8am: I’m holding onto a vine, hanging from a mountain, covered in dirt, wondering what the fuck I’m doing with my life. The vine snaps and I slide through the mud.
My boyfriend reflexively catches a strap on my grey Herschel backpack as I pass. This’ll be the second time he’s saved me. Or maybe the third. I’ve lost count. The strap slides from his grip and my heart drops through my arsehole—at least I hope that was just my heart—and I plummet again.
I manage to aim for a tree and the side of my bum catches the branch. I glance up, meeting Irish’s gaze, ashamed. The poor bastard is trapped in the orbit of my rotten fucking travel luck now. And it might kill him. We could both die up here, theoretically. We’ve been told for ages that we’re “super close”, and clinging to this has proved to be more sustaining than the vines, but at this point, I honestly don’t know if we’re going to make it.
We do. Obviously. I mean, you are reading a blog post about it. Not a news article on ninemsn in your underwear, chai latte on the coffee table, with the laptop warming your thighs. My capacity for suspense is limited by my medium.
Still, I couldn’t resist starting this with a little…cliffhanger. (!!!)
4:30am: We’re at the gate. What’s on the other side? A few things: a potential prison record. A security guard. Misadventure that’s not covered by travel insurance. What else…a couple’a rocks? There’s 3922 stairs that lead up a mountain. And there’s greatest view in Oahu. So what’s on the other side of that gate?
And we’re perplexed. Every friggin’ article we’ve read says that there’s a man-sized hole in it that we can climb through. But, as our torches sweep across steel, barb-wire spikes shine in the light. The hole is sealed. This is looking difficult. Already.
For fuck’s sa—
We hear whispered voices and dash into the bushes, expecting cranky locals ready to dob us in. We’re in luck. It’s a group of fellow hikers. A fifty-something couple and twenty-something crop-top. With our combined brain power, we hike around the fence, through the forrest beside it.
The road is shrouded in inky blackness, periodically marred by the flash of torch to guide our way. We scurry along, shoes scuffing the gravel. I trip.
Torch lights flicker behind us. Locals? No, more hikers. College kids. Four of them. Cocky, young, athletic. They’ve done the hike before. They even know how to avoid the guard who’s probably going to turn us all away. We agree to follow, and it’s an easy choice. Safety in numbers, right? We leave the road, entering the bushes to our right.
6am: And we’re still in the fucking jungle. Irish is acting as the conduit between me and the rest of group, which includes a fifty-something guerrilla Betty White, who displays a nauseating amount of athleticism. I’m falling behind, waddling along, the weak link in the chain. The first casualty in the Donner Party. That fat kid that dies in Zombieland. Any minute now Betty is going to turn around break my neck with her bare hands.
I can’t help struggling: the climb is steep, near vertical in places, and to advance we have to grab trees, vine, undergrowth—anything that’ll support our pampered, Western arses, really— and use our upper body strength to pull ourselves up. Sometimes vines give way and we slide back down. Knees are scraped. Holes torn in clothing. Cuts are forming in criss-cross patterns beneath the mud that cakes our legs. Muscles scream. It’s far from easy. I have a Kathmandu torch clamped in my mouth like a ball-gag and I’m trying to breathe around it. It’s not one of those petite, penlight torches, either. You could bludgeon a baby seal with this bastard. I look like a Christmas hog that’s escaped the dinner table and made it’s way blithely into the woods, the apple still lodged in it’s mouth.
Irish loses the others in the darkness, waiting for me. He shouts for someone to shine their light back, and the fifty-something male, Devin, slows down and waits.
Thank God, because we’re doing this without a trail and losing them is catastrophic. I want to turn back, but it’s not an option—giving up means going over the ground we’ve already struggled through. The way out is up.
7am: A slope towers before me: it’s near vertical. 2m tall. Slippery with mud. I look for a toe hold and grab onto the vine above me.
7:01am: Well that didn’t work. I grab the tree.
7:02am: I fall backwards. Screaming internally, I try again.
7:04am: And fall.
7:06am: And again.
Panic sets in. I don’t have this level of fitness. I can’t do it. This is it. I’ve come to that which beats me and I can go no further. I’m two eyelashes from a panic attack, which is terrifying—Irish hasn’t met the histrionic banshee yet. I’ve been well behaved so far. I call out to him, my voice shaky. He yells for the group to wait and comes back.
“I can’t do this.”
“Of course you can, just grab on and pull yourself up. Give me your hand. I’ll help.”
“No, Irish. I can’t do this. I just…” I falter, tears pushing the back of my eyes. I can’t do it because who knows what’s next. Hawaiian forrest sprites? Duelling banjos? Will we have to scale Donald Trump’s wall?
“CC, look at me. You’ve got this. Now take a deep breath and grab my hand.”
I wonder if I’m going to drag the poor bastard into hell with me, but I don’t, and somehow we manage to get my carcass over the outcrop. Devin and Betty White have crept back to investigate. Irish explains that his not-quite-full-retard girlfriend is struggling and could the group possibly slow down? Devin’s reply both reassures and frightens me. He’d love to slow down, as would Betty. However, the collegiate quartet who have led us on this climb won’t. They have ‘the energy of youth’.
A “Woo!” echoes down the mountain.
Devin’s worry lines deepen. “This is bullshit,” he adds conspiratorially. “I don’t know where they’re taking us but we shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous. I’d have never come if I knew—”
“—but what can we do? Let’s just take care of each other and get through this alive.”
Things shift. For one, the college sherpas betray their sheep and bugger off. And the sheep become more conscious of each other.
“Okay guys, see that rock? It’s loose. Don’t step on it.”
“We’re going to just take our time here, this part is really steep.”
“How you going back there, CC? Still on your feet? Oh, no. Shoot. Yep.—that’s gonna leave a mark.”
7:50am: “Just shimmy along this bit here”.
“I’m sorry,” Irish raises his hand, bringing sarcasm up from the rear. “Can you repeat that? ‘Cause I thought you said to shimmy.”
We’re staring at a steep area, with nothing to grab onto. Just wet, loose mud.
And apparently, we…
Irish puts his hand to his ear. “One more time?”
Crop-Top repeats in her knuckle-grating drawl, “You shimmy across on your belly. Like a baby”.
Like a baby? How helpful. “We’re on a fucking mountain,” I snap.
“Everyones gotta do it.”
Irish grabs my hand. “Come on. It’s easy.” A grin tickles his face. “We’ll just, you know, shimmy.”
“Like I did.” Crop-Top lifts her hands helpfully. “I made it.”
In actuality, Crop-Top had fucked up her first shimmy and panicked, freezing like a deer in muddy headlights and refusing to move. But now, from the other side, the mad cow is bravery personified.
“I will tit-punch you,” I mutter.
“Well…come on guys, it’s not that hard,” she continues.
Devin’s already crossed. Betty tried and slid down. Which pissed her off. She’s taking her frustrations out on the mountain as she climbs back, violently ramming a stick into the mud and using it to pull herself up, determined, looking like a grizzled Amazonian warrior.
I glance at Irish. There’s just us now.
8.15am: Daylight skips alongs the metal railing before me. Betty’s on the other side, white hair glowing.
What’s with this woman? She was behind me. Is she a ninja?
“Look at that view!” Crop-Top shrieks.
My hands touch the rail. Sneakers find rusty steel.
And there’s sunlight.
Beautiful, unmarred-by-forrest-canopy sunlight. It’s breathtaking. Phenomenal. It’s Eva Mendes’ left nipple. I want to taxidermy it. Chew on it. Motorboat it. Let me motorboat the daylight. I’m babbling, relief bringing tears to my eyes. Far below us, cars slide along the freeway, their occupants heading to work, thinking about the day ahead: the books to balance, the lunch to eat, that prick in the accounts department that always leaves skiddies in the toilet bowl; and up here I’m…
Crying. Loudly. Awkwardly. And how I must look: I was panting like an asthmatic goat for the entire trek, now I’m sobbing and shrieking about nipples.
We’re halfway to the first platform and the first platform is just before halfway to the top. The top is 2500 feet high. So let’s say that the first platform is, conservatively, 1000 feet. Yeah? Well we’re halfway to that. So 500 feet—actually no, fuck the imperial system—we’re 152.5 metres up.
To put that in perspective, we’re about 20 metres higher than top of Harbour Bridge to the water level.
The rest of the stairs—although not for the faint of heart—is a breeze after the jungle. They’re steep in some parts, a literal ladder at others.
Irish and Devin are behind me. Betty’s gone. She climbed the damn things like a ferret up a rope. She’s on the first platform now. Doing bicep curls. Chewing on rocks and twigs and spitting the remnants at the pampered American kids that pass her.
I’m taking one step at a time. My quads burn. Vertigo lifts and dumps the contents of my stomach. It’s painfully slow going. Like this post. And I apologise to my companions.
And uh, my readers.
I tell Devin that he can overtake me if it’s too tedious back there.
“We’ve come this far,” he says. “I’m not leaving now.”
Irish squeezes my hand. “Take your time.”
Humanity, at it’s simplest, is breathtaking.
9.30am: Selfies are mandatory on the first platform. Here’s mine.
There are people everywhere. Two, six, twelve hikers. How’d they all get past the guard? Well apparently, ‘You can just walk right by him.’
Yep. ‘He doesn’t even ring the cops.’
‘So many people climb the stairs that they don’t bother.’
I look at Irish. If we’d gone our own way and risked a confrontation with the guard, none of this would have happened. The ‘safe choice’ nearly killed us. Our decision was our downfall. Literally. Oh the irony.
“We made our own way past the guard,” Devin points. “That’s our path. I left some skin behind there.”
It’s not funny but adrenaline turns it into hysteria. Crop-Top gets emotional and begins to screech that she ‘could have died, you know!’
Then from the stairs, we hear “Woo!”, piggy-backed by a maniacal laugh.
The bird-call of the dickhead.
It’s the College Kids, bouncing down the stairs, two at a time, jubilant.
College Kid #1 high-fives Crop-Top. “Hey guys! We did it! Sorry we left you back there. But still, you made it!”
Crop-Top turns giddy. “No Problem! It was sooooooooo much fun!” She turns to me. “DD, can you take a picture of us?”
“My name’s CC.”
“Thanks honey! That button there, okay?”
As I snap the picture, I become aware of grunting sounds coming from Irish. Alpha male sounds. He’s staring at the College Kids, cracking his knuckles.
College Kid #3 is oblivious. “I’m Native American, so it’s super important for me to feel at one with nature, and climbs like this bring me closer to my heritage.”
“There were no Native American’s in Hawai’i,” Irish tells him. “Just Polynesians.”
“Nah man, it’s all part of America.”
“I will push him off this cliff,” Irish mutters.
I grab a bicep to stop him. Brawling on the Haiku stairs with a bunch of ignorant, entitled earmuffs is silly. Especially when we can just send the motherfuckers blankets with the word ‘syphilis’ cross-stitched across them later.
The College Kids exit. Irish shouts after them, “Break a leg!”
Then, “I hope you get lost in the jungle, you cunts!”
10:30am: We make it back onto land and relief. We see guard at bottom of stairs. Pleasant, he is.
There are girls starting stairs. We ask, where village? They point right. We follow. There, dirt road. Mud. Fence and jungle left, freeway above us on right. Paved road open up on left. We follow. It lead to gate, barb-wire and fence attached, big house both side. Beyond it, humanity. Ug.
It’s not the gate that we climbed past this morning, but it’s civilisation. We throw our bags and climb over the fence, edging onto the property on the right. On the other side, we stare at the mouth of the gate.
Could it be that easy?
From the sliding door of the property on the right, a long-haired woman sprints towards us. “MOTHERFUCKERS!”
I’d like to pause this story to add a brief history lesson. In 1779, Captain Cook and his men landed on the shores of Hawai’i. After a brief interlude the natives, untrusting of a fleet of white motherfuckers on their land, pelted them with rocks.
Two hundred and thirty eight years later, this is still happening.
“YOU TRESPASS ON MY PROPERTY!”
“Ma’am, Ma’am! Listen to me,” Irish dodges the pebbles being flung at him.
“HOW DARE YOU! WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?”
I try. “Look—“
“THIS IS MY LAND!” A pebble flies past my head.
Typical. We make it out of the jungle only to encounter the Sandy Koufax of the Haiku village.
“GO BACK OR I’LL CALL THE COPS.”
Go back? Not a fucking chance. My hand loops in Irish’s and he orders an Uber to get us the fuck out of there.
She’s also on the phone. Crying, now. “Hello? Police? Yes, illegal hikers. There have,” sob, “been twelve through my property today,” wail, “and I have two here with me now.”
This isn’t fair. We barely touched her property. So what, twelve pairs of sneakers passed her house today and since she has nothing else to ponder but her welfare benefits and her bellybutton lint, we’re the unlucky thirteenth?
She’s off the phone now, back to her role as the Haiku shrew. “THEY’RE COMING. SO YOU GO BACK AND YOU FIND ANOTHER WAY!”
“We’re sorry for—“
“OH, YOU’RE SORRY? FUCK YOUR SORRY.”
That doesn’t make a great deal of sense but pointing this out might not be helpful. Irish catches my attention and begins to walk back. I follow.
“The Uber is still twenty minutes away and I don’t want to get arrested,” he whispers. “Let’s just go back and find another way.”
“I can’t go back. Are you mad?”
“YOU FUCKING SHIT!”
“She says if we go back she’ll leave us alone.”
“She’s pissed that we trespassed so her solution is to make us go back to trespass again?”
I turn and she’s there. A glob of spit on her chin. She claws at her denim shorts, shaking in fury, bellowing.
Humanity, at it’s most complex, is terrifying. “Ah, fuck it, let’s go.”
10:40am: “It’s not her land. Nobody owns land. The earth doesn’t ‘belong’ to you. It’s a concept. We borrow and share what resources this planet has in the nanosecond that we occupy it. And if you prevent people from appreciating this remarkable place just because you’re shitty that your petunias keep getting traumatised, you’re just a selfish, small-minded—”
Irish rubs the bridge of his nose. “We can have this conversation later.”
“Okay.” Pause. “Wait—didn’t America legalise weed? Shouldn’t the unemployed be mellow as fuck right now?”
We’re back on the original dirt road, scanning for a hole in the fence. Eventually we find one, slither through, trek through jungle, and arrive at a clearing. There’s a house, partially obscured by three humongous ‘Private Property: No Trespassing’ signs. A tattered American flag hangs from the porch, a Chevy ute in the driveway. The owner of the property is sitting on the verandah— sorry, his verandah—his binoculars trained on the bushes we’re crouched in. He speaks into a walkie-talkie. His friend is swinging a golf-club out by the pick-up truck. He also has a walkie-talkie.
What the fuck is going on?
Why are people playing golf when weed is legal? AND, it’s Wednesday morning. Does nobody work in this area?
“Fucking hell,” Irish says. “I can hear the Lee Greenwood cassettes melting in the sun in that pick-up truck.”
They do look like a rednecks.
“I don’t like it,” he continues. “I say we go back to the guard and find another way.”
I find my voice. “No!” At this point I’m wondering if being arrested is really that bad.
Irish is wondering if he can use me as a human shield when the cops arrive.
“I’d rather die than go back in there, Irish.”
10:50am: The guard is surprised. “What are you two doing back here?”
We are, if possible, more caked in dirt. And fucked. Tired to the marrow. We look like two extras from the Walking Dead. It’s lucky he didn’t shoot us.
“We can’t get out,” Irish explains.
“That’s because you went the wrong way, you idiots. It’s there.” He points.
“Where, past the sign?”
“No, there. The hole in the fence.”
“The hole? Where?”
“No, there! Oh for—” he puts down his noodles and hauls himself out of the car. “That hole there. See? Now get out of here. Jesus.”
I’ve developed symptoms of PTSD when I pass the ferns in the hotel lobby.
And I hug Irish. Alot. I’ve found myself attaching to him like a baby chimpanzee. I took a running jump onto his back in the Coach outlet and was ejected from the store after an “inappropriate display”. I think those parents might have to have a serious conversation with their kids but that’s okay—it’s an awkward exchange that has to happen eventually. Plus, I don’t ever really need to go near a school again and I doubt the charges will stick across international waters.
I’m kidding. Come on, I’d never go near a Coach outlet.
It was a Denny’s.