June 04, 2003
Travel Diary Day 4: Kayaking Na Pali

I actually rose at 3.00 but managed to fall asleep again until the phone rang with my wake-up call. By 4.30 I was moving briskly towards Hanalei in light traffic. The one-lane bridge was presumably supposed to close between 24.00 and 6.00 for repair work, but when I reached it at a little before 5, it looked open, so I drove across. I presume since I didn't end up with the Dodge Stratus in the Hanalei River means they finished.

Since I was early at Kayak Kauai, I killed time by calling Eugenie. The owner and two guides soon showed up and I got squared up for the trip. During the ride over I had been slamming water, and before going to bed the previous night I drank a Sprite (both carbs and fluid). The kayaks we were to use are Ocean Kayak Cabo's. They're roto-molded plastic sit-on-top kayaks. An unfortunate byproduct of being safe for inexperienced tourist kayakers. Fiberglass decked kayaks are probably too difficult to manage in dangerous conditions (i.e. you can sink one, and you have to train people to do wet exits and recoveries). Rather than being called sea kayaks, these should be called sea slugs. And roto-molded plastic is way heavier than fiberglass.

Among our group were 4 MDs: An ER doc, Gary from Santa Cruz, with his two college-aged sons, Nick and Gabe; Tom's wife (I forget her name) a pediatric attending; a pediatric resident, Brian, with his very good-natured wife, Cabby; and myself. So if someone broke a limb, the Gary could set the fracture while I did the genomic analysis, and the PD docs could give us the mg per kg dosing of medicines we didn't have. There was also Jim and Carol, Jim is a forester with the BLM in Portland, OR. I don't know what his wife/SO does. Then there was...dammit, forgot his name...a Harvard Law School graduate from Sullivan & Cromwell's Hong Kong office, and his girlfriend a Chinese-American chick, Katherine.

Our guides were Josh and David. David is in his late 40's early 50's and had been guiding kayak tours for many years until he met a woman who insisted if he wanted a relationship, he'd have to move to Kauai. I bet that was a hard decision. Josh was a fit young guy with longish hair and full beard, the type you find working for outfitters all around the world. Loose jointed, surfer-drawl, hang loose attitude.

We were fitted with PFDs, hopped in a van with kayaks in town and assembled on one of the beaches that precedes Ke'e at the end of the road. Because Gary and I were odd men out, we were paired with the guides. We received a short lesson paddling that omitted what I consider to be one of the more important lessons, the "power-box" and body rotation. I guess as long as they got the job done.

We finally put in at some time after 7.00. From behind David remarked that I paddle like a decked kayak paddler (i.e. I hold the paddle higher to clear an invisible deck), which I guess is true. While Josh and Gary took point, David and I had the onerous duty of being the sweeper for the group. I think I've gotten used to good podding behavior, but soon we were stretched out in a long file with Carol and Jim bringing up the rear. There is a certain pace that my body mechanics like for distance paddling, and Jim and Carol forced me out of my cadence. Often they were many hundred feet between them and the next to last kayak. David and I often had to stop paddling until they caught up. They're nice people, but seemed blithely uninterested in keeping up.

As we turned the corner and arrived off the Na Pali coast we were greeted with the other side of what I saw at Awa'awapuhi: spectacular stratified, razor edge cliffs. David pointed out fauna like Noddy Sparrows (I thought he was calling them Naughty Sparrows) that have a unique nodding head motion. We went into several caves in the cliffs. One had small waterfall draining over its mouth. The easiest way to see the Na Pali Coast is by watercraft of some sort. There are hikes, but the most time-efficient way to seem them is by boat. We passed several catamarans with tourists crowding their decks. It aways seemed that the cats traveled under power rather than by sail. But then it was a light day.

This otherworldly geography is populated with Ironwood trees originally from Australia. We also often found ourselves among sea turtles (even close to 10 in one spot). Unfortunately there were no Spinner Dolphins.

Paddling with Dave was a pleasure. Two experienced paddlers can move a double quickly and painlessly. Unfortunately, Jim and Carol's albatross-like ways forced me to move into Jim's front seat, and Carol into Dave's.

Jim is a laconic, rangy, bearded guy. You'd think that a 6'2" person who spends much of his life in the woods would be a good paddler, but where paddling with Dave was like gliding over the water, paddling with Jim was like paddling with an anchor in tow. I could see him putting his blades in the water, but his strokes hardly seemed efficacious. I'm the type who can't stand to bring up the rear (unless I'm supposed to), so I was paddling like mad just to keep us in the middle of the pack. Everything feels heavier, the paddle, the paddle stroke. I was getting tired, even suspecting that he was deliberately holding back because I'm one those goal-driven people that laid-back foresters probably would like to teach a lesson. After about 6 hours paddling, we finally reached our lunch stop, a beach that used to be a WW2 airstrip. After wolfing down my lunch, I found a tree and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke, the group was gone...

Just kidding.

As I post this, another honeymooner couple is in the computer carrel next to me: she seated emailing her bridesmaids, he standing next to her looking over her shoulder with a proprietary hand on her shoulder. "How do you spell Harley-Davison?" she asks. All honeymooners in the news library look like this.

More later.

Kayaking the Na Pali Coast, continued
We repacked on set off at about 14.30. My secret wish that they might rearrange the kayak seating arrangements was not granted, and I dragged Jim, the inert paddler, for another two hours. We pulled out at a beach just beyond the Naval Missile Range on the west side of the island. It was a surf landing without the instructions about back-paddling off wave crests. No capsizes though, I guess again here's where having a conventional kayak would be more dangerous. Capsizing a sit-on-top is a good story but likely harmless.

The van took us through 0.5 hours of rutted track until we finally reached the highway with fish farms on our right. It would be 2 more hours before we reached Hanalei. As we passed Poipu, I pressed my face against the window longingly. Would that I did not have to recover my rental car in Hanalei, and backtrack 1.25 hours back to Poipu.

In Hanalei, after making the requisite goodbyes to the group, I set off, intensely fatigued. I was so tired that, though my eyes were open, I was hallucinating. I safely arrived in Poipu and went straight to bed.

I only got a couple photos because of the saline environment.

Posted by erich at June 04, 2003 11:27 PM
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