Midlife Crises Are Not For Wimps

A pretty pool along Kalalau Trail. Jane Esaki photo

A pretty pool along Kalalau Trail. Jane Esaki photo

Midlife crises make us do peculiar things. For some, it’s dashing away in the proverbial red convertible sports car parading an equally red head of hair, or hopping onto a Harley with tight jeans and a leather jacket. For others, it might be going back to nature and becoming a hippie.

For me, I would look dwarfed in a sports car and silly on a motorcycle, though I did just buy a leather jacket only because it was on sale and my girlfriend twisted my arm. And as much as I love nature, I couldn’t be a bonafide hippie because I value too much my shiny flatware, dependable SUV and weekly cappuccino with a warm muffin.

But I could sort of be a hippie, if only temporarily, if I embarked on a remarkable hike into nature and then returned unscathed to revel in my worldly comforts. Yes, an incredible hiking expedition would be the ordained rite of passage for my mid-life crisis. So when I turned 50 not toooo long ago, I tried. I packed a 35-pound backpack and with a trusty friend hiked 11 miles into Kalalau Valley.

But unscathed I wasn’t.

The trail consisted of ceaseless switchbacks and traversing around a terrifying rugged cliff via a very narrow, loosely packed dirt path. And as if I needed one more challenge, I slipped on a small, inconspicuous stone, bruising my knee and causing a swelling that could’ve brought me to a complete halt. Thank goodness my friend slipped me an ibuprofen tablet, that lovely, shiny little orange pill getting me through the rest of the trip, albeit like a turtle.

Upon arrival at Kalalau Beach, I slept on the sand — more like tossed and turned on it. In fact, I barely caught a wink during the entire trip. For meals, we skimped on rations of vacuum-packed salmon, dehydrated lentils and pasta, trail mix and dark chocolate. When our food supply ran low, we ate watercress and prawns from the river, opihi seasoned with rock salt from the wave-pummeled boulders, and wild limes and cherry tomatoes growing trailside. Guava was our dessert.

Running on adrenaline, we went on day hikes. One particular trip included swimming around a bend to reach another remote beach. On the swim back, I nearly drowned not because of hazardous high tides, but because I cluck and panic when I see the slightest waves.

The 11-mile hike back to civilization was no cakewalk either. After packing up our trash, we started off mid-morning. Big mistake. The sun already high in the sky, I drank up my water way too quickly. Halfway into the hike, I bonked out on a large round rock, its magnetic and uncanny warmth fortunately bringing me back to life. A passing hiker also donated some water and my friend dispensed the last of his rations.

With visions of a big, juicy hamburger from Hanalei Gourmet as incentive, we finally made it back to the trailhead at Kee Beach and hitchhiked into Hanalei town.

Don’t get me wrong. The experience was not all exacting or torturous. I would be remiss not to mention delighting in the verdant natural flora and fauna, the breathtaking turquoise waters lapping against the cliffs, the playful dolphins spinning in the placid waters fronting the magnificent expansive white sand beach, the grandeur of towering peaks, the hallowed valley, the fresh air and wholesome exercise, and an endearing companion.

In fact, this expedition was remarkable because of its splendor and its challenges, and I will never forget it.

But I must admit: I’m glad this midlife crisis comes around only once in a lifetime.