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On top of Haleakala

Return to Maui
by Cathy Corcoran
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I first visited Maui years ago when I was just out of college and lived for a year in Honolulu.  Waikiki was fun, but when I first saw Maui, I fell in love with the beaches, the mountains, the gorgeous valley that lay between towering volcanic peaks. "Maui No Ka Oi," the locals say - Maui is the best. I had to agree.

That's why I was so excited when my husband and I took a return trip to the Valley Isle. I planned every detail for months - the condo where we'd stay, the restaurants where we'd eat, the farmers' markets we'd visit, even the place where we'd rent out swim fins and snorkel gear.  

We spent the first few days on the island getting over jet lag and lazing around on the beach, but one of the most awesome sights on Maui is the summit of Haleakala, a 10,000 foot dormant volcano that rises gently from the valley island floor.  


I wanted to get up to the summit, partly to enjoy the wild beauty there, but partly, I must confess, to see if the volcanic crater at the top lived up to my memories. 


You know how it is with memories - you go back to the house where you lived as a child, and everything is so small!  The huge back yard you played in as a child has shrunk to postage stamp size, the living room is tiny, and how did you ever cope with four people in the house and only one bathroom?


I wondered if Haleakala would be as wonderful as I’d remembered it. On our fifth day on Maui, we headed off to see.


Yikes! The road was scarier tham I remembered. Sharp curves, a tiny little guardrail, then a drop of thousands of feet to the valley floor below. I coped the way I always do with scary drives - I held the camera out the window and closed my eyes.  


Of course, I  also had to give Ken driving directions - “Not so close to the edge!”  “Slow down!”  and “Watch the Road!”  God knows what he’d do without me.


I found out soon enough. As soon as we got to the summit, I jumped out of the car and starting dancing around, snapping pictures. Ken slowly opened the driver’s door and leaned on the hood. “Altitude,” he said.


“Take a couple of deep breaths,” I said. Then I took off to get more pictures. 


There were a few clouds in the crater, but it was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it. The crater itself is more than 2,000 feet deep and bigger than the island of Manhattan. Hills inside the crater are gold, pink, purple, and other colors caused by minerals in the volcanic soil. Off in the distance, I could see the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island poking up through the clouds. It was spectacular.


But where was Ken? I hurried back to the car and there he was, still leaning on the hood.       I dragged him over to the sign that said, “Elevation 10,023 feet," and asked another tourist to take our picture.


Looking back, it’s amazing to see how good Ken looks in that photo.  A minute later, as I was thanking our volunteer photographer, Ken was bending over.  Then he was popping a nitroglycerin pill.

“I’ve got to get off this mountain,” he said. He was gasping for breath.


Ken had an angioplasty several years ago, and often gets what his cardiologist calls “extra beats.” He was getting nothing but extra beats on top of Haleakala. 

 It took two hours for Ken to drive up the mountain. It took me 45 minutes to drive down. It was scary, and it wasn't just the low guardrails or the steep drop-offs that were making my own heart hammer.

They whisked us into a cubicle in the emergency room at the Maui Medical Center, then hooked Ken up to an IV and an EKG machine. 


We spent seven hours in that cubicle, while  doctors, nurses, and aides took Ken’s blood pressure, monitored his body temperature, and stuck needles into him. They really didn’t think he’d had a heart attack, but we had to wait for results of the blood work to be sure. I spent six and a half hours of those seven hours kicking myself for insisting that Ken run around on top of a volcano.


After the overnight shift came on duty, they decided to admit Ken him for observation.  I made the lonely drive back to our condo alone. 


It was midnight and the moon was almost full. I took a wrong turn, found myself lost in the sugar cane fields, and suddenly realized just how far we were from home. I’d been waiting to get to Maui for months, I thought I'd planned every detail of the trip, and now there I was alone in the dark, trying to get a fix on my cell phone’s GPS  before the battery died. I started to cry.


Well things turned out fine in the end. Ken's heart appeared to be okay, was released from the hospital the following day, and we spent the rest of our vacation at sea level.


In my experience, few things in life live up to our expectations. Yes, the Haleakala crater was awesome and the views were amazing.  We sunbathed, snorkeled, shopped, and generally had a wonderful time. But when everything was over, when we were back at home and Ken's cardiologist gave him a clean bill of health, what did we remember the most? The high speed drive down the 10,000-foot mountain and our adventures at the Maui Medical Center.

I can plan all I want, prepare for every little possibility, try to limit my expectations, but it's the surprises in life that often bring the best memories.

Maui not only lived up to my expectations, it exceeded them in ways I never could have forseen.

Maui no ka oi!



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