Hawaii Volcano and a terrifying drive across the Big Island...

My family loves Hawaii. Like really, REALLY, loves Hawaii. When my sister received her PhD in Art History, my mom brought her there for the first time. It was love at first landing. For months all my mom and sister would talk about was how wonderful Hawaii was... I was pretty jealous!

My mom promised me a trip to Hawaii when I finished my DMA - she always wants everything equal between my sister and I, and since she had brought my sister there after her PhD, she felt she had to take me too! I have to say here....it MAY have been what gotten me through studying for my exams…

But, as fate would have it, it took me FOREVER to get my DMA. By the time I was done, I was busy trying to have a baby... and then after that, busy having a newborn.

As I remember, our first trip to Hawaii was AMAZING. It was in January. So wonderful. The beaches (Polihale Beach!), the hiking, the food. My husband and I even learned to surf! 


But my mom was less than happy with this trip. In her opinion, it rained too much. So she promised to take us again - at a time that would be less rainy. So we went again WHAT? Again? OK by us! So we went the following November.

After the second trip (well, actually the first) we were hooked. After the birth of our second child, and our daughter's diagnosis with Epilepsy (something you can read about here....) my mom decided that we all needed to get away. From everything. So she began planning another trip to Hawaii. (Seriously, my mom does ALL the planning for these trips - she's amazing!)

At the time, Alena was totally OBSESSED with volcanoes. She was a volcano for Halloween - and I wrapped her brother in tinfoil so that he could be the volcanologist.

She had dozens of books about volcanoes. I even painted a mural of a volcano on the wall of her bedroom.

When people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she would say “I’m going to be a volcanologist” - try explaining that one! No one knew what the heck she was talking about. I spent a lot of time explaining to people that no, a volcanologist was NOT someone who studied Vulcans from Star Trek, but rather someone who studied VOLCANOES… But I digress.. It was a CRAZY obsession of hers.… Have I mentioned that she was FOUR at the time??

Anyway, because of her obsession with volcanoes, we decided that we HAD to take her to the Big Island when we went to Hawaii (something we had not originally planned). We didn’t know much about the Big Island - my mom had only been there once.. We only had ONE day to explore. Actually, less than one day. Really only about 6 hours.

We boarded a plane for a short 20 minute flight from Kauai to the Big Island. After de-boarding the plane, we rented a car and drove to the Kilauea visitor center. Alena could not have been more thrilled!

She was going to see an actual volcano! She was fascinated the ENTIRE time. We only had about 6 hours to see everything, so we practically RAN down to see the volcano, the lava tube, etc.

Time passed quickly but then, all of a sudden, we HAD to leave or we’d miss our flight back to Kauai... And here is where the drama begins. Alena didn’t want to go. She wanted to see the LAVA! Much crying and carrying on ensued. But we HAD to go. We were VERY worried we would not have enough time to get to the airport.

We had rented a car to get to the Kilauea visitor center. My husband was driving. When it was time to go, we raced into the car and onto the highway (in reality, a small two lane road across the hills of the Big Island).

The road was VERY curvy and hard to navigate. I have never seen my husband concentrate so hard on anything. He kept saying “the brakes on this car don’t work quite right, but I think we’re ok”... SUPER reassuring. He was driving really fast - probably faster than was legal or safe. I should probably add here that we weren't at ALL sure that rental cars were actually ALLOWED on this road - which added to the stress...

I was busy trying to calm the kids down, who were tired after a long day of hiking. My mom sat in the back seat. She was in a total PANIC. She was convinced we would miss the flight and be stranded on the Big Island with no place to stay. We joke about it now, but she totally had “Fear Breath” - something that happens to all of us when we are in a state of total panic. My poor mom!

I seriously thought we were going to miss this flight. So did my husband. So did my mom. Which is why we drove at insanely high speeds (I vaguely remember the speedometer reaching speeds above 85 MPH...), on unfamiliar roads, with possibly faulty brakes. I can’t say that looking back on it that it wasn’t just the TINIEST bit thrilling…

When we finally arrived at the airport (if you can even call it that - it was more a “landing strip”) the plane wasn’t even there! (typical Island time!!!) We checked the rental car in, and waited for 30 minutes to leave. Some random person made my kids balloon animals. Both of which popped - and Alena is still, to this day, upset about her balloon animal popping. I’m not sure she remembers the volcano, but she remembers this stupid balloon animal! But hey, at least she doesn’t remember the panic!

Then we boarded the most TERRIFYING flight I have ever been on. This plane was TINY.

Like 6 passenger tiny. Tiny planes have HUGE amounts of turbulence… I sat there holding my 6 month old son. All the people I loved most in the world were on that plane. I was terrified we would crash into the ocean! Thank goodness it was only a 20 minute flight. 20 minutes in which I was in a total PANIC - and may have even had “Fear Breath”.

But we made it… And I can’t wait to go back in June of this year, for my moms Birthday!!!

Siyeh-Pass, Blood, and Why I am Afriad of Heights, Part II

If you haven't read Part I of this story, you should. You can find it here.

As I get older, I have become more and more frightened of heights. Actually, it is more like a totally paralyzing fear of cliffs. I won't go near them. I won't let my husband, kids, friends, or basically ANYONE get near a sheer drop off if I am anywhere around. I secretly wonder if my fear stems from my sudden urge to jump off of these deadly cliffs. That's probably part of it, but I think it's mainly due to my sister traumatizing me the second time we hiked the Siyeh-Pass trail in Glacier National Park.

A few years ago - OK, more than a few, more like 15 - my sister and and I took this epic road trip from MN to Banff. I was newly married and living in TX at the time. My husband was in Brevard, NC teaching and performing at the Brevard Music Center for the summer. Since I wasn't playing or teaching there, I was pretty much bored to death - I remember spending hours a day playing Boggle. BY MYSELF. That's pretty bored. But I digress.

My sister and I met in MN and set off to drive to Banff - to go hiking and just be crazy sisters. My sister was planning on spending the entire summer in Banff. She had this "great place" to stay all lined up.... We loaded the car with all our stuff (including a mini-fridge) and were off - only three hours behind schedule.

Our trusty wheels. (Sorry it's blurry - we didn't have digital cameras back then...)

Our trusty wheels. (Sorry it's blurry - we didn't have digital cameras back then...)

Along the way, we stopped wherever we wanted - we didn't really have an agenda.  We had a ton of fun along the way - we visited the "Worlds Largest Buffalo" and "Salem Sue" (the worlds largest cow) in North Dakota, and a slew of other random sights.

Salem Sue!

Salem Sue!

Worlds Largest Buffalo (and yes, that IS a violin on my back...)

Worlds Largest Buffalo (and yes, that IS a violin on my back...)

There were two things we HAD to get to though. We had plans to meet her then boyfriend in Glacier to go hiking, and then drive north to Waterton for a one night stay at the Prince Of Wales Hotel. It had been a long time dream of my sisters to spend a night at the Prince of Wales Hotel. We had visited there many times as kids, but had never actually stayed at the hotel. (an amendment here - apparently we stayed there as kids - I just don't remember it...)

At some random road stop along the way, my sister picked up a book entitled "Ghost Stories of the Rockies".  In the book, there was a chapter about the Prince of Wales Hotel. According to the story, the hotel was "haunted" by two women who had both jumped to their deaths from the hotel as a result of scorned love. This "haunting" was said to be of a particular room - room 207. Well, when we arrived at the hotel, we were checked into room 205... We both freaked out the entire night. I can't say we saw any ghosts, but it was certainly eerie - and there were many cold breezes through our room that night, even though the windows were tightly shut. Neither of us slept very much.

Prince of Wales as kids.

Prince of Wales as kids.

And as a grown up...

And as a grown up...

Before we spent the night at this haunted hotel, we had plans to meet my sisters then boyfriend - let's call him "Charlie" -  at Glacier National Park. We stayed at this tiny little cabin in Glacier. It was amazing. We had so much fun just being sisters - drinking wine and reading "Ghost Stories of the Rockies" by flashlight.

We had fun - until my sister made me hike the Siyeh-Pass trail for the second time. Don't get me wrong here - at this point in my life I actually kind of liked hiking! I just didn't want to go on this particular hike again.

But my sister wanted to revisit Siyeh-Pass...she wanted to see where she earned her scars and almost fell off a cliff. I totally understood this but at the same time, I had vivid memories her tumbling down the side of that mountain, and then a crap ton of blood, and an eventful trip to the ER in Canada - not something I wanted to revisit. But, she wanted to go....so I went with her.

We met "Charlie" and his friend at the trail head. The plan was to hike up the pass and see where she fell. Then she and I would hike back to the car. The boys would continue on down the other side of the pass and we would pick them up at the end of the trail.

The hike was beautiful - just like we remembered from our childhood. I remember seeing, for the second time, the amazing view that had prompted my mother to start shouting "WE'RE ON TOP OF THE WORLD!!!" I think I actually started to imitate her....because yes, I have totally turned into my mother.

Anyway, we hiked on - to the spot where the trail was about 3 feet wide - with a rock wall on one side and a plunging, deathly cliff on the other. On our way part of this 3 foot trail was covered with a 5 foot "hill" of snow and ice.... UM. WHAT???

"Charlie" and his friend hiked over it with confidence. From the other side of this very slippery slope, they encouraged my sister to hike over. She did, but I swear she was just doing it to impress the boys.... Then it was my turn. My sister, "Charlie", and his friend tried to talk me over the "Icy Hill of Death". I made it up to the top - but then made the mistake of looking down to the left - the side where there was a sheer and deadly drop-off. I felt ill - I had the urge to jump....

Instead of jumping, I quickly made my way back down the hill - and not to meet my sister. Nope. I went back down the side I had come UP. I started shouting at my sister "COME BACK! THIS IS CRAZY! IT'S NOT WORTH IT!!!". She just laughed and hiked on, telling me that she would be back in 20 minutes - she just wanted to get a picture of the spot where she fell.

I was SOOOOO angry at her. I was also TERRIFIED that she wouldn't get back to me safely. I hiked back down to the "Top of the World" spot, took out my cell phone, and proceeded to call my mom to tell her that her eldest daughter had gone INSANE and that she was most likely going to die on Siyeh-Pass. I think I may have even called my husband and best friend. OK, maybe I was just a TAD dramatic. But if you could just see this cliff, you would understand.

She did get back to me eventually. I was so happy to see her - but I was SO MAD at her. Actually, I think I may STILL be mad at her for this. I have been very wary of cliffs every since- and sometimes heights in general - or really anywhere that I may have the urge to jump, or that a tiny mistake in footing could cause me to plunge to my death....

P.S. The pictures she took of the place where she fell from didn't develop... Instant Karma?

Siyeh-Pass, Blood, and Why I am Afraid of Heights, Part One

When we were kids, my parents took my sister and I hiking in the mountains. A lot. One of our favorite places to hike was the Canadian Rockies - Banff to be specific. I secretly hated hiking. OK, maybe it wasn't such a secret. I complained on most (ok, ALL) of the hikes. Sometimes I would just sit down and say I couldn't go any further. I would say "My little legs are TIRED!!!" Sometimes my parents even dragged us up the mountains in umbrella strollers. Yes, I think they were nuts too.

One summer, instead of going to the Canadian Rockies, we went to Glacier National Park, MT - which is really just the US side of the Canadian Rockies.

I remember my dad meeting up with some students of his who told them about this "really great hike".  This hike had only one small hitch. This was not an out and back trail - it was a PASS - through the mountains. You had to have transportation at the end unless you wanted to hike the trail a second time. They told us that they were leaving their car at the end of the trail and hitchhiking to the trail head. Keep in mind - this was the early 80s - hitchhiking was pretty common.

So what do we do? Hitchhike of course! My dad and sister dropped my mom and me off at the trail head. They they drove to the end of the trail, parked, and hitchhiked back. I remember being really angry that I wasn't allowed to be the one hitchhiking... Have I mentioned that my parents were slightly nuts? My sister and I were only about 7 and 9 at the time!

My family and my dad's students at Glacier - before the fall...

My family and my dad's students at Glacier - before the fall...

Anyway, once we are all at the trail head, we started out. It was a beautiful trail. We hiked for HOURS (I am pretty sure I complained the ENTIRE time). My dad and sister hiked together and my mom hung back with me. I remember my mom and I arriving at this incredibly beautiful spot. It was truly the most amazing view I have ever seen. My mom started shouting "WE'RE ON TOP OF THE WORLD!!!!" It was pretty awesome.

My dad and sister however, were further along on the trail than us. They were laughing at us - they had already started hiking up the steepest and hardest part of the trail - and we thought we were done.

They waited for my mom and I and we all hiked together. After a while, we came to this incredibly treacherous spot. The trail was about 3 feet wide. On one side was a wall of rock. On the other was the scariest cliff I had ever seen. EVER. One false step and you'd be dead. But we were fine.

When we got to the other side of the pass, there was a TON of snow. The trail was completely covered. We stood there for a while contemplating what to do. Turn around, hike back, and hitchhike to the car; or, slide down the snow patch like and keep going, like the other hikers were doing? Well, I'm sure you can imagine our decision. Yep. Let's SLIDE, on the snow of a MOUNTAIN, with HUGE CLIFFS! Sure - sounds like FUN!

My dad slid down first. My sister wanted to slide with him, she was pretty frightened, but he was adamant that he would go first to make sure it was safe. Then it was my sisters turn...

She prepared to slide. My dad was waiting for her at the bottom of the snow patch. She began sliding. Then she started tumbling. And tumbling. She smashed her head on two gigantic boulders. She almost slid off of a cliff but, but by some sort of miracle of speed and timing, my dad caught her just in time.

Panic ensued. My mom shoved me into her lap and we were down to my dad and sister in about .3 seconds. My sisters head was bleeding. A LOT. I remember trying to see what was going on, but my mom and dad made me go sit on a boulder nearby. I remember seeing my mom tear off her shirt to tie around my sisters head. My sister was not a happy camper.  Who would be after hitting two giant boulders with one's head and almost falling off a cliff?

Keep in mind, we were at the top of a friggin MOUNTAIN at this point. It's not like we could just get an ambulance. No one had cell phones in the 80s. We had to continue hiking. We hiked down to our car - it seemed to take forever, and we were all pretty scared.

When we finally arrived down at the car we started driving to the hospital - ANY hospital. We had to stop and ask where the nearest one was. As it turned out, the nearest one was in CANADA. So we drove to Canada.

When we got there, there was some kid who's arm was bleeding profusely - apparently he had shoved his arm through a window. It was pretty gruesome - and he screamed a lot. We had to wait a while for the Doctors to deal with this kid until they could help my sister. After what seemed like an eternity, my sisters head was stitched up. She was banged up and, to this day still has the scars (which kind of look like Harry Potter's), from the boulders... but she was OK.

Later on, we found out that the trail had actually be CLOSED due to snow cover. There weren't any signs posted or anything. We only found that out because we asked about it.

Many years later, my sister and I went back to this trail as adults. That's when the fear of heights comes into play... You can read about this in Part Two.

Ahhh, Europe and food poisoning

I have always loved to travel. When I was growing up, my family would go on these epically long road trips - I remember driving to Florida, Canada, the east coast, and many other places across the US. My sister and I would sit in the backseat of the car, carefree with no carseats (it was the 80's after all),  and play with Barbie Dolls and read Sweet Valley High books. Those were some great trips! I remember hiking in the mountains with my family - my dad would quiz us on the scientific names of all the flora and fauna (he had a PhD in Botany). My mom would keep us going by telling us stories about the horses she grew up with and loved - Trixie, Dixie, Pixie (super creative names there, mom!). I treasure these memories more than almost anything.

As we grew older, my parents took my sister and I overseas - to places like Ireland, Scotland, England, and all over Europe. My mom was usually a nervous wreck before leaving for these trips, but it always turned out just fine.

I remember one particularly long and arduous trip during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. My mom planned this entire trip all on her own. I think she was feeling very ambitious, probably because she was so happy to be alive and well. After all, she had recently survived the sudden and early death of her husband, my father, and her second battle with breast cancer.

This trip, which was 6-weeks, took us all over Europe - beginning in Greece, going to the Swiss Alps, taking a gondola over to France, and ending in Paris. It was an incredible trip, but there were some major bumps along the way.

When we got to Greece, my mom got this terrible eye infection. Imagine being in Greece, not being able to speak the language, and trying to find eyedrops... Not easy! I vaguely remember renting a car also - and as it turns out - everything in Greece is written in Greek...including road signs. Then there was this donkey that tried to throw me off the cliffs of Santorini. That was INSANE.

But the most memorable bump of this trip happened in Paris. This was the last stop on our journey and we were pretty tired of traveling. We wanted some "comfort food", so we decided to go to this "really great" Chinese food restaurant. We had gone to this place a few years back, with my dad - and it had been really good. I guess it was part nostalgia, part exhaustion, and part stupidity. But we went there. I remember eating a dish with black mushrooms.

When we got back to our hotel in the Latin Quarter for a relaxing evening, we all started to feel a bit "off". Well, that "off" feeling, for all three of us, soon turned into full blown food poisoning. I remember fighting over the teeny tiny bathroom and trying to get some sleep - which was nearly impossible due the the constant use of the bathroom, the honeymoon couple that was "sleeping" in the next room, and the crazy drunk Latin Quarter people outside.

The food poisoning lasted the rest of the trip. I had really REALLY wanted to see the catacombs, so I forced my mom and sister onto the metro. When we got the the stop for the catacombs, we ended up staying on the train and going back to the hotel. It was a sad day. And it would be many MANY years until I was actually able to see the catacombs (that's another story...).

We were still sick when we got home from our epic journey, but honestly? I wouldn't change a thing. Even the food poisoning. OK, I might change the honeymoon couple in the room next door.... But it was a great trip. Thanks mom and sis for the insane memories!