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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My very own perfect moment

I was with one of my oldest and closest friends. I was on a remote beach of impossible beauty. I was standing before two absolutely gorgeous  naked girls. And, in the next few minutes, something would happen that would make me seem very much like James Bond incarnate. For one moment in time, I was cool. My friend was cool. What we experienced that day, 14 years ago, still remains one of the greatest days of my life.  How this all came to be is one of my best stories. I warn you, this will all sound made up and contrived. I have only my friend Jerry to vouch for the accuracy of our tale. But it did all happen exactly as I am describing.

I am a huge fan of the writer and monologist, Spalding Gray. If you are not familiar with him, he writes and talks about his own experiences in a way that is so personal, it is impossible to ignore. He took his own life a few years ago. His passing was the first time in my life I felt a sense of loss for the death of a public figure. He wrote a book called “Impossible Vacation” where he detailed his pursuit of a ‘perfect moment.’  He searched the globe for the perfect beach, the perfect experience, the ideal setting, all so he could experience a moment that was frozen in time where everything was absolutely perfect. I realized when I read it, I had also not had my perfect moment.   He also wrote a lot about his depression, his mother’s suicide, his neurosis, and often, his own suicidal tendencies.

I was reading the book Impossible Vacation in  1998. I had just learned that someone I knew, John,  had just taken his own life when he discovered he had a brain tumor. He left behind his young wife and infant child. I had only met John a few times, but the knowledge of his tragic death frightened me.  He was very good friends with my pal Jerry. I was worried that John’s death would drive Jerry over the edge.

In 1998 I was living the good life. I was as happy as I had ever been. I was hiking, paddling, surfing, working, trading stocks, and having endless good times with all our new friends. To hear about this sudden tragedy and know that it might impact my friend was like a call to arms. I would rescue Jerry. So I called him and convinced him to let me fly him to Hawaii to stay for a few weeks. This was a bit selfish on my part. I probably wanted him to come out and be a witness for what a great life I had found. I do that. I am sure he saw through my ruse, but agreed to the trip anyway. Jerry had just returned back to the states from Japan. He had an engineering degree from Cornell, and now he was back in the states looking to return to school.

So, I wanted to do something unique while Jerry came out. Something memorable. There is a backpacking trail on the island of Kauai that my wife and I had done called the Kalalau Trail. It's an 11 mile trail that follows an ancient Hawaiian path along the cliffs and beaches ultimately ending in the spectacular Kalalau Valley. It took us 2 full days to hike the 11 miles in 1995. We took 5 days in all to hike in, spend a night in the valley and hike out. It was incredibly perilous and exhausting. The Sierra Club rates it as a 9 out of 10 in difficulty. Everest is rated as a 10, so this is worth noting. The trail goes up and down, switchback after switchback, as it follows the jagged and lush landscape. You cross through thick jungles, sand deserts, beaches, streams, and sheer cliffs. This is the kind of place that people fall to their death and no one even knows. Despite how tiring and physically abusive the trail was, it stands in my mind as one of the most beautiful places on the earth. There is no way to reach the valley except by foot, or for the really brave, by kayak. There is an notorious shore break on the north side of Kauai, where Kalalau lies. Often, 10 foot waves crash down onto the rocky shore line making it impossible to swim, surf, or safely land a boat. Many people have lost their lives trying.

But I had learned something form living in Hawaii for a year. A little danger makes for more fun. I was hiking the mountains of Oahu, canoeing in open ocean outrigger canoe races, and learning to surf the North Shore. I was facing danger and learning to love it. I was always careful and I never took stupid risks. But I have to say, I liked the feeling that if you were not careful you would pay. My life before was too safe, too secure. I think I just relished the risk.

At that time, the state of Hawaii had a law that prohibited any boat from landing at the beach in the Kalalau Valley. That meant the only way to come and go was to hike. But, when I was there 3 year before, I noticed that sightseeing boat operators and zodiac owners were illegally ferrying campers in and out. It was illegal, but it was being done. So my thought was to hook up with one of these guys, have them drop us off at the beach and then we would leisurely hike out. We would avoid all the pain and soreness of hiking both way but get all the beauty.

A local friend knew a guy. I called him. He sounded really cool on the phone. He suggested that instead of him simply dropping us off, he would give us a 2 man kayak, we would paddle in to the beach. Then he said he would come by with a zodiac and retrieve our kayak before the authorities would see it. Then we would be free to hike out and he would transport us back to the airport. Perfect! How could I refuse?

So there we were at the Kauai airport. It’s a short flight from Oahu and it was about 6:30am. His van reminded me of the Scooby Doo van, and he reminded me of Shaggy, right down to the scruffy goatee . But he had a 2 man Kayak strapped to the roof. So far, so good!. He told us he had to make “A few stops, before we got to the end of the road where our trip would begin.” Jerry and I were convinced, based on the smell coming from his little bags, that he was delivering marijuana to people along the way. But, I chose to ignore this. Why let it spoil the day? So we finally got the kayak in the water at Kee Beach. I was relieved that it was a relatively calm day. I was a bit worried about landing the kayak at Kalalau, so I was pleased to see 2-3 foot seas.

There are a number of large sea caves along the way. We soon found one and paddled into the dark ocean filled cavern.  It was amazingly cool. But then we realized that with a large swell, we could be easily squashed against the cave ceiling. As I mentioned, the sense of danger makes it all the more fun. We no sooner retreated from the cave then we found a pod of spinner dolphins. They decided to surround our craft and swim along with us as we paddled down the Napali Coast. Jerry was pretty quiet so far. I think he really was affected by his friend's death. I felt it was best not to discuss it . Hopefully Jerry would find some happiness in the scenery.

After about 2 ½ hours of paddling, we could see the open Kalalau Valley surrounded by the steep 4,000 foot walls. It is breathtaking. To the right of the short sandy beach, there is a triple waterfall that cascades down right to the beach. That is where we would spend the night. Jerry was still silent, hopefully awestruck. Kalalau has that effect on a lot of people. Then I was worried about the shore break. We were about 1000 yards off shore, but we could hear and see the surf crashing on the shore. I knew the best way to make it in was to surf the wave right onto the beach and hopefully avoid the break. We would have to catch a wave, then paddle out in front of it just before it broke, gliding onto the beach. I explained the plan to my friend. He looked at me, slightly worried, but nodded.

One of the funny things about Kalalau is that hikers (and the people that choose to illegally call the valley home) like to swim and sunbathe naked on the beach. It's sort of a tradition and certainly part of the reputation of Kalalau. So, as I am watching the waves, looking for just the right sized one, I realize there are two naked girls on the beach. But there is our wave, so I am paddling hard. We catch it. I use my paddle like a rudder. We are carving the front of the blue wave, traveling in an arc toward the sandy shore. Somewhat on purpose, I am steering us towards the girls. Then, as the wave begins to crest, I yell to Jerry to paddle hard, so we can slide out in front of the break. We glide perfectly on the sand and up onto the high water mark. The wave crashes behind us. To our left, not 30 feet away are two stark naked girls, both beautiful, endowed, and just perfect. Jerry looks over his right shoulder and whispers, “This is the best day of my life.”

    But it gets better. I realize I know one of the girls. She is a friend of my neighbor’s on Oahu. So I stand before her naked loveliness and talk. We talk about our mutual friends, how nice the day is,  and how great our paddle to the beach was. She makes a comment to her friend about how cool we looked surfing in to the shore. Jerry is standing next to me, smiling, but silent. I introduce him. He says hello. Then, realizing I can not take much more of their nakedness without committing a crime, I announce that we are going to go up to the camp site to stow our stuff. 

Just like this, only naked
It’s a short walk from the beach to the camping area. There was a group of guys standing around a tent. They were glaring at us as we walked up with our gear. “Hi!” I said to try and defuse their glares. “Hey, man! You can’t do that!” the guy says. “Do what?” I ask. “You can’t bring kayaks on the beach. It'
s against the law. You are going to bring the wardens in here” He is raising his voice. There are other campers nearby that look our way to see what the commotion is. I feel like I am ruining everyone’s day. Then I look at the guy. “Are you a warden?” “No, but you can’t bring those here, it's against the rules!” He is insistent now. “Dude, it's all taken care of.” I say with a lowered voice. I smile. I try and let my calmness flow to him. I even use the word 'dude' which is rare. He is infuriated now. He keeps repeating his complaint like it’s a mantra. I turn to look at our yellow Kayak on the beach next to the two naked girls. Then I see the little grey zodiac coming through the waves. I see the face of our pot-delivering driver, Shaggy. I turn to face our accuser. “It will be ok dude.” Then I smile. He notices the zodiac now. Shaggy picks up the kayak and throws it into his zodiac. He turns to scan the Beach. I raise one arm to signal him. He smiles a huge grin, gives me the Shaka sign and is gone. His zodiac engine starts again as he disappears in the surf. I turn to the guy. “See? All taken care of.”  Jerry and I walk up the trail to find a camp site.

And that, was my perfect moment. It took pot deliveries, perilous sea caves, dolphin escorts, death defying surfing skills, full frontal nudity, screaming authority figures, prearranged pick ups, hand signals, and finally, the smooth confidence of James Bond himself. I had all that in a single day. A man can ask for nothing more.

Jerry and I spent the night on the beach talking. Then we had a really good hike out the next day. My last trip down this trail had proved difficult. Now I was lighter, firmer, and in better shape. It was easy and just as beautiful as I remembered. It was a really fun day. I have had many other adventures with Jerry. But still, nothing quite compares to our perfect moment.


1 comment:

  1. Love it! Knowing Jerry and having known John, I'd say this was a perfect trip for Jerry at that time! I love your writing!