Sunday, February 28, 2016

Finding My Way on the Big Island

A week on the Big Island of Hawai’i sounds like a lot of time but it hardly scratches the surface.  If you thoroughly research the possibilities and schedule your time carefully, you might leave with the satisfaction of having done all that you planned.  For those who, like me, show up on the island with only vague ideas about what to do the week goes by quickly with many options quickly considered but not fulfilled. 
My trip to the Big Island was more of a windfall than a plan.  Friends rented a house in Kona and invited others to join them.  The dates were about one month into my retirement so Maggie and I quickly accepted the invitation.  She was interested in snorkeling.  I had my sights set on visiting the Mauna Kea Observatory.  Anything else was left to chance, interest and the dynamics of the group with whom we were sharing the house.
In the end our activities were a combination of group and individual efforts.  At the house we talked, laughed and enjoyed the leisure of comfortable and pleasant accommodations.  We ate at the Ba Le Vietnamese Sandwich Shop and Bakery in the strip mall next to the grocery store that we frequented and also lunched at the Kona Brewery.  My first attempt at snorkeling was part of a group excursion to Kalalu’u Bay, probably the most accessible public beach in the Kona-Kailua area. It did not go well.  I had a mask and snorkel from the rental house but it did not seal well over to my mustache.  The equipment rental place on the beach gave me some petroleum jelly but that was only limited help.  Surf was rough and the area crowded.  I got a small glimpse of snorkeling’s attractions—I saw tropical fish and coral—but I was mostly concerned with keeping water out of my mask and not sucking it in through my snorkel.  I did not last long in the water.  Once out of the water, I wanted out of the mid-day sun.  We retreated to the Vietnamese restaurant for lunch.
Later that day, four of us took off for Mauna Kea Observatory.  Once we were north of Kailua, we had the Mamaloha Highway largely to ourselves on a clear afternoon.  The white observatory domes were visible along Mauna Kea’s ridge not long after leaving town. The Saddle Road leading across the island was equally uncrowded and nicely paved.  The saddle between the island’s two great volcanos, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, was covered by a cloud bank that turned the clear day into overcast and occasional drizzle.  We turned off the Saddle Road on John A. Burns Way, a narrow, curvy two lane and climbed out of the cloud bank up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center which sits at 9,200 feet.  We did not attempt the far more primitive road to the peak at 14,000 feet.  We arrived around 5:30 which gave us a time to hike to a nearby saddle to view the sunset before the stargazing party began around 7:00 pm. 
The evening was clear but with a waxing gibbous moon much of the visible star field was washed out.  Still, plenty of stars were visible.  Volunteers set up a variety of telescopes.  The party began with volunteers describing the night sky above—what we could see and what we could not see and other items of astronomical interest.  They had pointer lights that beamed into the sky to point out stars and constellations.  After their talk, we could look through the telescopes where a volunteer would explain the image and make any needed adjustment to the instrument.   Most of the scopes were barrel-like Cassegrain reflecting scopes but one was a refractor.  I got a nice view of a binary star (a larger yellow star paired with a smaller but much hotter blue star), saw the star-forming nebula in Orion, viewed Jupiter and three of its moons, and had a dramatic close-up view of the moon.  My binoculars also gave me some nice views, especially of the Pleiades which were otherwise small to my eye.  The night was cold and brought back memories of many winter nights looking through my cheap refractor.   The ride back to Kailua was very dark.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit someplace new is to learn its history.  Guidebooks at the hous provided some history but I learned even more when Maggie and I drove south to Pu’uhone O Hoananu National Historic Park, the Place of Refuge.  This was a site reserved for royals but part of it also served as a place where one could obtain absolution for violating a taboo.  In Old Hawai’i, laws or kapu (taboos) governed every aspect of society.  The penalty for breaking these laws was certain death.  The only option was to elude your pursuers and reach the nearest puuhonua, or place of refuge.  The site has preserved or restored the great walls of dark volcanic stone, the same stone that lines this entire portion of Hawaiian coast.  The park map provides an informative self-guided tour of restored structures and cultural artifacts.  Along the way we watched a sea turtle feeding in the shallows. Away from the historic area is a very nice picnic area that faces a rocky shore where waves crash over lava formations that turn into immense waterfalls as the waves recede.  Tidepools provided a nice foreground for a dramatic sunset.  On the ride back to Kailua, we spotted a narrow, primitive looking road with a hand painted sign for the Old Hawaiian Coffee Company.  We did not take that road, opting instead to look for food which we found farther along on a side street in Kealakekua.
While we were at the Place of Refuge we saw people snorkeling in the adjacent Honaunau Bay.  It was less crowded than Kahalu’u Bay in town so we decided to try snorkeling there on the following day.  I rented a mask with less lip and would fit tighter, I hoped.  I was wrong.  I did not get a good seal.  I might have been able to manage that if my snorkel didn’t draw water when I breathed.   I traded snorkels with Maggie which took care of my problem but now she was stuck with it.
This time I was in the water longer and had a chance to look around more.  Fish were everywhere.  The bottom was coral, sand and lava rock.  I also felt uneasy in that environment.  Maybe it was my uncertain gear combined with my lack of experience in ocean water.  I was cold, too.  I pulled out, gave Maggie the good snorkel and watched from the shore as she floated out some distance.  For a while I watched a sea turtle feeding on algae in a tidal pool, bobbing about as waves surged back and forth over it.  Maggie was out for almost an hour and was the last snorkeler to come out of the water that afternoon.  She and reported seeing a wide variety of fish (and vice-versa), much coral and the drop-off into the ocean depths beyond.
We were back on the highway early enough to follow the road into the Old Hawaiian Coffee Company.  The road is paved but has been repaired so often that it looks like a patchwork of potholes.  About 100 meters from the highway we came upon a house and were met by a young man who gave us a quick tour of the place.  He showed us coffee trees that had just flowered and were now producing beans.  Inside we saw the processing and roasting equipment.  The belt-driven wooden wheels and equipment are original from 1909 when the farm was established.  The only modification is the electric motor that replaced the gasoline engine that powered the drive.
History was also on our last day’s itinerary.  We visited a heritage site on Kahalu’u Bay where a former hotel/resort complex is being removed to restore a historically significant heiau complex.  Students from the Kamehameha Schools, which owns the land and previously leased it for hotels, are restoring some of the sites as part of a long term project.  The security guard at the entrance gave us some background on the site and its history.  Most notably, a defeated chief was captured and sacrificed here.
The day ended at the Hulihe’e Palace which was a summer residence of the island governors under successive Kamehamehas during the 19th century.  As palaces go, it’s a modest affair—only six rooms—but it is well-preserved and staffed by very informative docents, members of the Daughters of Hawai’i.  The photographs and artifacts illustrate Hawaiians’ growing fascination with British manners, customs and dress.  So much so that I am surprised that Hawai’i ended up as an American territory rather than a British colony.  The Brits did manage to get their flag incorporated into the Hawaiian flag, though.
And then our week was done.  So much to see and do.  So little time.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Late Spring Velo News

This spring, my eighth in Olympia, is the earliest spring I've experienced since moving here in late 2007.  We've had sunny, warm days--perfect cycling weather--since April.  For that matter, winter was pretty mild.  No snow whatsoever, less rain and even the occasional warm sunny day.  Combine that with a three-day work week since January and I've had plenty of opportunity to ride my bike.  The four day weekends give me a much better shot at taking advantage of the sunny, dry days which have a habit of occurring on weekdays rather than weekends.

Since I'm often riding twice a week my rides are shorter but the total mileage those usually totals around 35 miles, although last week I broke 40 miles.   Heading toward the end of May and I'm already more than halfway toward my annual goal of 1040 miles.  I'm still figuring out new, shorter variations of my established routes and have explored a few new routes along the way.

Today's ride was near perfect.  The temperature was in the high 70s with mixed cloud cover.  The early part of the ride was sunny, later on partly cloudy.  I started out in a light polypropylene shirt--didn't need a jacket at all--but changed to a t-shirt before an hour was up.  That makes the first time I've cycled in a t-shirt this year.  I cannot remember doing that in any previous year.

None of this is any assurance that warm, dry weather is here to stay.  After riding in my polypro shirt and just shorts for a couple of weeks in early May, I went out in wearing a jacket and tights.  I warmed up enough to remove the tights but it was a cooler ride than I had been used to.  As a rule I don't count on reliably warm weather until July.  Hell, in 2011 spring didn't arrive until July.   But this is not a normal year.  The governor has already declared a statewide drought emergency due to the extremely low snowpack--only 16 percent of normal--and we're seeing unusually warm temperatures.  The 10 day forecast has minimal chance of rain.  Again, not normal for late May.

All that said, the biking in Olympia has been great so far in 2015. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Trail Journal 05.21.05

At 5:18 pm on Saturday, May 21, 2005 I walked into the bar of the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, completing the last unfinished mile of my Appalachian Trail Hike.  I am done.  It's over after three--no, thirty-five years.  Instead of Red and Gary, Bev Carver, Norma Job and Pat Doyle walked were with me.  We shared a beer and repaired to the Purdy Motel to clean up before returning to the Doyle for more beer, cheeseburgers and fries. 

My final day on the AT was a mellow one, walking with Bev, Norma and Pat.  We returned to the trailhead at PA 225 and headed south on a cool, sunny day.  The forest was lush with spring growth and Norma, who is well-versed in plant identification, pointed out jack-in-the-pulpit plants, columbine and mayflowers.  The trail stayed on the ridge, offering occasional views of the Susquehanna and surrounding countryside which, like so much of Pennsylvania is well-populated with farms, fields and small houses. 

Met two thru-hikers, College Boy (who had an impressive amount of thick brown hair and a bushy brown beard) and Sleeping Beauty.   Together they call themselves The Bs.  A troop of Boy Scouts was camped at Clark's Ferry Shelter when we stopped there for lunch.  They seemed much more together than the troop I saw straggling out of Hertlein Campsite last Sunday.

The final miles took us down the face of Peters Mountain with views of Duncannon nestled on the Susquehanna's west bank.  We crossed the river on the Clark's Ferry Bridge and walked down Market Street to the Doyle Hotel.  The final mile was a quiet one for me.  None of the adrenaline rush of Katahdin, just the simple recognition that I was completing a life ambition in the company of friends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trail Journal 05.20.05

Rained last night.  A gentle steady rain.  I was warm and dry in my tent and did, indeed, sleep in.  Finally bailed out of my tent and into the shelter around 7:30.  Plodder was gone but Bed and Breakfast were still in their bags.  Made breakfast and began a running conversation with B&B about hiking and many other subjects.  They shared their coffee and cinnamon rolls with me.  In return, I offered to take out their trash.  Managed to get my tent reasonably dry in the shelter.  B&B were in no hurry to walk out in the rain which continued off and on throughout the morning.  They were still at the shelter when I left around 1:00, although the rain had abated.  The woods were a wet green as the trail clambers over some rocky outcrops.  The low light muted the forest color.

Met thru-hiker Snow Dog heading north from the Doyle.  Reached PA 225 around 2:30.  No sign of Bev and Norma in the parking area so I walked on to the pedestrian bridge that carries the AT over the highway only to see them drive under me.  They quickly returned and we had a joyous reunion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trail Journal 05.19.05

Last night camping with unfinished AT miles.  Tomorrow I walk three miles, meet Bev and Norma and sleep in a motel.  On Saturday we slackpack into Duncannon.  Hard to believe it's almost over.  The missing miles from my 2002 thru-hike will be accounted for and I will qualify as an "official 2000 miler".  And for what?  Bragging rights?  No, it's just something that always appealed to me and now I've done it.  This year's miles are especially satisfying because I did them on my own.  So many of my trips--including 2002--relied heavily on my hiking partner Gary.  2005 shows me that I am fully self-reliant (insofar as any long distance hiker who has friends and family providing support can be).  As for today my leisurely 11 mile walk to Clark's Valley became 17.5 miles to Peters Mountain Shelter.  I did not like the campsites at Clark's Valley--way too close to the road and the spring farther south was a muddy seep so I just walked on.  Made decent enough time:  9.5 hours.  But I am way tired tonight.  Tomorrow I only have 3 miles to go so I can leave after noon and still make the road in time to meet Bev and Norma. 

Met more thru-hikers today:  Diesel, Mountan Dew and JR.  Also met section hikers Naked Ghandi (who took my photograph using a 4x5 camera), Plodder (VA-42 to Pawling, New York) and a couple named Bed and Breakfast (Harpers Ferry-Maine).  I'm even more tired tonight than last night.  Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Trail Journal 05.18.05

Lots of hikers today on the trail.  Met thru-hikers Chino, Jay, Chestnut, Mississippi Allen, Running Moon, Jukebox, PJ and Pacer.  Also met lopsided, Free Spirit, Strider, Phoenix, and Graham, all of whom are doing the northern half of the trail.  After so many days alone, it's nice to see people again.  Trail today was very pretty.  Passed through a sea of ferns lit by early morning sunlight.  Saw a deer bounding through the forest at top speed.  Walked across a beautiful 1880 iron truss bridge over Swatara Creek.  Just before the shelter at Rausch Gap I passed through an old townsite with a graceful triple arch stone bridge over a creek.  Not a bad day--13 miles.  I'm tired.  Bugs are coming out big time, especially biting gnats.  Found another tick.  Glad I have my tent.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Trail Journal 05.17.05

Back on the trail after a less than indolent zero day in Pine Grove.  Zeroes are never as restful as I want.  I usually end up packing an organizing gear, making arrangements down the line and somehow just not laying about the way I'd hoped.  Pine Grovels indolence was further reduced by having to walk the two miles out to the Econo Lodge and back.  No one stopped for my outstretched thumb.  Even had trouble getting out of town and back up the mountain. After a fruitless half hur in the mid-day sun I was putting on my pack to start walking when a car stopped.  The driver was an old friend of Lazee, the Eckville caretaker, and maybe one of the few people in in Pine Grove willing to stop for a hiker.  All that notwithstanding, the zero was good.I got two hot showers, three town meals and clean clothes.  I vegged out in front of the tube, watching hours of Roman history, slept well in a comfortable bed.  In all, it was worth the effort. 

Trail today was easy--only 4.1 miles, mostly along an old roadbed.  Saw a turkey pop out of the brush and disappear down the trail.  Man, can they ever move fast!  Met two NOBO's:  Easy and Orphan.  Also, a section hiker walking from Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap.  Sky was partly cloudy much of the day so walking was comfortable.

Later:  Looks like another solo camp tonight.  Seems so lonely.  At times like this I cannot wait for this trip to end.  Even as I write those words, thought, I know I will miss these days and nights.  This is beginning to sound much like the 2002 thru-hike. 

Also, today I flushed three turkey buzzards from Fisher Lookout.  Got close enough to see their red markings before they took off.