It had been over two hours since I first spotted the road coming down the mountainside in the distance. I couldn't tell where we were going to meet with it, but I knew I was close. Alex and Tee were a good half mile back probably, but nearing the end of the trail drew me in. Those last couple twists and turns through the landscape always seem to take the longest as you anticipate the relief of dropping your pack and relaxing just around the next corner. Spotting the end of the trail gives immense satisfaction, not because you want it to end, but more as a sense of accomplishment and success. As with all backcountry adventures, society's safety net doesn't reach out into the wild. A small victory it always is, venturing out and successfully returning from a place most don't dare go.
I'd been sitting around the small parking lot about twenty minutes, giddily eating the remainder of my food when Alex and Tee finally came into view. We all relished in post-hike bliss for a while, then got to trying to hitchhike the sixteen miles back to the entrance of the park.
Not much happened though.
For the next hour, cars and SUV's filled with tourists passed, but not a single car stopped. I was getting a bit worried, essentially every car driving by was a rental (on the Big Island, you can tell) and I'd never been picked up by a rental car in over two months of hitchhiking.
One of the obvious laws of hitching is the larger the group, the harder it is to get a ride. Most cars don't have room for three guys and their backpacks. So I volunteered to start walking the sixteen miles back to the park entrance and hitch along the way.
I'd been walking and unsuccessfully thumbing with the occasional car passing for about twenty minutes when I rounded a bend to find the perfect empty pull out for someone to stop at. It had now been nearly an hour and a half since we first put our thumbs out. I told myself I was going to passionately wave down the next car to come around the bend, into this perfectly ideal spot to grab me—the tired, food-less, and on the verge of water-less backpacker who could really use a lift.
A black four door sedan rounded the bend. I thrust my thumb out high and waved with my other hand, an expression of desperation on my face. As the full car passed, everyone was smiling, laughing, and waving back at me. Everyone, including Alex and Tee...
Two minutes later, another car rounded the bend and I repeated my desperate motions. The car pulled right in, a young Swedish family of three.
Most dismiss those on the Big Island for a week's vacation as “tourists,” a not so highly regarded label that puts an individual somewhere in the hierarchy below other humans, yet still above most animals. I was intrigued by these "tourists" though. They were on a three month long expedition across the continental United States, up to Alaska, Oahu, the Big Island, Fuji, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Dubai... All in one fell swoop. To make them even more legit, they were camping the majority of their trip and most impressive: they had a five month old baby.
Impossible is nothing.
As the shinny rental car wound its way back up towards the park entrance, we discussed travel, the varying points we're at in our lives, and our plans for the future. As most people do who hear the abbreviated version of the past couple years of my life, they heavily encouraged me to move on into medical school and become a doctor.
I sometimes envision society's worn path with steep slippery banks on each side. Like trying to climb a nearly vertical dirt wall. No matter how high you climb away from where you're supposed to be, lose your grip for a second, and gravity will pull you right back down. One either has to make no slip ups or mistakes when deviating from the path of life most traveled, or be stubborn enough to hold onto the progress they've made when something goes wrong. The gravity of social expectation pulls on every sane person who deviates from society's norm.
I'm getting off topic though. This was a great couple, doing great things. They dropped me off at the Visitors Center, where Alex unsuccessfully attempted to fake steal my backpack as I had my back turned refilling my water bottle. All back together, we returned to the General Store a mile down road for a dinner of $1.39 microwavable burritos. After a long day of backpacking, one's ability to resist cheap, crappy, delicious foods is diminished.
Walking back towards our campsite from the first day, we couldn't help but notice an orange glow permeating the night sky on our left. Coupled with hundreds of other tourists all heading for the same overlook, we decided to have a look ourselves. The innermost crater of Kilauea glowed brightly as we (along with 200 others) got what might be the closest look at molten lava in our lives. Hundreds of camera flashes were going off per minute, making long exposure photography of the crater in the night difficult, I was still happy to come up with this: