Climbing Mt. Ka‘ala, O‘ahu’s Highest Point

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Views of the west side valleys on the way to the summit of Mt. Ka‘ala.

The west side of O‘ahu is known for its sunshine, even in winter, when much of the island is wet. Last weekend, for example, the west side was dry… and we got 13 inches of rain in less than two hours in Waimanalo on the windward side.

A few weeks ago, my buddy and I took the opportunity to soak in some of that sunshine and tackle the crown jewel of hikes on the west side: Mt. Ka‘ala, the highest point on O‘ahu at 4,025 feet. It’s not that high compared to what you can find on the Big Island or Maui, but you start out just a bit above sea level, and it’s a decent climb across steep, narrow ridges. It’s by no means a beginner hike or a lazy-afternoon excursion.

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Patches of clouds moved across the sky in scenic fashion as we climbed to the top of the first ridge, providing expansive views out Waianae Valley. At times, the trail climbs straight up the mountain like a staircase. Some parts are more stable than others, depending on whether it has rained recently. There are ropes in place where it tends to be muddy or overly steep. Some parts of the trail require you to climb over big boulders, which should not be taken lightly. There is little room for error – one slip and over the ridge you go.

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The path along the first ridge line is the best place to take photos of the valley. The summit of Mt. Ka‘ala is an ecosystem all its own, considered a cloud forest. The higher you climb towards its peak, the more entrenched in fog and precipitation it becomes. It reminds me of the area around the Visitor Center of Volcanoes National Park, which sits at the same elevation. It is amazing to see how the dry terrain suddenly turns into a mini rainforest.

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As you near the peak of Mt. Ka‘ala, you can expect to be under cloud cover. If you’re only in search of views, there’s no need to continue past the first ridge line. There is no lookout at the summit of Mt. Ka‘ala, only an Army outpost that’s closed to the public. It’s worth a trip in my mind, though, to see how the terrain changes and to see some of the unique plants that aren’t found in many places on O‘ahu.

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My buddy and I found a place to sit near the summit, amongst the ferns you see above, to watch the fog and clouds roll in and over the ridge line, clearing for a few moments before clouding back over again. The return descent provides the most in-your-face views as you ease down the steep trail and gaze out over the valley. Just make sure you stop in a secure place when you want to take a photo – again, one slip and you could easily tumble a long way down.

As you can see in the photos, there are many other peaks and ridge lines that surround Mt. Ka‘ala, including access to the Waianae Ridge Trail. I plan to go back and explore some of the other trails this summer to see what I can find.

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Drinking Beer for the Homeless in Kailua

You’ll feel good about yourself at Kailua’s newest craft beer tasting room — until you meet the owners.

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Tim and Holly Veling, Owners of Grace in Growlers in Kailua

Holly Veling feeds a worn twenty-dollar bill into the change machine, and I can hear the clinking as the quarters start to come out. It sounds like a casino, and in that moment, it makes a lot of sense to me, because for those that have come here seeking help, it is indeed the sound of a jackpot.

Holly and her husband Tim, along with a few other volunteers, are hanging out at a Kāne‘ohe laundromat for a few hours on a Saturday, paying for anyone who walks through the door. The outreach is an arm of the Veling’s Windwardside nonprofit, the ONEninetynine Initiative.

But to say it like that is a little bit misleading, because it insinuates that there’s something behind the curtain, that it’s not just Holly and Tim, choosing to spend their time at a laundromat, trying to help people who might not be able to afford to wash their clothes.

Most who show up are homeless. I can see clearly that Holly knows them all as she greets many of them with a hug. I take a bag of quarters and begin to load them into one of the washing machines. Having not been to a laundromat here, I was surprised at how expensive it was: Three bucks for a single load, then another three for the dryer. For someone struggling, I can understand why the stream or a public sink might start to seem like a more practical option.

Though their philanthropic efforts began well before, the Velings made them official three years ago when they registered as the ONEninetynine Initiative. At first, they raised funds by driving around the island and picking up large quantities of recycling from bars and restaurants, which they would then cash in. It was a good way to do double duty, to raise money and to recycle at the same time.

But the Velings always had their sights set on something bigger, something that could cement itself as part of the Kailua community and become a solid source of continuous funding for their nonprofit programs, like “Laundry Love” here today.

Something like a craft beer tasting room.

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Here, Grace Comes in a Growler

Tim and Holly’s idea was to pair the nonprofit efforts of their ONEninetynine Initiative with a for-profit business that would in turn fund the nonprofit (essentially rendering the for-profit a nonprofit itself, at least in theory if not by law).

“We didn’t want to be that nonprofit that’s asking for money all the time,” Tim said. “We wanted to be self-sustaining.”

While sitting at a packed bar one afternoon, the couple realized that the craft beer craze could be a bridge between their organization and the community. They envisioned a tasting room where local beers could be tried, where you were free to bring food and sit around and play games.

That was 2013. Last fall in October, Grace in Growlers opened on Hekili Street. The Velings’ decision and timing to open a tasting room was impeccable from a craft beer perspective, as O‘ahu is currently in the midst of a renaissance. In 2013, there were no functioning craft breweries on the island. Today, the number is approaching ten, and interest is booming.

The Grace in Growlers tasting room has 13 craft beers on tap that are constantly rotated as well as wine and local Sky Kombucha (Waimānalo) for a non-alcoholic option. It is decked out with recycled materials and carries what Tim describes as an “accidental school feel,” with wooden doors repurposed as tables, used lockers for coat and game storage, and old classroom desks and milk crates as seats.

The complete blueprint for Grace in Growlers, in addition to selling pints, is to also sell growlers of beer to-go, hence the (great) name. But selling beer for takeaway requires a separate liquor license, and Tim said it will be a few months until they receive the permit.

I’m sure it’s frustrating for the Velings, but to me, it’s a blessing in disguise. With the option for carryout absent, there’s no trace of transience. Instead, the place feels like a neighborhood pub, with people enjoying pints of beer, bringing their own food, sitting down with friends around a board game. There’s a sense of community. Tim said that several patrons have already volunteered their time to the ONEninetynine Initiative after chatting with him and hearing the story behind the tasting room.

“Sometimes people [we meet here at the tasting room] will come on a Saturday to help with our laundry service [Laundry Love], and then they’re back in here drinking beer again the next night,” Tim said. “Which is the most amazing thing. It’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.”

Text Message to the Homeless

For the sake of transparency and good faith in its efforts, there is a 36-ounce limit per visit per customer at Grace in Growlers. It is also one of the 100+ establishments statewide to operate without foam and plastic as part of the Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.

“We don’t want to be that business that gets everyone drunk in the name of supporting a good cause,” Tim said.

During the days leading up to each Laundry Love event, Tim and Holly send out a text message to the homeless community with the location and time of the service, and their generosity has developed a regular following. Holly hugs another woman as she walks in, then brings out a chart and makes a note to order new shoes for her. As I watch them work, I begin to question my own path. Tim and Holly are the kind of people who can do that to you, make you stop in your tracks and wonder, am I doing enough good with my own life?

For me, the answer is probably not. But thanks to them, I at least now have a place to go for a beer, a place to go when I’m looking to feel better about myself.

As Weird as It Gets: Ice Skating in Hawai‘i

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The Ice Palace west of Honolulu is Hawai‘i’s only ice skating rink. It opened in 1982 and holds open skates multiple times per week.

It’s noon on a rainy Thursday when I pull into the parking lot. At this point, I’m still not sure whether or not I’m going to skate. I really just want to check it out, to have a look around and see who’s there and what’s happening. An open skate in the middle of the week, at an ice rink in Hawai‘i, seems beyond my wildest imagination.

I arrive to find that snooping around the Ice Palace is not possible. The rink is like a movie theater in that there’s a ticket booth outside, and you can’t go inside unless you pay — the doors are even frosted over with fake frost so you can’t see inside. This drives my curiosity to new, insane heights. Who the hell is in there?

I fork over the $10 entrance fee and am happy to find out that it includes a skate rental. As I reach for the door handle, I’m excited to pull back the curtain on this place. But I make it only a few steps inside before turning back. The temperature is kept at 50 degrees, and stepping through the doors in flip flops is a rude awakening. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I go back to my car for a sweater and socks.

When I return and finally get a glimpse of the ice, my suspicions are confirmed: There is no one on it. Suddenly, it feels like I’m transported back to a grade-school roller rink party. In front of me, a worker preps the snack bar — nachos, soft pretzels, and pizza. Beyond him, the arcade games are all turned off, presumably because no one is here in the middle of the day.

I can feel the staff staring at me. As curious as I am about the place, they are just as curious about me. I put it out of my mind as I rent and lace up the skates. I’m sitting on one of those round, plastic cafeteria-style seats when the unthinkable happens — the type of thing that only happens in movies. As I finish lacing up, a song comes blaring over the speakers. It’s Amazed by Lone Star. The rink is absolutely empty, and I’m standing up on skates for the first time in ten years. There would be other love ballads played throughout the afternoon, but none more memorable than this one, at the start of my skate on an empty rink.

I’m timid as I step out on the ice. My hands are in my pockets to stay warm. I slowly coast along the side of the rink near the boards. I feel more comfortable after a few laps, and I start to have fun. It’s basically a private rink, and it’s not often you get cold cheeks in Hawai‘i. I can’t help but feel amusingly counter culture.

Later, a woman comes out. She looks like a pro, doing spins and swirls. I make up her backstory as I take laps — a former figure-skating star, banished to hot-weather Hawai‘i and mid-week open skates. Then, a group of guys in their twenties, part of a construction team on their lunch break, join us on the ice. They’re having a ball, and, like me, seem to view the experience as something to joke about, like they can’t believe they’re doing it. We instantly bond over it, flashing grins as we pass, our legs wobbly.

We continue to skate as a group until two of us make eye contact during Selena’s Dreaming of You and I decide it’s time to leave.

The Locals Route at Ka‘ena Point

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When the surf is calm, you can walk amongst the rocks and find solace in the tidepools along the north coast of the Ka‘ena Point hike.

It was a crystal-clear day on a winter’s weekend, and we cruised with the windows down along the North Shore, past Dillingham Airport where the skydivers were landing to the end of the road and the Ka‘ena Point hike.

I’ve avoided Ka‘ena Point for a long time, mostly because I didn’t think it fit in with what I’m looking for on a hike. To me, the wilderness means less people, not streams of them, and Ka‘ena Point is well traveled. But with friends in town for the holiday weekend and their sights set on seeing whales, I decided it was a good time to give it a try.

When we arrived in the late morning, there were many cars. Most people walk the big dirt 4×4 road all the way to the point, and I could see groups of people going up and over the first hill. Anxious to avoid the holiday crowds, I made a sharp right over the dunes and down towards the water. The sea was relatively calm and the rocky coastline was revealed.

I could walk on the rocks safely out of reach of the water, in and out of small caverns and tide pools. The sharp terrain forced me to slow down, to breath it in. It took the focus off the final destination and placed it back in the moment, where it always belongs.

I expected to find many others doing the same. But there was no one. Whether it’s a lack of awareness or an intentional avoidance due to the terrain (you need sturdy footwear, i.e. no flops), very few people choose to go this route. It was nice to look down the coast and see no one, minus the occasional fisherman checking his rod, knowing there were groups clunking along the road nearby. Out of sight, out of mind. My friends and I were literally alone and, as you see above, free to get lost in nature.

This would all change when we eventually reached the sanctuary, when we decided, for the sake of time, to brave the crowded 4×4 road on the return trip. It was a quicker route, but one where we had to consistently dodge four-wheel drive vehicles and puddles of mud.

To be honest, I felt lucky to have avoided it on the way in. By foregoing the road and taking the coast, I was able to see a totally different, totally local side of that area. I was able to bypass the streams of people walking the road, turning a popular hike in a popular place into a private experience.

Maybe you can try, too, when the surf is calm and you’re looking to see a different side of a place you’ve probably seen before.

One Couple’s Grace, Poured in a Pint Glass

You’ll feel good about yourself at Kailua’s newest craft beer tasting room — until you meet the owners.

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Grace in Growlers owners Holly and Tim Veling.

Holly Veling feeds a worn twenty-dollar bill into the change machine, and I can hear the clinking as the quarters start to come out. It sounds like a casino, and in that moment, it makes a lot of sense to me, because for those that have come here seeking help, it is indeed the sound of a jackpot.

Holly and her husband Tim, along with a few other volunteers, are hanging out at a Kāne‘ohe laundromat for a few hours on a Saturday, paying for anyone who walks through the door. The outreach is an arm of the Veling’s Windwardside nonprofit, the ONEninetynine Initiative.

But to say it like that is a little bit misleading, because it insinuates that there’s something behind the curtain, that it’s not just Holly and Tim, choosing to spend their time at a laundromat, trying to help people who might not be able to afford to wash their clothes.

Most who show up are homeless. I can see clearly that Holly knows them all as she greets many of them with a hug. I take a bag of quarters and begin to load them into one of the washing machines. Having not been to a laundromat here, I was surprised at how expensive it was: Three bucks for a single load, then another three for the dryer. For someone struggling, I can understand why the stream or a public sink might start to seem like a more practical option.

Though their philanthropic efforts began well before, the Velings made them official three years ago when they registered as the ONEninetynine Initiative. At first, they raised funds by driving around the island and picking up large quantities of recycling from bars and restaurants, which they would then cash in. It was a good way to do double duty, to raise money and to recycle at the same time.

But the Velings always had their sights set on something bigger, something that could cement itself as part of the Kailua community and become a solid source of continuous funding for their nonprofit programs, like “Laundry Love” here today.
Lucky for us, they landed on a craft beer tasting room.

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Grace in Growlers uses electronic wristbands that allow its customers to pour their own beer.

Here, Grace Comes in a Growler

Tim and Holly’s idea was to pair the nonprofit efforts of their ONEninetynine Initiative with a for-profit business that would in turn fund the nonprofit (essentially rendering the for-profit a nonprofit itself, at least in theory if not by law).

“We didn’t want to be that nonprofit that’s asking for money all the time,” Tim said. “We wanted to be self-sustaining.”

While sitting at a packed bar one afternoon, the couple realized that the craft beer craze could be a bridge between their organization and the community. They envisioned a tasting room where local beers could be tried, where you were free to bring food and sit around and play games.

That was 2013. Last fall in October, Grace in Growlers opened on Hekili Street. The Velings’ decision and timing to open a tasting room was impeccable from a craft beer perspective, as O‘ahu is currently in the midst of a renaissance. In 2013, there were no functioning craft breweries on the island. Today, the number is approaching ten, and interest is booming.

The Grace in Growlers tasting room has 13 craft beers on tap that are constantly rotated as well as wine and local Sky Kombucha (Waimānalo) for a non-alcoholic option. It is decked out with recycled materials and carries what Tim describes as an “accidental school feel,” with wooden doors repurposed as tables, used lockers for coat and game storage, and old classroom desks and milk crates as seats.

The complete blueprint for Grace in Growlers, in addition to selling pints, is to also sell growlers of beer to-go, hence the (great) name. But selling beer for takeaway requires a separate liquor license, and Tim said it will be a few months until they receive the permit.

I’m sure it’s frustrating for the Velings, but to me, it’s a blessing in disguise. With the option for carryout absent, there’s no trace of transience. Instead, the place feels like a neighborhood pub, with people enjoying pints of beer, bringing their own food, sitting down with friends around a board game. There’s a sense of community. Tim said that several patrons have already volunteered their time to the ONEninetynine Initiative after chatting with him and hearing the story behind the tasting room.

“Sometimes people [we meet here at the tasting room] will come on a Saturday to help with our laundry service [Laundry Love], and then they’re back in here drinking beer again the next night,” Tim said. “Which is the most amazing thing. It’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.”

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You can bring your own food to Grace in Growlers.

Text Message to the Homeless

For the sake of transparency and good faith in its efforts, there is a 36-ounce limit per visit per customer at Grace in Growlers. It is also one of the 100+ establishments statewide to operate without foam and plastic as part of the Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.

“We don’t want to be that business that gets everyone drunk in the name of supporting a good cause,” Tim said.

During the days leading up to each Laundry Love event, Tim and Holly send out a text message to the homeless community with the location and time of the service, and their generosity has developed a regular following. Holly hugs another woman as she walks in, then brings out a chart and makes a note to order new shoes for her. As I watch them work, I begin to question my own path. Tim and Holly are the kind of people who can do that to you, make you stop in your tracks and wonder, am I doing enough good with my own life?

For me, the answer is probably not. But thanks to them, I at least now have a place to go for a beer, a place to go when I’m looking to feel better about myself.