This is just one of many odd conversations I had with Mallory on the way down from the Mauna Loa volcano summit: “If Pahoehoe were a man, I’d marry it”. I was delirious from altitude sickness, lack of sleep and exhaustion. To explain, pahoehoe is a type of Hawaiian lava with a “smooth and ropy surface”, in contrast with ‘a’a, which is “jagged and clinkery”. You can imagine which one is easier to walk on. We literally clocked about 1 mile per hour walking through ‘a’a, whereas pahoehoe was like walking on a paved sidewalk, but fun.
The 4-day hike to the Mauna Loa summit was absolutely amazing to say the least. Surrounded by nothing but miles of miles of lava with no humans in sight for four days was epic. I never knew how colorful and gorgeous different types, shades, and shapes of lava could be. I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland, but instead of Wonderland it was the planet Mars on acid. Throughout the hike, I would pause and take in the scenery around me, amazed by the vast and beautiful fields of diverse lava.
It sounds dramatic to say I came down the volcano changed person. I didn’t expect to feel this way. I actually didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always prided myself in being fairly fit and being able to handle extreme conditions, so this hike was like eating a big slice of humble pie. I had never hiked 38 miles, let alone 11 miles in one day, let alone 2 days in a row. Surprisingly to me, it was day 3 I found the most difficult, which was the beginning of decent from the summit. Downhill is easy right? Not when you woke up the night before gasping with some sort of panic attack. I slept at most 2 hours and my mind had gotten the best of me. I am not sure what happened, but I went through waves of panic about needing to be medevaced off the mountain due to altitude sickness and nightmares of a death of a friend who parted ways on the hike.
I don’t really remember much of good ol’ day 3. Perhaps it was the altitude sickness, lack of sleep, swigs of whiskey and walking 19 miles up a mountain. In my 20’s I could drink, stay up all night and run 10 miles the next day. No more! I can no longer do any combination of the 3 without being non-functional for at least 24-hours. It was freezing (literally) at the top and the headaches, nausea and dizziness did not inspire me to explore much. The first 2 miles of the 11.5 decent were grueling. I laid down on the crumbly lava and I contemplated my options. I could hike the 4 miles to the observatory but who would pick me up? I didn’t have my phone, there was also no phone service, nor was there a guarantee of anyone being there. Or I could continue down the mountain. I told my comrades that I felt like crying. Then I got up and just started walking. What I decided at that moment is all I needed to do is put one foot in front of the other and move. It could take me all day and night, but moving forward was the only option. At one point, I decided to pretend I was simultaneously drunk and hungover, and that walking 9.5 miles through lava was the only way to get home. It actually worked for quite a while!
Upon reflection, I see parallels with what has been my personal journey. There are no shortcuts; you can only take things one step at a time. The only way to get to a destination is to walk forward, and sometimes it means walking through what seems impossible. I wish it were different, I wish there were a way to skip over the hard parts. I have spent moments of my adult life wishing I didn’t have to experience some of the things I have. But like a lava tube, sometimes you have to walk through it to see the light at the end.
What is beautiful to me is I did make it down the volcano despite myself. I owe much to my comrades for their encouragement and positive spirits. We all were down at some point, but I am deeply thankful for them. We made a great team.
Upon completion of the journey, my respect for nature has grown tremendously. I realize the times we were in danger, when we were low on water (or the water supply was temporarily frozen), the many falls we recovered from unscathed…we truly are lucky. In the end, nature will win. When surfing, I often feel this way, but the hike boosted my respect to another level. One thing I can’t explain is my appreciation, respect and understanding of Hawaiian culture has also increased. Perhaps it is because the volcano (and Pele) is ferociously respected and feared by the locals and I now understand why.
I skipped class this afternoon and hiked up Diamond Head, which is behind where I live. At Julia’s on Big Island, where we spent a few days recovering, I read segments of a book on Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcano. The stories of Pele vary, but I read that after Pele was attacked by her older sister and left for dead, she recovered and fled to Oahu where she dug several “fire pits”, including Diamond Head in Honolulu. I’m not exactly sure why she dug these fire pits, but I’m assuming she was pretty angry. As a sign of gratitude for safely finishing the hike, I decided to head up to the top of Diamond Head crater today and bring a lei as an offering to Pele. I wore it up the entire hike and at the top I threw it as far as I could into the crater. This is very unlike me and even writing this I feel a little crazy. What I find even more boggling is in Pahoa, a small town in Puna District near Mauna Loa, I spoke to a man in the Pahoa Museum and told him, “I don’t even remember getting down from Mauna Loa. It was like Pele carried me down”. As I was saying these words I almost laughed at how ridiculous it may have sounded. But he just nodded his head and smiled.
I have to document this. Mallory and I saw many resemblances to food in the types of lava that are worth mentioning. They are the following:
lava cake (duh)
colorful layered cake
packaged raw ground beef from the store
seasoned ground beef (like in tacos)
cow pies (some sort of dessert?)
If we served all this stuff at a party, would you come? We’d throw in some GORP, tuna and ramin in for fun.