Back in November, I spent a week in Kauai and it was amazing. I went with my aunt (who chose me to go with her, and generously paid my way), and we had an unbelievably wonderful time. We turned out to be very compatible travelers; we enjoy a lot of the same things, are both early risers, and actually eat a very similar diet, so dealing with the logistics of where to go and what to eat and what to do and when to do it was nearly effortless, and left us with plenty of time and energy to wring every bit of fun out of our seven days. We also share a tendency to greet a challenge with stubborness and humor, which comes in handy no matter where you go on vacation.
One thing we both love is hiking, and holy shit were the trails awesome. I’m used to hiking in the kettles, but this was a whole other level of steep. Adding to the challenge was the fact that there is almost no labeling or warning system for difficulty, and even when there is, it’s sometimes hilariously wrong–a trail that took us an hour to go a quarter of mile over near-vertical, rocky, muddy, rutted canyon ridges was billed as “an easy walk.” HA!
We did the trail anyway, even after we got in there and saw how hard it was. Plenty of other hikers were turning back, and I don’t blame them. The mud was like a layer of Crisco, slickly coating the rocks and our shoes, and if we hadn’t had walking sticks to help steady ourselves, we would have joined the muddy butt club a time or two (like some of the people we saw coming back out). It took us over double the time we had planned to get in and out, but we were elated that we’d done it. We had a total blast because of how hard it was, not despite it.
We went to bed pleasantly worn out each night, and woke up early to the wild roosters crowing in the dark. Every day there were more beautiful things to see, and more new things to try: fording a river, climbing a rock wall, swimming under a waterfall. My aunt went on her first trail ride, and I went on my first helicopter ride. (Neither of us threw up, though admittedly that was more of a worry for me.)
I was really proud of how much I was able to do. I wasn’t sore hardly at all, and at no point was I exhausted to the point of misery–we were done for the day and in bed by 8pm, and getting up with the roosters at 3am, but I woke up each day feeling refreshed and like I could do it all again.
This was exactly the kind of vacation I’ve been wanting to go on for years. The kind where you get up early, watch the sunrise, go do physically challenging stuff, try new foods, look at beautiful things, and then have a nice evening meal and chill out before going to bed feeling like you packed everything into the day you possibly could. I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am to my aunt for making that dream come true, and for being willing to take every step of it together, as we looked ahead to what was coming next and greeted it with more determination, and more laughter.
The day we left, we got up early and went for one last hike. It was a trail that would probably be labeled advanced here at home, and come with a map littered with ominous incline warnings, but after all we’d done it seemed positively easy, and we both commented that our legs didn’t feel tired, even after everything we’d done all week–they just felt strong. (This trail, which was much, much easier than the “easy walk” trail, was billed as “moderate.” Kauai, I love you, but your trail ratings make no sense.) After the things we’d done, it seemed easy–our perception of what we were capable of had changed. It was a feeling that I carried home with me.
A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to go on this trip, and do what we did. My body was beaten up, uncooperative, deteriorating. My mental state wasn’t much better. Every run, every hike, every horseback ride, every yoga pose since then has been a small victory. This trip was the culmination of all those years of work to bring myself back from the brink of disability, of giving up on life. It was a long climb to the top of the cliff on the Kalalau trail, where I stood and looked down at the ocean gleaming in the sun like a bright blue jewel, and the trail we hiked to get there was only a fraction of the journey for me.
I came home feeling victorious, re-energized, grateful. Feeling like all the problems in my life, things that have weighed so heavily on me for months (in some cases, years) had suddenly shrunk in size.
Like I could hold them in my hand, and toss them into the ocean.