A Surprising Fall

We, as humans, can’t help but construct a mental picture of what we think an experience will be like. This picture is often based on past endeavors, other people’s stories, photos, movies and many more kinds of media induced expectations. The irony lies in the fact that these mental movies rarely represent the events that will actually transpire.

It’s a mystery to me then, why we consistently entertain ideas of how a situation will unfold when I am more likely to acquire my sought after super power of safe teleportation than to have my experience mirror the image I have of it in my head.

Maybe it’s because we love to worry, or need to dream, but, either way, I love surprising people with an unsuspected experience that far surpasses their idea of what our endeavor will be like.

In fact, it happened just the other day.

I wrangled another friend into having an adventure. He’s a fishermen, and they generally experience the island from the water — makes sense, that’s where the fish are — so my options for mind-blowing land-based excursions are wide open, and the element of surprise is on my side. He agreed to meander inland and walk to a waterfall, even though the objective of the mission was unclear.

He says, “So you just walk, to a waterfall? Then what do you do?” The concept of absorbing nature in its own right without hunting something is somewhat foreign, but he’s open to trying it and so we set of for the valley, a place that has a special pocket of adoration sewn into my heart-space.

My chosen hike is a waterfall located in the first crevice of the valley. It’s a 1600-foot fall accessed only by foot along the banks of the river. More people hike to the falls today than when we were kids, there’s even an occasional path, but it has the potential to be treacherous. I haven’t been back in about 10 years, and as such, I’m going to need to rely on my spidy senses and misty memories to get us there safely.

I must be growing up because in these adventure days, I believe in full disclosure. And so, before setting off, I mention that it has been awhile since I’ve done this hike and we may or may not take a detour or two. “Do I have your acknowledgement of this fact, and are you in agreement to continue?” He answers, “Sure!” and with that verbal contract behind us, we set off through the dense foliage.

It’s immediately beautiful, hot and sticky with over-ripe guava underfoot. With every outing, I’m thankful that Hawai’i doesn’t have poisonous critters and rash-inducing foliage. The sun is out, which in the afternoon here is an anomaly. We make the first river crossing and the icy water feels refreshing on our already hot feet.

I have only ever made this hike in slippers (or flip-flops for you mainlanders), but as we are slip-sliding down muddy hills, clambering over mossy boulders, and crossing rivers wrought with unseen holes, it is brought to my attention that perhaps, for the majority of people, shoes are a better choice.

Oh no,” my friend mimics, “you don’t need tennis shoes; you’ll be fine in flip-flops. Sure, if I were a monkey on steroids, but I think shoes would have been a good option for me here Ash.”

And my reasoning follows, “Yes, you may have a point, but your running shoes looked so clean and white and I knew they’d get wet and dirty so I thought, better slippers than destroy nice footwear.” Smile.

“Don’t you think you might’ve let me make that decision?”

He has a point. I suppose that my full-disclosure portion of adventuring these days really only applies to me sharing the fact that we might get lost. All other details seem less important — like sheer cliffs and mossy stones.

Having made this hike many times, I’m actually delighted at the ease of the journey. The path is more defined now, and I’m having little trouble picking my way around the forest and remembering the milestones. I point things out like graves and private property, then signal to quietly and respectfully pass through. This valley is ancient and you don’t want to piss off the ancestors — seriously.

Memories from teenagedom flood my mind-space, and I remember the sensations of feeling free and wild, and then I settle into how magical it is to know those feelings still.

We arrive at what would appear to most as an impasse.

“Now what?” he asks.

“Now we swim, or wade, I can’t be sure of the depth.” I smile.

He’s carrying a backpack and wonders what to do with it? “You’re tall,” I counter, “hold it above your head, and I’ll go first. If you see me go under, it’s deep.”

This method works and we manage to cross, slipping on the mossy rocks a few times, with our belongings relatively dry and skin near frozen. The water doesn’t originate from snowmelt, how can it be so damn cold?

Now, we’ve come to my favorite part — the boulder field. “This is NOT a path,” my friend whines.

“Sure it is!” And I think of my favorite Kerouac quote: “…but then I learned it was better for me to just spontaneously pick my own boulders and make a ragged dance of my own.”

It’s Ferngully-fairy-populated-out-of-a-novel-unique on this part of the hike. The boulders are jade covered masses perfect for scaling. This, however, is not my friend’s favorite portion of the hike, and he picks his way gingerly as I attack the path like a spider monkey.

My friend asks, “So besides this adventure-path that we’re on, is there an easier way?”

I replied, “This IS the easy way! I can’t believe how much of a path we’ve had.”

“Oh, okay, I was just wondering if there were a road and we’re going to be met by a team of Jeeps at the other end, but you thought it’d be fun to try and kill me by going this way.”

And I assured him, if there were a road, we’d be doing a different hike.

After completing this Lord of the Rings-esq leg of the excursion, we arrive at my least favorite part. I have a slight thing with heights, and this part is a steep, hug-the-ground, slanted single track of mud. It’s not really a track, but more of a soil slip-n-slide. Thankfully, it’s short.

As we continue, I hear chirps behind me of, “This is really fun, thank you!”

“It’s not what you’d envisioned, is it?” I ask.

“No, not at all.”

Mission accomplished; surprise achieved.

With the boulder-field and slick soil drop-off completed, our next steps bring us through the bamboo grove. The bamboo isn’t large diameter, but it’s plentiful and the leaves on the ground look like a soft mottled cream blanket that I’d like to cuddle up with.

We’ve been hiking for at least 40 minutes and we can’t yet see the falls. But, we’ve come to the point where we must, for the third time, cross the river to the other bank. The falls will be in view shortly.

“Try to remember where we’ve been crossing, okay?” I request.

A look of disbelief accompanied by a smirk meets me as I turn back. “Right!” he laughs.

I’m not too concerned; we’ll find the way.

Excitement starts to brew as we can feel the wind generated by the falls. It runs cold fingers across our cheeks and over our scalps, beckoning us closer.

Finally, we arrive. The falls are flowing strong today. The water feathers off the main stream creating sheets of droplets that look like gossamer folds. We are alone, at the back of the valley, caressed by the wind generated by this magnificent waterfall.

The best way to take in the view is lying down. On your back, misted with water, looking up 1600-foot valley walls, there is nothing to feel except small and awe-struck.

The perspective is such that I feel like I’m looking at a globe or a galaxy, something made of many small things, where I can almost discern the details, but it’s better to step back and let the colors blend. The massiveness of the experience leaves me breathless.

After a while, we decide we’d better make our way down-stream. My legs are no longer fresh, and the route remains hazardous, but a river crossing, a bamboo forest, a sheer-soil-slicktrack, a boulder field, a frigid swim, an ancient graveyard, and a mat of rancid guava later, we complete the adventure.

Maybe imagining the details of experiences we haven’t yet had leaves us more open to astonishment and surprise. But maybe, that awe would exist without a mental comparison, and by formulating expectations we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Or maybe, the best approach is to imagine it all, and be ready for everything to twist and turn and conspire to be something vastly different than we had pictured.

Can you believe we didn’t take a single photo?