Stairway To Heaven
We got there around 4am. Our first mission was to simply find the trailhead. This was much more difficult than it should have been. In the dim spotlight of Jamie’s headlamp, we crawled past barb wire and criss-crossed bamboo trees. I felt so small as we hiked through a forest under a giant freeway overpass above our heads. WIth the rhythm of snapping branches at our feet and no sign of a clear pathway, we realized we were lost. An hour passed. Already covered in sweat and dirt from bushwhacking, we were in too deep to give up. We knew it was going to be worth it to finally find the Haiku stairs and climb that 2,800ft elevation to the top.
The plan was to get there and climb the stairs in the light of dawn to watch the sunrise at the top. Unfortunately the sun emerged as we scrambled lost in a bamboo jungle. When we finally found the trailhead, the security guard was there. “This is private property,” he said. “You are not allowed to be here.” Playing dumb like we didn’t know, we carried on past him.
I began to digest my fatigue and disappointment. Parker stops in his tracks, protesting with optimism. “I bet there’s a way to cut through onto the stairs.” It was worth a shot. So we turned around. We walked past the guard again pretending we forgot where our car was parked. We crept into the mountain’s bushes. “We’re intense,” Jamie said in amazement. We were impressed with ourselves but not too impressed because we were still very lost. We kept on the arduous incline searching for the stairs. We pulled ourselves up mossy rocks, tree branches and protruding roots, and I may have had nearly fallen to my death as I peeked through the trees behind me to see that we were directly in line with the freeway overpass.
We couldn’t find the stairway. We were in a jungle’s maze on the side of a mountain. We were about to give up when Blake clambers ahead of us and bellows back “I see them!” And alas we found the Haiku Stairs. We persisted ahead. I climbed onto the stairway and looked down at where we ascended from. We just scaled a fucking mountain. A chill surged through my bones as I registered the great height I was at. I had only gotten over my fears of heights just a year ago when a friend gave me molly at Six Flags.
Steep and squeaky, there are 4,000 steps on this ladder-like stairway. We had already had quite the adventure getting to the steps and now the actual hike up the stairs was the easy part.
At the top of the mountain, gratitude washed over me. The lush view was stunning. My heart was stirring as I shared in the bliss of finally reaching the top with these boys.
Just a day ago we were strangers with no real plans. Acquaintances without expectations. Pioneers without a frontier. Now we were at the top of the world together, finding that heaven is a place on earth.
I guess it all started at a Shave Ice cart on the Waikiki pier amongst obnoxious tourists and busy gift shops.
Along a walk to the beach, I stopped to say hi to my friend and fellow native Californian, Blake. And there, at the Shave Ice cart, we both met Jamie and Parker and their husky Kaiyu. I would never have pinned this location or moment as the beginning of the better part of my trip.
We were just strangers chatting. I told them I was visiting from LA. “But I feel at home here, I don’t want to leave,” I said. “That’s why you can’t buy a one-way ticket here.”
"That’s what we did," Parker said.
He told us that they gave away all their items and spontaneously moved from Colorado to Hawaii to start anew. I have all the admiration in the world for people with that kind of spirit.
We met again later that night. I think while smoking a joint in a park we somehow made a wordless agreement to not look at the time or our phones the entire night. The beach was empty and I remember Jamie saying how surreal this place felt as we walked along the breaker with hermit crabs scurrying by our feet. “How is this place real?” We kept saying. And later that night under an ancient Banyan tree, in endless conversation, we agreed to meet again to climb the Stairway To Heaven, an illegal hike up into the clouds above Oahu.
I had heard about the Stairway To Heaven hike and how dangerous but beautiful it is. I was ecstatic when my newfound friends were up for the challenge. I was half expecting no one to follow through but they all did. We met up at the hotel the next night. Because the hike is illegal, a security guard cites people at the trail head. To get around that hikers arrive there before the guard starts his 5am shift. And so we all pulled an all-nighter and prepared to leave at 3am.
Two Weeks In Oahu
A two week trip to Hawaii, like many other great decisions, was made on a whim. I had clientele in Oahu and knew that I could get out there to work and play. So I booked a few shoots and left everything else up to the universe.
Traveling alone, I quickly realized, was the best decision I may have ever made. I had been dealing with a lot in LA and wanted this retreat. I got on the plane and departed with no expectations. Hawaii was not a vacation. It was an adventure.
Got back from Europe to unpack a suitcase and pack up a home. Two bedroom apartment to a narrow storage unit. So much nostalgia was attached to this apartment that Jenny came over for a ritualistic goodbye. It would have been a lot sadder but once the place was stripped clean of everything, it didn’t mean much. They are tearing down the building and replacing it with swanky condos. So I prepared to embark on a frontier of couch surfing. Sleepless nights packing things into boxes. I kept asking myself…How can one person own so much crap? Friends came to help. I am grateful for that. I put most of my furniture out on the lawn with a sloppy cardboard sign reading “FREE STUFF”. I threw a lot away. I used to be attached to so many things I never needed to hold on to. All these tangible sentiments. I used to be a lot more introverted and everyone I loved was on the spine of a book or the curve of a vinyl.
There was once an interview I read with Jean Cocteau, a french poet who was a collector of art and literature. The interview was conducted in his home which was piled high with books, paintings, drawings, and bibelots. The interviewer looked around at all of Cocteau’s prized belongings. He asked “if the house caught fire right now, and you could only take one thing with you, what would you choose?”
Cocteau replied “I’d take the fire.”
Road tripped back to LA, taking detours to absorb the change of scenery. Something about having no where to be was really liberating.