We headed back up to find the next gulch. Because the canopy was dense and vast, we couldn’t ascend above the forest to get a solid view of where we were going.
Quite simply, we couldn’t see the forest through the trees.
But Nat stayed calm and confident, so I stayed hopeful. My mind drifted to the sushi dinner I hoped to have in a couple short hours. But my mind also wondered – didn’t all bad horror flicks start out like this?
We spent another hour climbing through the forest and following “trails.”
He called them trails. I disagreed.
A trail is marked. A trail is frequented. A trail leads to a destination. Everything we followed went to a dead end.
Using the ridge as a guide, Nat estimated we were close to the elevation we needed because the ridgeline was descending to the level of the painted eucalyptus trees.
As we trekked on, we listened closely for the two sounds that could lead us out: cars and cattle. Where they were, flat land abounded.
A road had been where we had started, but with the winding roads in Maui, it was hard to gauge where the sound was coming from.
Cattle mooed and shrieked in the distance, but cattle are always in motion. We couldn’t trust them to guide us to one place.
On we went.
After scrambling, our explorations led us to a small trickling stream with a 15-foot steep tangle of Hau trees hanging above.
If we followed the stream, we would be headed towards safety. But to do that, we had to climb over, under, and through the web of trees to move forward.
With renewed optimism and hope, I eagerly grabbed on to the branches around me.
We climbed forward through a sharp and twisted spider web of Hau, our faces, arms, and legs getting caught along the way.
Vines and branches pulled at my clothes and threatened to trap my legs. My right shoe opened up in the front, and the sole was pulled out after becoming stuck in the mess. I heard an audible rip as Nat’s shorts snagged on a branch.
There was safety to be found in climbing atop the web of Hau; there were a hundred limbs to catch you on your way down. But that also meant there were a hundred small sharp broken branches waiting to pierce flesh.
Nat managed to spot rainbow eucalyptus trees ahead. Rainbow eucalyptus had been along our initial path – we were headed in the right direction.
After two hours climbing through Hau trees, the sun started to fade.
My initial calm began to show cracks. This was the first time I realized the obvious – we may not get out before sunset.
Inside, I felt a mixture of fear and resentment brewing.
But Nat stayed calm and reassuring. He constantly asked if I was okay and was trying his best. Discord was a recipe for disaster. We had to stay unified.
“Whatever you do, we can’t get injured right now. Take it slow, test each branch. We need to be careful,” he advised.
I tried my best, but as the final traces of sunlight drained from the sky, the branches became harder and harder to see.
All we had leading us was a faulty headlamp that had been submerged in water.
Without that light, we were toast.
After two hours, I saw a patch of green to the right. We had heard cows and cars to the right. Why not give it a try?
As we got closer to the green patch, we became immersed in darkness. We couldn’t see stars; the foliage above was too thick.
We slid our bodies underneath the web of Hau along the ground – the stream was gone. And the foliage was finally changing.
A thick bamboo forest now began ahead of us. I could have cried for joy. We could stand up and walk.
A clear-cut path led through the bamboo, and within minutes we reached a clearing. We could see the stars in the sky above us.
His headlamp illuminated what looked like a bridge.
“Let’s go in that direction.” I said.
Our steps hastily charged forward, and within minutes we found ourselves at the road.
“We did it! We’re out! We’re free!” I said.
His voice took on a serious tone.
“I didn’t want to tell you, but that was serious. People die in situations like that all the time. You get scared, you become hasty, and you can slip and fall or become seriously injured.”
A wave of acknowledgement and gratitude washed over my entire body. I knew we had been close, but I hadn’t contemplated how close. After six hours, we were bruised, scraped, bloody, sore and bitten – but alive.
“I won’t ever forget you or what we went through. You’re tough,” he said.
“I will never forget today. Ever. Thanks for leading us out.”
And with a hug goodbye, our paths forever diverged forward.