There are many ways to see Oahu but the most uncomfortable is to walk around its entire coastline alone.
I know. I did it three years ago — trudging day after day for six days to circle Oahu’s 130-mile perimeter by myself.
My goal was to strengthen my mind and body for a 17-day trek I was planning the next spring to the Mount Everest base camp.
When I recently heard that David and Scott Jung were going to walk around Oahu taking a similar route to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children-Honolulu, I knew I had to talk to them.
David, 52, and Scott, 50, are the owners of EcoCab Hawaii, a taxicab company that uses hybrid cars. They were raised in the United States but born in Korea.
They decided to donate money from their walk to Shriners because they admire the life-changing treatment the hospital has given to more than 160 children from Korea, including many orphans.
I have never met anyone like the Jungs, who did the same Oahu walk I did on basically the same route for the same six days, stopping just like I did, only to eat meals, drink water and sleep. David said my walk inspired them to do theirs.
“Your discomfort is self-imposed. You can always stop. It was so difficult not to succumb to the temptation of getting on a bus.” — David Jung
The Jungs and I both covered an average of 26 miles a day — roughly the equivalent of doing a marathon each day for six days in a row.
Their trip was tougher than mine because they each carried a 30-pound backpack filled with a tent, their sleeping bags and air mattresses, a laptop, clothes, 50 energy bars their mother insisted they pack, and other camping items.
I got by much lighter; carrying everything I needed in a large red fanny pack I normally use for day hikes.
I didn’t need much because I had designed each day to end at the home of a friend where I could anticipate a hot dinner, a glass of wine, companionship and a soft bed.
When I asked David what he learned from the walk, he laughed, “Not to do it again.”
Both of the Jungs say they were completely unprepared for the difficulty of what they initially thought would be a fun journey for brotherly bonding. I was surprised by the difficulty, too.
Most of us have traveled around Oahu in air-conditioned cars. We think we know it. But Oahu seen from the pebble-covered shoulders of roads, trudging step-by-step for nine hours every day in the sun, is a completely different journey .
Scott says, “When I traveled in a car and on a motorcycle I didn’t realize the hills that seem gentle in a vehicle are actually long and steep, especially the hills coming out of Waimanalo on the way to Kaneohe.”
David has an irregular heartbeat. He says hauling his backpack up the hills that day before they reached Kaneohe “knocked me on my butt.”
My Oahu perimeter walk was in late December when it was cooler. But the Jungs walked last month in the searing heat and humidity caused by the passing of Hurricane Kilo.
“Much of the time it either rained or felt like it was going to rain. The humidity drained our energy, “ says David.
Scott says, “We were constantly wet, soaked with sweat.”
David says when they were planning the walk, they imagined having dinner each night at a nice restaurant near their campsite, followed by sitting out under the stars to split a six-pack of beer while they chronicled their daily adventures on Facebook.
He says they ended up skipping dinner each night and ignoring the beer.
“I learned how bad beer tastes when you are in the state of total exhaustion. Seems I’ve discovered a cure for alcoholism. Beer was out of the question,” says David.
“My mantra on the walk was, ‘blisters never killed anyone.’” — Scott Jung
The second night out, camping at Kualoa Beach Park, everything they brought with them was soaked in a downpour. When they packed up to leave the next day, their sleeping bags and tent were soggy with rainwater, adding about 10 pounds more weight to their loads.
At that point, David says he thought of quitting. He relished the idea of hopping on the next city bus headed for Ala Moana Center, a few blocks away from his Naru Tower condo.
“I thought, ‘For just $2.50 I could get on the air-conditioned bus and go home.’”
He says that was the true challenge of the walk. When you do a marathon, it is over in a day, you can anticipate the finish and a good night’s sleep. When you take a long backpacking hike, you are in the wilderness, you don’t think of turning around. But on a walk around Oahu there is always a passing city bus.
“You are still in the middle of civilization. Your discomfort is self-imposed. You can always stop. It was so difficult not to succumb to the temptation of getting on a bus.”
The Jungs learned to love McDonald’s just as I did. The food is cheap and filling, the bathrooms are always spotless, water is free, and the chilly air-conditioning revives the body.
Scott says, “The first thing we ordered were French fries, then Cokes, then Powerade, and finally we poured ourselves water, more and more water. Water is your best friend.”
David says, ”I had a thirst I could never quench.”
They were encouraged by people they met along the way who, after noticing the white Shriners’ banner on David’s backpack, told them how much they admired the hospital and what the brothers were doing to help it.
David says, “Everyone we spoke with was already pretty knowledgeable and very supportive of the Shriners.”
He says on the fourth night, when they stopped in the dark of night near Waimea Bay, worn out and desperate for shelter, the manager of Backpackers Hawaii gave them a room in his inn at a discounted rate after he learned they were supporting Shriners.
The next night they experienced the beauty of camping next to the seabird sanctuary on Kaena Point at the westernmost tip of Oahu.
Kaena was the most memorable part of my own walk. I sweltered on the shadeless, six-mile trail around the point, eating the remains of a chocolate bar to keep going. The ever-changing rock formations and huge waves bashing on the shore lured me ahead with their beauty.
Kaena is also where I encountered the only danger of my journey. A branch of the path I was following ended abruptly in a dangerous drop. I foolishly decided to climb down the crumbling, unstable volcanic rock rather than expend the extra steps to go back and find a safer route. I slipped and slid halfway down the cliff.
By the time I realized I was in danger of falling off, it was too late to turn back. My legs were trembling. I threw off my pack to become more balanced. The pack rolled down the cliff, mercifully stopping just before it slipped over the side into the ocean. Moving slowly on my butt, inch by inch, I finally made it safely to the trail along the ocean far below.
The adrenalin rush I felt afterwards made the remaining walk around Kaena even more vivid.
Scott Jung says they made the same wrong turn on the Kaena trail but when they were faced with the danger of possibly falling off the cliff, they wisely turned back to find a safer passage.
On the their last night, they camped at Kahe Point Beach Park. They were sleeping in fitful exhaustion when a homeless man unzipped their tent and climbed in with them.
“When he found two half-naked very startled and angry men, he jumped back out, “ says David.
The next day they made their final 11-hour trek to reach the finish line of their walk at the Eco-Cab office on Ualena Street near the Honolulu International Airport.
David says when he was planning the trip he thought they would celebrate the end of the walk with a big rib eye steak and a bottle of wine, but that never happened.
“I was a walking zombie. I was so emotionally tapped by the time we got back to Eco-Cab.”
Instead, their celebration was simple and very Korean. Their mother made them each a bowl of Miyeok Juk, the comforting Korean seaweed porridge for the sick.
The Jungs have received almost $4,000 in donations for Shriners Hospital, which they say is nearly four times more than their original goal of raising $1,000.
Angela Keen, physician relations officer for the hospital, said in an email:
“We have never had this kind of fundraiser; it’s the type of fundraiser that creates awareness. We appreciate everything the Jung brothers are doing for our children.”
As for epiphanies along the walk, David says they were too tired and in too much pain from blisters and bruises to have many inner thoughts en route.
Only now can they think back to what it meant.
Scott says, “When I was walking. I had blisters on top of blisters. I was numb. In retrospect, it was a fantastic experience. What I learned is my body is much more resilient than I imagined. If I ask the body to do something, it will do it. This gives me confidence, not just physical but also mental. My mantra on the walk was ‘blisters never killed anyone.’ There will be dips and valleys in any life, but the body and the mind can take it. Blisters never killed anyone. Just keep moving ahead.”
Scott says he now understands in a more real way, “It is your choice in life to find joy. No matter what you are going through in life or business, you have the choice to embrace the experience and enjoy it. Even stressful experiences.”
David says the memory of not bailing out by taking the bus home is what’s important to him.
“It takes a certain level of willpower to keep walking 26 miles a day for six days in the middle of civilization when you could easily hop on a bus.”
He says the walk gave him a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life like “cold drinking water, a refrigerator, a nice shower and how wonderful it is to get a good night’s sleep.”
For me, walking around Oahu was like putting money in the bank. Now whenever someone is unkind to me or I am facing a seemingly impossible task, I think: I walked around Oahu; I can get through this, step by step.