Emery’s been asking to spend a day with me. She wants me to take her to “Suicide Squad”, but instead of sitting in a movie theater and not interacting, I thought a hike would be a good idea. We could talk, take pictures, look for new bugs and tropical flowers.
I had been eyeing the Koko Head Trail for a few weeks and decided that would be a great thing for us to conquer together. See that vertical line on the left side? That’s the trail. Not kidding.
During WWII, the Army built a railroad up the side in order to transport personnel and supplies to the bunkers that served as lookouts at the top. What remains is 1048 railroad ties (pretending to be stairs) to the summit. A handrail would be a nice addition. The trail is about 1.5 mile roundtrip from the parking lot, and shoots straight up 1200 ft to the top. The view from the bottom is both daunting and intriguing.
We arrived around 9 am, and it was already crowded. As we started our ascent, I realized that this hike was going to be my punishment for taking a year off from running with any sort of regularity. It was 81 degrees, boob sweat was already a reality and my cardio seemingly non-existent. About 15 minutes in, I said to Emery, “Who’s idea was this anyway??”
“Oh yeah, right.”
As we climbed a little higher, she said,”This hike is kind of like life. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but at the end, there’s something beautiful.”
She wasn’t trying to be profound–that’s just Emery’s optimistic, ever-forgiving heart talking.
I realized that my frequent stops to drink water and catch my breath was slowing her pace, so I told her to go ahead. She was practically flying up the hill with the regulars who work this ascent on a daily/weekly basis. As I tackled the stairs at my 50-year old pace, I stopped to take a picture of a military dad on his way down struggling to take a selfie with his baby in a front pack, shared my water with two 20-something men who forgot their water in their car (BIG mistake), gave words of encouragement to a woman disappointed that she didn’t make it to the top and complained about the heat with a young man dressed in jeans who had a physical disability that made walking, let alone climbing stairs, difficult. At the halfway point, I saw Emery in the distance.
“Mom, there’s an unexpected part of this trail.”
Then she showed me that the path of railroad ties went over a ravine that at it’s deepest was about 10 ft. Looking down made my heart race. My legs already felt like jello and I was worried about being sure-footed across this span while wrestling with my anxiety and Emery’s. But since this is the year has been about conquering my fears, we charged ahead. My thoughts went back and forth between “Holy sh*t!” to “Dear Jesus, just get us across this bridge” but out loud came “Take your time, Ems. You got this.” About halfway across the span, I lost my balance and a young man literally grabbed me at the right time and helped me regain my footing (and my composure). On our way back down, we learned there was a trail on the side for those not willing to cross the ravine—when we were halfway across. Emery and I both let out an audible “Are you kidding me???”
With the treacherous part out of the way, I told Emery to fly to the top. It’s practically vertical from that point. She summited 6 minutes before me.
The view at the top is amazing and worth the sore quads I have today. From the top you get a beautiful view of Diamond Head, Hawaii Kai, Haunama Bay, Moloka’i and Lana’i in the distance.
We FaceTimed Easton, explored the graffiti covered bunkers and enjoyed the wind. As we stood looking at Haunama Bay, I was overcome with emotion for a moment. We have been battling a mean case of homesickness this week. Choking back tears, I said, “We live in a beautiful place.”
“We do, Mom. We do.”
“Excuse me, would you mind taking a picture of me weakly holding the flag?”
“If you’ve made it to the top, I think you need to hold that flag proudly!”
Turns out she was visiting Haumana Bay, wandered across the street and decided to tackle the trail in a dress…and sandals.
You’d think the descent would be easier, but it’s just as challenging. I was doing fine keeping up with Ems and once we both crossed the ravine I realized my knee was throbbing—just like it did at mile 10 of my last half marathon. She went ahead and I took my sweet time.
When I finally made it to the bottom, she fist bumped me. “We did it, Mom!”
Yes, we did. We struggled (or at least I did), but along the way I got to experience her determination, the beauty of her heart and the beauty of the ʻaina.