I demanded that the boys stay close behind me and follow in my exact footsteps. A side step could stumble them into a deep crevice. The shallowness of our breaths captured the hope and the strain of our journey. As we got further out, the flashlights from other hikers decreased and became almost non-existent.
Our path was a solitary one.
The red lava snaked high up the face of the mountain and disappeared, reappearing just before the cliff into the ocean. It became evident that we’d made our final turn when we could see the cliff, the best viewing point on the island, ahead about 300 yards.
Our steps and strides quickened and we approached the edge where we saw three people clustered together under a blanket. We walked up to them and felt the dark ocean breeze clog our throats. We peered over the edge.
It was amazing.
The lava river slid down the cliff and along a short beach, seemingly innocently, only to explode furiously upon contact with the cold, ocean water. It was a reddish, orange firework-like explosion, which nicely lighted our view. Some of the lava returned to the shore in a black and red steaming wave. White steam constantly formed a cloudy vertical line into the sky from the beach. The ocean whispered its breeze on our necks, tousling our hair.
A cruise ship in the distance was a constant stream of tiny flashbulbs, trying to capture the scene from their perspective. I wondered if the passengers even imagined we were sitting on the shadowed cliff they were ogling. I’ve read that on any given night, the most stars the naked eye can view are around 2000. Surrounded by the mysterious night and landscape, I’d say we could see at least 1900 of ’em.
Watching the constant confrontation between lava and water was mesmerizing. This is how land is created—the beginning. All of my senses were heightened.
The two boys pulled out their cell phones and I guffawed, “How can you be on your phones at a moment like this?” I was about to launch into a lecture before they explained that they were just trying to utilize the camera function to take a picture. “Oh,” I replied.
I was proud of the boys. I told them we could leave and they said they were fine staying a little while. This pleased me. They were young teens used to a fast-paced LA lifestyle with virtually every piece of technology and entertainment at their fingertips every day. The value in their lives is usually measured in wearing cool clothes, hanging out with the in crowd, and attending the right school. Yet they seemed to recognize the value of pushing their physical limits, sitting on a mountain, and feeling a warm ocean breeze under a dark and sparkling sky.
We knew we had a long way back, so we decided it was time to return to the parking lot. We worked our way back through the unrelenting rock protrusions, the constant search for our next step, looking for the most stable flat surfaces possible as we made our way past the next obstacle. The crevice mouths we walked beside in the dark were wide enough for a skinny leg to fall into. I was nervous about the boys getting any more banged up than they already were. Matthew had a steady stream of blood running down from his knee and the scrapes on his left wrist from a recent fall were turning redder.
We passed two beacons and were too tired to recall how many more were left. It didn’t really matter anyway. Our view was limited to the distance the light from our flashlights reached. The pain in our lower backs inflamed and our knees ached anew.
The thoughts in our minds were loud: boy, the car was going to be nice, to sit in comfortable seats and rest our feet. The other campers are probably joking and laughing around a campfire. I wish I’d worn better shoes.
The exhaustion emitted small complaints. I took the opportunity to remind them of the accomplishment, of the rarity of their efforts. I wanted to complain that I was tired and aching but I couldn’t, as I was the adult leader, so I kept saying things like, “Boy, that was sure special. I’m so glad we went. This isn’t so hard. Big deal, so we’re tired. We’ll sleep well tonight.”
The boys just sort of grunted their approval and kept on. Our bodies wanted us to stop but we didn’t want to lose any time, so we just automated ourselves onward. Matthew slipped a bit and Andrew helped to catch him. “Stay closer behind me, Matthew,” Andrew said. I repeated the same to Andrew.
We finally saw the few lonely lights of the parking lot and a surge of adrenaline seeped through our bodies. We mustered a weakened cheer … and tried to forget that we had about another half mile to go before we got to the car because the lot was full and we had to park quite a way down the road.
We made it to the parking lot and I volunteered to get the car while they waited, but they wanted to come with me. They’d already made it that far, why stop now? Man, I was loving these guys. Just then, a car pulled up and picked up a woman just ahead of us. The man driving asked us if we wanted a lift to our car. We shared the backseat as he asked how we liked the hike and the boys bragged about going all the way to the end. It was merited and I was glad they felt a sense of accomplishment. He dropped us off at our car and we thanked him for the ride.
There was a note on our car from Rio saying that one of the campers had cut himself pretty badly on a fall. Rio said he’d be driving him to an ER to get some stitches after dropping the rest of the boys off at the camp. The time on the note was only thirty minutes prior and we calculated that the other guys leaving early and not going to the end had only saved themselves a half hour. The boys felt even better about their choice now. I was relieved that Rio was much better equipped to handle the emergency than I would’ve been.
Andrew was older so he got shotgun and Matthew was in the back seat. We quickly cleaned Matthew’s cuts with water and paper towels. There was no radio reception as we drove in silence out of the valley and up the mountain. After only a few moments, Matthew was asleep and Andrew politely kept his heavy eyelids open to keep me company.
With the day’s sweat disappearing into my shirt, I had the steady piece of mind that accompanies accomplishment. We’d made it through the tough journey together and experienced the benefits of teamwork, risk, and perseverance. We stuck together, helped each other, and my sometimes obtrusive selfishness vanished in the dark, cool air. On the mountain and now, I cared more about the boys’ well-being than my own. I acted like a leader worthy of such followers—a leader like Rio.
It struck me in the quiet of the drive that all earthly things—humans, molten lava, ocean water—all have a stressful journey to form what they will become. We need to take on the collisions and the hard path. Sure, the hike is rocky, sometimes desolate and empty, but in time, the fragile flower breaks through the surface of a hard rock. It’s a truth I discovered on the mountain.
Pele talks in her sleep.
Related Story: Hawai`I Part III: Go With the Lava Flow
Hawai`i Part I: A Swell Start
Hawai`I Part II: Islands of the Specific