Chaco Adventures

Summer Adventures, Part II: Facing My Fears

My lifelong dream is in front of me. Sitting on the beach, in solitude, writing among tropical trees and plants of different varieties in hues of green, rust, yellow and white. Adjacent to Kalapaki Bay, just beyond reach, lush green mountains stand by, while clouds drift above them and float downward, obscuring the space where mountaintop meets the sky. It’s early and the sun hides behind gray clouds. Waves crash, birds sing, and roosters send wake-up calls.

Today, I will face my fear of the unknown. A solo adventure on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. During this challenging seven-mile round trip tour to Secret Falls, I’ll be kayaking down the Wailua River, and hiking unfamiliar terrain with ten people I’ve never met. I break into a sweat thinking about it.

My daughter, Courtney, has equipped me with appropriate gear and mostly encouragement, “Mom, you can do it. Don’t let fear get in the way of fun. Remember our white-water rafting trip? You were terrified, yet we all survived.”

After months of planning and praying about this adventure, the time has come. Alone in my hotel room I feel my heart race, spilling jitters into my stomach as I reassure myself, “I’m going to do this. I’ll start early and give myself plenty of time to prepare. Like Courtney said, everything will be fine.”

Reaching into my bag, I pull out my Chaco sandals, great for water, trail, and everything in between. I can’t help but smile. My heart overflows with gratitude, for these Chacos have traveled with me through smooth sand and rocky terrain. Though well worn, they keep moving. Trekking across the Arizona desert along dusty trails, wading through flowing streams, hiking high in the pines where the air is clear and crisp. 

Perched on the edge of the bed, I lean over to strap on my sandals, reminiscing briefly: These Chacos have seen some ground from Arizona to South Africa, and now the jungles of Kauai. Before making the trip, I’d carefully laundered them in my washer and dryer so they would look brand new. “Okay, here we go!” 

But the right shoe is too tight. “What the hell?” The straps must have shrunk. I spend the next thirty minutes working on one shoe. Desperate, I call Courtney at work, across the Pacific Ocean in Arizona, to ask how to adjust the straps. She quickly texts me the link to a YouTube video: “How to Adjust Chaco Sandals.” 

“After 58 years of life,” I muse, “here I am on a beautiful island, watching a video on how to put on a damn shoe!”

Taking a deep breath, I consider next steps: Okay, now that the Chacos fit, let’s get the water bladder ready.

Since I’d never heard of a water bladder, much less used one, Courtney had set me up with a bladder and demo prior to the trip. As usual, I planned ahead, making sure to have plenty of cold filtered water for the day. All set. Shoes on, water bladder filled, my own bladder emptied, backpack loaded–snacks, sunscreen, towel, iPhone. All the necessities. 

I glance at my watch and realize it’s almost time to meet my cab outside the main lobby. Grabbing my bag off the bed, I see water dripping everywhere. The bed is soaked. The inside of my backpack is soaked. 

The bladder is leaking. Now what do I do? If it keeps leaking, I won’t have water for the trip. But I’ve got to go!

I fling the backpack over my shoulder, race out the door, ride down the elevator, and head toward the entrance. Stepping outside, I feel a sprinkle of rain on my nose. Attempting optimism, I mumble: “Just a few little drops. It won’t last.” Pulling my hood over my head, I ask the bellman if he knows anything about water bladders. Thankfully, he does and fixes the leak. Now, it starts to pour. Rain splashes down so hard, I can’t see through my glasses and can barely catch my breath. 

My cab pulls up to the curb. And all at once, I feel overcome by a warm, wonderful sensation (not from a bladder). I look up to the sky before climbing in and welcome the rain on my face. Fear has left me.

On arriving at the welcome shack, the rain has slowed to a light sprinkle. The river is wide and swift, surrounded by tall thick grass on either side. The sun settles on my shoulders and a gentle breeze calms my nerves as I take the paddle and begin my journey.

After reaching the trailhead, deep in the jungle of Wailua River Valley, I grab a broken tree limb to use as a walking stick and take my first few steps down a narrow path swallowed up by towering palms, grasses, ferns and wildflowers. As I trek further into this rainforest that tests my physical endurance, I look down and see my faithful Chacos clambering across uneven ground and velvety moss-covered boulders. They embrace the trail like an old friend. Enormous tree roots crisscross along this mud-paved path, and my feet sink deep into the ground until brown water rises to meet my knees. An arduous journey, yet I trust my courage to continue. Each step yields reward and triumph: Made it through that one! And the next, and the next.

A natural stream meanders gracefully alongside the trail and must be crossed several times before arriving at Secret Falls, more formally known as “Uluwehi” Falls, a name that represents flourishing plants. This tropical paradise leads to a 120-foot waterfall cascading down a wall of ivy into a sparkling pool. I take in the spectacular landscape and realize I made it through the mire, wading through streams thigh-high. Braving the jungle.  

But I can’t celebrate just yet. It’s time to leave Utopia and head back. Just as we pull our kayaks onto the dock, I feel a light drizzle on my face. The weather held up, and ten strangers became my friends.

Later, I’ll walk along the beach, drink beer at the poolside bar, lounge on the deck, and take in more sights.

And my Chacos? They can’t wait for our next adventure.

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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