A Vow To Conquer Koko Head
Wednesday - June 22, 2011
I have to give credit to my friend Nick Winkey. He’s the one who gave me the inspiration to climb Koko Head.
I reconnected with Nick several months ago after he moved to the Islands to get involved in the tourism industry.
As background, he was one of the first prep football stars I ever featured in my long-running “High School Athlete of the Week” television segments. Three decades ago, Nick was a star running back on a Cedar Falls, Iowa, football team that also featured Rich Sheriff, the arena manager of the Stan Sheriff Center.
Now in his late 40s and feeling the physical challenges of approaching middle age, Nick wrote on his Facebook page that assaulting the 1,200-foot mountain of railroad stairs built in World War II at Koko Head Crater, now called Koko Head Regional Park, was quickly changing his life. “Hiked this mountain five times this week; it’s really hard ... but the results are worth the pain. I’ve lost 22 pounds in the past 17 days! On a roll and it feels great!”
The comment immediately caught my attention. I’m 57 years old now - and five knee operations, including one as recently as December, had made workouts difficult. I badly needed to lose weight, but I also needed a competitive challenge. Kokohead’s 1,048 stairs in an ever-steep climb - often called “a Stairmaster on steroids” - appeared to be an almost impossible task.
I had tried to hike the uneven railroad ties once before, years ago - I had made it about halfway. This time, I decided to reach my intended goal very slowly.
The first time, I stretched first and then counted up 100 steps - that’s it. Since I didn’t have a heart attack, I came back two days later, and made it 350 steps. The third time, I made it halfway or more than 500 heart-pumping steps - to the so-called railroad bridge where the open wooden beams are an intimidating and somewhat terrifying several feet off the ground.
That was good enough for the first week. Already, I could see the pounds coming off. More importantly, my legs felt great and my knees didn’t hurt.
It’s important to note that after the bridge, the incline at Koko Kead increases tremendously. One fellow hiker called the process of going forward up the steep incline “like doing 500 lunges right after another.” I attacked this portion slowly and deliberately, sometimes taking only 10 to 20 stairs before briefly resting. I often felt that burning feeling in my thighs on the way up, and my calves on the way down. But over the next couple of weeks, I made it to the 600, 700, and 800-step level before turning back and making the steep descent to the bottom.
I learned a few things along the way: 1) remember your water, 2) think about whether you really want to do this in the heat of the mid-afternoon and 3) don’t get intimidated by the fact that you’ll see several in-shape 20-somethings making it to the top and back in a little over a half hour.
Three weeks after my first try, I texted family and close friends that today was finally the day. To show you how far I had come, I practically bounced my way up the first 100 steps. By the bridge, I was feeling great, sending picture messages at each milestone. With sweat pouring off me, but pacing myself for over an hour, I pushed my way to the top. A few times, I turned around and looked down - wow, what an incredible view.
But the last few steps were the best - it was as if the pounds were literally falling off. The old railroad stairs finally ceased as my counting passed 1,000. The last 100 feet is a twisting, dusty trail - and then the payoff is a cooling breeze and a thrillingly magnificent 360-degree view.
Happily, I asked a young couple at the top to take my photo, texted my family and friends triumphantly, and gave a shout out to Nick. He provided the inspiration and I provided the perspiration.
Yes, this old man had conquered Koko Head - and I felt younger already. I’ll be back.
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