Mule Musings

Prior to coming to Molokai as a Dispatch intern in June, you could call me a city kid. Raised in the Boston suburbs and having lived in that city for the previous five years, the only thing I’d ever ridden was the public transportation system. “Smokey” was the scene outside a bar, and a “cliffhanger” was a good ending to a TV show.

So when the guides at Kalaupapa Rare Adventures pointed to me – one of about 10 haoles outside the stables in Kalae a few weeks ago – and told me to step right up, I’d be the first person getting on a mule that morning, I admit: I got shaky in the knees. My stomach dropped when my mule, named Smokey, lurched forward for the first time; it sunk even further when we got to the trail and Smokey and I were essentially hanging onto the world’s highest sea cliffs.

As I quickly figured out, there was no need to worry. Smokey turned out to be pretty cool, as far as mules go. One of the youngest of Uncle Buzzy Sproat’s hand-picked pack, she was a bit of a spitfire – she pulled pass-and-go moves on other mules four times on the trail. And it’s true what they say: Sit down and relax. The mules know where they’re going.

I’ve struggled down that trail for Kalaupapa community meetings a handful of times by now (maybe you’ve seen me? I’m the one bent over on the side of the trail, drenched in sweat and chugging Gatorade). So taking in the scenery without staring at my stumbling feet was a welcome change.

My favorite part, though, was how the guides so clearly enjoyed sharing knowledge and stories about the trail, Kalaupapa, Molokai, mules and everything in between. BJ had lots to share about his legendary Uncle Buzzy, who in the 1970s led efforts to make the trail what it is today. Norman, who bused us throughout the peninsula for Damien Tours, was patient and friendly in telling Kalaupapa’s important, storied and humbling history.

I’m so thankful I got to have such a great experience on my first-ever ride beyond the Boston trolleys. (As we’d say back home, it was a “wicked good time.”) The tour is a great way to see the trail, the settlement and learn about an important piece of Hawaiian history with plenty aloha.

Mahalo nui loa, Uncle Roy Horner and the rest of the crew at Kalaupapa Rare Adventures and Damien Tours.

Maggie Cassidy


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