although really it's not their fault because there's no way they could have had any idea what our situation was.
We get her up and I take her back and we finally push out of the final section of the trail.
The car is still there -- YES!! I was worried it might get stolen by the locals at night.
We high-five eachother and get into the car to get pizza. We rush the grocery store and down 2 litres of PowerAid each and hit the restaurant.
None of us can walk properly. John and I have huge blistering rashes on our legs and we're walking like dirty, handicapped invalids.
We gorge the pizza and head back to the airport. Every step is painful. Sitting down is like having an anvil pressed down on your knees. People are laughing as we pass.
Airport security is kind of funny. I take off my shoes which are caked in mud. You can't even see the shoes beneath it all.
We pass out on the flight home, get back into Honolulu, pass out and go to sleep.
I wake up this morning and look at the pictures. Was it all a dream?? The pictures and the pain in my body prove otherwise.
What did I learn from all this??
1) We have more reserve energy and strength than any of us know.
Although we all crashed at the 11 mile mark, I wonder if we'd have had to do more if our minds would have unconsciously reserved for 20 or 30.
Like, this wasn't just 11 miles. That would be easy. This was 11 miles of up a mountain, down a mountain, up and back down again. All the while carrying medium-sized camping backpacks, holding onto vegetation and intricately choosing your steps.
Regardless we all made it. I believe that ANYBODY could.
The key here is that when you normally do cardio, say on the bike machine, your body will try to stop you at a certain point. It does this to protect you.
However if you body KNOWS for sure that you have no choice but to keep going, it has all this "reserve strength" that it tries to normally keep away from you.
I probably pushed not 2X, not 10X, but 100X farther than I could normally go. Each valley was like a 1-2 hour push up a mountainside. We did this for 9 hours a day. Normally I'm winded after 45-60 minutes of this sort of thing.
Clearly we're all a LOT stronger than any of us realize. We have more juice and stamina than we can possibly know.
2) Taking your life into your own hands is the most thrilling thing in the world.
It is ALIVENESS at it's most intense. There's no doubt about it. YOU ARE ALIVE.
Walking those open faced cliffs with the prospect of moving your foot six inches to the left ending your life, you feel more happy and more in love with the whole universe than you can possibly imagine.
I joked with John "If you try to think of somebody you hate while doing this, it's just impossible to feel any bad emotions towards them..."
He said "Yeah, I feel like I love the whole planet right now... Everybody in it... Everything..."
In Eastern philosophy they'd say that a life threatening situation "forces you into presence". In Russell Simmons book "Do You!!" he talks about Puff Daddy and how he describes being shot at pushing him "into the now". This is very similar.
To me, the big lesson here is to keep moving more and more towards presence every day of your life.
The anger, negative emotions, and hatred that you experience in your day to day life is largely just a manifestation of egoic mind-patterns. Break out of that and you'll find a level of love and compassion for all people -- yes, even for all the dummies who annoy the *#@*#@* out of you.
It's not that you turn all spacey like the hippies from the colony, BUT RATHER, it's that it "dilates perception" and allows you to experience your existence as a part of a greater whole.
The best way I could put it to you is that it clears out all the nonsense ways of thinking that you really don't care about. When every step might be your last, it basically floods you with the type of existence that you should really be feeling ALL THE TIME.
3) Being in nature is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
The more I do it, the more I realize that many of the mind problems we're seeing so prevalent in the world are the result of people being pulled out of their natural environments.
Being out there, I had no problems. I felt integrated. I felt whole, regardless that I was more tired than I've probably ever been.
Do it. Get out of the city regularly. The city is a fucking fiction -- a great place to meet hot girls or eat in nice restaurants -- but the whole world is out there WAITING for you
4) The "Unknown" is where you live.
I believe that this CERTAINTY ADDICTION we're all experiencing is a result of living in these structured environments where we're mommied and daddied from a young age onwards.
People are so scared. Scared to die, scared to lose their precious belongs, scared to EXPERIENCE LIFE.
We fight wars over resources, hoard more than we need, experience the anxiety of attachment and outcome dependence... all out of an absurd up need for more certainty.
You know what?? Being out there, I felt FREE of all the confining certainty.
FUCK CERTAINTY. VOMIT. BLECH. DISGUSTING.
It's not that it's inherently bad. It's great when you can enjoy it. I like that when I pound away at this keyboard that the words come up and all that. I like it that the floor hasn't collapsed.
But the effects that it has on you when it becomes an ADDICTION -- the way that it turns people into WORMS. It's too screwed up. Forget it. EVOLVE PAST CERTAINTY.
The glory is to be had by the individual who is not confined.
And that glory isn't in the opinions of others, but in the self esteem of knowing who you are -- and the TRUE INTEGRATION with your environment that you experience when you LET GO.
(NOTE: I'll probably feel funny and melodramatic about writing this by tomorrow when I've come out this zone -- it's possible this rant is just how my brain rationalized the risk-factor of the experience, time will tell!)
5) The only inherently negative emotion is RESISTANCE.
When we were on the trail there was a whole litany of frustrations that we could have whined about.
Just having to take fistfulls of spiky vegetation into your hands over and over is annoying enough, let alone feeling your knees and lower back shutting down.
The thing was, because there was no resistance to it there were no negative emotions.
In fact, I couldn't even really feel the physical pain AT ALL until the very finish of the trail (at which point my body said "Uhhh, no more of that OK buddy??).
The big realization I've had in general this very year, in fact, is that if you can learn to transcend your mind's "resistance" to your experiences you can accomplish virtually ANYTHING.
Oftentimes our biggest challenge in life is just getting past our nonsense conceptions of "This is how things SHOULD be..."
Acceptance, surrender, whatever you want to call it...... if you can learn to integrate this into your mental processes and be fluid, anything is possible.
Alright that's it for now. Had to get this out of my system. Thanks for reading!!