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Trip 26 -- Oahu Walk

Day 6: Laie to Kailua
Monday, May 17, 2021

Yesterday: 57618 steps/46.23 km/28.73 mi/8h 5m
Total: 219040 steps/168.37 km/104.62 mi/31h 52m

For the first time, I started walking before seven in the morning; and yesterday I covered my longest daily distance to date. But that was a modest achievement, as I learned from the guy selling coconuts along the road halfway through the journey.

"How's it?" he asked -- the casual Hawaiian greeting.

"I'll take one," I said.

He hacked the top off with a machete and inserted a straw. The previous customers had just driven away, leaving the parking area unoccupied.

"How'd you come?" he asked. "Walking?"

"Yes. I'm walking around the island. I came from Laie today."

"A couple of months ago a guy ran around the island. I saw it on the news, that it was happening. Then when I was pulling out of here, I saw him come by! It was incredible!"

It turned out that on the same day, at the end of February, guided by a full moon for the overnight portion, a man and a woman ran around Oahu. Only they planned their runs separately, and they started at different times and in different places. She completed the circumnavigation in just over 31 hours, he in a little over 27, both smashing the previous record.

My early start meant that the streets were the domain of chickens (always chickens, everywhere), white cattle egrets, and mynas -- all of these but the chickens are pests. The roosters' calls filled the air, as did the scent of bacon emanating from a tent at Kokololio Beach Park. Then the chained-up dogs chimed in, with even the tiniest and most benign ones exerting an effort to sound vicious and threatening. And a man, vigorously strumming his guitar under his house, completed the orchestra until the cars took over.

The 60 bus ran frequently, especially for a Sunday morning. I'd been following its route since Haleiwa, and I'd continue to follow it for the rest of the day. I wondered whether any of the drivers recognized me.

Nature and the coastal residents conspired to make the eight-hour walk delightful. The clear, green ocean on one side and the volcanic slopes on the other were a given, and it never got particularly hot or humid; cloud cover was interspersed with sunshine, and once about every hour a light shower passed, lasting just a minute or two, washing away any recent sweat and dirt.

Every couple of miles there was food, in the form of a truck or convenience store. I picked up breakfast at Ching's Punaluu Store, in operation since 1935, the name hand-painted in big, white block letters on the red facade. I chose a handheld sushi roll, filled with dried fish, egg, seaweed, and pickled flavoring.

The accompanying too-sweet energy drink, appropriately called Bang, gave me the spring in my step that kept me at 10.5 minutes per kilometer throughout the day. The road was both windy and windy, particularly along the sharp turns where the land jutted toward the ocean. Those curves kept me curious: What's around the next bend? It was always something interesting: colorful houses, knobby offshore islands, bridges, forests, parks with fishing poles anchored into the sand, bearing bells to sound the alert whenever there was a nibble. A public restroom appeared just when I needed it. Other than a few stretches of narrow walking space, I'd never felt so taken care of by the existing infrastructure on a long walk.

I reached the Waiahole Poi Factory just before noon, to find a long line. It didn't move for a while, but after 20 minutes I finally placed my order. It was worth the wait for my combination platter of Hawaiian goodies: laulau (a mixture of pork and taro leaves), beef luau (similar, in stew form), lomi salmon (crumbled salmon mixed with tomatoes), poi (a paste made from pounded fermented taro), and haupia (a gelatinous coconut dessert). Poi has a sludgy consistency, a whitish-purple color, and a taste that has been compared to wallpaper paste (I wonder how they know). It's traditionally eaten with the fingers, with "one-finger poi" the thickest and "three-finger poi" the runniest.

I used a fork, twirling it around vigorously in an attempt to capture the equivalent of a full bite. It had a subtle flavor, a teeny bit sour and a teenier bit sweet, with a hint of the earth. I'd eat it again, but not daily. The luau and laulau were wonderful, with the taro leaves exuding a dark burst of nutrition, like creamed spinach. There was no seating at the Waiahole Poi Factory, but 20 minutes on I found a church next to a park with picnic tables under a tent -- perfect shelter from the sprinkle that came through. Everything on this walk was where I needed it to be; the desolate and foodless Farrington Highway along the north shore could take a cue.

I could have continued straight for a slightly shorter walk, but I followed the coastal road instead (as did the runners a few months back), through Heeia State Park. And then, with absolute suddenness, I reached the town of Kaneohe, the greenery went away, and I was in the midst of shopping centers, supermarkets, banks, fast food, and restaurants -- the first stretch of multiple restaurants since Haleiwa.

I stopped for a few dishes at Genki Sushi, where patrons order from tablets and the small plates are whizzed to their seats on train tracks. I'd visited the same brand in Asia and loved it, but the Hawaiian version has an inferior selection -- just a few kinds of fish and rolls, as opposed to dozens -- and much higher prices. A tuna hand roll came out in plastic packaging, leaving me to assemble it.

On the other side of Interstate H3, Kailua was a very appealing town. It didn't have beautiful buildings or museums or cultural attractions, but it had local restaurants and good people and some beautiful hikes nearby. It reminded me of White Plains, New York: an easy commute from the main city, a respectable town in its own right, plenty of food to keep one satisfied, and not at all twee or quaint. Of course, Kailua has beach and kayaks and parasailing, so the comparison ends there.

If you look in the Kaneohe-Kailua area on Google Maps you will see all sorts of white beds in pink raindrops -- promises of bed-and-breakfasts and house rentals. But all of them, except one, will refuse you if you don't want to stay at least three nights.

That one is Kay's Ali'i Vacation Rental, and they were happy to have me for two nights for a rate far more reasonable than the Courtyard's. I found my private room in a multi-room house: There was a welcome sign on the door with my name on it, the ceiling fan was keeping things cool, and white-and-yellow plumeria flowers were sprinkled everywhere, even on top of the toilet paper. I'd mentioned that I needed to use the coin laundry machines, and they'd left quarters on the table, which I added later to my room payment. These people made things easy.

I had seared wahoo at an Italian restaurant. The bartender moved to Kailua a couple of years ago, and she liked the place but was distraught at the increase in crime.

"I know about car break-ins," I said. Signs at beaches and at Kaena Point had warned against leaving valuables in cars. "But house break-ins, too?"

"Yes!" she said. "In the middle of the day!"

I locked my room up pretty well, I thought, as I sipped my Meiomi pinot noir from California -- "Dark and rich like George Hamilton," the menu said.

After such a long walking day, I planned to give my feet a rest today, but I couldn't resist climbing the green, innocent-looking hill behind my house, the Kaiwa Ridge. Due to the two graffiti-covered old military bunkers at the top, it's also known as the Lanikai Pillbox hike.

Most people go up and back down the beach side, but I followed the whole ridge from Enchanted Lake to the sea. It didn't look far, but because of some steep sections it was slow going. It was the kind of rocky trail, however, with plenty of footholds and tree trunks to hold on to, and it felt much safer than similarly steep climbs I've done. It was also hemmed in such that there was no danger of tumbling down the hill.

Because I started at the back, I was a little bit put-off by a lonely, brief ascent of an almost-sheer rock face. But once I reached the main part of the trail, leading first to the upper pillbox and then the lower one, there were many other hikers, and I felt safe in their presence. Many people climbed the pillboxes themselves, enjoying the view of the perfectly clear light-green sea and the kayakers paddling about on one side, and the mountains on the other. In the short distance was the peninsula of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii and, just offshore, the Moku Manu ("Bird Island") and the tinier island next to it: the first specks of Hawaii that I saw from the air over a week ago.

Having done my climbing workout for the day, I had earned the right to spend the rest of it watching the parasailers and eating: the three-barbecued-meat plate lunch from K and K Bar-B-Que Inn (so tasty I considered eating a morsel that had fallen on the sand), a honey-and-peanut-butter-ice-cream sandwich from the Kalapawai Market, and a sunset shrimp-and-crab cocktail and an artichoke drenched in garlic butter and parmesan at Buzz's Steakhouse. And then it was time to head back to the house, because most all restaurants close by eight on Mondays in Kailua.

Go on to day 7