A Bucket List Born

In early September of 2011, I was sitting on a Hawaiian Airlines jet somewhere between Las Vegas and Oahu flipping through the Hana Hou in-flight magazine.  By this point, Hawaii already held a special place in my heart. I was 15 years old the first time my family ventured to the islands, and I had been back with them 5 more times since. My parents fell in love with Hawaii and fortunately for my sister and I, they continued to take us with them.  On our 2005 trip to Maui, we woke up at 3am to be shuttled to the 10’000 foot summit of  Haleakala Volcano where we watched a spectacular sunrise while bundled in blankets we borrowed from the hotel room to stay warm.  As the sun lit up our surroundings, it became obvious we had been transported to another planet while we slept on the couple hour shuttle ride to the top.  We were definitely no longer on Maui! I was blown away by a landscape unlike anything I had ever seen before.  We reached the beach a short time later with nothing more than a few manual pedals of a bike and a lot of help from gravity.  My mind was blown that it didn’t require an intergalactic space ship to transport us between those two worlds.  I guess you could say Haleakala left an imprint on me that day.  That trip left another imprint on the whole family as well, my dad decided to buy a week timeshare at the Marriott on Maui, which would serve as the destination for many trips to come.  He saw it as an investment and planned on using it as leverage to travel to other cities around the world later in life.  The last picture I can find of my dad and I before he passed away was us in rain gear and helmets on the way back down the volcano that day.  It’s also the picture I cremated along side him to take on his next journey.

Dad and I biking down Haleakala, 2005.

I spent Thanksgiving week 2010 on Maui with my mom and sister, it was our first trip to the islands without my dad.  It was a difficult trip for everybody, so I think we all tried to avoid the subject.  One of the only exceptions was when we scattered some of his ashes along the beach. He loved Maui, so it was only appropriate to take him back there and let a small piece of him live on, soaking in the tropical breeze and sunshine, forever.  A minute ago, I said, “without my dad”… but he was there with us that trip, and he still is.

The following year, during the 5ish hour flight to Oahu, I killed 30 minutes by flipping through the magazine in the seatback pocket in front of me, a tradition every time I flew to Hawaii.  This would have been my seventh trip to paradise, and first time going without any of my family.  I was in good company though, it was a week of incredible adventures with an awesome group of friends from work (aloha Sarah, KC, Nita & Kri!). In that magazine, I read an article that altered something inside of me so deeply that it became an inspiration for this blog post 7 years later.  In the “Quiet” article, the author,  Edward Readicker-Henderson, mentions a study saying the crater of Haleakala was the quietest place in the world and chronicles his quest to verify that claim.  When he finally found the elusive silence, he felt a visceral connection to the pulse of volcano and living earth beneath him, an experience unlike anything he’d ever had.  Reading the article today, I can’t articulate quite what it was that left such a lasting impression on me, but one thing was sure, I wanted to get down in that crater.  Maybe it was the memory of that day on Haleakala with my dad that was drawing me to return.

The idea of hiking down into that crater lingered in the back of my mind for a few years until I learned of the three cabins that could be rented out for overnight stays which are spread out across the 7 mile by 2 mile wide, 2,600 foot deep depression. To most, sleeping on the floor of a volcano crater might sound like an absurd idea, but for me, this revelation catapulted me from “wanting” to set foot on the floor to “needing” to camp on it.  My life wouldn’t be complete until I spend a night sleeping in that crater, and this was the first time that there was something worthy of putting on a “Bucket List”.  The problem was, back then, I had no clue what a “bucket list” was.  I eventually heard about them, and then a spark of inspiration hit me at 6:44pm on November 28, 2014 and I created a new note on my iPhone called “Bucket List”.  The first line is “Haleakala crater over night camp”.  It turns out, shortly before the time that note was written, I find the picture below in a Maui photo album from that year.  I had spent Thanksgiving week on Maui with a few of my dearest friends.  Sarah and KC were back on this trip – she said “YES!” when he proposed on the helicopter ride, Don and Hope joined us too.  I had the final night of that trip to myself since my ohana all departed a day before me.  Where did I go?  To the top of Haleakala to watch the sunset, of course………and while the sky was on fire that night I wrote myself a contract, I was going to camp inside that crater before I died!

Sunset from Haleakala moments before adding camping inside the crater as the first item of my newly created bucket list.

When I left my job at the end of 2017 and started planning my “year of travel”, it should be no surprise that backpacking through Haleakala made the cut.  In fact, one of the first flights I booked was to Maui to do exactly that.  In a couple of weeks, on Friday, August 24, 2018, I’ll wake up in a lodge about a third of the way up the side of Haleakala.  I’ll drive to the summit, my backpack loaded with what I hope is everything I need to survive on that crater floor for three unpredictable days and nights, and I’ll begin the 10 mile hike to my first camping spot.  I guess this might be an appropriate time to try to quell some concerns – this isn’t Kilauea, the active volcano on the Big Island that’s spewing large amounts of lava as I write this post.  Haleakala hasn’t erupted for a couple hundred years, which maybe isn’t too reassuring considering it’s averaged an eruption every 200-500 years in recent history.  I have a picture of a sign in the visitor center that reads “The next eruption of Haleakala could be within your lifetime…”, but the U.S. Geological Survey hasn’t detected any indications that Madame Pele is beginning to stir on Maui, so I don’t anticipate dodging any lava while I’m down there.  For those slightly concerned that I am making this trek alone, fear not, I feel very prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Just this morning, I landed back in Vegas after spending an unplanned week on Maui.  My cousin and his family were going to vacation in our timeshare for the week, but due to life circumstances at nearly the last minute, he couldn’t make it.  His wife and two boys, 12 and 16, were still planning on going, and they extended me an offer to join them.  The answer was unequivocally yes, and I scrambled to book a flight and start planning out how I was going to help make their first trip to Maui a very memorable one, despite their dad being back at home.  We had a busy week of parasailing, zip-lining, snorkeling, and soaking in all of the aloha Maui has to offer.  Our week was quickly coming to a close, and I still hadn’t shown them the Hana side of the island or Haleakala, and I wasn’t going to let them return home without experiencing either.  Our last full day on the island was jam packed, but we managed to squeeze both in, and I had the opportunity to stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center to confirm some of my plans and get advice for how to prepare for my trip back in a couple of weeks. That day came to a close as we watched our last Maui sunset of the trip high atop Haleakala, coincidentally reminiscent of my final night on the island back in 2014.

Full moon raising over Haleakala Crater, July 27, 2018.  The sunset in the pic at the top of this post blazing in the sky behind me.

We were treated to a special and rare celestial event that night – as the sun dipped below the horizon to the west, a massive full moon peaked up above the horizon to the east.  From that elevation, the moon actually appeared to be rising from below me, I was standing above the moon.  I have never had the experience of looking down at the moon, let alone a full one..on top of Haleakala!  I stood there, in awe, for nearly an hour.  I couldn’t get enough of the colors sparkling upon the clouds as the sun went down, or the largest and brightest moon I have ever seen on the opposite side of the sky.  I had to shift my gaze back and forth as the sun and moon performed their spectacular show while Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and an infinite number of stars began to twinkle in the heavens above.  I would have felt brilliant if I had intentionally planned the week to end like that, but it caught me by total surprise.  It was perfect and exactly one month from that night, I would be staring up at the vast universe once again…this time from the crater floor.  The months of anticipation and planning for this upcoming trip suddenly hit me, the reality of the adventure that lies ahead became palpable.  I cant wait to be back on Maui to write the next chapter of this journey that started back when I was just a kid.  But first, let me return to the present moment and say, I’m so thankful for everything about the trip I just returned home from.  I was struggling to find the motivation to write my next blog post, but when I sat down this morning to finalize some final details for my return to the island, still high from spending the past week on Maui and with intense inspiration fueling me, this post started pouring out.

Haleakala National Park will attract more than a million visitors this year.  The majority have no intentions of even beginning the descent into the crater, they only brave the windey and steep road up to frigid temperatures at the summit in hopes of glimpsing the firestorm in the sky at sunrise (or sunset, as I did the night my bucket list was born and then again a few nights ago).  A bunch will do an out and back day hike over some portion of the lava rock trail.  I’ll be one of a relatively few to be down on the other-worldly crater floor while the earth does a complete rotation, well, technically three.  Those three days and nights in Haleakala alone amount to an experience of a lifetime, but I am going big this trip, which means I’m not stopping there!  This will be my 14th trip to the islands, and my itinerary is the most adventurous one I’ve ever planned.  There are at least three other huge bucket list items that I plan on crossing off and you’re going to want to see what they are!  Keep an eye out for several posts soon bringing you along on the backpacking trek through Haleakala, plus the other epic adventures that await us.

This trip is anything but a random idea born out of some void.  The way this story weaves together and evolves so beautifully, leading me to this very moment, can’t possibly all be by chance.  Taken individually, all of the trips were great.  But it wasn’t until I started thinking about where my bucket list was really born, and retracing the events that led it to springing to life, that I could begin to fully appreciate how the journey I am about to embark on came to be.  I’ve counted about a billion events (its probably actually way more) that had to have happened the exact way they did for me ever contemplate entering the sacred land known by the natives as the “House of the Sun”, let alone be just days away from actually seeking my own silence, and spiritual experience on that crater floor.  It seems appropriate to start my blog by traveling back to where this story began, on Haleakala where I spent that special day with my dad, and honoring all of the events that kept pushing me back on the path towards crossing off the first item on my bucket list.

Aloha nui loa (I love you very much), Dad, for taking us to Hawaii all those years, planting the seed that blossomed into the trip of a lifetime that I am about to embark on, and leaving us a way to continue returning to the islands year after year.  And, to everyone else who played a part in this epic story and journey, helping to make it possible in some way – Mahalo & Aloha (thank you and I love you).

A sneak peak at the trail I’ll be taking into the depths of the crater.
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