Hawaii, week two.


Nothing incredible, exciting, or magical happened today.  We sewed the skin on our kayaks and started carving paddles.  It rained.  I went to the grocery store in search of graduated measuring containers but didn't find any, so we won't be coating the kayaks until that happens.  Day to day here is a bit of a shock, socially Hawaii is far from paradise.  Hawaii is blessed with the highest incarceration rates and the worst schools in the country, and there is alot of racial tension.  The supermarket here is the same as the supermarket anywhere but it seems so much more tragic to me because unlike, say, Minnesota, where one might find any number of perfectly valid reasons to squander ones health on liquor and miniature donuts;  Hawaii is lush and warm with any number of things to do other than die the Slow American Death.  It's not fair that I should hold this place to such a high standard, but there a few bicyclists and virtually no kayakers in a place that is paradise for both.  I just goes to show that Wall Mart can suck the beauty out of any place. 

Rich and I downspiraled into a long speculative discussion about the dangers of Tiger sharks.   So far my thoughts on sharks have been 'They're big, they're down there, and theres not a whole lot I can do about it.'   Of course it wouldn't hurt to dye zebra stripes on the bottoms, just in case; we will after all be paddling hundreds of miles of habitat during prime feeding times.  Then we'd look at our beautiful clean kayaks and imagine massacreing the aesthetic with a bad paint job that we can't even practice.  But then again, it might look OK and would make us feel safer and who knows?  Around and around the argument went until after a few disturbing internet searches we decided to go for it, only to discover that TSA had replaced my black acid dye with a freindly note saying they'd confiscated it as hazardous materials.  Thanks for keeping us safe TSA.

A genuine photo from shark researchers in South Africa, they wanted to study the sharks more intimately, so they used kayaks.   Here is the the link to the Africa Geographic article this photo is sourced from   http://www.whitesharktrust.org/pages/mediaarticle/media25.html

The Wailuku river might be rising with the weekends' rains and I'm contemplating telling Chris and Rich not to let me run it no matter what I say at the time.  It's a gorgeous river.  The Wailuku, literally translated 'river of death', is tropical chasm that runs right through the center of downtown Hilo with absolutely the most beautiful world class whitewater I've ever seen.  It's also a class 5 river,  40 ft drops, big pools, submerged lava tubes, big holes.   I'll definately risk a single run if the opportunity presents itself after the trip, but I can't risk jarring my back or tearing out my shoulder three days before a 270 mile paddle trip.  Still, if I see it, I'm gonna want to run it, I'll have to give my helmet to Bailey and tell her not to give it back,  I can't trust the guys.


I feel like a traitor, like scum.  This morning for the first time in my life I shopped at Wall Mart, it was the ONLY place in Hilo where I could get graduated mixing containers for the goop.  At least they had them, otherwise it would've taken some seriously creative measuring to get the ratios and the quantities right, and this stuff is finicky!  So we coated the kayaks, thank goodness.

...and then as it always happens when you do this outside, the bugs started to land and stick, and it started to rain.  We quickly moved the sticky kayaks into the shed.  Rich says he spent the better part of the day doing research for his real estate appraisal job (geez, some people),  but considering the quanity of evidence he found to support us painting stripes on the bottom of the kayaks I suspect he was actually researching tiger sharks more than land values.  Thanks Rich, I never used to worry about sharks.

Bailey drove me to the fish market where the service pace was measured in geological time.  I eyed the Ahi in the case like a slavering wolf for ten minutes before reurning to the car with the soft red slice of tuna. Bailey looked on sqeamishly as I unwrapped and ate the entire raw fillet right there.  Mmmmmm.

  Driving to the beach I saw war resisters waving signs and was dissapointed that Rich's car refused to honk for peace.  When I arrived at the parking lot the trunk also refused to close so I tied it shut with a cam strap and carried Baileys Ginnyak down the steep trail to the beach. 
I went solo for a grey and rainy evening paddle outside Honolii, and pressed the shoulder a bit hard coming in on a wave, ouch.

At the health food store I met a fellow Oregonian and our discussion of photography sparked the interest of a tall man who asked if I was a photographer; I should have said no and informed him that in fact I was actually blind.  For the next fifteen minutes he imposed an endless photo array of sunsets and clouds, complete with narrative.  He was a perfectly nice man but I still nearly ran shreiking from the store.  Unless there is something truly remarkable in the foreground I will never take a photo of a Hawaiian sunset.  That's what professional photographers and postcard companies are for.


Shopping for the trip today, a bit different from the norm.  Food shopping for instance, Rich and I each pick up a shopping basket, which is about the amount of space we have for food, and just sort of wander around and buy stuff until the baskets are full.  A similar scene ensues at the drug store and army surplus store.  Back at the house the gear and food are assembled into a big pile, ready for sorting.   At 11am we paint the shark repellant stripes on the kayaks.  Chris, personal friend and head ocean safety officer for the Big Island, stops by to check our progress.  He knows Tiger sharks and thinks the stripes are a very good idea, and thats good enough for me.   Chris can ride or pilot anything that floats, including commercial fishing boats, paddle boards, surfboards, kayaks, rafts, scuba gear;  he knows the Hawaiian ocean.  Rich and I listen intently to everything he says.


Rich says "I feel like I'm in an art museum with a sharpie pen, it's awful!"

We both feel better with the stripes and head upstairs to do the real work of plotting our days along the island.  The choices have been made for us, there simply isn't a lot of places to land.  On average there is fifteen miles between possible landing spots, some days push twenty five miles with only a few of the landings safe in a large swell.  Ground swell is a primary consideration, especially with the reef landings, more dangerous is the superimposed trade wind swell.   Just planning the next four days is difficult, drawing on a mutitude of swell and wind forecasts, Rich's knowledge of the island, and our combined experience of exposed coastal touring.  The game we're playing here has so less to do with paddling skill and everything to do with making the appropriate predictions and choices.  Almost every stretch is full commitment.  

An improvised scale taken directly from the latitude on the map.  When we finish the course we add all the distances up to within 10 miles of the known distance around the island, an error of less than .04 percent, which makes me feel really good about my map skills. 

For the rest of the day we work on kitting out the kayaks, deck lines, thigh hooks, backbands, rub strips, paddles.   We're both starting to 'feel it' and the 'stoke' is palpable.  Tomorrow we load the kayaks and drive them to exposed reef surf where we'll get a solid idea of how they'll perform on the more dangerous landings of the trip.  Rescue practice, load balancing, and dropping down steep Hawaiian faces for the first time.  That's the scary part, doing the research to find out which waves will eat us and which will spit us out.  I have a good sense of the surf balance of the SC-1 already, but unlike Oregon, the bottom here is close and jagged so making the wave is more critical.  I'm confident in my skill level and confident in the kayaks.  Wipe-outs are going to happen but hopefully we can keep them within manageable parameters.  It's a bit comical because the thresholds for sea kayakers are pathetic compared to those of surfers who aren't risking 100 lbs of loaded boats dragging them across the reef.  So when we say the surf was 'epic'  we're talking like 8 ft,  12 ft faces.


Our shakedown cruise was a disaster.  We started off the day arguing about packing strategies and safety gear.  Five miles down from Hilo Rich confessed to me that he had a terrible feeling of dread about the trip and that he couldn't go.  I know this paddle has been Rich's dream for the last six years so for him to say something like this I took it seriously, I think whatever is speaking to him is real and I respect his choice.  The decision not to go is always the hardest, and the most important decision one makes in a sea kayak.

I decided to try some self rescue practice and dove over the side of the kayak.  Even with giant float bags the kayak was too swamped and the only rescue I could do was to reenter and roll and then pump out a giant amount of water.  It wasn't practical and leads me to believe that a solid roll is the only safe rough water self rescue is a rock solid roll.  Luckily I have that.   Not so luckily my waterproof camera case leaked killing my $1000 DLSR.  Hopefully if I dry it out it will work again.

The kayaks performed beautifully, stable, manuverable, and virtually impervious to wind and chop.  But paddling back through the heavy swell and confused water Rich and I both became sea sick, me for the first time in my life.  It was awful but by keeping myself fed and hydrated I was able to get through it. 

That eveng I strongly contemplate cancelling the trip, because of the possible death of my camera and Rich's ominous feeling.  I really have to reach deep inside and try to think clearly, I don't wan't to do anything stupid or dangerous.  Going solo would definately increase the risk of the trip, but I've done alot of solo big water trips and the fact is, I just don't have a 'bad feeling' about it.  I decide to go for it.  I've trained for this, I live for this.  The reefs are scary, but for sheer power the thick cold waves of the Oregon Coast are way heavier.  I'll be okay.

Trying to plan a solo paddle for the next week is tricky.  I can't chance paddling the Kau Coast (where the lava flows into the sea) because on thursday two swells are predicted to collide where two powerful currents and winds also collide; too much risk.  Tommorow I may start at South Point and head north along the Kona coastline.   This may be the last entry in this blog, I'm not sure what progress I can make or what route I'll choose.  The Island will choose for me. 

Kayaking the Kona Coast