We had to make a quick trip to Honolulu for a Very Important Meeting. We didn’t want to go, but it was Very Important. That meant making the drive to Kona Airport on the Other Side of the Island. Hilo’s population is much larger than Kona’s but most of the tourist stuff is over there so they got the bigger airport and the discount airlines. They also get most of the tourists and the hideous resort hotels, so it’s a fair trade.
The quickest way to go is Saddle Road, which crosses the island from Hilo to Kona. Our elevation at home is about 315 feet. On Saddle Road, we travel through a couple of forest reserves as the road rises and rises, eventually topping off at 6632 feet as we race past Mauna Kea, and then we drop down to Kona, our ears popping as we arrive at the airport, which is barely above sea level.
On the way there, an occasional wisp of cloud appeared in the distance, but overall the sky was crystal clear. The roads were dry. Donkeys and goats wandered about at their leisure. I remember commenting that it was my first time to travel Saddle Road when it didn’t rain.
We got to the airport, flew to Honolulu and flew back. We couldn’t wait to get back so we hit the ground running, so to speak, but caution is advised. There’s a sign at the entrance to Saddle Road saying there will be no sign of civilization for the next 50 miles. It’s no exaggeration. There’s the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, but that’s a long drive up the mountain and the temperature drops as the sun sets, quickly turning paradise into an arctic wasteland. Otherwise, there’s one filthy Porta Potty at the entrance to a hiking trail around the halfway mark. I advise you to hold it if you can.
As we began the ascent along Saddle Road, there were a few drops of rain, but only a few. Somewhere before the road leveled off, a thick, cottony layer of fog rolled across the road, in puffs at first and then in thick, rolling waves. Soon our only guides were the lines painted on the road and the taillights of the car in front of us. And then it started to rain, pelting sheets of water that blotted out the landscape accompanied by gusts of wind that threatened to toss our little Honda into the coarse lava at the side of the road.
Then the rain stopped and the fog returned, wrapping itself around us and muffling the strained hum of our engine. As we sped along the road, the outlines of spindly brush emerged from the mist, deployed in nearly symmetrical patterns, the ethereal ghosts of soldiers fallen in forgotten battles, forever wandering the moonscape of past lava flows. I imagined them raising spears above their heads, threatening retribution for past and future wrongs.
And then we emerged from the froth, the rooftops of Hilo welcoming us back as we gently sailed down the last sloping miles. The soldiers receded into the distance and the past as we drew closer to our house, our cats, our bed. Puna wrapped its welcoming arms around us and we sighed with relief. Home.