One would think, after acclimating to long hikes with elevation changes in the mountains of West Texas and mesas around Abiquiu, New Mexico, that I’d be in shape for most any romp.
In Hawaii, the hike that was almost my last didn’t give a hoot about all that preparation months before.
I visited my two sons for a month back in April-May 2019. On an island loop drive with my youngest son (stationed on a U.S. Navy submarine based out of Pearl Harbor), we’d planned a hike on a trail deemed “easy” by the local trail guides. The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse trail boasted only a 500 ft. elevation change over the 2.5 mile trail around the coastline, ever-rising toward the lighthouse at the top.
In a typical year, hiking is among the top three causes of deaths in Hawaii (drowning or water-related being #1). Hiking seemed an odd reason to rank so high. A little research and I learned why. On the beloved ridge hikes atop volcanic ridges, the ridges are barely wide enough for the trail. The park system barricades many of these trails closed, but seems it’s easy to subvert such intentions. The latest death reported when I was there was of a local nurse who stepped back one step too far to take a selfie atop such a ridge and plunged thousands of feet to her death. While we chose a hike on a trail with wide, paved trial winding up and around the point, at least we didn’t have to worry about “death by selfie” (surely someone’s written a mystery novel entitled that).
We arrived at the trailhead and took the last parking spot. On densely populated Oahu island, everyone seems like they own a car, despite a small island and narrow roads. The trail slope didn’t seem that bad, but soon our legs and lungs would disagree, and in hindsight, my heart too. Wasn’t long before shortness of breath, chest heaviness, and sore arms made me wonder what was going on.
Fact is, via a chronic digestive issue I’d been dealing with for years occasionally exhibited similar symptoms. I thought “oh, just another episode” and toughed it out. This concerned my son, once briefly a EMT and long interested in medical stuff. But he deferred to my “just my system getting wacko; happens now and then” self-diagnosis. But said wackiness never continued this long nor stayed in specific places in me (it usually did a wonderful, around-the-body pain tour instead).
Despite the discomfort, the views were amazing and the frequent stops to rest made soaking in the splendor all the better. We didn’t make it to the top and the lighthouse, but the hike down rewarded me with lighter symptoms, thankfully.
Getting back in the car, we continued our loop around the shoreline, each turn more spectacularly beautiful than the last. Mentally, I still connected the symptoms on the hike to my old digestive nemesis, failing to realize what it actually was. I increasingly felt better over the next few days back to normal.
Fast forward past the flight back to Denver, some post-trip time visiting with friends near Denver, and a leisurely drive back to Ohio via a maintenance stop for my RV van in Iowa. Add in a scenic drive up through Wisconsin, over Michigan’s scenic Upper Peninsula, then down through the state to Findlay, Ohio, to a routine exam by my doc, a bad EKG, an exploratory discovery stress test (nearly killed me as I went into cardiac shock from the test and came within a minute of “too late” efforts by two cardiologists and four nurses), to a life-saving stent placed in my “widow-maker” artery, to fix an ~90% blockages.
I’ve never been one to believe luck plays any part in living or fate, but have to wonder if that played a part through all those months before when I was unknowingly a gnat-hair’s width away from a fatal stroke. I wish I could say I was intentional living daringly on the edge of a catastrophe, but truth is I was just ignorant of the warning signs, ones misinterpreted for a long time and certainly ignoring the big “call to action” that day on Hawaiian hike.