There is an allure to the Hawaiian Islands that defies words. This magic exists somewhere between Polynesian culture and tropical mysticism, but it is an energy and aura that only those who have lived on the islands fully grasp. It stems from the melting pot of many cultures, religions, and nationalities which blend together on the islands giving it the “aloha vibe.” In my life I have been fortunate enough to live and experience this vibe many times both good and bad, but with the good eventually winning out. The next three posts will explore my love and hate relationship with these amazing isles. And of course no story of mine would be complete without some paths, some pilsners, and even some plunges. So sit back, put on your favorite Hawaiian shirt, turn on some Don Ho, and getting ready to hear my story of paradise.
Part I. Turning the Ship Around: From Pain to Paradise
My first encounter with the Hawaiian Islands came in 1986. I was eleven years old, Ronald Reagan was president, Genesis and Peter Gabriel ruled the Top 40 Charts with hits like Sledgehammer and Invisible Touch, and the most popular film in the country that summer was the US Navy propaganda epic Top Gun. Everyone feared nuclear war (a very real possibility then) and AIDS (still a vague scary disease few truly understood). In the midst of it all, my family of four moved from Annapolis, Maryland to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in the center of Oahu. My father, an Army officer, was stationed there, and we were excited to experience Hawaii. Without spilling the beans, however, the next 18 months became more like hell than paradise as my parents split up and eventually divorced. My sister and I stayed with my father while my mother returned to Washington DC. Thus in December 1987 our now trio left the islands for a cross country trek to Columbus, Georgia. In my mind after this initial soiree I wanted nothing to do with Hawaii ever again. It was nice, but the loss of my parents’ marriage left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
It would be 18 years before I returned again to Hawaii. The year was 2005 and the rancidness of my parents’ divorce stayed with me. I was enroute from Korea to California and embraced a five day layover in Hawaii in my move back to the US. I did nothing but sit on the beach and relax. Despite of this respite, my past weighed heavy on me. Fortunately, I focused on the future and all California would offer. It was sitting on the beach, I decided to run my second marathon, the Big Sur Marathon in 2006. While I enjoyed the aloha spirit, I still felt uneasy about Hawaii. It was nice, but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Fortunately, that never happened and life went on.
Over the next decade I made several more trips back to these islands. In 2010 I returned again to help train the Army unit replacing my own in Iraq. I had just gotten married and spent my “honeymoon” alone with a small group of colleagues at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore for a week, giving daily briefings, and spending the evenings drinking mai tais at the hotel bar. From 2012-2014 I returned a few times to Oahu’s shores for work; relatively short very focused trips, and void of any connection to the past I left behind in 1987. It was on one such trip in 2014 when I visited the island of Kauai for the first time. There on Kauai’s magic shores, I started to feel the aloha I lost nearly two decades before, and with it, I experienced a real paths and pilsners adventure.
On this particular work trip, I arrived in Kauai on a Saturday coming from a weeklong stint on Oahu attending meetings. I timed my work in Kauai so that I could do meetings on Monday and fly out Monday night. Until then, however, why not enjoy this corner of paradise? And that’s what I did. Taking a catamaran from the port of Poipu on Kauai’s southern coast I ventured up along the famous Na Pali Coast on the northwest side of the island. It was simply incredible to see the amazing emerald cliffs made famous in movies such as Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We even stopped along the coast to partake in some swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear blue waters. But wait—there’s more! This excursion came with beer of course! None other than Maui Brewing Company’s Bikini Blonde Lager, a light, crisp, slightly sweet beer with nice hints of tropical fruit. It was perfect for a warm tropical day on the water. Anytime I’ve had that beer since, I am always reminded of that incredible day. With that said, no trip of mine would be complete without a little trail run to pair it with. For this trip, I chose a portion of the the Kalalau Trail Trailhead on the north side of Kauai. This trail, which stretches nearly 11 miles along the Na Pali coast, is breathtaking in terms of what you will experience. For me, 2 miles along the path to the pristine Hanakāpī‘Ai Beach was more than enough. Up and over a ridge, the trail was tough, but challenging, and with breathtaking views, especially upon arriving at the secluded beach at the turnaround point. Words and pictures cannot begin to do this journey justice. With this trip and the infusion of this incredible sense of aloha, I finally started to feel at peace with the Hawaii of my youth.
Fast forward two more years and my healing would complete with these magic isles. In early 2016 my wife, a Naval officer stationed in Japan, invited our toddler and I with her for a work trip to Hawaii for a week. At this point I was now in the Army Reserve and a stay at home parent trying to find a direction in my life. On this trip however, while my wife worked, my 14 month old toddler and I explored. And it was during this week, that Hawaii finally redeemed itself one glorious morning as I watched my toddler take her first steps across the hotel room, eyes glued to the TV screen watching Sesame Street’s Elmo. In that moment I made my peace with Hawaii as the Island’s magic which I once blamed for tearing my family together, now put it back together again.
It would be another five years before I returned again to these islands. It had been a rough ride spanning nearly 30 years in my love and hate relationship with them, but finally I felt made peace. My next trip would be all about fully embracing all the islands offered: a true journey to paradise.
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