Saturday, May 22, 2010

Schofield Trail -- 6/23/2002




Wahiawa, the home of the Mules, red dirt, military installations, folks of
many different ethnicities, and the best banana pie on Oahu. Wahiawa,
the land of many avenues--Kilani, Walker, Glen, Makani, Muliwai, Cypress,
Neal, and Kuahiwi, to name a handful. And, of course, in wet, wild
Wahiawa, the longest of all is church-lined California Avenue, where many
of us converge one summer morning, at a time earlier than the norm, at a
gravel parking area near its end, to prepare for a day of brisk winds, of
high clouds, of labor. To the mountains we go.

A briefing from a diminutive, silver-haired dynamo of a general begins
the day and from her we hear the plans for this day and for future days.
After the talk, there is a short drive to stage cars in the rear of
Army Rangers HQ at East Range, Wahiawa, and that done, we march on, up a
dirt road, graveled and graded in recent times, thus ridding it of
truck-eating ruts, boot-sucking mudholes, skin-scratching thick grass and
other such unpleasantness. We, members of the brigade, chat as we
march--talking in ranks being allowed in this people's army--some
choosing to move and gab at double-time and some at a less hurried pace.

Soon enough, after climbing a seemingly endless series of hills, we reach
one with a brown sign with yellow letters. "Schofield-Waikane Trail" it
says.

"We are here," I say to the battalion mailman, who we also call Man
of Feld, or simply Jay.

"Thirty minutes," is the report from the mailman, the time to march the
road of hills to this point.

Ahead of us is Nathan, one of the speedy double-timers, who allows us to
catch up when he stops to lay saw to branch of a tree that has fallen
across the path. I watch for a minute as Nathan saws furiously, then I
push on past him, saying, "See you later," later being three hours and
several miles up the mountain trail.

Alone now, I decide to break ranks and go forward, shuffling across a
small plank bridge that looks slippery but is not, past brushy sections
normally kept uncluttered by Na Ala Hele weed whackers, past a junction
with a pair of green arrow signs, one pointing mauka, saying, "Summit"
and then past the remnants of a campfire, still warm to the touch but
with no firemakers seen nor heard. The mystery of the makers of the
fire, like many others encountered, is unsolved.

After the junction, the parade of hills begins, some hills steeper and
longer than others, some with better footing than others, some more brushy
than others, some plain prettier than others. Inevitably, once atop a
hill, available is a view of coming attractions, which sometimes is
another hill, or a narrow corridor between ohia and koa, or a muddy patch,
or a pitch with hard-packed clay steps. The trail is graded, but
certainly not of the gentle ilk of Waimano, nor with a long, sustained
wide shelf of Maunawili Demo, nor of the muddy wildness of the KST.
Schofield-Waikane, despite its hills, is generally pleasant. "One of the
best sections of native forest on the island," says the great John Hall.

I push on, not listening to the sounds of the mountain as I should, not
hearing the fade-in-fade-out whistling of crickets, the playful warbling
whistles of native birds I can only guess the names of, the low-rumbling
whooshing of wind on treetops.

I amble on, flopping on my face at one point because of a short lapse in
concentration, and I chastise myself for inattentiveness, wiping off mud
from knees and shins then continuing on to pass a PVC pipe in the ground,
the marker signifying where Na Ala Hele stops clearing and where the trail
becomes more rutted and rough, though not bad at all and not nearly as
overgrown as feared. The way, in fact, is quite nice, and I proceed with
good pace, driving hard to make the summit before clouds cover its crown,
robbing views from a tired hiker and the rest of the people's army.

Deep in the mountains now, I tread along a section of narrow ridgeline,
passing an area of flattened vegetation, big enough for one small tent,
then another. "The campsite of the fire makers?" I wonder. Yet another
mystery. Unsolved yet again.

As the summit nears, I grow impatient and hurry, and with the haste
comes missteps and slips. I again chastise myself. "You know better," I
scold myself. And I do know better.

After I wind around a final turn, a brisk wind slaps me in the face and
moments later, I stride onto a saddle at the summit of the Koolaus. A huge
valley--Kahana--is a couple thousand feet below, with a massive Sphynx-ish
peak, Ohulehule, nestled in its na'au. Ka makani is strong here.
Jacketless and devoid of much of the internal insulation of two years
ago, I am chilled to the core by the steady whipping wind. Hoping to
warm up, I settle down near the edge, staring out at the green and
blue vista spread from left to right. Today's midmorning feed is an
energy bar, a protein bar, and a liter of water, and after consuming the
fuel, I try to raise good friend, Tom Yoza, on the walkie-talkie. He
is at home in Kahalu'u recovering from pneumonia and my thoughts and the
thoughts of others in this people's army are with him.

Cold and with no one for company, I do not feel compelled to linger at the
summit saddle, so after just ten minutes I shoulder my pack, grab my
hiking pole and machete and head back down the mountain.

Remembering the marching orders from the diminutive general, I put machete
to use, felling uluhe and clidemia where needed. At times I use feet and
legs and hips and elemu: crushing, and stamping and stomping work just as
well. When I reach a turn in the trail, I stop laboring for a minute to
gaze down the mountain ridge, seeing all the way to wet and wild Wahiawa,
and in the more immediate distance, spotting members of the people's army
advancing toward the windy summit I've just left.

An hour after leaving the summit, I meet the first member of the people's
army, Nathan the double-timing sawman, and over the next half hour I
encounter others, some hiking in small platoons, some traveling alone,
all carrying weapons of vegetation annihilation. "How far from the top?"
they ask.

"Twenty minutes," I say.

"Are there views?"

"Yes, views," I reply.

And after the small talk, we continue on, they for the summit, and I down
the mountain toward the home of the Mules and the best pie in the land.

I meet others advancing up the trail, and these others decide enough is
enough and they say they will go no further. So we settle down in uluhe
with a view, since the time is right, for the midday meal. As I gobble
my glop, I chat with (veteran) Bill Gorst, who seems to thrive on just
nuts and fruit. Also with us for chow are June and Lynn, other
infantryfolks in this people's army.

I complain about aching legs, partly a result of the earlier flop, and
after my meal is done, I head off, alone again, destination Wahiawa. By
this point, the trail has been opened to a reasonable width by the troops
of this people's army, so my weapon is holstered and I shift into
double-time.

After a few minutes and a few hills, I meet a resting & happy group of the
people's army. They are in good spirits and talk of future campaigns in
places like Mauna Loa and Wonderland, the former where lava eats soles
off shoes and the latter where bears eat unwary hikers out of their
shoes. Or so it is said.

Soon enough, leaving the resting and happy group to themselves, I continue
Wahiawa-bound down the mountain path, alone yet again. I pass the PVC
pipe in the ground, pausing to tie a pink ribbon to it, then commence the
parade of hills, this time in reverse order, and when fatigue starts to
overcome me, I transition into a calm zen state, my face appearing as if
I'm ready for sleep, or so I've been told. Sweating but in a zen calm, I
arrive at the green arrows junction and the mysterious fire pit, then
surmount a couple more hills. Then the short bridge. Then the final climb
to the brown sign with yellow letters. And then the regraded and graveled
dirt road which if double-timed puts wild and wet Wahiawa twenty minutes
away.

So I double-time, not really for any reason but to put the dreaded road
behind me as quickly as possible, and in the predicted twenty, I am done,
having returned to the Army Rangers HQ at East Range, Wahiawa, the home of
the Mules, military installations, folks of many different ethnicities,
and the best banana pie on Oahu. Over the next hour, others from the
people's army arrive, and we greet and congratulate each other for yet
another battle waged and won.