A Morning in Jasper

The tall, scrawny pines sheltered me from the cool morning breeze as I fired up my small camp stove and made some coffee, the smell of the instant grounds aroused my sleepy senses.

The tops of the snow covered mountains were hidden, obscured by clouds and as I scanned above the tree line across the rocky, glacier carved crags the mist turned into a light, fine rain.

It was seven thirty in the morning and already the sun was up somewhere outside of the valley where we’d camped. I love the early mornings afield, the smell of the fresh grasses and pine needles covered in dew, crispness in the air that awakens the mind and a humbling feeling that explorers who’d come this way long before me must have felt as though they had stumbled into a strange, wonderful sort of paradise.

As I try and sip from my favorite camp mug without burning my lips I notice the rain fading,  and suddenly a female and a juvenile elk step out from the trees and into the clearing whose edge I am standing at. They are gorgeous, their coats wet and tawny. They both graze for a bit and finally lay down among the grass just fifty yards from where I stand.

At that moment, as the clouds began to lift exposing the snow capped mountain tops I am stunned by the arrival of a bull elk, his shoulders black, his antlers fat with velvet, he steps out onto the plain and bugles as he postures himself. He is regal, majestic and he is bold and I am in awe of his beauty.

There are no pictures that can relay the splendor of this land, no words that by themselves illuminate the imagery that paints one’s soul by experiencing it, but simply being here, standing among the spiritual essence of this place is purely magnificent.

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A Perilous and Incredible Hike Indeed

The days are beginning to drag on; the tick of the clock echoes over the walls of my cubicle and reverberates in my ear. I can hardly stand it, it’s Thursday and God willing, Sunday night I will be on an airplane headed over the Pacific Ocean to Kauai. My girlfriend and I are scheduled to hike the infamous Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai.

We are both very excited, and nervous, there are stories of illegal squatters in the valleys along the way. There are 300 foot drops off the razor thin edge of parts of the track that consist of crumbling rock and slippery mud caused by months of rain. Then there are the two major streams that divide the 11 mile path, passable with caution until any amount of rain falling deep within the valley turns it into a torrent of death causing hikers to be stranded or worse…washed thousands of feet to the tumultuous ocean below, and if they survive the fall they’ll be dragged into the depths off shore by raging rip tides.

These aren’t statements made by goofy people looking to get their names in various hiking blogs mind you; these are the content of stories published by Gear Magazine; America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes, BackPacker.com and Travel + Leisure Magazine; World’s Scariest Hike, as well as the Discovery Channel; One of America’s Most Dangerous Trails.  All of these articles of course serving to make the trip that much more enticing and therefore fun.

But those are indeed isolated events, to be cautious and take great care in navigating these paths is essential for certain, however in spite of the handful of serious accidents published, the scenery has been made famous in the opening scenes of the Jurassic Park movie and according to anyone who’s been there it is an absolutely magical place that no-one with a serious pair of Keen’s should miss. So naturally, my girlfriend and I both being writers, are keyed up to record our travel and experiences along the way. Pen in hand (not really, not yet as I am still sitting in my office chair at my desk daydreaming and typing this on my keyboard) I could not refrain from beginning my journal for this trip, and so it is, the entry of my travel journal, three days before we ship out.

 

Hiking the Infamous Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai

With granola in my pocket and grit in my stomach, I set out to conquer the trail deemed by the Discovery Channel as One of America’s Most Dangerous Hikes. One may not expect me at 47, an engineering change coordinator and Mechanical Engineering Designer, father of four and boyfriend to a young and beautiful Director of Nursing to jump into such a journey, one with such names attached to particular areas of its path titled “Crawler’s Ledge” by those who’ve traversed it, but here I m anxiously awaiting the night we fly out.

I think of myself as a lucky guy, I suppose I could look back at the physical and emotional abuse I suffered as a kid, the drug abuse I barely survived, the ravages of war that has and continues to affect my psyche, depression and the clinical emotional breakdowns and a divorce after 22 years I experienced and rephrase my opening statement to this paragraph. But that would do disservice to all of the hard work I have put in to becoming a successful adult, father and partner to this point.  Not to mention all of those people that helped me through it all.

When I was in high school I was a very poor test taker, I failed nearly every test or exam I was given. Then one day my English teacher offered to let me write a report in lieu of taking an exam, I was to address each item included in the exam in my report and he would decide whether or not the content of my paper successfully addressed each point, therefore quantifying the knowledge I was suppose to have gained at that point. I took that challenge and it paid off in spades.

Since that point I have continued to write. I wrote through school and on into my days living on the streets as a young man addicted to drugs. I wrote as I slept in a refrigerator box, in the rain, under a billboard near Minnehaha Creek in the late eighties. I wrote on into my twenties, even after I met the girl who’d later become my wife. I wrote about life, I wrote poetry, I wrote with no official training or education beyond high school. Oh I took a few classes at the St Paul Technical College when it first opened. I even took some college classes at Normandale Community College but I always ended up on the street again. But there was something about this girl that captivated me, she grew up in West Bloomington, I grew up in different houses in different neighborhoods amidst multiple divorces between my mom and her husbands’.

She and I would start out in sort of an on and off again teenage relationship but eventually after my asking her to marry me, foolishly I might add and her turning me down because, in her words…”you don’t even have a job”. Who could blame her right? She did marry me, once I had straightened up, done a few nights in jail and a couple of trips through alcohol and drug treatment programs. I enlisted in the United States Army, as much out of desperation as a desire to solidify some sort of tradition in my name; my adopted father was in the Army, my biological father was in the Army and my mother’s dad was in the Army, maybe it was meant to be.

We moved to Hawaii in the nineties, after basic training and AIT (additional individual training), I got posted to Schofield Barracks on Oahu. It was the furthest my bride had been away from home; Angela found herself 3000 miles away from mom and dad and soon, was pregnant, sitting in the living room of a military housing project in the middle of a pineapple field on an island in the Pacific. This was before cellular phones, laptop computers, car phones and face to face messaging. I’d venture to say that it was a trying time for her.

Our relationship til now had seen times of long separation from each other, while I was in basic training and AIT, then while I was away serving in Panama for a while and then as I did my stretch overseas in Southwest Asia. Remember the only form of communication was primarily by hand written letter, and there were times that no mail got to anyone until they were on their way home back then. By the time Angela was 22 she was pregnant, living in the middle of the Pacific and had she and I had experienced war together. That’s a lot for a young couple to endure. Lord knows there is a lot more below the surface that comes with all of it.

On the trail

After a few hours on the trail, the two of them were hot and sweaty, the sun was high and they’d been hiking the trail that skirted the mountain side along the Napoli Coast. For the last few miles Tracy had been following Shira, he watched as her as they hiked, he loved her sculpted calves and her beautiful legs, and he absolutely loved her little round ass. She’d look back at him now and again and smile a perfect wry smile, even in her coal dark eyes he swore he could see the bright blue water that crashed upon the rocks far below the trail.

It was still pretty early in the day and they hadn’t seen anyone else on this trail yet, as they stopped for a drink of water she noticed his shirt was soaked and told him to remove it, his skin glistened in the Pacific sunlight, his broad chest and muscular shoulders turned her on, she could feel the pulsating in her groin then. He could see it in her eyes too, he knew what she was thinking, she reached out and felt his growing erection through his shorts, he was breathing heavily and it wasn’t from the preceding miles.

He leaned in and kissed her soft neck and it tasted like salt and he loved it, it was warm and sensual and she closed her eyes and listened to the waves crash below. He placed his hands firmly on her ribs and pressed her against the rocks on the upslope to one side. They kissed passionately and she’d already slipped her hand inside his shorts, there she could feel how hard he had become and she wanted him right there. They peered into each other’s eyes and without uttering a word, sought approval from one another. They looked to the East and then to the west and it was decided and their packs dropped to the ground.

She reached out and pulled open his shorts and began stroking his engorged cock, he pulled up her shirt and unfastened her shorts and watched them fall to the dirt at her feet. Then his strong fingers found her already wet mound and began to massage her clit, she moaned, and his fingers found themselves inside her, it didn’t take much, the tropical venture, the crisp mountain air and the sunshine all made this moment that much better. As their tongues played her groin grew ready, swelled and dripping, suddenly he paused and turned her around, she placed her hands on the side o the mountain in front of her and he pressed against her from behind.

Just as he pushed inside of her they both gasped loudly, he pulled out just a little and kept reentering her a little deeper each time until the entire length of his erect shaft was buried, filling her hot pussy. His paced increased and he was fucking her avidly, sweat poured from their chests and arms and his lap slammed against her ass. Shira called out his name and his eyes closed tightly he thrust into her as his cock bucked and quivered, then he suddenly pulled from her, she spun around and dropped to her knees and took his penis in her hand and continued to stroke him as he exploded all over her chest, his cum immediately melted and ran down her front, then she sucked him until he was dry.

Lost In Lava

We’d been driving up the coast north from Kona, Hawaii about 45 minutes, it was hot, and we were looking for things to check out along the road on the way towards Moana Loa when I spotted what appeared to be a remote lagoon located maybe a mile or two off the highway.

The color was a bright teal, clear and looked like the oasis’ you used to see in the old movies as the main character began to hallucinate. There was what looked like a thin strip of light sandy beach that was shaped like a giant fish hook extending from the shoreline out into the calm water.  Bracketed by a stand of coconut trees and I could imagine my partner and me lying beneath them listening to their huge fronds swaying in the pacific breeze as we let the cool waters rush over our naked feet. I wanted to be there immediately, I wanted to dive into that cool water and let it wash over my hot, dry body.

I sat up quickly in the driver’s seat and whipped that rental van around suddenly; it tilted to one side and the tires squealed and I think my partner was startled awake from an afternoon daze.  I pulled off of the black asphalt ribbon and slid to an abrupt halt while a cloud of red dirt swirled around us. When it settled I told my partner we were going to go on a short hike to this wonderful looking lagoon I spotted from the road. Supportive and intrigued she exclaimed “let’s do it”.

We jumped out of the van into the hot afternoon sun, it was high overhead, the air was still, and there was no breeze. I locked the doors and off we went, we ascended a small burm and there in front of us, between the road and the sea was a field of long dried, red lava which seemed to reach for acres. It was jagged and clumped in huge boulders. We climbed it and stumbled over a number of these before deciding that it appeared almost impossible to traverse with any simplicity. We looked over the landscape and saw a gully open up a few yards ahead of us, we climbed down into it.

In the gully the ground softened, it was sandy and thick with Kiawe trees.   These are shorter, barren trees that are covered in huge woody thorns that appear to be 3-6 inches in length, and their limbs and trunks are bizarrely twisted as though they are reaching out desperately seeking moisture from the air in the arid terrain. We navigated between them like we were performing some sort of native dance. As we did so there was a feeling that crept up the back of neck seemingly to warn me we were being watched from somewhere deep in the thicket. As we grew more frustrated at the difficult maneuvering it took to travel a short distance within the gully we spotted a Tribe of goats, standing within the Kiawe trees watching us, and it was unnerving.

We decided to climb out from the trees and onto what was now the only alternative. The lava field had turned to jet black; it was no longer filled with huge jagged red boulders. It appeared like miles of taffy, rolled out and twisted into ribbons, sometimes looking like massive hills of bread dough as it sits on grandma’s counter settling, its edges rolling over the surface of the counter and then frozen in that form. Only it was all just black. It was certainly easier to walk on, though periodically the round domes would collapse under foot and shatter like fine china. There were great tubes that had formed when the lava cooled and dried, leaving the center hollow. There were caves and sometimes the roof of which had crumbled and fallen in. It was fascinating, and eerie.

As we walked, ascending and descending, travelling through sections of tubes sometimes 10 feet high and skirting other collapsed tubes, leaving open ground that seemed to fall away into deep dark caverns, we considered what might happen if we were to trip and land on the lava rock. Our bare knees striking the sharp, glassy surface would surely split and tear open eviscerating muscle and tissue. We were careful and strategic as we continued our hike. We were too far along now to turn back. Finally we began to see green foliage growing between the smaller cracks and sand began to fill crevices and lower, shallower portions of the ground. After what we had estimated to be an hour or so we reached the shoreline. Indeed it was cooler, the water was magnificent but from where we stood it wasn’t the idealic lagoon I thought I’d spotted earlier. However it was a nice respite, refreshing and breezy.

I felt like the main character after crawling through the hot desert sand to the oasis I spotted only to find that it was a much smaller patch of green than I’d anticipated, a single tree protruding from the ground and at its base a spot of moist sand that accentuated my misinterpreted desire for something grand.

We shrugged and decided not all struggles, not all explorations and adventures’ culminate in discovery of something awe inspiring, and turned to find our way back. After a short amount of time trying to decide which way to go, with the sea at our back and the infertile fields before us, we stumbled upon a makeshift pathway.  It was marked by other travelers with white chalky symbols etched out on rocks to the right and to the left most likely with pieces of coral, suggesting a safe trail by staying between them as we hiked. We would follow these symbols, but it was difficult, you couldn’t allow your eyes to wander from under foot for fear of tripping.

Bones bleached from the sun, lay in stark contrast to the rock littering parts of the path, out in front of us you could see transparent waves of heat rising from the rock, and through the souls of your shoes. We rarely spoke, keeping our eyes focused in the direction of our rental van, we couldn’t see it but knew generally where it must be and praying that inside it was the water we’d incidentally left behind. It took us nearly an hour and a half to reach the road, the bottoms of our shoes shredded from the severe, razor-sharp rock. Our throats dusty, we were absolutely parched and the skin on our arms was blistered, covered in hundreds of what appeared like tiny droplets of sweat but these weren’t sweat, we’d run out long before, these were diminutive though no less obtrusive, clear blisters.

In spite of the challenging journey, our clothes soaked through with sweat, our ankles and feet tired, we reveled in the idea of being lost in a lava field and surviving it. We would move on to more adventures, great elevations, searching for green sand beaches and rolling through small villages blanketed in thick, wet fog in the mountains of the South end of the Big Island; Hawaii. Some fruitful and some challenging but all adding so many memories, feelings of accomplishments’ and fueling the imagination even more, wondering what other strange and wonderful places we might discover along the way.

 

This is the Boundary Waters

There’s nothing as special as the earliest morning light, as it spills over the horizon, reflecting in the tiny drops of dew hanging from the pine trees in the forest. The coolness of the fresh air, the silence of the lake and the haunting call from a loon somewhere out on the water.

This is morning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It’s tranquil and serene. It’s where my heart and soul regenerate and where my mind slips away from all time.

Where casting off in a canoe and setting my paddle into the water is like holding hands with a loved one. It’s a place where one can breathe and sleep undisturbed under an unequivocally and brilliantly depthless field of stars.

Industrialization has no place here, this is for the wild, the pure, the natural world where the bears roam and the deer wander and people can regain a sense of self and wonder.

This is where the rains soak deep into the thick moss carpeting islands of granite, replenishing groves of uncultivated, rich blueberries.

This is a haven of pure spiritualism, freedom and peace, this is the Boundary Waters.

Kalaulau Trail

The trail was perilous and wonderful, dangerous and exciting; the stay on the remote beach was deliciously hot and sweet. The sunrises were only second to the sunsets, with the oceans waves shimmering in the late days astounding bright hues of drenched tangerines and warm golden light that almost seemed to drip into the bright blue water and wash up on shore.

There were wild cherry tomatoes lining the path to a thousand foot waterfall that fell to a cool, clear, fresh water pool in a small lush oasis where the beautifully tanned locals bathed nude, above the moss and the fragrant penny flowers, cliffs seemed to thrust forever skyward above the shoreline. Black rocks the size of softballs falling from crags overhead periodically to the hot sand below, landing with a soft thud, kicked from above by mountain goats.

Our stay on the beach was delightful, mourning doves cooed and pecked at the sandy ground in the grass around our campsite each afternoon, we ate by campfire and fell asleep to the sound of rushing waves upon the coastline. And our march back, our precarious and tremendous hike home came too soon. Our eleven and half mile trip to the beach was hot and dry, but our trip back would be anything but that.

It began under a blue sky peppered with a few clouds; the air was cooler than a few days before. We hoisted our packs and tightened the laces on our boots and stepped onto the trail once again, it was a bittersweet farewell but we had just under a dozen miles to leave behind us before we would rest the souls of our feet. The majority of our trip was fine enough though it had rained extensively on parts of the trail we had not reached yet. The ground was wet and slippery, the path barely wide enough to lay a school ruler across it and never flat and always sloping towards the edge looming thousands of feet above the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We passed over the area where my partner, only days before had lost her footing on ground that crumbled and slipped away, she fell to the path hugging the cliff to the inside, her left cheek crashing onto her heel as her right foot dangled weirdly off the ground and over the edge as rocks and dirt plunged into the sea far below. My heart stopped as I am certain hers did as well. It was scary and exhilarating all at once.

Then we made our way around the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge”, a section of the path that really isn’t any sort of path as it is described in Webster’s, but rather an almost vertical slope holding small rocks that one clings to, and steps across for about 200 meters around the face of a portion of a ridge, that frames the East side of the Hanakoa Valley. This section serves to eliminate many hikers from going further along the Kalaulau Trail, simply the site which seems to turn them around without any consideration at all.

We spent the second half of our nine and a half hour hike navigating wet, sloppy trails, boulder chasms and soggy rain forest valleys before coming to our final creek crossing. We had traversed many til now but this one had become a raging torrent of rushing water dropping thousands of feet from the mountains far above us. The sound of the rushing, ice-cold water was deafening, the site of it frightful. We assessed the crossing and considered staying put for a while but it seemed the rain wasn’t stopping and so neither would the creek for some time, could even be days.

Then to our delight we found there were a few men helping others across as they awaited their friends they’d been separated from what now looked now more like a swollen river. It wasn’t slowing but appeared to stay consistent for now. With much trepidation but a stronger desire to get off of the trail we made a decision to cross with help from the locals. One made his way to us and demanded we hand him our packs, he was of slighter frame, but tall and marvelously cut, he grabbed our huge packs and delivered them to the opposite shore with a honed skill. Then came back and threw his wet, pickled hand at Shira, she glanced back at me with fear and determination in her eyes, then stepped into the stream and grasped at his hand, her other firmly held in mine.

As we made our way, fighting the tremendous strength of the furious water beating against our chests, threatening to take our feet out from under us, we kept our eyes on the other muddy side. Half way across I mis-stepped, slipped and banged my knee on a rock under the surface, both of my numb legs flew back behind me, Shira looked back as I struggled to hold on and saw my legs floating straight behind me. She had to let go and leapt for the next man in the human chain, I found a crevice in the same boulder that drew blood from my knee and held on tight until the other guy was able to get to me, he pulled and I fought against the current and we made it eventually safely to shore. I would be lying if I were to say I wasn’t scared.

Soaked to the bone, our hiking boots now heavy and waterlogged, we grabbed our packs thanked those that helped us across and began our climb to complete the final two and a half miles of our incredible journey. A little over two hours later we stood at the trail head, tired, cold, wet and hungry. We did it though; together we survived the Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai. Number four on National Geographic’s top eleven best hikes around the world and Backpacker Magazine’s Top Ten Most Dangerous. There is a spiritual power that exists deep within the valleys along the Kalaulau, it is palpable and the locals call it mana. It seemed that each time we rounded a corner and looked out over the breathtaking scenes like that of Nu alolo Kai, one of the western most valleys, we got, again as the locals call it, chicken skin. I think that spirit will never leave us, it has made us stronger and it has left a mark on our souls.