In 2015, my husband and I planned a wedding but not a honeymoon. Rene and I were like, Let’s save our money and do a trip to Europe next year. A honeymoon’s too much to think about now. Then, three days after the wedding, when our friends and family had gone, I woke up sobbing—out of my mind from this totally unanticipated chemical drop-off from the event. So, right then, we made a quick plan for a honeymoon.
We chose the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i, which was just amazing: So lush, so beautiful, and so many things to do. We stayed for eight days and constantly heard from people who were taking helicopter rides, going snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking… and we did nothing. Each morning, we’d hear other people discuss their activities for the day, and we’d say, “That sounds great, let’s do it”—and before we knew it, it would be 8 p.m. We lounged at the pool, enjoyed beautiful food, and just basked in the afterglow of getting married.
After a week of this, we got embarrassed and felt a need to compensate. So, when someone recommended a hike to Hanakāpī‘ai Falls, we said, “OK, on our last day here, we’ll redeem ourselves with that hike.” A hotel staffer said it would be four hours, tops, and that we should wear sneakers and bring a snack. So we put on Nikes, packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and drove to the trailhead. Little did I know I was at the start of one of the most physically draining experiences of my life.
My husband and I pride ourselves on being fairly athletic, outdoorsy people, but within 20 minutes it became clear that this was not like a hike we’d do in Los Angeles. The trail consisted of some pretty steep rock work that required using both our hands and feet. Looking behind us, we got this staggering view of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks, which was inspiring, incredibly beautiful—and not at all what we’d signed up for. We got very quiet, sort of put the blinders on, and kept going.
Maybe an hour into the climb, we saw a huge swath of fire ants crossing our path, and we were like, Wait, is this the hike the lady described? Another hour later, when we came to a large section of water that we weren’t sure how to cross, the mood shifted from intermittently jovial to full survival reality show. One of us would fall apart, the other would sort of rally the team, and then we’d reverse roles.
Finally, after about three and a half hours, we crossed paths with some descending hikers who told us we were nearly at the waterfall. I remember thinking, I don’t know what this waterfall has to look like to justify all this. When we got there, let me tell you: It didn’t. It was a perfectly lovely waterfall that made a beautiful rushing noise, and there were other hikers happily frolicking in the water, but we just sat silently and ate our sad little PB&Js, because all of our physical and emotional resources had gone into getting up there, and we knew we still had to get back down.
It was a really sloppy, messy trip back, and both of us were just disgusting by the time we staggered back to the car—sweaty, totally sunburned, smelly—and this is the moment I remember the best. We got in the car, chucked off our shoes, and sat there, each waiting for the other to speak, as if whatever we said right then was going to be the story we’d both have to stick to. Were we going to quietly agree to call that grueling, torturous hike, which ultimately took six hours, “amazing”?
Rene looked at me for a long time. Finally, he said, “That was absolutely not worth it,” and we both laughed so hard. I loved that he didn’t try to make it into some flowery, wonderful experience; he just called it like it was. And I looked at him and thought, Oh, I’m just so happy. I’ve married the right person.
Briga Heelan stars in Once Upon a One More Time, a new Broadway jukebox musical based on the songs of Britney Spears, which is in previews now and opens June 22.