Hippie Highway to Hell

It was a curse to be young and beautiful on the island of Kauai in ancient days.  The duty to deliver the dead by joining them fell to the most beautiful.  Legend has it that the native Hawaiians would scatter the once-living to the wind before throwing their bodies from a cliff, to a watery and rocky grave below.

It was my first long-distance hike: Eleven miles that took me two days.  The trail plunged into dense, tropical valleys, then rose to trace the edges of the Kalalau mountains and put me towering above the Na-Pali coast.  The footpath was at times no greater than the width of two feet, and any misstep could easily send a person down the rocky slopes with at least a few broken limbs, or at most ancient hero-status minus the ritual.

Watch your step!

It was raining the first day and the Tevas I wore often caused my feet to slip out from under me as I navigated sharp and unstable rocks.  I took my shoes off so that my feet could better grip the rock, which made hiking a razor’s edge much easier.  As I made my way slowly and precariously along the line above the sea no less than twenty mountain goats bolted across the path in front of me.  I stopped to watch them effortlessly scramble down the rocks to the valley below without so much as a stumble.  They seemed to look at me mockingly, and for a moment I was reminded of the feeling I had in second grade when my Mexican peers, with beautiful, long brown hair, assessed my blonde frizz.  I didn’t know before that instant how judgmental mountain goats can be.


After a restless night’s sleep beneath a blue tarp in the rain I started out to Kalalau beach.  It was sunny that day and the sky was clear.  People I met hiking in the opposite direction widened their eyes and tilted their heads.

“You have a camping permit, right?”

Of course at eighteen years old I had no respect for proper procedure and believed I had the rights to anything and everything I wanted. Permits didn’t really mean anything.  They were just pieces of paper that gave money to some and took money from others.   They were a symbol of the Establishment, the Man, Capitalism and convention.  I wasn’t going to be a part of any of that.  No, I didn’t have a permit, and I wasn’t turning back.

“Oh, shit man, you’re better off just turning back.  If they catch you they won’t let you stay the night and then you’re gonna have to hike back in the dark.  They just turned me away.”

I had to believe I would have better luck then they, and so I forged on.  As the day progressed helicopters became more and more numerous.  They flew close to the trail and seemed to come out of nowhere.  I believed they were looking for vigilante hikers like myself, although they were probably just aerial tours of the coast.  Believing that I was important enough to be searched for by helicopter I ripped plants out of the ground to secure to my backpack: camouflage.  I affixed so much foliage that people passing me laughed heartily and did not try to hide their amazement.  Each time I heard a helicopter approaching I crouched beneath a tree or rock to avoid being seen.

When I finally came close to the beach that was my final destination I saw the ranger’s station from above and waited until I was sure the ranger had gone inside.  Then I scurried down the slope and slithered past the station unseen.  Victory!  Out of view of the authorities, I stripped myself of all greenery and ran heedlessly into the ocean.

Kalalau Beach

The waves lifted my body with them and slammed it down over and over again.  I must have hit the sandy bottom two or three times before surfacing and dragging myself onto land.  I didn’t go in the water again after that and my respect for the ocean multiplied.  Instead of swimming, I made a sandwich on the shore and watched a flock of Nee Nee geese approach.  Oh, how nice, wildlife!  I will bond with them because I am a peaceful person alone in nature. The geese were not peaceful.  They landed all around me and came at me toothless and adorable, making awful, nasal sounds.  And they were big.  They did not want to bond.  They wanted me gone, so go I did.  What’s wrong with the fauna here?  Is every Hawaiian animal a bully?

I thought I would sleep in an unoccupied cave, but the flying wasps drove me out in the night, just as the geese had a few hours earlier.  Sleeping on the white, sandy beach I had nightmares of car accidents and arguments with my grandmother.  I woke up feeling guilty and full of remorse.  Were these the ancestral spirits of suicidal Hawaiian tribes?  My hippy-dippy logic said so.

Feeling wholly unwelcome here at Kalalau, I walked out the next morning.  Having already camped illegally, I saw no reason to avoid the ranger’s station.  I walked right past it, despite seeing him on the porch.  He looked like a native Hawaiian, large and dark.  He called me over.

“So, you must have slept here last night.”

Batting my eyelashes and feigning ignorance I said, “Yup” hahahahaha.  Smile and nod.

“Let me see your camping permit”

“Gee, ociffer, what’s a camping permit?”

“Let me see your I.D.”


“So if you fail to pay this fine, you will have a warrant out for your arrest and you can’t return to the island.  Understand?”

“Yes, sir”, totally defeated.

“How do you like your eggs?”

Now I was thoroughly confused.  After writing me the ticket and warning me of possible arrenst, he made me eggs, bacon and potatoes.  We had breakfast together and talked about our origins, the Nee Nee geese and various other things I can’t remember ten years later.

Figuring I probably wouldn’t be returning to Kauai anyway, I saved my money and did not pay the fine.  I like the feeling of being wanted.  I bet most tourists don’t leave as fugitives.


  1. #1 by jebr12 on July 26, 2011 - 2:51 pm

    How much was the fine? Looking to do the same. Great story.

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