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August 6, 2010. Would you walk 3.8 miles for one of the most spectacular views on earth? Oh, yeah, and another 3.8 miles to get back.

Yes, here’s another inspirational walk – the first of several that celebrate the State Parks of the U.S. They don’t all have views like Koke’e State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. But nearly all of them offer the opportunity for a beautiful and free 7.5-mile walk. Three hours outdoors; three hours outside the routines of your mostly indoor life. Let this be an example of three or four hours well spent and a thousand or so calories burned. (That’s like more than six scoops of Kauai Pie or Coconut Macadamia Fudge at Lappert’s in Hanapepe Town.)

The Nu’alolo Trail
I think I’ve hiked this trail ten times in the last twenty years. The view you get during the last two minutes doesn’t shock me anymore, but it still amazes me. Amazes me that it’s possible to walk here – a place that seems like you’d have to parachute in.

The first half mile is mostly a gentle uphill, gaining a couple hundred feet to an elevation of 3800′ above the level of a sea you’ll be staring at, slack-jawed, less than two hours later. After that, it’s a gradual descent to 2000′ and a spot that feels like you could high-dive straight into the Pacific.

For the first half hour you’re in a tropical rain forest, walking through stands of eucalyptus and elderberry – and trees unique to this part of the world with great names like karakanut, manono and mountain naupaka.

Then you enter a deep jungle zone; the trail’s lined with giant ferns. It’s usually wet and slippery in here. If you go down, you’ll get back up covered with the mud version of Kauai’s distinctive red dirt. The island is a volcano; the lava that formed it was unusually rich in iron. The island’s highest point, not far from the trail head, is also the wettest spot on the planet in terms of annual rainfall – so anything not covered by foliage is a rusty red color.

Eventually, you emerge from the jungle canopy into a drier microclimate. Now you’re surrounded by koa and ohia trees, the source trees for centuries for canoes and the original surfboards. When you get to the first clearing, you realize you’re walking along a ridgeline that gets narrower and narrower as it descends.

Finally, you’re totally in the clear. The “trail” is the two-foot wide top of the ridgeline. The dropoff is getting pretty steep on both sides. The view is breathtaking, but you tend to look straight down at your feet to keep them on the trail.

Until you reach the little plateau at the end of the earth. Then you spend a lot of time not moving.

So … you taking a long walk this weekend?

This week’s Slower Sunday will be a video meditation from this enchanted spot.

Every Thing Is Everything
Here’s another BetterCheaper three-for-one: when you walk, hike or run in a beautiful place, you get the health benefit of exercise;the added health benefits of being in green, natural environment; and, a free shot of Vitamin D. Don’t suffer from LSD (Lack of Sun Disorder) – get outside.

… exercise has a benefit of reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.” (from the National Institutes of Health. Their Guide to Physical Activity lists many examples of “moderate physical activity”, including “Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes”.)

The study overlaid two extensive databases, one with health information on more than 10,000 residents of the Netherlands, and the other a land use database covering every 25-by-25-meter square in the nation, allowing researchers to know which people lived near city parks, agricultural land, and forests and nature areas.” (“Nature and Health: The Relation between Health and Green Space in People’s Living Environment”, presented in Amsterdam, April 2001 and excerpted in The Trust for Public Land’s “The Benefits of Parks”).

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