Hikes 16 and 17 of the #52hikechallenge: Family time

A recent visit to see my new nephew, followed by a parental invasion, led to adding two more hikes to my list. Though they were far from my most challenging, of course I included them, because I got to share love of being outside with the people that matter most to me.

For those who haven’t been following along with my #52hikechallenge – it’s basically a hiking challenge where I try to hike 52 times in a year. So far, I am quite behind, but pressing doggedly forward. I skipped a blog post about #hike15 – it was just a romp through the Blue Hills with nothing terribly exciting to report.


#HIKE16: Lake Lawson, Virginia

This toddler-friendly hike was suggested by my sister-in-law. On a rainy weekend, we managed to find a clear window, and loaded mom, dad, aunt, pre-schooler, 3-month-old, and a giant-ass stroller into the family minivan (which, it’s worth pointing out, had room to spare). It was probably 100% humid out, and it looked like the skies could open at any time, but we were determined.

As we began the route, we strolled along a widely paved path on the way to a playground. Everyone seemed quite comfortable with this level of challenge. 🙂

Lake Lawson (1 of 4).jpgI was worried the playground would be the end of the adventure, but luckily we had our explorers hats on, and we continued into the park.

“Claire,” I said to my niece. “Did you know this is one of my favorite things to do? Walk in the woods?”

I wish I could have captured her face that at moment. She shook her head, answering my question, but also gave me this look as if to say “You are crazy, Auntie.” It was clear this wasn’t her comfort zone, so I began a bit of a campaign to get her to look around and open up her imagination a little bit. As we rounded a corner to an isthmus that speared between two parts of the lake, I heard her say “Whoa!” and knew we were making some progress. As I stopped to snap a couple of pictures, she asked “why are you taking those pictures?” Because the trees are cool, I answered. We agreed that this one was creepy like a spider.

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The bridge to the “island” portion of the park held great fascination, and as we cleared, I pointed out where we were on the map and asked Claire if she wanted to keep going around the loop. She nodded yes, and her parents shrugged as if to say “Whatever. You’ll have to carry her if she gets tired.” So off we went to tromp through the woods and make a loop of the island.

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The loop was full of mountain laurel and the occasional platform with a view of the lake. Claire and I led the way, with my nephew Elliott in his stroller following behind, and she started to enjoy herself a bit more. We invented songs for the various up, down, and flat portions of the trail (really, it was all pretty flat, but when you’re 4.5, hills are bigger in proportion), and Claire pointed out that the smaller trails leading off the main trails, which had branches growing over, blocking the path, were the “Ouchie Trails”. I got great joy out of imagining using that phrase when I inadvertently led my hiking partners off trail in the future.

After about 1.5 miles, we emerged back onto the paved path as thunder boomed in the distance; our timing was excellent. Claire made it the whole way; auntie was very proud of her. Elliott was unimpressed and slept the whole time.

Hike 16: Lake Lawson
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Date: May 19, 2018
Distance: 1.57 miles
Wildlife:  chipmunks, birds
Notes: The first of many hikes with my niece/nephew, I hope.


#Hike17: Great Blue Hill

It’s become a tradition of sorts when my parents visit; I take them on a hike to some of my favorite trails around Boston. On Memorial Day, instead of heading into the city to play tourist, we headed out of it to play in the woods.

I’ve hiked the Blue Hills many times, but never with my parents in tow. This hike was probably the most challenging one I’ve taken them on, and they rocked it. We started at the Trailside museum parking lot, and took the easy green dot trail for about a mile and a half, maybe. Because my folks are flatlanders, and not habitual hikers, I choose routes that start easy, but generally trust them to get up some of the steeper parts, depending on how things are going.

“Are there any views on this trail?” asked my dad.

“Yes,” I replied, instantly deciding that I would, in fact, lead them up to the top of the hill. So we started up, and my mom’s eyes widened a bit. But slowly, steadily, we made our way up. I love hiking with my parents, because all pressure goes off of me to set a fast pace or minimize how much I’m sucking wind; it’s all about paying attention to them and being sure they know it is totally ok to stop whenever needed. We next hooked up with the red dot trail, which climbed up at a decent slope to the top of Great Blue Hill, which boasts a tower and one of the oldest operating weather stations in the country. It was foggy and cloudy, so the beautiful view of Boston wasn’t visible, but it was still pretty. We snacked while sitting on a rock near the weather tower and agreed this was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.

The path down was where I wondered if I’d pushed my folks too far. Clamoring down big boulders can actually be harder than going up them (see previous hikes in the Whites and Mt. Monadnock), and it’s easy to roll an ankle or twist a knee.

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But as I said, they rocked it. My mom even got that little jaunt her step at one point – you know, where you could just tell that she was feeling badass. I of course, had to warn her that such moments are usually when I roll my ankle, but lo and behold, they made it down in grand form.

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I was very proud of them. And we enjoyed a tasty meal that night that included a fried Mars Bar – without guilt. Well, without much guilt, anyway.

Hike 17: Great Blue Hill
Location: Milton, MA
Date: May 28, 2018
Distance: 2.82 miles
Wildlife:  squirrels, birds


 

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When you have no choice but to go slow: #hike14 of #52hike challenge

All around me, everything is changing…fast. Once spring arrives, it passes in what seems like a blink. My friends’ kids, whom I knew when they were in elementary school, are suddenly going to prom (and college, but somehow prom is more disconcerting). New jobs, new babies, new marriages, new cities, new adventures…it seems like everyone I know is making some kind of change.

And here I sit, doing none of those things.

Contentment has never been in my DNA. 4 years is usually my limit; after that, either deliberately or with a little shove from the universe, I tend to make big life changes like choosing to go to grad school, moving to a house and getting a dog, or maybe even moving to Boston. This is my 5th year in Beantown, so, you do the math.

Cue feelings of restlessness and fernweh (look it up – it’s a wonderful word). Normally, I’d work these feelings out (or at least keep them at bay for a bit) by hiking up to the top of a tall mountain.

So, was it some kind of sign that last week, while doing nothing particularly exciting in a volleyball game, I suddenly had zinging little bolts of OW in my knee? And that the next morning, I woke up barely able to hobble downstairs to let my dog out?

It’s no great revelation to say that we really don’t notice what we have until it’s no longer there. My ability to get from point A to B using only my feet and legs is one of those things that, as a single city-living gal, is essential to daily life. When I suddenly can’t hop nimbly off the bus and trudge the .75 miles home from the station…that’s kind of a bummer. It certainly forces me to slow down.

The same is true for my dog, who found herself straining at the end of a leash as, on Saturday – a most glorious, spring-like Saturday when the whole world was exploding into color, and just begging me to take a long, long hike – all I could do was hobble down to the nearby Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms. We barely got a mile and a half of walking in. This is not normal for us. Weekends are for multiple miles so that we are tired and jelly-legged when it’s all said and done. When we don’t get our miles in, the whole rest of the week feels off.

So, on Sunday, I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran through all of my favorite local hikes, searching for those that would involve Sadie being off leash, and me being on fairly level, non-challenging ground. It was supposed to rain; I didn’t care. I didn’t know how far my knee would let me go; I didn’t care. We needed to get in motion.

Thus, we headed to Noanet Woodlands, another Trustees of Reservations property, and one of my favorite places locally. It’s my favorite because of the wide, well-maintained trails, and the variety of stuff to see:

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The remnants of an old Iron Mill Works site that has long vanished from this property. It only flows when the pond above it is full, and with all of our rain this spring, it was!

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The view from atop Noanet “Peak” – that’s Boston way off in the distance.

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Sawmill Pond, one of my favorite places to sit and reflect…except when my bench is drowned by the pond.

It turned out to be a lovely, non-rainy day in the woods. The trees hadn’t started to turn green yet, but the water was high, as you can see above. I discovered that my knee fared just fine on uphill and downhill climbs; it was the long, straight, flat paths where it started to bother me again.

Is that a metaphor for my life? Maybe.

I had to slow down because I had no choice, a good reminder that there are some things we have control over, and some we don’t, and we should stay focused on the latter. And yes, sometimes things hurt, but when it got too bad, I would stop, utter a few choice words, take a moment to adjust my stride, and keep going.

If you want self-helpisms, there are a couple of obvious ones for ya. 🙂

Anyway, it took me longer than it ever has before, but I got in 3 miles. I wasn’t even limping too badly at the end. Plus, Sadie got to run and romp and chase sticks and wade in muddy ponds. So, I find myself pretty darn proud of this little hike.

And ready for a bigger hill pretty darn soon, I hope.


Hike 14: Noanet Woodlands
Location: Dover, Massachusetts
Date: April 29, 2018
Distance: 3 miles
Wildlife:  Squirrels, robins, the occasional dog/human pairing

Day and Night Snorkeling…in whatever body you have

Before I left for my Hawaii trip, I did some online swimsuit shopping. One of the many companies I explored had a line of copy that stuck with me – “the best beach body is the one you have now.”

What bulls#!$, I thought. That was obviously written by someone who’s only body image concern is 5 or 10 pounds she’s been trying to lose since she was 18. She’s never felt the utter despair that she will NEVER find a swimsuit that makes her feel comfortable, let alone even the slightest bit sexy.

But with snorkeling and lots of beach time on my mind, I dug a little deeper into my shopping and found some solutions that I’d never tried before.

  • Swim shorts, with built in pockets – perfect for making strolls on the beach as pleasant as swimming (see: the perils of chafing). Perfect for those of us who want to hike to a beach and then maybe take a dip, but don’t want to have to wear a full piece swimsuit under normal shorts.
  • A rash guard/short sleeved swim shirt (rash guard is a terrible name, by the way!) that was super comfortable and best of all, covered the upper arms, which have always been my greatest area of self-consciousness while swimming.
  • And, shocker, a bikini top to wear under the shirt. Because, well, most gals with any, ahem, curves up top need a little support.

In this ensemble, while on my Hawaii trip, I went snorkeling, twice: once in a gorgeous cove in daylight, and once at night with a bunch of manta rays. Yes, you read that right. More on that in a moment.

First, daytime snorkeling. This is one of those activities that anyone can do – and a lot of people do – without any coaching or training. In my case, I just looked to my friend for how to do it, and she basically said: “Put the stuff on, stick your face in the water, and breathe. Don’t kick too much, and don’t touch the coral.” The rest – like how and when to put on your flippers, how to keep water from coming in to your mask, how to convince your brain that “No, you’re not about to drown. Yes, you can breath underwater” – the rest you have figure out.

For me, the breathing part was the hardest. I love to swim laps, and that entails taking large breaths that get expelled rather forcefully through both nose and mouth. Snorkeling requires breathing that is slow and purposeful, and doesn’t involved your nose at all. So for me, the first few moments were utterly terrifying. I kept thinking I needed to take a big breath to hold before I put my face in the water. My breathing was fast and panicked. My body was physiologically defying my brain, which knew that people all over the world do this thing all the time…without dying.

Once I got over this fear, and figured out how to keep water from seeping into my mask, the experience was magical. The fish in the bay were plentiful, colorful, and completely unfazed by my presence in their domain. I even managed to take a couple of pictures!

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And here’s the best part about this experience: I never really thought about what I was wearing. I never really freaked out about if the entire world was judging my body. I just put my face in the water and looked at the fish. When I climbed out of the water, I walked gleefully across the beach and didn’t even consider being self-conscious. I was comfortable and it occurs to me, now, this might be the first time I was ever totally relaxed in a beach setting.

Later in the trip, I donned my water outfit again and went night snorkeling with manta rays. I say that as if it’s no big deal, but let me tell you; it was a pretty big deal. See exhibit A:

As magical as it was, this experience surfaced a whole host of self-esteem issues. For example, knowing that I would be hanging out with toned and attractive 20-somethings who managed the experience. And, in this case, knowing that I was the only one in a boat usually reserved for 6. See, circumstances contrived to cause me and friend to be unable to attend our original night snorkeling date. Luckily, the awesome company we booked was willing to rebook me, and they were willing to take just me out in their latest boat. Why is this intimidating to me? I don’t know, it just is.

However, my guides couldn’t have been nicer, and we were soon out in the bay (which is a mere few hundred feet from the dock) ready to meet some mantas. I zipped into my wetsuit top (thank god it fit!) clamored awkwardly over the edge of the boat, and then proceeded to wrestle for a few minutes with my mask, which insisted on trying to drown me each time I put my face into the water. My in-water guide gamely tried to help me, and we laughingly agreed that I have a haircut not well-suited to snorkeling. Eventually, we got me situated, and it was time to…float.

Float, while hanging onto a lit-up surfboard, with a fun noodle beneath my ankles to keep my feet out of the way. See, the lights on the board attract plankton, which attracts manta rays, which attracts crazy night-snorkeling humans.

So after all the anxiety and bustle of getting there…all I had to do was float.That’s it. That’s all I was supposed to do.

This was, surprisingly, a challenge. After a few minutes, and my first gasp-worthy sighting of mantas, I picked my head up and remarked to my guide that I had no idea how much time we had left. She gently reminded me that I had a whole 40 minutes, and I could use as much or as little of that as I wanted; it was entirely up to me.

See, it was very, very strange to just watch and float. I had nowhere to go. Literally. The guides moved the board when needed, and my job was just to hang out in the water and watch the manta rays. At first, I tried to snap pictures and videos, but soon, I just gave up and looked. And reflected on the fact that I am not very good at that kind of stillness. Most of my outdoor adventures involve needing to get from point A to point B. Sure, I might stop and have a snack or take in the view, but pretty soon I’m in motion again.

This was different. It felt strange. And pretty indulgent.

But also amazing.

Once I relaxed, the time flew by, and before I knew it, I was being towed back to the boat and climbed back in. I struggled to peel my wetsuit off, and the male guide just said “oh, we all deal with that” and helped me, as if it wasn’t my fault for NOT being a toned 20-something. 🙂 They gave me lukewarm hot chocolate, motored me back to the dock, and sent me on my blissed-out way under a hazy, full, Hawaiian moon.

The moral of this entire story? If you are a person who deals with body consciousness issues, there is power in finding comfortable swimwear for the body you have right now. It might not be sexy swimwear, but comfort is a good first step. If it can take you across the beach without triggering your self-judgement, that’s a win. And if it can help you get over whatever fears you may be harboring about trying new things, that’s a real victory.

Because there are beautiful fish and otherworldly manta rays in the water, my friends, and it would be a shame if you missed them. Get to it.

Kilauea Iki Crater Trail: #hike6 of the #52hikechallenge

Let’s talk craters y’all. Like actual real volcanic craters in the earth that still have steam coming out of them. Did you know there are such places that have hiking trails into and around them? I didn’t, but I do now!

Every book or blog about the Big Island says that Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of its best hikes. I was a little dubious coming in because it was only 4ish miles long and it seemed like much of it was on flat terrain. But I couldn’t deny the coolness of descending into a volcanic crater. It was pouring rain, and it was still awesome. I guess that’s the mark of a great hike.

Speaking of pouring rain, on the east/Hilo side of the Big Island, it apparently rains all. the. time. We were there for 3 full days and it rained steadily. But that didn’t stop us.

The us, in this case, is me and my former college roommate. Since today is International Women’s Day, I feel justified in pausing for a moment to reflect on us two women, and the fact that, on this trip, we realized that we’ve been friends for 23 years. We met when I was a sophomore and she was a freshman in college. We are partners in pale skin and curly hair, though I think she looks more like a greek goddess with her blond curls and great smile. Though we haven’t lived in the same state since a brief NJ stint in 2003, we’ve managed to stay in touch through good times and bad. She’s smart and awesome and beautiful, and I’m grateful for our long friendship.

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This is us at the start of the Crater hike, when the dripping rain was more of a fun challenge than a pain in the butt.

Anyway, the hike began in the pouring rain. We chose the counterclockwise route, which I would highly recommend. The first section is along the Crater Rim Trail, a mostly flat trail that should, per its name, offer amazing views of the Crater and its rim. For us, the views lacked a certain…something.

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As you can see, the rain cloud was basically right on top of us. Eventually, we were able to see a bit more of the crater, and if you look carefully, you can see the trail way down below; that faint white line in the grey.

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The Crater Rim Trail actually goes for about 12 miles around the Crater itself, a hike I’d like to do someday when it’s not raining.

Pretty soon, we left the so-called views behind and found ourselves in what can only be called “lush rainforest”, filled with dripping greenery and huge fern plants.

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The descent through the forest was pretty easy. Eventually, we started clamoring down some steeper, clunkier rocks that likely give this hike it’s “moderate/strenuous” rating. If it’s not raining, there should be no issue, but in the rain, we had to pay close attention to our feet! We also had to go through that process of realizing that yes, our boots would grip the volcanic rock even though it looked black and slick and like it was ready to send us tumbling.

After just a few hundred feet of steep downhill, we emerged from the trees and found ourselves staring out at a vast, grey, steaming wasteland that looked like what I imagine the moon might look like, if it wasn’t white. This was like nothing I’d ever seen before; I stood in the rain and goggled. Because of the rain, I don’t have a lot of pictures of those first moments in the crater, but I did get this one; look at those red flowers springing up out of the rocks!

28423776_10155894307231900_6649769202190451279_oAfter we picked my jaw up from the crater floor, there was nothing for it but to strike out across the lava field, wending our way through craggy mounds of blackness. Ahu is apparently the Hawaiian word for cairn (piles of rocks used to mark trails); following the ahu led us down onto the flat, asphalt-like bottom of the crater, where the trail widens a bit. This terrain is not hard to walk on, but we did it at a snail’s pace because it was just so amazing to look around at the landscape. Parts of the lava looked like it had just broken apart in an earthquake, other parts were smooth and rounded, and steam vents dotted the terrain. For a brief moment, it stopped raining and we were able to get a few good pictures, and we both remarked that we felt like we were about to either win a prize or get eaten by a monster in a Young Adult dystopian novel.

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It started raining again as we neared the end of the lava field, and then it was back into the forest, but this time the trail up was a series of gentle switchbacks rather than steep rocks. From here we got the clearest view of the Crater yet.

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As the switchbacks ended, we found ourselves in a busy parking lot near the Thurston Lava Tube, so we added that the hike.

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This is a short little walk through a dark lava tube, which was fun, but would have been more fun if we’d not gotten caught in the middle of a senior citizen tour group. Several of the group were wearing bike helmets, and it took us a second to realize it was because there was a chance they might bump their heads. This seemed like an overabundance of caution, but it was still pretty cool that they all found their way down the steep and slippery stairs into the tunnel. It was so loud and crowded in there that I was content to zip through pretty quickly. Then, it was back to the Crater Rim Trail for a final flat trek through the woods. There were some pretty cool views of the Crater from this side.

And then, we were done. By this point, we were both pretty soaked, even with raincoats and hats, so drying off in the car felt great. We drove to another lookout at the head of a different trail, where we could look down on what we’d just hiked from a different angle. Can you see the tiny, tiny person in an orange jacket down there?

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The moral of the Kilauea Iki Crater hike? Don’t let rain stop you. Though I would have loved to see this place in the sunshine (you can check out this flickr gallery if you’d like to as well), it was still an astonishing journey through landscape I’d never seen before. I was exhilarated when I was done even though it wasn’t a huge challenge for my legs. I would do it again in a second.

Summary: Hike 6 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Volcano National Park, Hawaii.
Date: February 25, 2018
Distance: 4.4 miles
Wildlife: None except for whatever rustled the leaves in the forest part of the hike.
Notes: Do the hike counterclockwise. If it’s sunny, sunscreen, water, and a hat would be a must for the crater floor. And always remember:

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Polulu Valley, Hawaii: #hike7 of the #52hikechallenge

Yes, I know I skipped #6. It was a great hike, in the rain, through a volcanic crater. I’ll get to it later, though, because hike #7 was one of my favorites this year so far. My photos from this hike, taken with my new wide angle prime lens, will tell the story.

First, some background. Polulu Valley Lookout is as far as one can drive on the north shore of Hawai’i, also known as the Big Island. PololĹ« means long spear, and carves a long cleave on the northern side of Kohala Mountain. The valley is at the head of the Kohala Coast, the oldest part of the island with deep valleys towering over picturesque beaches. Coming from the Kona coast, as I was, it’s a magnificent drive to get there, and the view from the lookout (which has minimal parking and no turnaround and therefore is full of vehicular confusion, to quote my guidebook) is pretty great.

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However, there are wonders to behold if you venture beyond the lookout.

Part 1: Switchbacks to the beach

The necessary disclaimers: this is not a hike for those with balance issues, mobility issues, fear of heights, or those not wearing sturdy/grippy shoes. This hike features steep rocky “trails”, abrupt and railing-less ledges, the potential for rock falls, muddy paths, and dangerous surf.

However, the results are worth it if you can pass up this wall of terror:

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The good news is, if the first 100 feet of steep rockiness freaks you out, you can get a much better view of the beach and the valley by stopping at one of the first overlooks on the trail. Take your picture and go back with no shame in your heart.

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If you continue on, you will switchback down the cliff trail pretty quickly, with incredible views at every turn. As you emerge from the jungle-like greenery, you’ll find yourself with a choice. To your left, a magnificent black sand beach with huge surf (at least it was huge the day I visited). To your right, a peaceful and majestic view up the valley. I was drawn to the valley, for obvious reasons:

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But the beach wasn’t too bad, either:

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A note of caution; don’t swim here. The waves are big, the rocks are substantial, and the current strong.

Just behind the beach is a fairy wonderland of dunes covered in ironwood trees; there are even a few rope swings among them. I have read differing accounts saying that the land behind the beach is private property, but many people seem to take the risk to venture back there. I wandered blissfully up and down the dunes for a while, gazing back down the valley, which seems almost too magical to be real:

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Part 2: Up the cliff to the 2nd lookout

Eventually, I found my way to the beginning of the second part of the trail:

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This section was glorious and far too short: strolling on black sand among lush greens with the sea roaring to the left.

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Abruptly, the trail changed and became dense with greenery, steep, muddy, rocky, and very narrow.

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Here, the sea breeze goes away and the humidity sets in. Basically, you are heading up the steep green “cliff” that you viewed from atop the first overlook. The uphill quotient is fairly significant, but everyone I passed assured me that it was worth it. 600 vertical feet of switchbacks will eventually lead you to the top of the cliff above the second “valley” along the coast, called Honakane Nuie.

My pictures don’t seem to adequately capture the wow factor of emerging, sweaty and panting, from the trees to encounter this view:

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I guess you’ll have to see it for yourself someday. There are two lovely benches at the overlook, which beg the tired hiker to sit and contemplate, but beware of the wind, which could snatch an unwary selfie-taker’s phone right out of her hand.

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I met a couple who went beyond this overlook to the next beach; the continuation of this hike requires ropes and ladders to complete it, which wasn’t on my agenda, especially since I was alone and this trail struck me as relatively poorly maintained.

The return hike was much faster heading down, and emerging from the vegetation onto the beach was breathtaking:

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Speaking of breathtaking, hiking back up the switchbacks to the parking area was pretty tough for me. That final uphill is the 5th mile, so the rocks can seem pretty formidable. Luckily, there are a lots of places to stop and “admire the view” while catching your breath.

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Final thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in the these past years of adventures. Polulu Valley is definitely in my top 5. The variation of landscapes on this hike – steep rocks, beach, peaceful valley, tree-filled glade, messy jungle trail, and sweeping vistas – they made the hike completely engaging and challenging enough to be interesting. Even on a hazy day, the colors and the views were incredible. I had heard that the Big Island was a “hikers paradise”, and I was skeptical, because most of the best hikes I’d read about involved just a mile or two of tramping to a beach and back. But this hike changed my tune. I recommend it unreservedly and only wish that I’d been able to bring some of you along with me to enjoy it. Though you might have had to wait for me at the top a bit as I plodded like molasses up the steep switchbacks. Slow and steady gets the views, right? 🙂

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PS: Thanks to the lovely lady from LA who offered to take my picture in the crazy wind. She got a kick out of my involuntary exclamation of “Ohhhhh, wow” when I came out of the trees onto the overlook. I guess I didn’t know I’d said it aloud until she laughed and said that’s exactly what she and her husband were thinking. 🙂

Summary: Hike 7 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Polulu Valley Lookout, Kapaau, Hawaii.
Date: March 1, 2018
Distance: 4.4 miles
Wildlife: Birds
Notes: Parking is free at the Lookout, but crowded