Our day of backpacking up the Z switchback on the Mulawai Trail as we hiked toward Waimanu had was hot at first. But a breath of fresh and cool air had hit us smack dab head-on once we got up on top of the ridge. The refreshingly pleasant conifer forest was a welcomed surprise. But the fact that the trail on Hawaii’s Big Island we were backpacking had a camping shelter conveniently situated from the trailhead was fully expected. We reached the elevated platform in the middle of the afternoon after several hot and humid backpacking hours. Since there was plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained, everyone picked a spot and stretched out on the shaded and relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I drifted off, I thought contentedly of black sand beaches, juicy and sweet Lilikoi fruit, and clouds before dozing off. Josh and I were the oldest and the leaders of the group of 8 or so teenage boys, a fact that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.
Our group was alone when we arrived and settled in for our sleep. Things were more straightforward and easier to deal with if there weren’t outside influences/people intermingling with our groups. So being by ourselves was a good thing.
About 30 minutes after entering REM sleep, I was awakened by the sound of voices coming our way from down the trail in the same direction that we’d just hiked. I stayed prone and just glanced around and noted that none of our group was stirring. Oh well, so much for keeping to ourselves, I mused.
I figured it would soon get loud and bustling as more people showed up. I wondered how many of them there might be and whether there’d be room for everyone on the platform, assuming they were even planning to spend the night there. Recognizing that there would be plenty to deal with soon enough, I decided to just let our guys keep sleeping while they could.
And then, the people came around a corner, and some of my questions were answered. My first recognition was that there were only two of them, which meant that if they were planning to share the shelter with us for the night, there would be plenty of room to do so. But I was bewildered by another situation and knew that it would be an especially tricky one to deal with—and it was that they had no clothes on.
I was increasingly flabbergasted by it all as I watched them getting closer. The first thing I did was close my eyes and see if the situation would go away, like a bad dream- which it did not. I was careful not to stare as they kept getting nearer, but did observe that they were carrying well-organized backpacks and at least had on solid footwear. I looked back around at our team and noted that thankfully, they were all still asleep. None even stirred when the nudist backpackers climbed the platform steps while talking back and forth about how many of us there were. And then, the man and woman walked my way, as they noted my wide-open eyes. They had questions, or at least things to say, and immediately began directing their talk at me.
I wasn’t at all sure about how the whole situation was going to unfold. At that moment, I was thankful that the teenagers were continuing to sleep through it all. Maybe, I held out hope, the couple was just passing through and would move on and be long gone before any of our guys even woke up and realized that anyone else had been there. I kept thinking that was a genuine possibility and intended to expedite it if it was indeed the case.
“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’d sat up when they arrived and had tried to act normal while answering, but couldn’t figure out where to look and found my mind wandering between his various queries and appendages. I kept looking over at the group and noting that even after all of the talking and commotion, there was still no movement.
Three more minutes, just give me long enough to let this all pass, I silently hoped.
Then, the man 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 once again dumbfounded, but simply answered, “sure, there’s plenty of room.”
It’d happened in the snap of a finger, and I accepted the reality that the nude couple was going to camp alongside us that night. I had plenty of unanswered questions but came to grips with the fact that the camping part was going to happen and just be what it was. And so, with the man’s attention turned toward setting up camp and other normal backpacking things, I just sat back and passively watched the situation unfold.
I like to think that 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 it was at least 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 that they were still in the midst of some sort of dream– one with a very eerily lifelike tone.
For a short while, there was no stirring. But, within a few minutes, the teenagers began to regain consciousness and drift back into reality. As each began to come-to, they initially kept their eyes closed. Likely hearing the talk and commotion and assuming that it was just normal backpacking trip noise.
I knew that the moment of peace and quiet wouldn’t last for long, and as expected, it didn’t. The first young man opened his eyes, looking immediately in the direction of the couple. His glance lasted less than a second before he closed his eyes again, undoubtedly trying to figure out if he’d seen what he thought he saw. Then, his moment of stillness was abruptly broken by a strange sort of upper body and head jerk that ended with his eyes appearing to open up into a locked position. I could almost feel his brain spasming to struggle with the facts. He sat up, looked at me square in the face, and kept his back to them. I could see his need for direction and his intention of not turning around to face the facts. His eyes implored me for help, but I had nothing to offer, except for a “you’ll figure it out” sort of look. And so, he did what he needed to do and immersed himself full throttle into changing out his shoelaces.
Just then, another began to roust, which was almost immediately followed by yet another. The two sat up simultaneously, did second takes at the sight of our camping-mates, and then turned to each other and began a nonchalant discussion of Hawaiian ornithology.
Eventually, the rest of the group awakened. Each person watched to see what the subsequent reactions would be. In the end, we were all curious about the right way to act or thing to do, and everyone watched to see what other people did. I realized that while it was an unusual 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, and argued about who was going to clean the pots. Before going to sleep, we all organized our packs for the next day’s hike down to Waimanu, speculated about the beach, and ended our day counting snacks.