"Dudette? How high is your forhead?"
"I don't know. How high is yours?"
It was a beautiful, stiff tradewind day, clear enough to see all the way up the slope to Pu'u o'o, the source of the current flow of lava to the sea.
We hiked back, slid onto the leather seats of Kathie's Lexus and headed home.
"Hey," she asked as we traveled along Highway 130 en-route to her house. "Have you ever been to the steam caves?"
"You mean the steam vents? The one's at Volcanoes National Park?" I asked.
"No, they're caves, right along here somewhere."
"Cool. Nope. I've never seen those."
"Look for the scenic point sign. We'll have a little adventure."
We spotted the sign and the pullout. "It's down here," she said as we approached the edge of the road. We began our descent off the side of the highway along a narrow, easy-to-miss path through the brush. It was overgrown and rocky. We bush-wacked some, and it wasn't long before we happened upon a fork in the trail. Following Yogi's advice, we took it. The fork, that is. Then we took several more. "I have no idea where we are," Kathie said. Ah, but it's an island. Big as it is, how lost can you get? Winding, twisting, stepping with care, the thorns of invasive berry bushes scratched our shins and imbedded their spines into my shirt. Lava cinders crunched underfoot. It was fun! We searched, but found no caves. A few piles of rock, stained with white and yellow sulfur, were all that remained. At one time the piles were caves with benches to sit on; natural saunas steaming with geothermal warmth. It was unclear if the caves had colapsed naturally or had been taken down on purpose. We wound our way, knowing only that to get back to the car we must walk uphill. The highway appeared, and while we hadn't found the caverns, we'd had a jaunt. Kathie grabbed for her keys as they dangled from a hook on her day pack.
"Uh oh," she said, fumbling through them.
"Uh oh what?" I said.
"My key. To the car. It's gone."
Now, my friend Kathie has a wad of keys that would be the envy of any self-respecting maintenance man. There were at least a dozen of all shapes and sizes, jingling like sleigh bells from two carabiners. I'm sure she had no idea what some of them opened. The only one missing was the one we knew we needed.
"Well, maybe you just lost it when you grabbed them," I said. "Maybe it just fell right here on the road or near the car." We walked along, scanning the ground. No key. Looking for it along the route we'd just trudged would have been like trying to find a contact lens on Mount Whitney in a blizzard. In the dark. Oh, and did I mention that there's no cell phone service in parts of lower Puna? We were stuck.
So, we stuck out our thumbs. Two cars passed before a third pulled over. It was a woman we recognized from the shore where we'd hiked earlier across the lava. She recognized us too. Her name was Candace, a Sociology Professor from Chicago. She listened to our story and was kind enough to take us to the cross street nearest Kathie's house. We walked from there to retrieve her extra key, pet her adorable dogs and to cool off with a beer. The two of us began to ponder who we might call to give us a ride back to her car. Ron was in town, shopping, unaware of our plight and not carrying a cell phone. Ray, her husband, works atop Mauna Kea, the great mountain, far, far away.
"I need to get more friends here," she said.
"Me too," I said.
After several calls came up short, she connected with her pal Tiffany, who it just so happened was in Kea'au, not 15 minutes away. "Sure," Tiffany said. "No problem."
Once safely delivered to the Lexus, we traveled to Pahoa to treat our savior to a thank-you margarita. All was well and again right with the world.
The funniest thing about this story was how stressed and sorry Kathie was, though I still got her to laugh about it all, while I remained un-phased and without worry. She had been the one to lose the key, but it could have been me. In fact, it should have been me. It's just the sort of think that would happen to me. It was an outright pleasure to accompany someone else in such a predicament, acting as sidekick to her hour of oops instead of being the star of my own. Kathie, I'll lose keys and hitch across the island with you any day. It was a blast!