It’s still dark when we hop into Lopaka’s truck to start our expedition. He shares stories about growing up “in the boonies,” and reveals that his family roots in that valley trace back ten generations. Pretty soon we trade pavement for what looks like a dried riverbed. As we pass a pair of firmly worded “NO TRESPASSING” signs, I’m relieved to be entering this place with Lopaka. Our speed—or lack thereof—is better suited for a parade, but is necessary to navigate these muddy potholes and stray boulders.
“How often do you replace your shocks?” Mike jokes.
He’s met with a look that I interpret as “You don’t wanna know.”
When we arrive at our first spot, Lopaka drops the tailgate and seven dogs speed past in every direction. Their noses trace the forest floor, until, at Lopaka’s command, they come leaping back to us.
We hike under old-growth mango and ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees, past spiky hala (pandanus) formations and strawberry guava thickets. The dogs zig and zag around us, prompting advice from Lopaka: “If a dog is coming from behind, let ’em pass,” he warns. “They’re friendly, but they’re clumsy.”
They are also on assignment. Following a scent, they work as a team—sprint ahead, dart up the ridgeline, circle back, repeat. In contrast, we tread steadily and slowly, tracing their spastic lead. I’m instructed to use my “library voice” to avoid accidentally summoning the dogs back to us. Besides, those clever pigs can hear us, too.
As the dogs run literal circles around us, Lopaka is visibly in his element. He looks like a Hawaiian Edward Scissorhands as he waves a machete inches from his face to carve a path through the dense underbrush. His head swivels in every direction, looking for the signs: disturbed earth on the mountainside, animal tracks under his feet, muddy wallows besides the riverbed. We pause next to a mango tree, and Lopaka points to a splintery gash at its base.