Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Kailua Beach and the Last Normal Day

Last week I got my second COVID-19 shot, vaccinating me against a disease that virtually no one understood a year ago, one that didn't even exist in humans a year and a half ago. I'm sure I don't have to describe what the last year-and-change has been like. And now with a tiny light at the end of the tunnel, this month we all had to relive how it began, a month of strange, difficult, and sometimes tragic one-year anniversaries. For my part, the day I keep thinking back to is March 9th 2020, which stuck in my mind as the last normal day of the Before Times, before all of this happened.

In truth it really wasn't a normal day at all. I was on vacation, a long-planned trip to O'ahu after a stressful work project had finally wrapped up. I needed time away from that and from a bunch of serious family medical things and related drama, so despite the reports of a strange disease popping up in a remote corner of China I rolled the dice and got on a plane, and then spent most of the trip holed up my condo anxiously reading coronavirus news as things rapidly went from bad to worse across the globe. One morning I decided to try to have at least one normal vacation day before heading home, figuring then I'd lie low for a few weeks after that until the virus situation was over. So I hopped on a city bus and made my way over to Kailua, a suburban beach town on the windward side of the island. The plan for the day was not ambitious: just go walk down the town's famous beach to see what it was like, take a few photos for the humble blog, and then maybe check out a new brewpub/taproom that had recently opened along the town's main drag. My notes from a year ago say I had a mask with me on the trip, but I have no recollection of whether I wore it on the bus or in the pub or on the flight home.

It was dim and grey out and it drizzled on and off all day, and I passed several people on the beach wearing sweatshirts and huddling up for warmth, just like Oregonians do at the coast; imagine that but 20 degrees warmer. It's tempting to laugh at people acting that way in 72 degree weather, but you don't have to be there long before any hint of temperatures below the low 80s registers as cold. Especially when all the other weather cues that register as "Pacific winter storm" are present, and other people are acting like it's cold outside, and the local restaurants are running winter specials heavy on the hearty soups and stews and whatnot.

I figured I'd start at the Kailuana end of the beach and walk south til I got to Kailua Beach Park, not because different parts of the beach are significantly different from each other, but that if I just went there to sit on the beach and shiver in 72 degree weather, I would inevitably end up staring at my phone and looking at virus news instead of having a proper vacation day. So step one was just to find the beach access. I had read conflicting things about where it was, and ended up wandering through a subdivision where all the street names are "Kailuana"-something, looking for the Kailuana beach access. I even saw what looked like a beach access, but it was gated off, and eventually I ended up back out on Kalaheo Avenue -- the main drag through the area -- and eventually sighted the actual beach trail just a couple of doors down from the subdivision. It turned out to be a long, neglected-looking alleyway between swanky houses, marked by a heavily vandalized city park sign.

It turns out that my initial guess was not totally off the mark, though. The black gate I saw, with the red letters spelling out "Private Property No Trespassing" really is a beach access spot, but it's a members-only gate for the local HOA. Now, the subdivision itself isn't gated, and its streets are public, and people can and regularly do park on the street and take the slighly roundabout path to the beach from there, often with surfboards in tow. And the beach on the far side of the gate is a public beach, by state law, and royal proclamation before that, and by local tradition going back endless centuries. But thanks to a little platting-and-deeding magic the subdivision got an exclusive beach path for themselves, in exchange for also putting in a beach alley nearby for the peasants. Which is one of the more tremendously petty things I've seen in a long time. It also tells you who has the power within the HOA: If your house isn't right on the beach, and you're the sort of person who frets about outsiders disturbing your genteel peace and quiet and so forth, you may actually have more people walking past your house to get to the beach the roundabout way than you would if the gate was just open to everybody. For some residents this also means outsiders walking down an alley that backs up to your backyard.

Of course the nature of rich people is that beyond every velvet rope is another velvet rope: The 0.1 percenters will need to wall themselves off from the mere one-percenters, and the 0.01 percenters can't bear to live among the smelly 0.1 percenters, and so on. So it won't surprise you that at the far end of the neighborhood I wandered through is a second gate, and residents' beach keys don't fit this gate. Beyond it, Kailuana Place continues out onto a narrow spit of land between the ocean and the Kawainui Canal, inhabited by the next-most-exclusive tier of rich person. One of the houses out there repeatedly served as the "winter White House" during the Obama administration, and the president could only afford it as a vacation rental.

So I ran into a cul-de-sac at this point, not a literal subdivision-type one, but a dead end while puttng this post together; I had a few more links radiating out from this land use situation that I couldn't quite mash into a good storyline, and that in turn was blocking me from finishing this post, and I ended up stuck at this point for several weeks, and here I am after dark on March 31st trying to finish a one-year-ago-this-month post about the previous March before it stops being the following March. So here are a few of the links I had that I didn't quite want to just toss out: A couple about the security zone that was set up here during the Obama era, and I was going to toss in a gratuitous link to a post here from a few months back snarking at Mar-a-Lago. Was also going to veer off on a tangent about a similar controversy over on Kaua'i where a commenter referenced the situation here, and another tangent about beach access in Oregon that I'd already kicked off to a footnote. And a couple of links explaining that bike access is a problem here too.

So moving right along, I made it to the beach and walked along for a while and took the photos here, ending up at crowded Kailua Beach Park; evidently it was a great day for kiteboarding, and colorful kites filled the grey sky. Although I somehow neglected to take any photos whatsoever of any of this, and I have no idea why not. From snippets of conversation I overheard, several of the people there were quite well-known within the sport, though I didn't catch any names and would not have recognized them if I had. Also I'm terrible at names and faces and would not have linked the name to the right person, and long story short, I am the world's worst papparazzo and if you came here looking for stale year-old kiteboard celebrity news, I'm afraid this is not your lucky day. If you continue down the beach at this point you'll end up at Lanikai Beach and near the popular end of the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, which I didn't do since I've already been there and done that, on a much sunnier and dryer day.

Besides, I was already focusing on goal number two for the day, tracking down the new-ish Olomana Brewing taproom, in an older building along the main drag through town. Had a couple of beers and chatted a bit with the owner and some of the other patrons there; as of press time this is still the last time I've had a beer in the presence of other human beings. Turns out there were a couple of other people from Portland there, which happens a lot; I suppose Portlanders visiting breweries while traveling is sort of a busman's holiday thing, pursuing Portland-y interests as best we can elsewhere, while the puzzled locals look at you like you're some kind of obsessive weirdo. In my defense, I'm almost positive I've never quizzed anyone about IBUs or mashing times or canning vs. bottling while on vacation, since it's a life goal of mine to never be That Guy. But I have had people volunteer these details and more, completely unasked, after hearing the word "Portland".

At least hiking is a popular local thing on O'ahu and nobody looks at you funny about that. As a matter of fact, the brewery is named after a local cartoonishly-steep peak that looms over the Kailua area. Olomana is widely thought to be one of the scariest and most dangerous hiking trails on O'ahu, home to a long list of fatal accidents over the years. I have never attempted it, and it's not really high on my todo list, as roughly the entire route is along a razor-sharp narrow ridge with tons of exposure, which I admit I am no big fan of. Narrow, as in nearly two-dimensional narrow, and you're hiking along the edge of where a third dimension ought to be and isn't. And calling it hiking is a stretch as I gather you spend much of the route relying on ropes of unknown age and provenance for help getting up and down slopes of up to and beyond vertical. And there's mud everywhere, and the mud doesn't provide any more traction than it does anywhere else on the island, and it's wet and muddy a lot more here than most parts of the island, thanks to being an isolated peak just windward of the windward side of the Ko'olaus. At this point I'd sort of like to point you at UH Manoa's interactive rainfall map to demonstrate just how much wetter it is than the surrounding parts of the windward side... but it's a small microclimate and the university doesn't have a weather sensor on top of any of the peaks, as this would involve climing the peaks a lot in all weather conditions. So Olomana is essentially invisible on that map. But since the point of this sensor network is to extrapolate conditions across the whole island from a limited sensor network, your model may be more accurate overall without a few mountaintop sensors sending in wacky outlier numbers all the time. You'd never guess that the highest point tops out at just 1644'.

In lieu of veering further down another cul-de-sac at this point, there's more info about climbing the thing (if you're so inclined) at SummitPost, BodeDotCom, OahuHike, Oahu Hikes and Trails, The Hiking HI, and The Outbound and a couple of typical videos.

As I was leaving the pub I mentioned I was heading back to the mainland in a few days but would be back after the virus thing was sorted out. Which I'm choosing to think of as a somewhat delayed but still-pending todo item, since both they and I seem to have survived this recent unpleasantness. Maybe in a few more months, depending on how things go from here.

If you've paged through the photoset you might have noticed a couple of photos of a rooster. While I was waiting for the bus home, he strolled by on the sidewalk, ignoring everyone standing there, and all the traffic on the adjacent four-lane road, and everything else except for a fellow rooster on the far side of the road. The two kept yelling at each other over what I imagine was some sort of property dispute; you'd think the busy road would appear as a reasonable and fair natural boundary, but no, the rooster from our side had to dart across the street, oblivious to traffic, to press the battle in the distant land of Other Rooster. I'm fairly sure there's a vintage George W. Bush or Dick Cheney quote explaining why preemptive invasions are an essential part of self-defense, but I can't be bothered to look it up at the moment. Anyway, he made it across and they chased each other out of sight, and may still be fighting it out, given how that sort of conflict tends to go, especially if either of the roosters has somehow discovered oil.

Once I got home it was back to virus news stories, and a couple of days later was the day Tom Hanks caught the virus and the NBA season was canceled and the rest was history, and a few days after that I made it back to Portland while trying not to breathe too much on a 5 hour flight, just in time for a family memorial service that ended up being canceled, and then stores began running out of everything, and certain presidents insisted it was all just a big hoax, and, well, you know the rest.

In honor of spending the last year indoors messing around on the internet instead of going places, I put together a little YouTube playlist of island music, which is the sort of goofy sentimental thing you do when a place you're fond of suddenly becomes infinitely far away for the foreseeable future. I can't quite figure out whether the shots walking down an alley in the first video are from the beach access thing I mentioned earlier, but it looked a lot like that, anyway. I'll probably think this is vaguely embarrassing when I look at it a few Marches from now, but here goes:


Oregon beach access thing

So the weird Oregon beach access thing that I wanted to tell you about at one point is about Little Whale Cove, a small inlet on the coast near Depoe Bay, home to an upscale gated community and best known for a notorious 1980s court case. Oregonians of a certain age will go on and on about the famous Beach Bill, a 1970s law that guaranteed public access to the state's beaches and limited development of tideland areas. They won't tell you it was based on an earlier law in (gasp!) Texas, or that the legal trick that made coastal protections possible here was declaring the state's beaches an official state highway. Which is why the state highway department ended up in charge of dynamiting a beached whale in 1970. Anyway, sometime in the 80s developers noticed this one cove near Depoe Bay had a little geological quirk where at low tide the cove became a pond detached from the ocean by some rocks or a sandbar or I'm not sure what exactly. Some fancy lawyers figured out that if you read the beach bill just the right way, the cove was maybe not part of the ocean and the beach wasn't covered by the law and you could fence it off and keep the peasants out and have a proper California-style gated community, and best of all it was the only one of its kind that was possible anywhere on the Oregon coast. So they went ahead with the project, and fought the inevitable court case all the way to the state Supreme Court, and won. But given the unique geology it turned out not to be the statewide apocalypse that some predicted at the time, so they've just sort of been there since then quietly keeping to themselves and doing whatever it is that rich people do at the coast.

Except that it turns out one of those rich person things involves keeping the public away from nearby, non-little Whale Cove as well. You might think that would be tough, since there's no geological loophole there, and the beach is actually part of an official state park. Ah, but if you can manage to buy up the land people would have to cross to get to said beach, and donate it to the nearby National Wildlife Refuge that's absolutely closed to all public access forever, that protects your precious privacy in a way nobody can criticize without seeming like some kind of earth-hating SUV monster. So that's where things stand right now. And at whatever point the largely-theoretical Oregon Coast Trail becomes more of a thing that exists along the central coast, this whole area is going to be a big barrier they'll have to work around somehow.

The inability to go to either cove and take photos is why this situation is relegated to a footnote in a Hawaii post instead of getting a proper post of its own. FWIW.

another playlist

Since I'm in a rare playlist-sharing mood at the moment, I figured I'd drop in a bonus one. This time it's some music from the (ex-Soviet) Republic of Georgia, a place I've been intrigued by since college but have never visited. According to the interwebs, life there seems to revolve around wine and feasts and singing and dancing (with swords) and related extrovert things that I would not actually do in real life, but which seem endlessly compelling on cold winter days when you literally have not encountered a single live human being in person in weeks, and you'd recoil from them anxiously if you did. Anyway, here: