Thursday, August 30, 2007

Polihale Beach Driving

Here is the video of the calm before the storm. You can see here what I suspected all along; beach driving really is not all that exciting. Witness the moments just before the downfall.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jessica's Last Camping Trip

Is camping really that bad? The wife seems to think so. I'm no Paul Bunyan but even Mr. N enjoys the occasional tent and sleeping bag excursion. Not so much with Mrs. N. The closest that she will get to camping is renting a log cabin with a shower, high-speed internet and a plasma TV of no less than 42 inches.

We tried camping once before and even I have to admit that it was a debacle. I ordered a tent off eBay and reserved a camping section complete with grill and parking spot. We were camping in the Shenandoah Mountains in May 2006 and things started off pretty well. We pitched the tent, started a fire and had a decent meal. We talked and looked up at the stars so things were looking good.

For Jessica, the problem isn't this part, it's the sleeping situation. I tried to make things as comfortable as possible by getting a queen sized air-mattress and a new sleeping bag. Little did I know that it was unseasonably cold that day and the lows hit 37 degrees. Add that to the fact that Mrs. N had bad allergies that night and you can probably guess who cleared camp by himself in the morning.

I was pleasantly surprised when Jessica suggested that we go camping before we left Kauai. I had always talked about how much fun it would be but she never seemed too thrilled. I think she kept hoping in the back of her mind that I would find someone to go with but she probably realized that you have to actually have friends in order to pull that off. She is a great wife so she eventually caved and proposed camping for a night at Polihale State Park.

To get there, you take a 5-mile dirt road filled with potholes, so we rented a Jeep for the night. Lets just say this this was the crappiest rental vehicle I have ever rented. When I wanted to put something in the glove compartment, I pulled the handle and the entire compartment came crashing to the ground. I think the engine was held together with duct tape. More on the Jeep later.

We got to the camp and started to set up. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not the handiest of men. In fact, I am the least. My dad built a deck by himself back when we lived near the ocean in Ireland and I can't put furniture together from Ikea without the help of my wife. Here are some shots of my futile attempts to set up a 2-person tent.

It appears that Mr. N knows what he is doing

The real Mr N. appears.

Once Jessica helped out, we were set for some nice R&R. For those of you that know me, you know that there is no such thing as "good enough". Our guidebook mentioned that you can take a 4x4 out onto the beach and drive around on the dunes. I wanted in.

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed so when we saw another Jeep get stuck in the sand for a good 15 minutes, I wanted to do it the very second they finally got free. I followed the books instructions by taking most of the air out of the tired and keeping an air compressor in the car. Jessica looked at me apprehensively and said, "Are you sure you want to do this? I think this is a really bad idea", to which I replied, "I've never been so sure about anything in my entire life".

This is where the crappy Jeep comes back into play. We got a Rubicon so I thought we could tear around the sand like we were in a video game. The problem was that I could never get the four-wheel drive into 4L. You are supposed to be in low gear on the sand to prevent the tires from spinning. I literally pulled the gearbox with all of my might but we never got it into 4L. A smart man would have called it a day, but I am not a smart man.

View from the cockpit

We pulled onto the sand and things were a little shaky at first. After I a while I got the hang of it and we were rolling around in the sand. Even Jessica seemed to be having a good time. That good time came to an abrupt end when I tried to turn the Jeep around. The beach was on a slight decline as you went towards the water so we were driving into progressively deeper sand. Within seconds we were stuck. I jumped out and stuck the floor-mats under the tires as prescribed by the book. Nothing happened. Things were not looking good.

A woman and her two daughters came to offer while a few others looked on at the spectacle. A quick glance at Mrs. N told me that she wasn't happy. My manhood was put into question when I got ready to push the Jeep from the back and see a mother to my left and a 10 year old girl to my right. I felt like an idiot. Every time we pushed, Jessica went about 5 feet. We had over a half-mile to go.

Since the wheels were half sunk into the sand, we'd get out onto our knees and dig each wheel out with our hands after every attempt. This went on for an hour and a half. At one point the Jeep would no longer start. She tried 5 times in a row and it wasn't even turning over.

What had started as a fun mini-adventure turned into the worst part of our 7 month stay on the island. I took a well deserved verbal beating from the wife and felt completely helpless as we had no cell reception and tow-trucks charge at least $500 to get you out of the sand. My friends, I was in a dark place.

After about 1o minutes, we decided to give it one last shot. We were alone now as we thanked the mother and her daughters for trying to help us. I got behind the Jeep and Jessica tried to start the engine. It started. I pushed. The Jeep moved. It kept moving. And moving. I felt like like the dad that just took the training wheels off of his daughter's bicycle as I saw her rolling down the sand. I didn't even care about the fact that I had to walk a half mile carrying 2 floor mats. I pointed a finger to the sky and thanked the Good Lord for helping us out.

When I got back I half expected Jessica to demand that we go home immediately. But she was in much better spirits and we decided to make the best of it. I jumped into the ocean while she jumped into the shower. When I came back we pulled out the rest of our gear and started dinner. We had ahi tuna steaks along with artichoke salad and beer. We looked up at the stars and saw thousands of tiny lights. I was in heaven.

We saw a gorgeous sunset and then Jessica made quite possibly the best desert in the history of the world. She cut a slit down the middle of a banana and shoved half of a Symphony chocolate bar with almonds in. Then she wrapped it in tin-foil and threw it onto the fire for 5 minutes or so. When I put the first forkful into my mouth, I thought I had died and gone to dessert heaven. I swear, you could serve this at a four star restaurant.

Right before we went to bed, Jessica told me that this was her last camping trip. I could hardly blame her and I thanked her and told her I loved her. I then had the worst night of sleep imaginable. Not only did Jessica take the one-person foam mattress, but she took the memory foam pillow, the white bed sheet, and the purple flannel blanket that was to serve as my mat. I was left with a 4 inch wide pillow and a tiny sleeping bag. Basically, I slept on the sand.

It was awful but in the end it was worth it. It was kind of like life, you have your bumps along the way but you always push on and make the best of it. We got stuck in the sand, got out and made a night out of it. The next morning we were greeted by a school of hundreds of dolphins jumping and playing in the ocean while we packed up camp. Cheers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Home Sweet Home

We're home. We touched down at Dulles yesterday afternoon, and were greeted by the entire Nicholson clan. Conor donned a tie and dress socks today for the first time in 8 months! It'll be a little while before we get our stuff out of storage and unpacked, but the house is still in one piece and NOVA seems to have survived without us.

Coming soon... some photos to post of our last days in Kauai as well as our trip to Denver.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We've arrived in Denver

Conor and I arrived in the mile-high city yesterday morning after departing from Kauai Tuesday night. Our 250 pounds of luggage, however, did NOT arrive with us. After an entire day wearing the same clothes from Tuesday, it was finally delivered to our hotel early Thursday morning. We're making a quick stop here while Conor touches base with the Colorado office. Since it's our first time in the area, we plan to do a little sightseeing before heading back to Dulles on Sunday morning.

Although our adventures in Kauai have come to an end, we still have a couple more things that we haven't gotten around to posting yet. It's been hard to fit in blogging with craziness of moving. But we should have time in the next few days to put up a few more posts on some of the activities of our last days, and hopefully also of our time here in Denver. Stay tuned!

Leaving the Island...

In our last couple weeks on the island, Conor and I tried to soak up as much as possible before we left. Although we know there’s a lot of things we’ll miss about Hawaii, we feel ready to return to reality on the east coast.

Top 10 things we’ll miss about Kauai:

  1. The beaches
  2. The weather
  3. Fresh ahi tuna steaks and sashimi
  4. Great hikes
  5. Gorgeous mountain scenery everywhere you look
  6. Simple, easygoing lifestyle
  7. The albatrosses, geckos, and other wildlife we’ve grown attached to
  8. Beach campfires
  9. The coffee
  10. Rainbows

Top 10 things we WON’T miss:

  1. The horrendous grocery stores
  2. Lack of variety in restaurant options
  3. The gas and electricity prices
  4. Lack of interesting people our age
  5. Foot-long centipedes, 5 pound cane spiders, roaches bigger than my thumb, and other assorted oversized bugs
  6. Lack of friends and family nearby
  7. Being a regular Walmart shopper
  8. Bad haircuts
  9. The entire island closing down by 9pm
  10. Poi

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

17 Mile Na Pali Coast Ocean Kayak Tour

If you think that reading the subject line is hard, try doing the subject line. According to National Geographic Magazine, Jessica and I recently survived the #2 adventure in all of the United States. We have been planning to do this for a long time and even went on a couple of short kayak trips on the Hanalei and Wailua rivers for practice. Lets just say that kayaking in the ocean is a little different from kayaking on a still lake.

We read about this adventure in our beloved guidebook, The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, and were always intrigued as the Na Pali Coast is known to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in the entire world. We didn't decide to actually go ahead and do it until we took the boat tour. The views were so breathtaking that we wanted to see them again and it only made sense to do it from an ocean kayak.

For those of you that are not familiar with Kauai, the Na Pali Coast stretches 17 miles along the north and northwest portion of the island. It is filled with numerous mountains, valleys and canyons so living on this portion of the island is impossible.

To prevent drowning, Jessica and I decided to go with a guided tour group. They drop you off at on the north side and pick you up when you land on the west side at Polihale. You get there at 6am and get back at 7:30pm so it's an all day event and you are plenty tired at the end.

You may notice that these pictures look like they might have come from our boat tour. The reason why is that they did come from our boat tour. We were planning on bringing our digital camera, but almost everything you bring gets wet. Even in the dry-bag, condensation can fog up the lens and destroy the camera. Knowing my luck, we decided to play it safe.

Thank God we did because the minute that we were pushed into the ocean by our guide, Jessica was smashed in the face by a huge wave. The poor girl hadn't gone more than 12 inches and she was already soaking wet. That was just the beginning . . .

While Jessica and I are not the best kayakers in the world, we are far from the worst. However, on this day, the rest of our group consisted of a canoe team from Big Island that ranked 6th in all of Hawaii. Within 5 minutes of entering the water, they were 500 yards ahead of us. We tried to keep up but this was our first time in the ocean and I wasn't exactly Mr. Smooth when it came to the steering.

Things went from bad to worse on our first break. Everyone casually jumped into the ocean for a quick dip and I attempted to do the same. After a minute or so, I tried to get back into the kayak. Big mistake. I leaned over, thought I was in, and then the entire boat flips, including Mrs. N.

As you might have guessed, Mrs. N was none too pleased. She gave me the glare of death that I am accustomed to and helped me flip the kayak back over. I grabbed my shirt that was floating in the water and was pleasantly surprised when I saw that my $150 Oakley sunglasses had broken in half.

I got back into the kayak and began the mourning process for my shades. I look up to see Mrs. N attempting to get back into the boat and . . . you guessed it, we flipped over again. We flipped 2 times in about 2 minutes and everything we had was drenched to the core. Everyone looked at us like we were some type of traveling circus act.

At that point the guides noticed that we were not the most agile team so they decided to break us up. Jessica got into the front of one of our guide's kayak. I remained in our kayak and a nice woman took Jessica's spot. We both noticed an immediate improvement. The other guide told me not to sweat it and joked that the tour had caused numerous divorces due to the constant bickering between man and wife. He speaks the truth.

We paddled for about 3 more hours. My arms and shoulders felt like someone had dropped cement blocks on them from 95 stories above. To say that we were absurdly sore would be an understatement. We finally stopped for lunch at Miloli'i Beach. They had a really good spread with fresh pineapple, sandwiches, cookies, and chips. We laid on the beach while some of the crazy canoers went on a hike. Laying in the sun, I was out like a lamp within seconds. We relaxed for about an hour and then it was showtime.

The paddling after lunch wasn't as bad since it was only 2 1/2 hours to Polihale versus the 4 hours it took us to get to Miloli'i Beach. It was fun because everyone was talking to each other and we were all telling jokes and admiring the beautiful views. We saw a few dolphins and even a monk seal laying on the shore. Sea Turtles were also common.

Finally, we saw Polihale beach. The bad news is that we saw it for about an hour. We probably had about 3 more miles to go but the beach seemed so close and yet so far away. It felt like we would never get there but when we finally did, I felt like kissing the ground. We rinsed off at the outdoor showers, jumped into the van and began our trip around the entire island, all the way back to Hanalei.

This was an amazing trip and we have memories that will last a lifetime. If you have the will and are just a little off in the head, this adventure might be for you as well . . .

Kilauea Lighthouse

Have you ever been to one of those small towns in the middle of nowhere that claim to have the “World’s Largest Chipmunk” or the “World’s Largest Wooden Porcupine”? If not, you are not missing out. Small towns love to have these obscure artifacts and Kauai seems to have fallen into this trap.

Enter the Kilauea Lighthouse, home of the world’s largest clamshell lens. I don’t even know what a clamshell lens is but I now know that it is no longer in use and that you can’t see it up close and personal on the tour. Jessica and I each paid 3 big ones (that’s right, 3 dollars) to see what many people see on their first trip to the island. The lighthouse has over 500,000 visitors a year and we have lived here for 7 months and it finally occurred to us that we might want to check it out.

The best part of the tour was the view of the ocean as there really isn’t anything special about the grounds. Sure there were a lot of birds, but our feathered friend, the Laysan Albatross, left the island last month so all I saw in my head was a bunch of white pigeons.

Jessica and I will be building our next home here

If you don’t catch my drift, let me spell it out for you. Unless you like to see tons of birds sitting around and hanging out, the lighthouse probably isn’t for you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hurricane Flossie

For those who have inquired about our well-being, we are fine. Hurricane Flossie doesn't seem to be a threat to Kauai, at least not yet. The hurricane brushed against the sound side of the Big Island this afternoon, which you can see in the photo above. You can also see that Kauai, in red, is the furthest island away from the Big Island. If things go as they say, Flossie should pass us by. We had blue sunny skies today and sat at the beach while Flossie was just hitting the Big Island.

This is the first hurricane to hit Hawaii since Hurricane Iniki in 1992. That was a category 4 hurricane whose eye passed right over the center of Kauai, devastating the island. Iniki caused $1.8 billion in damage, and 80% of the island was without power for 3 months. You can tell the people here are still upset about it.

Thanks for the concern, but all is well for now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August Sunrise

Al B. Tross Has Left the Building

It is with a bittersweet heart that we announce the departure of our winged friend. That’s right, Al B. Tross has flown the coop. Jessica and I have been monitoring his every move, taking pictures and reading up on the internet to see what should happen next. We knew that his days were numbered when a woman from the bird reserve in Kilauea said that Al was one of only 2 albatross chicks still on the island.

We were not surprised as our little guy was pretty lazy and seemed to prefer sitting in the shade as opposed to flapping his wings to build endurance and muscle. We had grown very attached to the bird as I was greeted by him clicking his beak when I started my day at 6AM each morning. For the most part he would look at us and occasionally waddle around, chewing on grass and leaves. Every few days one of his parents would come to feed him so all in all, life was good for Al B.

We knew the end was near when one day Al decided to do some exploring. These guys don’t go more than 50 feet from their nests for the first 3-4 months so the more exploring they do, the closer they are to leaving. One day I was sitting on my computer and I saw Al waking towards the golf course. I immediately grabbed the camera and had the pleasure of watching his clumsy waddle as he attempted to navigate the black lava rock.

Al surveying his surroundings

A few days later, Jessica and I had gone to the beach one day and when we came back, she exclaimed “Al B is gone!” I flew out the back door and began to race for the cliff. When I got there, Al B was sitting right by the edge and he looked to be contemplating his next move. I ran back to the house and grabbed Jessica, 2 chairs, 2 books, some water and snacks. I was determined to get video of Al B. flapping his wings and jumping off of the cliff. They say that a strong gust of wind in the right direction is all they need to get going. The crazy thing is that once an albatross leaves his/her birthplace, they won’t touch ground for the next 3 years!

Al B. looking over the cliff, planning his next move

Jessica and I sat there for 2 ½ hours and other than the occasional wing-flap, he wasn’t doing much. We both had to take showers so I walked up to him and asked him to stick around for a bit. We said our good-byes in the event that he would leave but we both felt that he would be around when we got back. Not 20 minutes later, we walk back out to the cliff and Al was gone. Four of our neighbors walked up about 5 minutes later and they were as dismayed as we were. It’s kind of hard to explain but the people of Kauai develop a pretty strong connection to these birds. They are the most beautiful and graceful birds we have ever seen and they start off looking like an cute little ugly duckling.

Have you seen me?

Our hope is to return to this same spot in 3-5 years and to see Al B. walking around, taking care of his child. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll give us a wink. Here is a video that we made as a tribute to our feathered friend. Warning: you might need some Kleenex for this one.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Poipu Bay - Home of the Grand Slam of Golf

A few weeks back, Prashant and I played a round at Poipu Bay, home of the Grand Slam of Golf. The Grand Slam is a 4 person tournament where the winners of the PGA Major Championship’s (Masters, American and British Open, PGA Championship) square off against each other for bragging rights.

The tournament has been staged since 1979 with a couple of short breaks. It is a 2 day, 36-hole stroke play competition. Initially the PGA Grand Slam of Golf was played at a different golf course each year, but since 1994, the Poipu Bay Golf Course in Koloa, Hawaii on the island of Kauai has been the tournament's permanent home. With the tournament taking place in Hawaii, it allowed the event to be televised in prime-time television with live coverage because of the time difference.

Who do you think has won 7 of the last 9 Grand Slam’s, including 5 in a row? If you said Tiger Woods, give your neighbor a high-five. If you are alone, a ferocious fist-pump will suffice. That’s right, Tiger not only wins all of the tournaments on the mainland, he also wins the ones where he is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The man was put on this earth to do two things, play golf and win.

To speak of Tiger Wood’s golf prowess and then to transition to the pathetic game that Prashant and I are accustomed to might seem sacrilegious but then again, we did play on the exact same links. Yes, we did play from the white’s but hey, who do you think we are, Tiger Woods?

It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we got paired up with a pretty cool father-son combo. For some reason (hint: the golf gods hate me), I can not play well on a resort course, especially in front of strangers. This has been the case for as long as I can remember and the streak certainly continues on this case. Prashant played pretty well considering the fact that this was his first golfing experience on the islands and he even landed a jaw-dropping 50 foot putt for birdie. That was about as close as we came to playing like a tiger.

The front 9 was pretty nice but the back 9 was stunning. The last 4 holes were right along the ocean and the views were breathtaking. In addition to being distracted by picturesque scenery, the wind coming off of the ocean made our shots that much more challenging.

Our highlights on the back were both of us losing balls at an alarming rate, me getting 2 straight pars to finish the round and Prashant destroying his 8-iron by smashing it into a branch on his follow through. PGA Tour, here we come.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Kayaking the Wailua River

On Prashant and Kalpana's last day on the island, we spent the afternoon kayaking the Wailua river. Conor and I put our expert kayaking skills into play once again. Surprisingly, we seemed to have miraculously gotten much better at the two-man kayak since our last attempt in Hanalei. On the Wailua, you kayak 2.5 miles, at which point you beach your kayak and head out on foot. There is a short, mile long trail through the woods. You have to wade through the river to get to the trail, which takes you to a large waterfall accessible only by kayak. We frolicked there for a bit before heading back.

All in all, this was a fun and scenic kayak trip. It gave us hope for our upcoming 17 mile ocean kayak along the Na Pali coast. The only downside to the day is that Mr. N blew out a Croc while we were carrying our kayak out of the river and up the ramp. He's still upset about that one.

Civic Power:

Mr. N anxious to start the trail:
A shore wade across the river gets you to the trailhead:

It's deeper when you're short. "Knee-high" is relative:
A scenic waterfall along the hike:

The boys are ready to frolic:
A little perspective. Aren't they cute?

Kalalau Challenge

I came upon this YouTube video while looking at another blog about Kauai hiking. The video depicts a competition known as the "Kalalau Challenge". The Kalalau trail is the most famous hiking trail in all of Hawaii, and runs 11 miles along the Na Pali coast until it dead ends into Kalalau beach and the Kalalau valley, at which point you hike 11 miles back (usually camping first).

This event consists of a 6.5 mile(!) ocean swim, starting at Ke'e beach, along the Na Pali coast to Kalalau beach. Then, you head to land to hike the 11 miles back to the beginning. It's a race, so this is done fast. And the Kalalau trail is pretty scary at certain parts - it's very narrow in places and runs along the edge of a cliff that drops hundreds of feet into the ocean. It's also quite strenuous, as the trail ascends and descends again and again through the mountains over its length. There's no need to mention how diesel a 6.5 mile Pacific ocean swim is. So needless to say, only complete madmen (and women) compete in this event.

In all our time on the island, living only 10 miles from the start of the Kalalau trail, this is the first we've ever heard of this event. A Google search turns up nothing, except for the link to the YouTube video and the afore mentioned blog which originally led me to the video. This isn't strange, since Kauai isn't exactly the most web-savvy island (ok, it's likely the least, just beating out the Galápagos). But it still makes us wonder...clearly this event DID take place at one point in time, since there is video footage. Does it exist any longer? No one knows.

The winner had a time of 6 hours and 4 minutes, which sounds pretty fast to us. Our favorite part is the first place prize - a painted coconut. Seriously. Only in Kauai!

Check out the video here:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Polihale State Park

Last weekend, Conor and I went with Prashant and Kalpana to Polihale State Park. This is the longest stretch of continuous beach in the state of Hawaii, with over 15 miles of golden sands. To get there, you take a dirt 4-wheel drive road. Since the Civic sits only two inches off the ground, we've never had the opportunity to visit Polihale before now. Prashant and Kalpana have rented a trusty Jeep during their stay, and it handled the dirt road with ease. After our Jeep experiences on the Big Island, we weren't surprised.

Although we had heard good things about Polihale, it turned out to be even more amazing than we expected. This beach is on the west side of Kauai, at the furthest point you can drive on the highway before hitting the Na Pali from the west. You can see the island of Ni'ihau in the distance from the shore. It has large sand dunes, and some people even drive their 4-wheel drive vehicles across the sand dunes. We started to attempt this, only to get stuck in the sand about two feet in. Luckily a surfer was there to give us tips on how to get out (the tip being keep the wheel straight and hit the gas). After that experience, Kalpana and I thought perhaps leaving the Jeep parked on the road was a better idea. The gentlemen finally relented.

Conor and I have a kayak trip of the Na Pali coast planned in a couple of weeks, and we'll start at Ke'e beach on the north shore and kayak 16 miles until we hit land at Polihale. We're pretty sure that Polihale will never look so good as when we land our kayaks at the end of the day.

The Jeep got us to Polihale with ease:

Many miles of sand to the left:

The western end of the Na Pali coast to the right:

A beach facing west is a nice spot to watch the sunset: