Reflections from Kalalau Valley

Bottom pics: Eevee and me at the end of our hike, and seeing myself in the mirror for the first time in a week.

TL;DR I hiked the Kalalau Trail alone & had some cool life insights.

Last week I hiked the Kalalau Trail in Kauai by myself. I was frightened- multiple people told me I would die (the trail has a reputation), and even I had a strong feeling in my core that there would be death of some kind. However, I called a close friend who told me that I should go and feel it out; I felt like I’d been called to Kalalau - all of the barriers that had existed prior to the day I landed in Kauai instantly worked themselves out, and in delightful winks from the universe. For example, I told myself that if I was meant to hike the trail, a certain exact brand of dry bag would appear; the moment I landed, when my rental van hosts found out that I had a Kalalau camping permit, they gave me that exact bag to borrow. Plus, one of my hosts, literally named Heaven, told me she would drive me to Kalalau, so I wouldn’t have to worry about parking a rental car or have any time limits.

Anyway, this friend told me to listen to the calling and go, to try it out, and that I would trust my instincts and turn back if things became too dangerous, in a display of love for myself and for those who love me. So I went. I am grateful to that friend.

I packed everything I needed, opting to sleep in sweats in a hammock with a sleeping bag liner rather than a tent with a sleeping bag to lighten my carrying load. I had everything I needed except a hot water heater, which I’d need to procure to make food for me and Eevee every day. I was told there were many friendly people on Kalalau beach who would kindly lend me some water.

So I set off! Hiked the 11 miles and 6K vertical feet in 10 hours including breaks. Shimmied around Crawler’s Ledge, the notoriously dangerous part of the trail, with Eevee bounding out to the edge of the cliff, harnessed to my waist, mimicking the mountain goats she admired throughout our hike. I ate freshly fallen mangoes off the forest floor and drank from streams without a filter after mile 6. My phone broke early on in the hike. When I finally made it to Kalalau, I was welcomed by strangers who fed me and gave me hot water and suggested I try sleeping on the beach under the stars, which I did.

The next morning I woke up to a woman around my age prancing over to my spot on the beach. A Japanese woman with a septum piercing and a short black bob, and she radiated joy and light. This was Kyoko. Eevee instantly liked her, and she offered me some of her chamomile tea and invited me back to her camp, where I met her two friends, Billy and Day. They told me there would be a meteor shower the following night at 4am, so I set up my hammock on their campsite, as my phone wasn’t working to wake me up. I spent the day resting as they explored; I had done the whole hike in one day, and they’d split it up over two days, and my body needed the rest.

These three humans became my best friends for about 24 hours. What a community we formed. They each had their own unique light and held me in ways I can’t put into words. We watched a meteor shower deliriously at 4 in the morning under a new moon. We were led by 4 naked Kauai nymphs to Honopu Beach, a sacred beach you must swim to, the reason for most Kalalau fatalities. We swam without fins as the water rocked us, albeit more gently than usual, and I wept on the top of the sand dune as my life flashed before my eyes. I saw all of the beauty and love in my life, saw interactions with my dear friends and family, and I was grateful. I had been afraid to die, feeling I wasn’t ready, but in that moment I realized that if I died on the swim back to Kalalau beach, I would be OK. I had lived a good life. I had achieved peace with the life I’d lived.

But I didn’t die. And as my friends packed up to leave that afternoon, I sat by the river and thought about my life for a long time. I thought of the changes I wanted to make and the realizations I’d had. I spent the next 24 hours alone, except for dinner with the nymphs, who provided hot water.

I realized a few things.

  1. I have everything I need in myself, and I thrive on my own. I could have carried the hot water heater. I was (with that exception) entirely self-sufficient and cared for both Eevee and myself. I hiked to Kalalau alone in a day. My body and my mind and my spirit are completely fulfilled, even ecstatic, on their own. This was extremely liberating.

  2. Although I thrive in solitude, I realized having a community augments that fulfillment even higher. I can be alone, and I want a community, and I can find a community when I am alone. Kyoko, Billy and Day were deeply my people. They are friends I plan to hold for a lifetime. & in fact, I think being alone actually enabled that new community.

  3. The universe truly holds me. It is magic. When I was out in the wilderness, without the daily stresses of everyday life - work, social interactions, logistics, time (there was no sense of time, just sunrise & sunset) - I could feel this fact more deeply than anything in the world. Everything I asked for - shelter, water, warmth at night - were provided to me even when it seemed impossible. For example, in the Hanakoa forest on the way home, where I stopped halfway, I absentmindedly left all of my sleeping clothes out as I hiked barefoot to a waterfall. It poured rain over my clothes, and I had no cover on my hammock, but I asked Hanakoa to please let me sleep warmly and dryly that night. I returned to find that a shelter existed with poles on which I could hang my hammock, and my tiny, extremely thin sarong sitting atop my clothes had miraculously kept them dry. These gifts happened over and over. As soon as I let go, and trusted that the universe would hold me and protect me and answer my prayers, everything fell into place. I had everything I needed, and my soul was at peace.

  4. The love I feel in my life ties me to the essence of the universe, and I know everything I need to know. When I stripped away life stresses, as I mentioned in #3, I could see clearly just how pure and magnificent the love I feel is, and how it is all-knowing and certain. Plus, it’s not an attached love; it’s rooted in a deep trust that the universe will work out how it is meant to, and relationships shift or end because it is what is best for all parties. I want and will have a life where every person is a tree shining in its own light, with enough space so that no tree is partially shaded by the other (this is a “The Prophet” reference, which came to me the day before my trip, which I brought with me and read in its (short) entirety). When we stop fighting and stressing and simply surrender, we allow the universe to act in its grand ways that result in the greatest possible growth and peace for our souls. I felt a deep gratitude for the love I’ve felt and certainty that I will die a deeply gratified and fulfilled soul, with all of its longings realized.

  5. Another “The Prophet” lesson: joy inevitably comes with sorrow, and it should be embraced. When my friends left, I felt a sorrow equivalent to the joy I had felt, and what a privilege both feelings were. I historically have felt deep sorrow in my life that can be hard to handle, but I realized that it is because I feel and have always felt extremely profound joy. I surrender to joy, so I similarly must surrender to sorrow. Now, I can welcome my sorrow, even feel grateful for it, and move through it.

I had some other realizations, about whole food, daily yoga/movement, and showering in bodies of fresh water, but this is already long enough.

I am so grateful to Kalalau and grateful I went on the journey. I did experience death, but of attachment and fear, including fear of death.

So many blessings to you. Don’t forget to return to yourself, find your inner nature, and surrender. You are held.