Two years ago, four Maui cycling friends got off their bikes and went for a walk.
Their destination was a remote Tibetan Buddhist monastery in a restricted valley barely over the border in Nepal. Not on the map, walled in by high mountains, just reaching it is a formidable challenge.
The two-week trek for Mitchell Silver, Linda Sparks White, John Hirashima and Bill Oldham produced an adventure for their spirits as well as their bodies that still lingers in memory.
The Maui News / RICK CHATENEVER photo
Hidden Valley trekkers John Hirashima, (from left), Mitchell Silver, Linda Sparks White and Bill Oldham regroup in Kula.
It also produced "an accidental movie," according to trek leader Silver.
"I just filmed along the way," said Sparks White. She happens to be a professional underwater photographer, but "there was no preconceived thought that we would be telling the story after. It was a zero-budget film."
"Journey to Hidden Valley" - a work of striking images and stirring emotions that bring viewers along on the trek - will screen at the Historic Iao Theater at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 14.
* "Journey to Hidden Valley" screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14 at the Historic Iao Theater. A $5 donation will be requested at the door.
Kula resident Silver, organizer of the journey, is no stranger to that part of the world.
"I had first gone to Nepal in the '70s," he recalled. A student at the University of Wisconsin at the time, the visit convinced him to change his major to Southeastern studies. Later, gaining the attention of officials from the country, he returned to create water systems for the area, eventually under the auspices of UNICEF.
"They said, 'Do this and we'll pay you and give you a motorcycle. It was a fabulous experience. I fell in love with it, my language skills came together."
Silver's fluency in Nepalese gives the film its intimacy and unique bond, not only with the villagers along the path, but with the almost 20 porters, cook staff and guides so essential to a venture of this sort.
His first visit to this particular monastery came on a trek with his wife, Joyce, 25 years ago.
Lore has it that the spot near a sacred spring was first visited by a 14th-century Buddhist saint. Because of the impenetrable location, the monastery built there was designated a repository of Buddhist teachings, where the sacred texts and practices would be preserved. In the event of a catastrophe or apocalypse, the religion could spring anew from the spot.
Although it's technically three miles outside Tibet, its remote location has made it a time capsule for Tibetan culture.
"It's just like the old Tibet," ventured Hirashima. "Undiluted."
"Even our porters hadn't been there before," said Sparks White.
The remoteness of the valley produced other anomalies. "The wild animals were tame," said Silver. "There was no killing. Not hunted by the humans in the area, the animals had no fear of them."
On that first visit a quarter-century ago, the monastery itself "was in a horrible state of disrepair," recalled Silver. A handful of monks and nuns lived there. The buildings were falling down.
He made a donation of $100, enough to support several people for a year. And when he returned to the U.S., he told friends about it, who also gave support over the ensuing decades.
Although Silver has returned to that part of the world numerous times, he hadn't been back to the hidden valley when he suggested it as a destination for his Maui friends.
He had made his first trek with Hirashima 10 years ago. Silver says he is drawn to "off-the-beaten track stuff. Let's go where people don't go and have an adventure."
The cycling bond brought the other two trekkers on board. Besides the aerobics, endorphins and stamina that would be essential for the journey, the cycling bond is "very social," according to Sparks White.
"Cycling pretty much initiated our relationship," said Hirashima.
"You only have to ride to Hana once (to understand it)," added Oldham.
The trek took place in October and November, 2007. It entailed extensive pre-planning, e-mails, hiring porters, guides and cooks.
"Basically the only thing we needed was water." Beer, it turns out, was for sale almost anywhere on the remote path.
In terms of expense, it was relatively cheap - less than $2,000 per person, excluding airfare. That included paying the support crew (at twice their normal rate), and paying for a helicopter to fly the trekkers in to begin the journey.
Their gear was packed with medicine and first-aid supplies. Sparks White's paramedic training came in handy.
"The neat part was when we came to villages, we could communicate," she said. She treated a lot of infection when they stopped.
"And there was a kind of education, too, like telling them they needed to wash. Like washing their hands - they don't do that."
The remote region they hiked hadn't had the same contact with the outside world of the nearby Everest trails and camps. After landing in the bustle of Kathmandu, they helicoptered in to begin the walk. Their footsteps led back through time.
"Near the road was like 1910 America," said Silver. "As we went further back, it was like 1500, the dark ages."
The trekkers brought pencils, paper, hair clips - treasures for the children in the villages.
They encountered different ethnic groups at different elevations.
"They dress differently, paint their houses different colors, grow different crops."
At altitudes up to 17,000 feet, fording rushing streams, crossing rickety bridges over vertigo-inspiring chasms, "it was a difficult walk," acknowledged Silver.
They walked six to seven hours a day. "Nothing was measured in distances," said Hirashima.
"We didn't care how long it took," added Sparks White.
One day they did an arduous climb all morning, only to wind up looking straight down on their starting point.
But there was elation as well.
"It's so neat to go somewhere, like on this trip," said Sparks White. "Physically you're moving on your two feet, but you're also moving your emotions and your mind. You're experiencing so many things."
After the grueling but exhilarating walking, the party finally reached its destination.
But unlike the ramshackle buildings Silver had seen a quarter-century earlier, what they found was a thriving monastery. Along with 100 monks and 50 nuns, there were lots of kids of all ages.
"It was almost like an orphanage," observed Sparks White. The abbot would take in children in need. Some families would offer their first son to the monastery for training.
Following Silver's lead, "friends began making the journey," he said. "They knew they had to support this place."
The list of contributors now ranges from wealthy business owners to the Grateful Dead.
"We made a donation on our departure, enough to support several kids," said Silver.
After they returned to Maui and were looking at Sparks White's footage, she and Silver realized there was something more than a travelogue or home movie there.
"After seeing the footage, I decided to jump in and do the editing," Silver said.
Although he's a professional photographer, "It was the first effort for either one of us. I had never edited film before, so I taught myself editing. The two of us sat there for hours and hours."
Accompanied by a vibrant musical score, the film they created shows the journey rather than telling it. It pulses with the group's experience of being in this place, connecting with it and its people.
Beginning with no preconceived ideas, the result is surprisingly polished, and moving.
For Sparks White and Silver, it was like a continuation of the trek itself.
"There was a lot of magic that went on there," he said.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org