Our day of backpacking up the Z switchback on the Mulawai Trail as we hiked toward Waimanu had been hot at first, but a breath of fresh and cool air had hit us once we got up on top. The refreshingly pleasant conifer forest up there was a welcomed surprise, since we were on Hawaii’s Big Island, but the sleeping platform/shelter midway along the trail, completely expected. We reached the elevated platform midafternoon, and since there was plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained after making the hot, humid climb up out of Waipio, we all found a spot and stretched out on the relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I drifted off, I thought contentedly of black sand beaches, Liliko’i, sea cliffs and shade and soon began dreaming. Josh and I were the oldest and the leaders of the group of 8 or so teenage boys, and that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.
Our group had been alone, when we’d arrived and settled in for our nap, and that had played a part in my feeling of contentedness. Things were most always simpler and hard enough to deal with, I’d come to realize, if we didn’t have outside influences/people to deal with.
At some point, maybe 30 minutes after I had entered REM sleep, I was awakened by the sound of voices, coming our way up the trail from the same direction we’d just hiked. I stayed prone and just glanced around, noting that none of our group was stirring. Oh well, I said to myself, so much for keeping to ourselves.
I guess the sleeping won’t last for long, I thought. I figured it would soon get loud and bustling as more people showed up. I wondered about how many of them there might be and whether or not there’d be room for everyone on the platform, assuming they were planning to spend the night, sharing it with us. There would be plenty to deal with soon enough, I decided, so for the moment, just let our guys keep sleeping.
And then, the people came around a corner and at least some of my questions were answered. Thankfully, there were only two, meaning that there would plenty of room for them to share the platform with us, if need be. But right off, I recognized another situation, and knew that it would be tricky and less straightforward to deal with. They had no clothes on. I was a bit flabbergasted as I watched them getting closer. My first thought was to close my eyes and see if the situation would go away, which it did not. I was careful not to stare as they kept getting nearer, but did note that they were carrying well organized backpacks and had on good footwear, at least. I looked back around at our team, all sprawled out on the floor, and thankfully saw that they were still sleeping, while the two talked back and forth about how many of us there were. And then, the man and woman walked up the steps and came directly my way, obviously seeing that I was at least awake. They had questions, or at least things to say, and had no real choice, but to ask/tell me.
I wasn’t at all sure what direction the whole situation was going to go in. I was thankful that everyone else in our group was continuing to sleep through it all, at least up to that point. Maybe, I hoped, the couple was just passing through and would move on and be long gone before any of our guys would even wake up and recognize what was going on. In my mind, that scenario was a very real possibility and I was intent on expediting it. That could solve the situation, I reasoned.
“Hot trail. You’re a big group. Where ya’ going? How many days are you all out for? Do you like those boots?”, the man was full of questions.
I had sat up when they arrived, and tried to act normal, while answering the questions, but couldn’t figure out where to look and found my mind wandering from his various queries. I did keep looking over at the group and noted, once again, that even after all of the talking, there was still no stirring.
Three more minutes, just give me long enough to let this all pass, I silently hoped.
Then, he asked me about our stoves.
Before I could even answer, he looked over at the woman and just said, “I guess this’ll do. We can set up our stuff right over there. You don’t mind if we stay here for the night, do you”?
I was again flabbergasted, but simply said, “oh sure, there’s plenty of room”.
It happened like the snap of the fingers. I accepted the simple fact that the nude couple was going to camp with us for the night. It was going to happen, for better or worse. There were plenty of unanswered questions, but I came to grips with the fact that it was just going to be what it was. And so, with the man’s attention turned to setting up camp and other normal backpacking things, I just sat back and passively watched it all unfold.
I like to think I would’ve done a better job of dealing with the developing situation faster, or at least more naturally, if it hadn’t happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. I decided that at least it was going to be entertaining to watch each of the young men awaken and see their various reactions. I speculated that some of them would likely think they were still in the midst of some sort of dream– one with a very eerily lifelike tone. The thought made me chuckle to myself.
For a few moments, there was nothing. But, it was just a matter of time. Then, the stirring began, as the teenagers began to regain consciousness and drift back into reality. Initially, as each person began to come to, they kept their eyes closed, likely hearing the talk and commotion that typically went along with backpacking trips, assuming that it was just some other backpackers and hoping to prolong their state of relaxation as long as possible.
And then, the first one of them opened his eyes, glancing immediately in the direction of the couple. The glance lasted less than a second before he closed his eyes again. A moment of stillness was abruptly broken by a strange sort of upper body and head jerk, that ended with his eyes appearing to be somehow locked into the open position. I could almost feel his brain spasming to struggle with the facts. The kid sat up, looking at me and with his back to them. I could see the need for direction in his face and that he was intent on not turning around to face the facts. His eyes implored me for help, but I had nothing to offer him, except a “you’ll figure it out” sort of look. And so, he dug right into changing out his shoelaces.
Just then, another one began to roust, which was followed almost immediately by yet another. The two of them sat up simultaneously, did second takes at the sight of our campsite-mates, and then turned to each other and began an attempted nonchalant, but unique discussion of Hawaiian ornithology.
Over the course of the next few minutes, the rest of our group awakened. Each person watched to see what subsequent reactions would be. In the end, we were all curious about what the right way to react way to act or thing to do was, and we watched to see what others did. We realized that while it was an interesting situation, the answer to how to handle it was mostly nothing different from what we were going to do anyway. And so, we spent the rest of that day and evening working to keep our gear under control, cooked supper, organized our packs for the next day’s hike down to Waimanu, speculated about the beach and surf down there, discussed how nice it was that there were no snakes to worry about, talked about stoves and boots, and avoided talking about politics.