Return to California

I left Honolulu at dawn, barely! The Boeing 737 taxied across several runways before making the final turn for take-off. The westerlies and intermittent showers that had swept across Oahu over the weekend had oddly cleared, at least for this moment. As gusts forced their way through my brother’s apartment the previous day, he had told me that it was urgent to check the flight schedule. He argued that the daily high volume of air traffic into Honolulu often merited delaying flights so that numerous planes weren’t circling about the airport waiting for more stable conditions to land. I touted that Wellington, New Zealand was the windiest city in the world and that the daily flux of flights from this city were seldom influenced by the gales crossing the harbor. I was confident from this experience that there would be no delays. the take-off was smooth and the bumps from turbulence insignificant compared to my arrival flight.

I had stayed up much of the night with my brother experiencing what he considered the quintessential experience for a last day. I got to sleep about 1 am and slept until about 3. We decided to walk to IHOP, before I departed on Bus 19 across from the 24 hr restaurant on Kuhio. I ordered the spicy poblano omelette which must have been drown in Serranos. It had burned my throat and made my eyes water. I waited about 15 minutes for Bus 19, said goodbye to my brother, and off I went, looping around Honolulu, stopping at a dozen stops before the Daniel K Inouye International Airport, south of Pearl Harbor. I had initially planned to pay the 23 bucks to take Uber directly from my brother’s apartment, but he insisted that locals take the bus.

I made it to the airport about 5:45 am, which I knew was cutting it much closer than I wanted. I was forced to check in one of my backpacks and was held up because the automated kiosk failed to print out a proper ticket. After burning precious time in a security line hoping to skate through with the luggage claims ticket, I was forced to run back to the main checkin and wait for United to print a ticket. I ran to the furthest security checkin hoping the line was shorter. When I arrived, there were two lines that snaked back and forth around delineators before the X-ray booth. I was in panic mode now. No way did I want to miss my flight from the torpid security personnel whom could care less about someone missing their flight, nor have my pack full of expensive gear arrive ahead of me! I knew I’d piss off a few people, but fuggit, I would be on a different airline, assuming the gate didn’t close before I arrived. Out of pure luck, only one woman asked what I thought I was doing cutting out at least 30 minutes of line. I said simply, my flight is leaving in 30 minutes. After the standard inconvenience of having your personal belongs rumaged through and being frisked after the full body X-ray, which clearly indicated that getting X-rayed was a complete waist of time, I ran down the long corridors to Gate 7. I was the penultimate passenger.

The flight on United was one of the most miserable that I had been on in a long while, particularly in contrast to the luxurious Airbus of Air New Zealand. The difference in comfort was about $2k! You get what you pay for, especially going in blind with the online travel agency, Travelocity. I had found a return flight for under 200, and figured I would only have to suffer 5 hours, about the equivalent time of sitting in a car non stop from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. I set my watch two hours ahead, and monitored it in between naps. It was a seemingly long 5 hours. FINALLY! The 737 approached LAX from the north-north west, over familiar baren topography in contrast to the lucious verdant Ko’olau Mountains that I had gazed at for two months from my brother’s third floor balcony.

I gazed out the tiny oval window over the vast landscape of Ventura County, the familiar dendritic drainages incised into east-west ridges. I guessed from the scale of Casitas Lake, one of many reservoirs created by dammed canyons and valleys, that we were still close to 10,000-ft with about 75 miles until landing. The outdated aircraft lacked the modern conveniences of a USB port and monitor displaying the flight bearing and elevation. In the final descent, over the greater Los Angeles basin from the east-north east, I could see the dense cluster of familiar towers that defined downtown Los Angeles, and the 1,000s of track homes, commercial zones, and freeway systems, that dwarfed Honolulu. My sense of freedom was intimately tied to the vast landscapes of the mainland. California had taken two months to cross the length of by foot, where the entire island of Ohau could be traversed in a long day. I was so excited to be back home and reconnected to friends.

By the time I arrived at the baggage claim, carrousel 1, I had 45 minutes before my scheduled shuttle arrived from Santa Barbara. Luggage transfer to the main conveyor was delayed by the lack of space resulting from abscent luggage owners. I waited patiently for about 20 minutes before I spotted my MLD burn looping its way around to me.

I faded in and out of consciousness, sleep deprived, dehydrated, and hungry, as the large shuttle bus made its way through Santa Monica traffic to the coast highway at Pacific Palisades. My intermittent naps passed the time quickly. I arrived in Santa Barbara by dusk. The breeze in contrast to the balmy 70F of Honolulu only a half a day ago, was about 40F. I was dressed in shorts and sandals when I stepped of the bus after 3 more hour of sitting. Only a tinge of orange existed over the Palm-lined mesa to the west. I enjoyed a quick bite at a popular Mexican market and taqueria on the West Side with my friend who had picked me up at the bus stop, before driving and hour and a half up the coast in the late evening to San Luis Obispo. I parked my van for the first time in two months back in the neighborhood, across the street from the duplex I once rented. I was home.

In between passing weather, I embarked on a short hike to a prominent ridge above the rails that sliced through town, passing by the old track home where Chako, my beloved chocolate Labrador had resided the past 5 years. He had aged rapidly in recent years, no longer able to walk the distances and steep terrain I once walked with him effortlessly. I gave him his allotted hugs and kisses, before leaving him to ascent the steep cat walk that initially followed a natural drainage.

The reddish hues of the cracked, clay-rich soils were more burgundy brown than the bright orange-red volcanic soils of the Ko’olau mountains of Oahu, likely attributed to manganese oxide and different states of iron oxide. The grasses, scrub, and scant clusters of California Poppies and other wild flowers were unique to the largely serpentinized ophiolites of the region. In New Zealand, the Te Araroa passes through a very similar region of geologic terrain in the Richmond Range at the top of the south island. The landscape was almost lunar in contrast to the dense bush and Beech forests that populated much of the other tracks.

A jogger had crept up on me about 2/3 of the way up the ridge. I finished snapping another photo of the surreal landscape, looking west along the conical eroded volcanic necks that defined the morros, before I regained my rapid pace. I was short of breath, but it felt good. The jogger could not gain on me unless I stopped to take a photo. I pushed to the top at a steady pace, panting, though motivated to see if I still had what it takes to hike long distances. The Arizona Trail and Hayduke were still very much on my mind as I traversed the rocky ridge line towards the Cuesta grade.

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