Hiking in paradise with children

It's not what it looks like in the photos

We’ve been on the island of Kauai for the last two weeks, a combination escapist vacation remote work stay that’s prolonging a year and a half of nomadism before we return to Brooklyn. We’re staying on the north shore near Hanalei Bay, a place that at times feels like actual paradise—the palm trees and copious hibiscus flowers, the daily rainbows, cinematic light, and coastal views. It’s incredibly photogenic, requiring almost no work or talent to make it look good with even an iPhone camera smudged by the dirty fingers of sticky toddlers.

In being here, I’ve realized a significant part of my parenting life quest is to raise children with physical stamina who can maintain a good attitude while physically uncomfortable. (Note that I have zero expectations about athleticism; this is much more about resolve.) Last Friday we drove an hour and a half to the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, a coastal hiking trail on the south side of the island near the resort-filled surfer haven of Poipu. The trail starts at a beach, Shipwreck’s Beach, where the waves come in strong, making it a thrilling place to get sucked up by the undertow. It’s active, aerobic beaching, not the kind for just laying in the sun. 

The trail meanders behind the beach, then climbs up onto the cliff side where you can spot teenagers who seem more rugged and more confident than you ever remember being jumping the 40-foot lithified dune into the choppy ocean. The trail splits then reconvenes around sea cliffs, coves, dunes, tide pools, lava formations, a variety of salt-resistant native plants, and heads out to a point that briefly crosses a luxury golf course before looping back. 

There’s a level of practical readiness (water bottles, appropriate attire, snacks) that has to coincide with a level of emotional steadfastness to take children hiking on a regular basis. It’s a thing that we’ve gotten pretty good at while living in the Hudson Valley; most weekends and some pandemic weekdays, snow or shine, we’d find a trail in the Catskills, or at Minnewaska Park, or in the Mohonk Preserve, and gear up and just get going. I’ve realized the best trails for kids are ones with terrain, but not too much altitude (like Sloan’s Gorge Preserve in Woodstock and the Ashokan Quarry Trail). If it feels like a jungle gym, they’re more apt to find it like play, and keep going. If there are more species to identify, more natural anomalies (waterfalls, root mazes, stone steps, etc) to catch their attention, it has motivating novelty. It also explains why walking 4 blocks in the city is excruciating, but they can go 4 miles in a rocky quarry hunting for fossils. 

We got to the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail already short on water, in the gusting rain, at Julian’s rest time, after a semi-failed lunch where Jacob and I enjoyed delicious burritos but the kids largely refused to eat. The sun came out and steamed the hot, saturated rainy ground, creating a sauna-like effect that made us all sweat while still getting ready to leave. Both kids, for the entire trip, insisted I hold both of their hands while doing anything, and wanted me to tell a story while hiking about a “curse,” a genre of story they’re obsessed with that’s included “The Cursed Red. Vine,” “The Cursed Pumpkin Patch,” and “The Cursed Stalagmite,” in recent months. 

Experience should have told us this was a poor set-up for a hike, but we were there, in paradise, sun shining, that coastal breeze going, so we went. Julian scream-whined the entire time, Ada yelled at me every time I took out my phone to take a picture and violently asserted she didn’t want her picture taken. My story was deemed too short with a terrible ending. The lava formations, breathtaking views, tide pools, and tunnels of beach-y plants, which objectively made this one of the more astounding trails I’d hiked on—ever—were drowned out by the screams when Ada tripped and hit her shin on a volcanic rock, ever so slightly breaking her skin. She proceeded to scream: DO SOMETHING IT HURTS ME SO MUCH over and over again for 15 minutes, hysterical, while Julian’s knees swelled up, either from mosquito bites or something else. We did what we rarely do and gave up and turned around. We were parched and quite a ways from the car, and took a route that seemed marginally shadier, only to emerge on a dirt road where a man was spearing the shells off coconuts and tossing the water-filled nuts into the trunk of his car where his partner-wife-girlfriend and a few babies were hanging out in the backseat. 

He saw how haphazard we were and generously gave us a coconut, even after we told him we had no money. I told Ada the coconut was medicinal and if she drank it it’d heal her shin, which she believed enough to stop screaming and generally chill the eff out. 

We got back to our car, drenched in sweat, sharing the life-giving coconut and took a quick dip in the ocean before it started pouring rain and the kids started moaning about being too hungry while shaking off sand in the car. On the drive home Ada asked us point blank, while staring out the window: “Why did we drive so far to go on a hike we didn’t finish then barely hang out at the beach?” 

We failed to answer the question while feeding the kids two cheap, greasy slices of pizza at Costco, then having a Silence Contest for the rest of the drive home, getting the kids to bed, and opening a bottle of wine.

Recommendations for kids:

  • Wear: IMO the best all-around summer / adventure / hiking / water shoes for kids are the Keen’s Newport H2 model. We call them “adventure shoes” and they are kind of offensive looking but also tanks.

  • Bedtime listen: The “Goodnight, World!” podcast brought to you by Sesame Street + Headspace is the put-your-kids-to-sleep story vibe you need.

  • Veggie raps: Hila the Killa raps about broccoli, swiss chard, mushrooms, and other eco-oriented themes. This mostly kid-friendly content is trippy, green, and Ada loves it.

  • Picture books with the perfect summer mood: Wave by Suzy Lee is a beautiful, wordless book about a little girl’s day at the beach. Down Under the Pier by Nell Cross Beckerman captures the magic of ocean-side, ferris wheel, cotton candy, sandy fun. Pool by Jihyeon Lee is another wordless tale about the world that comes alive under a swimming pool. The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann follows Ernestine through the excitement of her first camping trip with her aunt and cousin.

Recommendations for grown-ups:

That’s it for this week. I hope you’re enjoying the brief, heartwarming TV binge that is the Olympics as much as I am. If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend, like it, leave a comment, and/or send me a note.

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