Adventure Unfiltered: Kimi Werner on getting lost — and losing her sister — in the woods

June 21, 2017

Forget perfect: Adventure is unfiltered. In a new blog series, G Adventures is asking a few people to share memories from trips where things went a bit sideways, but it made for the best story — and the most unforgettable experience. Today, Hawaiian spearfisher, painter and speaker Kimi Werner on how a fight with her sister led to a terrifying night in the forest. Have your own Unfiltered story? Click here to find out how you can win a trip for two with G Adventures by sharing it.

My sister, Christy, is one year older than me. Growing up as siblings so close in age meant that we were pretty inseparable, and not always by choice. We grew up having to share clothes, toys, sports, a car, and friends. This consistent closeness, combined with our own very different and unique personalities and opinions, often led to a very emotional push and pull of both frustration and joy. We loved each other more than anyone else, and we wanted to get along, but so often, we quite simply couldn’t, no matter how hard we tried.

One day, we were in it bad. We had already fought and made up and fought again several times on repeat during the morning, and by afternoon, we were bickering again. Christy finally walked away. She said she was going to take the car and go for a drive. I demanded to know where she was going. She said something about a book she was reading about a tribe of people who believe that in order for a boy to become a man, he must leave his tribe and hike a mountain by himself. She said that she needed to go to the mountains. I didn’t like the thought of my sister making an emotionally fuelled decision that might put her in danger, but I was too proud to say I was worried. So instead I said, “Fine. But I’m coming. It’s my car, too.”

Kimi Werner's sibling rivalry with her sister led the two of them into the mountains of Maui. Photo by Jarrah Lynch.

Kimi Werner's sibling rivalry with her sister led the two of them into the mountains of Maui. Photo by Jarrah Lynch.

Christy drove us across Maui, until we were on a cliff that overlooked a field that led to the base of a very deep valley of the West Maui Mountains. Neither of us had ever been there before. We got out of car and hiked down into the field and followed it to the valley where we found a pleasant little stream running through it. Christy decided that she would walk along the stream into the valley and that I was allowed to walk with her, but on the opposite side of the river. And she didn’t want to talk to me.

Walking felt nice. Eventually, the stream came to a perfect little swimming hole. We didn’t realize that there would be swimming on this hike and didn’t bring our bathing suits, but the pond was way too inviting to pass up.

Once we were both totally submerged in this little pool for two, we both turned giddy. We started talking. First about how wonderful our little pond was and how good it felt, and then about our feelings, and about our argument. We made up, and returned to being allies and the best of friends.

We got out and changed back into our clothes and continued walking, each still on our own side of the stream but very much together, laughing and talking and sharing the joy. Every once in a while, the stream would split slightly and then come back together. My side would weave off in one direction and hers in the other and we’d follow our sides, losing sight of each other for a bit until the stream would join again and we’d be right there, together, keeping the same pace.

But then our streams split for longer than usual. I walked for several minutes, but every time my little water path curved back in her direction, I didn’t see Christy. I started calling for her, but no one answered. I ran ahead to see if we had broken pace with one another, but I couldn’t find her. I ran back, calling for her to see if she had fallen behind. But she wasn’t there, either, and now, it was nighttime. We had hiked for so long and had completely lost track of time. We had brought nothing but the clothes we had on. Now I was running back, trying to find the part of the stream where I had last seen my sister, tripping and falling and getting hurt in my panic. I called for her the entire time and I could hear my voice echoing in the dark, but there was never an answer.

I tried to make my way out of the valley, but part of me felt like I was going the wrong way. I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my sister there. I took a wrong step on a mossy rock and slipped and fell right into the river, hitting the rocky bottom and getting soaked to the bone. I was bruised, sore, drenched, and scared and every one of my own struggles only made me worry more about Christy.

I drank water from the stream and then found a bank where I used my hands to rake leaves and soil into a big pile. I laid down on the bank and covered myself with dirt and leaves to keep warm. The forest was so thick that I could barely see my own hand in front of my face. I heard noises that gave me chills. I curled up and cried, because I had lost my sister. It felt like the longest night of my life.

Morning came and I woke up to the sun. I was shocked that I managed to fall asleep after all, and that I had slept long enough to let the sun rise before me. I jumped to my feet, and ran back down the stream. I called for Christy as I ran. Once I reached the car, with Christy still not in sight, I heard something nearby make a strange noise. It sounded like a frog, and it was close. I heard it again — the scratchiest, most broken call — but I heard it: “Kim!” It was Christy.

Christy told me of her story of realizing that our streams had separated and running back and forth just as I did, calling for me before it got too dark to navigate. She lost her voice that night from calling for me.

We got back into the car, filthy and tired, but happy. We nervously drove home, not knowing if we were in trouble. To our surprise, we got home to our parents drinking coffee. They barely raised an eyebrow at our entrance and apparently had no idea that we had gone missing to begin with. They figured we slept at friend’s house, and when we told them of our misadventure, they just didn’t seem to grasp the intensity. To them we just went for a hike, slept in the woods, and got dirty.

Though their reaction did add an anticlimactic finale to the story, it also made it clear that this memory, like so many others, was ours. Christy and I broke our arguing spell that day for good. Not to say that we never disagree or have different opinions, but something changed that day. In the same way that the boy in Christy’s book became a man from going on his journey into the mountains, Christy and I also became women. Summer ended and I went off to college and got a job away from my family and away from Christy, who'd gone off to college before me. Those years spent apart made me so much more like my sister in all the ways that I felt she was different from me, and it did the same for her. Taking our own unique paths was absolutely essential to our personal growth and it only helped us understand that we are always connected and we always will be. No matter what direction we go in, or how hard things get, the same water flows through us and it will always guide us home.

How do you do #AdventureUnfiltered? Whether it's not being able to find a bathroom in India or sampling crickets at a night market in Beijing, we want to see photos of your weirdest, wildest, most wonderful adventures — and if you share, you could win a trip for two to the destination of your choice. Click here to share your #AdventureUnfiltered moment to win.

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