The bright morning sun beckons us awake and we all stagger out of the tent at different times to eat breakfast. I go for a morning swim and do yoga on the beach before packing my bag and preparing for the long trail ahead of us. It is 9 miles or 14.5 km to Waimanu Valley. I mental prepare myself for switchbacks, uphills, downhills, rivers to cross, and any weather that will choose to grace up as we make the trek to the next valley over.
By the time we leave it is midday; the sun is almost at its full heat. We stop to drink in the view from the top of the first cliff before continuing on. We pass waterfalls and ascend up scraggly cliffs. We cross rivers by balancing on rocks surrounded by rushing water. We careful step over protruding roots and wander through magical forests. After 5 hours we stop for lunch and for Todd to boil water for drinking. I eat two peanut butter and banana sandwiches and curl up with my head on my backpack to close my eyes for a moment. Immediately I fall into a generous sleep, and when I awaken Todd is still boiling water.
About an hour later, when we get ready to tackle what’s left of the trail, we are struck with the realization that nightfall is near. I feel achiness in my legs and hips. I feel like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz and wish I had oil to loosen my joints. Shayna is exhausted as well. This being her first backpacking trip ever and her bag being as heavy as it is, she takes lots of small breaks. Todd and me walk at the same pace for a while, though when darkness surrounds us and we must take out our headlamps to see the ground we tread, I stagger back and walk slowly with Shayna while Todd goes on ahead.
Soon sheer darkness envelops the forest and our small lights illuminate such a narrow part of the trail that we have tunnel vision. Shayna collapses on the trail. She has started to lose willpower and instead of giving in to the feelings of dread, fear and panic that have accumulated in my throat, I turn to conversation. We talk about our brothers, our families, her childhood in Florida, funny things we used to do as kids, until our minds are drifting towards those memories and our worries are floating away on the breeze.
Soon, I hear the ocean. Shayna hears it too, which must mean we are close. We have been descending for over an hour, and our ankles are getting sore, our knees tense. Finally we tread over steady ground. We’re here, we’ve made it. We can rest now, I scream to Shayna, edging her on. We walk a little lighter then, in a triumphant stride. That is, until we take a few more steps and find ourselves at the foot of yet another river crossing. Todd, who we catch up to then, goes first.
I don’t change this time and wander in in the clothes I’m wearing. A fire burns at the other end of the river. It must be the Texas boys we saw on the trail who said they were going to hike in and out before nightfall. They must not have made it. Warmth, food, and rest seduce me and give me the extra energy to pass the river and wander to the fire where I collapse for the remainder of the evening.