Before I arrived in Hawaii, John had asked me what I was hoping to do there. I figured it might be worth asking whether we could do my favorite thing: climb. Turns out, John’s friend Zach – who is also his neighbor – climbs and generously offered to take us to Oahu’s famous North Shore if the weather was good.
The night we got back from the storytellers event, I was already pumped. I snuggled into my couch-bed around 9 – and did not sleep a wink. Jet lag decided now was a good time to visit, so I spent the night before our climbing trip lying awake listening to my meditation apps on repeat, without success.
I drifted off around 4:00am and dragged myself up around 6:30. John and I went to a Coffee Bean to grab caffeine for us and for Zach and his girlfriend Megan. After scoffing some overnight oats, I hopped in the car with John and we hit the road. The whole drive to the North Shore was rain-slicked roads and rainbows. Seriously. Everywhere you turned, there was a new rainbow. I loved it.
We picked up John’s girlfriend Carolynn about 15 minutes away from our climbing location. John parked the car on the roadside where turquoise waves crashed gently on white sand sliced with fishing line on one side, tooth-shaped mountains draped in layers of deep green on the other. I couldn’t see the climbing wall from the road, but I knew it was up: a 30-minute hike awaited us.
Once Zach and Megan arrived, we all shouldered our climbing gear and food and began the uphill slog through chin-high grass, trees knitted together in leafy canopies overhead, gnarled roots, and boulders. It was a sweaty, lung-busting excursion, but that’s all part of the prize that is reaching the climbing wall.
Mokule’ia Wall just reopened recently, and there were already a few early climbers up there when we arrived, but there was plenty of wall to scale. Zach and Megan set up their top ropes easily – the system here is that wooden spools dangle from all of the anchors, so you just unravel the cord, knot it onto your top rope, and then pull the rope through the anchor at the top. Efficiency!
Once they’d set up the first wall, I ventured up first. Going first takes the pressure off – no one has sent it first or failed, so I can take the time I need to get up – or not. It worked out well – though it was a bit of a struggle, I managed to send it with a few quick rests. The route was a 5.8 called Pig Tree, and the photos don’t make it look too challenging, but when I got down, I felt like I’d pulled a muscle. It was good there were 6 of us so I could rest.
We all took turns belaying. I belayed Megan, who was super cool and a badass caliber. She sent Pig Tree and then sent the next route they’d set up, Smokestack, a tricky 5.9 with a crack and a chimney. I decided to give it a try and failed dismally. I watched Zach struggle at it before their friend Zeegan showed up and sent both routes.
It felt cheap to hike all the way up here – and to have flown all the way out to Hawaii with my hopes pinned on climbing – to not try Smokestack again, so when Zach asked if I’d give it another go – he and Megan were both so encouraging and wonderful – I said yes.
And I did it.
For my first crack climb and my first go at a chimney outside, it was tough but exhilarating. Megan’s beta was helpful, but hard to apply – she’d done some hand jams and shouted up to shove both of my arms elbow-deep into the crack and then pull them against the wall in opposite directions.
“What would happen if I fell?” I asked Jao when I returned to Manila later. He looked at both of his wrists and winced. He didn’t have to say anything more.
Somehow, I made it to the top. The route brings you out to the right and then you swing around this final ledge and the anchor seems so close – but it’s still five feet away. When I tapped it, it was like the sky opened up and rained joy. (The sky had opened up a little while earlier, but it was not joy, just regular rain.)
Leaning back, I could see the whole of the North Shore, it seemed. The basalt wall stretched down beneath me, the mountain we’d climbed to get here rolled down in glorious green to where it met the shore, those pristine blue waves still rolling lazily in. It was a gorgeous view.
I love an outdoor climb. I love feeling challenged and then scrambling over the challenge to the top. I love the sweaty, dizzying, euphoric hike down at the end. I love the dirt underneath my nails, the bruises on my knees. I love the bag of Peanut M&Ms that awaits me in the car. I love the company of climbers who are all about helping each other send their projects and get over those ledges.
What an epic afternoon.
John and I drove around the North Shore after a taco lunch, where he told me about the Eddie. I would’ve loved to have stayed out there longer, but John had gotten us all tickets to see John Craigie back in Honolulu.
John described this singer to me as a “comedic folk act”, which was not wrong. However, for whatever reason, I figured he’d be leaning heavily on comedy and his songs would be hokey. Not so. He was pretty awesome. Look him up. His set oscillated between heartfelt folk tunes and well-written, catchy, tongue-in-cheek folk tunes. (All original.)
His set was punctuated with little anecdotes that bridged the gaps between songs. About halfway through his set, he was telling us one such anecdote about how he is not famous.
“Yeah, you know, I was cycling through the North Shore the other day and I hear someone call out, ‘John Craigie!’ I think, hey! Alright! But it’s just my friend,” he tells us. “So I invited him out here tonight.”
His friend timidly emerges from the wings of the stage with a guitar and a brass slide on his finger, which threw me – I love a good slide. When John looked over, I was beaming gleefully as I took out my phone.
The two sang together and I thought their voices melded nicely together. As I watched them sing, I imagined this friend of John Craigie’s, just a local guy chilling on the North Shore, invited to come play with his friend down in Honolulu. I wondered what he did for a living, and imagined him playing guitar on his evenings in his garage.
Later, they sang a duet called “I Almost Stole Some Weed From Todd Snider” and Craigie’s friend forgot his cue.
“Oh, that was me,” he said softly into the microphone. The crowd laughed and applauded, and my heart warmed at how kind they were being to this guy. I thought of Whiskey Bear and how we could all learn from John Craigie about making conversation with the audience, and how easy it is to tell when someone’s comfortable on a stage.
After the show, John, Carolynn, and I got into the car to leave.
“That was awesome,” I told him. “Good call.”
“Yeah, he was great. He brought Jack Johnson out the last time I saw him, too, but I didn’t want to spoil it for you.”
“That was Jack Johnson?” I sputtered.
“I thought you knew,” John said. “I was going to tell you, but when I looked over you were smiling and you had your phone out, and I thought, ‘She’s a musician, she knows.'”
So there you have it, folks. I saw Jack Johnson but thought he was a random, amateur musician that John Craigie took under his wing.
After the show, John brought us to the coolest beer place ever, the Brewseum. It’s closing, though, so you probably can’t ever go there. It’s a little museum filled with World War II memorabilia from Hawaii. You can sip a beer while picking up an old telephone and listening to actual radio broadcasts from Pearl Harbor.
It was the perfect night to end a perfect day.
Categories: United States (USA)