adventure, AISES, Alaska, Anchorage, beer, Case Western, culture, Flat Top Mountain, friendship, Goldenview Middle School, Hanai, Hawai'ians, icy roads, Native American, Northern Lights, respect, snow, solo travel, spooky, student
Tonight, we learned some silly lessons:
- Hawai’ians can’t drive in the snow, or much faster than 50 miles per hour.
- Don’t tell scary stories in the darkness of Flat Top Mountain or Tylynn will lose her tough-as-nails façade.
- Don’t stand behind an SUV if it is sliding backwards or sideways down an icy mountain. It’s probably not supposed to be going that way.
Points 1-3: Albert pulled up in his big red SUV. We shoved down all the seats in the back and loaded cases of local beer. Nathan included a Hawai’ian brand that he wanted me to try. Then I climbed in back. There was me, Albert, Nathan, Tylynn, Kelsey, Karina, Jeffrey, Kamuela, and Isaiah. By putting down the seats, we were able to make the 9 seats we needed out of a 7-seating vehicle. Our mission: to find the Northern Lights. My suggestion: Go to Flat Top Mountain. Flat Top overlooked Anchorage and was our best chance to get about the city lights without driving north into the unknown. We felt like this was a good plan, despite it being a “Quiet” night. In a perfect world, we would find a park and drink our beer while huddled under the Lights.
Our going was rough at first because we were struggling to find a way up. We laid down flat a few times to pass some cops, then slowly made the trek around the base of Flat Top. Albert chose a route, and we began ascending the face. I had learned from previously riding with Albert that Hawai’i doesn’t have very high speed limits, so Albert wasn’t testing his limits by any means. As the long, dark haul began wearing on us, conversations turned to dark stories. We started with Karina’s tales of shape-shifters and other Navajo horrors. Then a dog passed us, padding down the street, and I made up stories of rabid dogs and wolves and vampires, of what was in the park we had just passed partway up the mountainside. Someone else started talking about a horror movie and threw out some South Park references which should have been funny, but only sent chills up everyone’s backs. That’s when Tylynn snapped. “I need to lay down! Stop it guys, just stop it, okay? Not while we’re seriously in the middle of nowhere and don’t know how to get out!”
Nathan looked back and barked at us, “Are you guys looking at the sky?? We need to watch in case we have to stop!” We all pressed our faces to the foggy glass. I opened a window, but, when Tylynn started hyperventilating, I decided to keep it shut and lock the doors instead. Our attention span was too short to watch the sky, and Nathan had to frequently remind us. Eventually, conversations of the sky turned into conversations of stars and the shooting star for which Kamuela was given his full, long-winded Hawai’ian name. When Kamuela spoke, telling us about nature and his deep thoughts on the world, his words were so unusually soft and rhythmic that I could hardly believe a man of his build could be so gentle. His words were absolutely poetic. He wasn’t afraid to tell me things like, “Kayla, when you tell me about your passions and what you do, I think it is incredible. It is such a beautiful thing, to hear what drives people. I find it inspiring. I want to learn and live and really see the world. I don’t want to judge. I want to live in harmony with the spectacular world around me. There is no comparison to its beauty.” I could imagine comments like that being ridiculed by others at home; but here, in this van, there were only nods of agreement and comments of reflection.
That’s when Albert pulled into a dark side road that was full of deep snow. “It’s a park,” he said, “ But I don’t think it’s open at this hour.” Tylynn put her hands over her head and looked like she was ready to cry. “We would probably get in trouble to have alcohol in here,” said Isaiah. I was surprised to hear him say that, because he seemed like the kind who would take a dare. Everyone else nodded with equal respect for the authorities, despite having ducked from the view of the police before. “Let’s… leave……NOW!” said Tylynn, obviously uncomfortable with where we were. Albert back up and turned around in the road. Tylynn didn’t take her hands down until we were swiftly rolling again. I’ll admit, thinking about that wandering dog made me feel a little uneasy as we turned around, too.
But our journey only got worse. Now Albert was following a road up to the very top of the mountain. The snow was getting deeper and the roads were obviously icy. He spun a few times. “Don’t you have 4-wheel-drive?” I asked. “No, they didn’t have a vehicle this big with it,” Albert said. I raised my eyebrows. “Is that bad?” he asked. “We’ll see,” I said. Tylynn moaned from somewhere near me. As Albert turned a bend in the darkness, his headlights revealed a steep slope leading to the flat top of Flat Top Mountain. He began to slow down, afraid of sliding. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to go into it with more speed than that,” I said. He came to a stop. “I’m afraid of sliding backwards,” he admitted. “Why don’t you let the Pennsylvanian drive?” Isaiah asked. “I’ve got it,” Albert said, and I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to hand his rental off to someone else. He tried to gun the mountain from a dead stop and got surprisingly far before the car began turning sideways and sliding back down the hill.
“Oh, my god, oh, my god, we are sliding!!” Tylynn started hyperventilating again. I pulled myself up behind Albert and tried to give him instructions. Then we dragged everyone out of the car except for Albert. Tylynn couldn’t make up her mind which was worse: being in the car that was sliding downhill or standing, watching the car slide downhill, and not knowing what was in the dark woods at her back, watching her. “Go to the side of the road,” I told Albert. “I’ll go into the ditch,” he said. “Not if you stay straight. You need the snow there to get traction. The rest of the road is pure ice. Plus, you need to get out of the middle of the road. We’re right at a bend.” He listened to me, and just in time. A car that obviously had winter-capable driving came flying up around the bend, just missing us. Tylynn was starting to wail that we needed to leave. Others were comforting her, and some were shouting that we couldn’t rush Albert or the van would slide all the way to the sea.
It took a painfully long time instructing Albert, but we eventually decided he wasn’t comfortable gunning the hill and having to come all the way back down it again, so we turned around and gently coasted downhill. The others joined us inside and we looked for a different way up the mountain. Tylynn was a little calmer now and everyone kept telling her, “Don’t worry, Kayla drives in this all the time. We’ll be fine.” Albert stuck to clear roads, mostly for Tylynn’s sake, and we eventually wound our way through a community and stopped just outside of a school. “Let’s check this out,” Albert said, turning off his lights and tucking the van behind a gate. We slipped into the entrance. It was so peaceful and dark out. There were plenty of bright stars and snow, but no Northern Lights.
“Can you believe Areidy saw the Northern Lights yesterday from her hotel window??” Nathan asked. “Just long enough to take a photo!” “That’s so unfair!” I laughed, frowning a little at the sky. Then I scooped up some snow and initiated the first inter-Hawai’ian snowball fight in perhaps all of history. It lead me, Karina, Isaiah, Jeffrey, and Nathan down behind the school. We leapt over banks and trails of animal tracks, ranging from birds to possibly wolves. That’s when I saw it: an ice hockey rink! The school had its own ice hockey rink on the playground!
We got so distracted by sliding around on it that we almost forgot about the others, who were still with Tylynn at the car. “Let’s go!” they shouted. I threw a huge snowball at the back of Nathan’s head and took off running. He caught up to me at the car where Albert and Kelsey assisted him in cornering me. I balled up like a turtle and he smashed a fistful of snow into my eyes!
Getting back in the car, we decided to head back to the hotel. We weren’t going to find a good place to see the Lights, even if we could see them at all, and nothing was going to calm Tylynn better than having the beers back in the warm safety of the hotel. So we left Goldenview Middle School. On the ride back, Kamuela informed me that I had been “Hanai’ed”, meaning I was now his and his friends’ cousin. I was an adopted Hawai’ian. I smiled and acknowledged the privilege that came with having this earned title.