The alarm clock rang, unwelcomingly, at 5:30 AM. When Martin cheerfully tried to roust me from bed, I groaned. I rolled over. I put the pillow over my head. Go away! Go kayak by yourself!
But he was patient and persistent, and once I was up, and showered, and eating a big hearty breakfast burrito outside on the lanai, lovingly prepared by my loving husband, watching the sun stream golden light through dark clouds onto the silvery lagoon below… well, that was okay.
All that weather over the Wailua River, though– the heavy clouds, apparent slashing rain, whipping wind– hmmm, not so inviting. Not what I hope for when I think, “Let’s go kayaking today!”
But being the intrepid (did someone say “stupid”?) adventurers that we are, we rented the kayaks anyway, hauled them down to the Wailua riverbank, stowed our gear, settled into our seats, adjusted our hats, and off we went.
There were a few false starts. I was a little tippy at first. It would have been embarrassing if I’d flipped my kayak in two feet of water, right there by the muddy bank. It would not have inspired confidence for our upriver journey.
Then I almost bashed into Martin’s kayak. He had to take quick evasive action. I don’t know what was wrong with my paddle. The steering was off somehow. I’m sure it wasn’t my fault.
But then I got the hang of it again (Martin astutely stayed well away from me while I figured out some minor things, like how to turn the kayak), and we paddled quietly up the Wailua River.
I love smooth water kayaking! I love the tranquility and solitude, the gentle dipping of the paddle in the water with its peaceful drip drip splash, the pretty scenery sliding silently by, the only sounds those of nature. We were surrounded by green jungle, green vines, green leaves.
We were gliding through an emerald world.
I was a little worried about the return trip. We had the wind at our backs, which should make for nearly effortless (you’d think!) kayaking, the wind pushing us up the river. Yet it didn’t seem very easy at all. I felt like I had to really dig in and put some oomph into each stroke to stay alongside Martin. It was hard, actually. Definitely work to keep up with him. At one point I snapped, “Why are you going so fast?” and he looked at me, surprised, but our pace perceptibly slowed.
He’s a good guy.
Still… if having the wind at my back was difficult, how would I ever return, paddling into a headwind? It sounded awful. I had visions of paddling furiously, desperately, and making virtually no headway. Of burning arms and lungs; of resting briefly, gasping, and just being blown inexorably back upriver. Of clawing my way excruciatingly, inch by painful inch, back to the river’s mouth. Of very possibly just not making it.
What happens if you can’t make it?
I had dire visions of tears and despair, of utter exhaustion, of having to abandon the kayak, of walking home in shame.
That didn’t sound like much fun at all.
Still, once the outbound pace eased a bit, and I wasn’t struggling to keep up so much, I got into the paddling groove, and we cruised happily along past verdant green beauty.
Eventually we took a little fork in the river and entered a small, intimate section with leafy walls closing in on either side. Ahead was a pile of kayaks hauled out on a small beach. It was the trailhead to the outrageously misnamed “Secret Falls.”
The guy at the kayak rental place said the kayaks were due back in five hours. He said most people did the whole thing (paddled to the beach, hiked to Secret Falls and back, did a kayak jaunt further up the Wailua River to swim in a picturesque swimming hole, and returned to the mouth), all in three hours.
Five hours? Plenty of time! No problem, he confidently assured us.
He didn’t know us at all.
We threaded our way through tall grasses, forded part of the Wailua River (water was flowing fast enough after the recent heavy rains that a rope had been strung across the river for people to grab as they made their way across), meandered upstream. It was so lovely! We kept stopping to photograph this pretty pool, or that pretty bank, or some other pretty stream– and eventually came to a gorgeous cascading waterfall. There, we just gave up. We shrugged off our backpacks and just spent some time, photographing the area, playing, soaking it up.
We did finally make it to Secret Falls– 120 feet of water crashing and thundering down, creating waves and lots of spray in the rocky pool below. We stood there, gaping up at it, along with everyone else.
At one point some guy, angling towards the waterfall for a better look, exclaimed to me as he passed, “Wow!”
Mischievously, I deadpanned, “What?”
He answered, “Pretty!”
Looking around, I replied with feigned interest and surprise: “Oh? Where?”
He did a colossal double-take at me, clearly speechless– seriously, lady?– before I grinned at him. Martin said that I should not be doing that to strangers, but I can’t help it. It’s fun.
Secret Falls was getting crowded, so we started back. We returned by a different trail, past an ancient Hawaiian village– reportedly never conquered by outsiders because of the long upriver trip and then the noisy hike through the jungle to reach the site. Only a few moss-covered rocks really remained, in a large flat area that must have been, back then, cleared of trees. The Wailua River chattered past on the far side of the village. It must have been idyllic.
As we continued down the trail, we encountered an incredibly gloppy muddy section. A small path had been beaten to bypass the mire. Martin, knowing I love squishy mud between my toes, challenged, “Go ahead! Take off your sandals and walk through that!”
Surely he knows me well enough to not make that kind of dare?
My sandals were off in an instant, and I was stepping into the thick dark sludge with enormous satisfaction, sinking ankle-deep (sometimes shin-deep) into it, the mud sucking at my feet as I walked blissfully back and forth. A group of teenagers happened by, wisely skirting the muck, casting odd sidelong glances at me. Even they knew to stay out of that goop!
What’s wrong with her?
Sometimes you just gotta squish through mud barefoot. It’s good for the soul. Answer me: When was the last time you squished through mud barefoot? I think it’s time you did it again.
And so back to the riverbank, which was now choked with hauled-out kayaks, people swarming to see the not-so-secret Secret Falls. With some trepidation, nervously eyeing the vegetation rustled by the wind that was still blowing upstream, I climbed in– and was surprised and gratified to discover that it was actually easier kayaking out than in! Yes, we had a headwind, but I had evidently forgotten a critical and highly pertinent fact. Rivers flow. They flow down to the sea. Rivers have– here’s my epiphany!– rivers have a current!
And apparently a downstream current trumps an upstream wind.
Paddling back was effortless. We skimmed along, a single paddle stroke propelling me swiftly forward. I am Superwoman, a powerhouse of sinewy strength! Indefatigable, invincible, indomitable! I can rocket through water, I can fly like the wind!
Bring it on, baby! I am unstoppable!
My arms were aching, limp little appendages by the end of the day.
But the Superwoman imagery was nice while it lasted.
All told, we paddled five miles, and breathlessly deposited the kayaks at the rental shop a mere one minute before our five-hour window was up.
Way to maximize our time with the kayaks!
Next time, though, Superwoman expects a downstream current. Both directions.