Throughout my entire life, the sources of my fears have not wavered. I am not afraid of death, yet I am terrified of injury with serious bodily harm. The gore that unfolds on the screen during horror films makes me squeamish, so I avoid those movies all together or watch through peepholes of my fingers, as I shield my eyes. Bugs of all shapes and species elicit a shrieking scream, which is usually quickly thereafter followed by an escape path. Surprisingly to most, as an avid traveler, my fear of heights is likely the one that most prevents me from fully embracing the best adventures of life. Oftentimes, I question if the convergence of my fear of heights and my fear of bodily injury are the perfect combination for the paranoia of trepidation that keeps me tethered; grounded in fear with an unwillingness to experience.
I have a thirst for adrenaline rushes, yet I avoid the common adventures that quench the thirst for most thrill seekers such as sky diving, extreme sports, or rollercoasters. There are the occasional exceptions, when I throw caution to the wind or concede to the mountain of pressure from others. Once, I stood on the deck of a sailboat, after an unsteady walk despite the firm grasp of the mast. The tumultuous waves constantly rocked the boat and for a fleeting moment, I released my safety hold for the rapid succession of photos. During a vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I shocked my family, when I shared that I had booked us for a parasailing adventure. My heart pounded profusely, as we ascended higher into the sky on the tow rope, with only the ocean floor beneath us, completely disconnected and detached from all the other signs of life in the distance.
In Maui, the Road to Hana is a 65-mile trek that passengers travel to reach the Eastern part of the island. According to the Hawaii Guide, the Road to Hana contains 600 curves and 54 bridges, with a word of caution for safe travel including maintaining an average speed of 25 miles per hour. On a recent trip, my fears of heights and injury with great bodily harm were exacerbated each time we avoided contact with another object. The imprints of my manicured fingernails were temporarily tattooed in the palms of my hands because my fists were so tightly clutched. My neck was stiff. My body posture was erect. The whites of my eyes were enlarged, as they widened with each close collision; the side of the mountain, another car, the edge of a cliff. There was a flash of anger each time we almost collided with another vehicle, at a sharp juggernaut in the road or while crossing the single vehicle bridges, which could not withstand the weight of more than one. Each bridge appeared so fragile, as if one excess pound would lead to its demise, as its infrastructure and the extra weight upon it collapsed to the ground beneath it.
Passengers from preceding cars lingered to take pictures of the gushing waterfalls. Species of different trees and flowering blooms lined the roads, while we marveled at the beauty of this natural paradise. My fears temporarily subsided, as I became engrossed in the magnificence of the beauty that engulfed us on all sides. As our off road jeep navigated the terrain, we passed islanders in pickup trucks, other tourists in their off road jeeps, convertibles, and sedans saddled with beach equipment. The lack of cellular service forced us to abandon the usual distractions and instead concentrate on the beauty of nature in all of her glory.
Suddenly, we reached an overlook with magnificent views and we embarked upon a vista that was sufficient in splendor to be its own destination. After exiting the jeep, we climbed to the bottom of the mountain and with rays of sun kissing our skin, matched with the tranquility of the ocean waves caressing our ears, we glanced upwards to an amazing view. Naively, I envisioned the highlight of our Hana trip as viewing a few towering waterfalls or black sand. I romanticized the local experience of shopping at unattended fruit stands on the side of the road. In a world filled with chaos, I welcomed the till box and the honor system with an opportunity to support the authentic Hawaiian culture, not the commercialism of the grand resorts we visited in Wailea on the other side of the island.
Hana’s town center boasts two general stores, a post office, a gas station, two restaurants, a few food cart parks, and the most authentic, welcoming native experience on the island. It is a protected location, preserved from overdevelopment and tourism, in order to appreciate the environment. There is an overwhelming peace that transports one to a different moment in time. A nostalgic memory relived from when neighbors greeted strangers, who quickly became friends. Hana provides simplicity in a world of complexity. Every road leads to a destination. At an elevation of 128 feet or 39 meters, the winding, narrow Road to Hana yielded an expansive view to rainforests, ocean vistas, an array of breathtaking waterfalls, and inviting pools. Facing and conquering my fears allowed me to be released from strongholds, but more importantly to fully experience the majestic wonder during the ascension. The lasting impressions of the picturesque views forced me to reflect that my anger was rooted in situational fear, which I did not control. Although I was quite fearful during our drive, the view was absolutely worth the climb. Boom kanani, or incredible happiness rejoiced, as I temporarily cast my fears aside, opened my heart and mind, threw caution to the wind at high altitudes, and fully embraced the joy of life.