I awoke at 2:30 A.M., successfully this time, to make the drive to the summit of Haleakala, the world’s tallest dormant volcano, to watch the sunrise. The drive up in the dark was slightly harrowing, as the road wound up the mountain and you knew that just off the side of the road was a plunge to certain death. Since it was still dark you couldn’t really see anything but my mind filled in the blanks. I was kind of afraid it would be more harrowing on the way down in the light.

When I got to the summit at 10,023 feet elevation, it was damn cold. I hadn’t brought a jacket to Maui so the best I could do was jeans, a tee shirt and a long sleeve shirt over my tee. Since it was still a while until sunrise, I rested in my car for a while. Then I went up to the highest observation point where most people were gathered. For a while I stayed inside the glass shelter to stay a bit warmer but as sunrise approached, I went to stand outside.

It was amazing. As it became light I could see that we were above the clouds. It was like a solid floor of clouds around us. I was chattering with cold but determined to experience this and I’m glad I did. One of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. As the sun first breached the horizon, it first looked like a line was splitting open in the sky with a fiery orange glow like magma. I’m always shocked at how quickly sunrises and sunsets actually happen. It’s only a matter of minutes until it completely transitions from nothing to the full sun (or vice versa) as you can kind of see in this video. I also did a quick 360 degree video.

After enjoying it for a while, I started the journey back down the mountain. I was pleased to find it was less harrowing because in the light, it wasn’t quiet as scary of a drop off. It would still kill you, but visually, at least, it wasn’t as vertiginous. You could sort of see the slope of the mountain as opposed to just a sheer drop. I drove to Kahului, where the airport was, and decided to just spend the day there and stay in the vicinity. I had all day but was tired and just sort of in that “waiting to leave” mind space.

There’s not a lot in Kahului, but there is a Whole Foods! I waited for them to open and had a nice fruit smoothie. I then went and found several geocaches to keep me busy and exploring for the morning. One of them took me to a really nice spot on the beach so after I found it, I rolled down the windows and took a nap in my car to sounds of the ocean (and the kiteboarding instructors and students) and with a nice breeze blowing.

I returned to Whole Foods for some Sushi for lunch. Then it was on to more geocaching. In the afternoon, I found two particularly hard ones deep in some rough woods. I had to do a lot of “bushwhacking” as they call it when you are off the trail and going through rougher wooded areas. Up hills, through overgrowth, over fallen trees, by a homeless person’s tent in the woods, it was quite a rough terrain adventure. They were both tiny “microcaches”, basically tiny camouflage cylinders attached to trees. After the second one, I was thoroughly drenched in sweat, which was unfortunate as I wouldn’t have a chance to shower until I got home (which would turn out to be almost 24 hours later).

I decided to try and find a cafe or some place where I could recharge my nearly dead phone, and use my laptop for a bit but this turned out to be pretty futile, although I didn’t try incredibly hard. There was a Starbucks somewhere but there’s nothing there I want to drink. I ended up back at the same beach spot where I had napped earlier. When my phone died, I opened up my laptop on battery power and charged my from from that for a while. I spent several hours just walking barefoot in the sand, enjoying the view and the sound and watching kiteboarders. While I was indeed anxious to get home (more on that later) there was a surprising sense of sadness as well. Maui had really got to me. It was as wonderful and beautiful as everyone had said it would be. I’d seen and done so much, met so many great people and characters. Turning away from the ocean and walking back to my car was definitely accompanied by a sigh, like I was saying goodbye to a friend after a visit.

I decided to go ahead to the airport even though it was still 4 hours before my flight. I always would rather have too much time than not enough so I have plenty of time for any unforeseen circumstances as well as time to just take it casually, eat, relax, etc. I arrived at my gate and began the waiting game. A friend of mine works for an airline so I was traveling on his “companion” passses which meant my round trip was significant cheaper but I was flying standby, which means I only get on the plane if there’s room. I’d done this many times before so I knew the game and knew that you just had to go into it knowing that it could be quite the adventure. I’ve been stuck in Chicago for an entire day and overnight stay, stuck in Austin for 2 full days and nights and other adventures so I’d learned to be pretty zen about it. My trip to Maui had been flawless. Made both my flights! I was ecstatic when not only did I make my first flight home, but I was in first class for the 6+ hour flight! I ate my free, fancy, first class meal and then slept the entire flight to Denver.

When I got to my gate in Denver, I ate breakfast and headed to my gate where they have electronic boards at the gates telling you how many seats, how many people are checked in, people on standby, etc. My flight back to Austin was not looking good. I believe it showed one open seat and 3 people in front of me on the standby list. Sure enough, I didn’t get on it. The next flight was three hours away. I set up at the “charging station” and set up my laptop in one of the little cubicle-like spaces to pass the time. As my next flight got closer, I went to the gate and once again it looked even worse than the first flight. In fact, they were asking if any paid passengers would willingly give up their seat for a later flight, for which they would be compensated somehow (I can’t remember how). I did not get on. Another three hour wait.

I got some lunch and again set up in my airport cubicle. At this point, I was mostly keeping my zen but was a little frustrated since I had just started dating someone right before I left for Maui. We literally had our first kiss and then I’m gone for 6 days. I was anxious to get back.

As the next flight approached, I looked at the board to assess the situation. Three open seats and I was fifth on the standby list. I was hoping for a miracle. They started giving seats to the standby list. Two guys got their tickets and boarded. They called the next name. No response. Again, they called for this person, and no response. They then moved to the fourth name on the list. Again, no response. The gate agent said, “Well then, onto our next contestant” and sure enough it was me. I shouted “Woohoo!” and threw my arms in the air, happily took my ticket and boarded the plane.

Once again, I slept almost the whole 2 hour flight and arrived home only 6 hours later than I’d anticipated. On the plus side, this meant my girlfriend was not at work and could pick me up at the airport. We spent the next 26 hours utterly relaxing and disconnected from the world. Then I hit the ground running with things to do and am still playing catch up (thus why I’m only now finishing this blog entry).

Of course, I’d have it no other way. I hope to go back some day, but it’s also great to be home.

Pictures from the trip can be found here.