Hiking the Kalalau trail

There was only one thing I had my heart set on doing when I went to Kauai: hiking the Kalalau trail.

Meandering along the north coast of Kauai for 11 undeveloped miles, the trail offers access to remote beaches and breathtaking vistas. An overnight stay (and a permit) is generally required to complete the 22-mile round trip, so I opted to do a shorter hike and see Hanakapai’ai Falls, an 8-mile journey.


Originally, I planned to do this hike earlier in my stay, but a stomach bug meant that my body wasn’t doing anything more strenuous than laying on the beach for several days. Friday was my last full day on the island, so if I was going to see the Kalalau, I knew I was going to have to muster up some strength. I stopped at a gas station on the way and bought some Gatorade and water and then made my way to the trail.

For what it’s worth, the Kalalau trail is one of the most popular hikes on Kauai. If you arrive at the trailhead much after 9 a.m., the parking lot will be full and you’ll end up parking in a crater ridden lot down the road. Many people seem to ignore the no parking signs and leave their cars by the side of the road as well. It was a swath of humanity when I went: church groups and families, people with children, and people with selfie sticks… generally just a lot of people, many who appeared to be in much worse shape than me. While I knew I wouldn’t be running this trail (my original plan), there was a part of me that felt like even in my weakened state I had to be in better shape than the retirees in sport sandals. Not the most charitable thoughts, but it got me motivated.Kalalau9From the get-go, I got the sense that people may show up unprepared for this hike, because there were constant reminders that “YOU ARE ENTERING NATURE AND IT MIGHT NOT BE SAFE.” A collection of signs just past the trailhead warned of cliffs, flash floods, and falling rocks. Later on, signs warned of hazardous waters and rip currents, with hash marks detailing the number of visitors killed. Two days before my hike, 32 people had to be rescued when rising waters made the Hanakapiai Stream impassable.

The trail went up for the first half mile or so and then leveled off at what was essentially the side of a cliff. From there, it was another 1.5 miles to Hanakapiai beach. I tried to pass as many people as I could on this stretch and avoid getting stuck behind groups. I like hiking alone, with nothing to distract me, but Kalalau was far from remote. Still, each vista seemed more beautiful, and I even saw some humpback whales swim by in the waters below.


Pretty soon, the trail was descending and I was at the infamous Hanakapi’ai Stream river crossing.


On a good day, this crossing requires hikers to remove their shoes and wade across thigh-deep water. On a bad day (i.e. when its been raining), the stream swells, making crossings deadly. Fortunately, crossing was no problem on this day.


For many, the rocky, cairn covered beach at Hanakapi’ai seemed to be the turnaround point. Couples snacked, played with feral kittens, and watched the powerful surf. No joke, you do not want to swim here. I stayed long enough to snap some photos and then continued on.


From the beach, the trail turned south towards the interior of the island, following and eventually crossing the Hanakapi’ai stream a few times. One crossing had ropes to help keep you above the water, but another was just rocks. It was easy to see how one could get stuck if it rained.

The trail started to get crowded at this point; solitude was no longer an option. I listened to a surfer guy give his girlfriend lessons in Hawaiian and tried to stay a few steps ahead of two brothers from Philly. The trail was pretty level; I wished I had it in me to trail run, but I was still feeling pretty terrible. Finally, I caught my first glimpse of Hanakapi’ai falls.


I arrived at the base of the falls about 30 minutes later. The air there was cooler thanks to the mist; the water was downright frigid. After a 2.5 hour hike in 80+ degree heat, I was surprised to find that I didn’t want to go swimming.

Traveling solo (and being in crowded quarters), it was hard to capture how truly tall and majestic the falls were. They were movie quality. One of the brothers from Philly tried to take a photo for me, but warned that he couldn’t get the whole waterfall in the picture. I tried…

Kalalau blog

I didn’t stay long at the falls. The air was cold, it was kind of crowded, and my bad stomach meant that my picnic consisted of a yellow Gatorade, which I sipped while walking. I passed even more people on the way down than I had on the way up… I wished I’d started earlier.

But before I knew it, I was back at Hanakapi’ai beach and warm enough to take a dip in the stream. It felt delicious.


Shoes back on, I booked it back to the parking lot, pausing every now and then to take photos of the vistas. Before I knew it, my glorious hike was over. Though, between the traffic and the heat, I couldn’t wait to book it out of there and head to town for a shave ice. But I have a feeling that I’ll be on kauai again, and that when I am, I’ll venture to Kalalau.

Dateline: Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii

After weeks and weeks filled with snow and sub-zero temperatures, I decided enough was enough and booked a trip… to Hawaii.



I spent a night in L.A. and then went straight on to Kauai. After six hours over the Paciifc, I got my first glimpse of the island’s ragged peaks and red cliffs from the air. As the plane descended over the ocean, I looked out my window and saw a humpback whale surface, a telltale puff of air and water rising from the sea like smoke. I knew then that I was in for something special.

I’d expected to feel as ambivalent about Hawaii as I do so many Caribbean islands: tropical places full of tourist traps, sometimes dirty and unsafe, hard to distinguish one from the other, and too hot to make you want to do too much. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A strong native culture permeates the islands, with gentle reminders to “live aloha,” something the locals practice as well as they preach. The water is crystal clear, and a steady trade wind takes the edge off the heat.


secret beach

A lot of folks I talked to were surprised to hear that I planned to spend all 10 days on one island. They encouraged me to hop over to Maui or Oahu to see the sites. But quite frankly, I felt like I could have spent three weeks just in Kauai and not gotten sick of it. There were numerous hikes I wanted to do, beaches to laze on, and shave ices to eat. On the few occasions I returned to the same spots they felt different: the ocean is always changing, and each day brings new things. One day you might see some iridescent silver fish while swimming off a beach, the next day it might be a sea turtle. You never know.

Also, how do you get sick of views like this?


Or this?

IMG_9365Waimea canyon

And the food… oh, the food. Hawaii seems to have adopted the best of everything: Asia’s rice and raw fish, the so-Cal beach culture’s tacos, and a cornucopia of tropical fruits. Even the papaya was palatable, and I never like papaya. Coconut (my favorite, in all forms) was ubiquitous.

My favorite local dish however, was poke, Hawaii’s answer to tuna tartare. Made from whatever fish and ingredients are on hand, the possibilities are endless; it’s served in upscale restaurants on porcelain plates, as well as at the local grocery store in plastic containers. Often, the grocery store varieties are quite good, and super affordable. My favorite poke spot was the Koloa Fish Market, on the south side of the island. Little more than a counter and a cash register, the market makes several varieties of poke, as well as traditional Hawaiian boxed lunches, which are definitely worth a try. I liked the avocado best (so creamy!), but the Korean version, with a slight kick of spice and sprinkled with sesame, were also quite good.


Of course, when you aren’t in Hawaii (or even if you are), you can make poke yourself pretty easily. All you need is access to sushi-quality fish. Here in Boston, you can find this at a few wholesalers that sell to the public, as well as Whole Foods. The key to good poke is to be sparing with your ingredients; you want to add flavor, but you don’t want the fish marinating in a pool. It’s not ceviche.

Here’s a primer to get started, but feel free to edit depending on what’s on hand. Avocado, sriacha, and onion make great additions.

Classic poke

1 to 2 pounds of sushi grade ahi tuna
1/2 to 1 pound white albacore tuna
a few Tablespoons of sesame oil
soy sauce
3 scallions, sliced thinly

Dice tuna into bite sized pieces and put in a bowl. Add enough soy sauce and sesame oil to just coat the fish- you do not want any extra in the bottom of the bowl. Add diced scallions, sesame seeds, or hot sauce, if desired. Serve immediately.

Ice life… and kale salad

What a difference six months makes. The last time I visited Winnipesaukee 70 degrees seemed cool. This time, 18 felt warm.

ice-002 roughly the same vantage point…August/ March

Still, there’s something cozy about a lake house in the middle of winter. A roaring fire, accompanied by a bourbon cocktail. Homemade chili on the stove. Cuddling with friends on couches under a mountain of blankets. The exceptional air that a moment takes when someone pulls out a guitar and starts strumming. We lost an hour that night, so that we could “spring forward.” The next morning, I woke up to this.


 Skiing was in the plan, but mediocre conditions and expensive lift tickets made us think again. So we headed to Alton Bay to watch the planes come into the only ice runway in the lower 48.


I haven’t spent much time on ice, and if I’m honest, the whole thing freaks me out a bit. Growing up, I regularly heard stories about people falling through the ice on the river that ran through my town. Sometimes they made it, often they didn’t. It was drilled into me from a very young age that ice was something best avoided. So I couldn’t help but think the guys on snow mobiles I saw out in the middle of the lake Saturday fell somewhere between crazy, brave, and stupid. It took a deep breath before I went out onto the ice at Alton Bay, despite watching trucks drive onto it. And then, as I stood there, a plane landed on the ice in front of me.

We ate lunch overlooking the frozen airport and then headed back onto the lake to tour the ice fishing village that pops up there each winter. If you know me, you know that I love fishing. Ice fishing, however, is something I have never, ever had a desire to do. First, the idea of sitting out on the ice, freezing, and waiting for a bite seems miserable. Second, I think fresh water fish mostly tastes terrible, and if I’m not going to eat it, I have no desire to catch it. But the guys on Alton Bay may have swayed me a bit.

Anyone can put out an ice house, so long as you write your phone number on the outside, so folks can call you if it has trouble. The houses range in size and style. Some have propane heaters. Some have beds. Some are built on skis, some have wheels.


It took about six minutes of walking around before B and I were handed Bud Lights by some guys and invited into their ice house. We talked about fishing, and hunting, but mostly fishing. They swore they’d caught fish the day before, but had nothing  that day (of course!).ice

But there was a nice sense of community out there. All these guys (and a few girls) are out there every weekend. They keep one another company, help each other out, and keep each other entertained. One guy was towing his kids in a sled behind his snowmobile, another was on a four-wheeler pulling his friend on a snowboard. He offered to tow me on my skis, but alas, I’d left my boots at the house.


That sense of community is ultimately what led me to conclude that maybe ice fishing isn’t so bad. This winter has been a doozie, but getting outside with friends for a good time seems like the best strategy for not letting the dreary days and frigid temperatures get to you. It’s why I’ve skied so much this winter, and have continued to show up for November Project at least once a week.

Of course, when the weather is like this, my body craves the comforts of long cooked stews and warm breads. Poutin seems an appropriate apres ski snack, and of course one needs a beer to go with it. After a weekend of this, my body needs a reset on Mondays, something that’s substantial, but also good for me. This kale salad is a bit of both.


I discovered it a couple of weeks ago at the Whole Foods salad bar when I was in search of a snack. I liked it so much that I snapped a photo of the ingredients and vowed to make it at home. The kale provides fiber and vitamins to nurture your body, but the dressing is flavorful enough that it still feels like a hearty dish, especially for a salad. Nuts, avocados, or pepitas would bump this up a notch, but it’s pretty darn good like this.

Kale salad with garlicky dressing
serves 4-6 as a side

1 bunch kale, cut into chiffonade and massaged
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tb garlic powder
2 Tb soy sauce (tamari or liquid amines can be substituted)
2 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb apple cider vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Put kale into a large salad bowl and set aside. Combine tahini, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, soy sauce, lemon juice, and vinegar in a blender and whirl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of water. If consistency is pourable, you’re good. If it’s still too thick add more water. You want something that’s pourable so it coats the kale, but isn’t too soupy. Adjust flavors to taste (you may like more lemon or garlic). When you reach desired consistency, pour 1/2 cup over the kale salad and toss well. Add dressing until the salad is dressed to your liking. You will likely have leftover dressing, which is fine as I’m sure you’ll want to eat this salad again. Store leftover dressing in a mason jar and refrigerate.

Kale is hearty enough that any salad leftovers can be kept and eaten the following day. It will start to get soggy after two days.