MAUI — Three weeks ago, Amanda Eller felt drawn to go to the Makawao Forest Reserve on the Hawaiian island of Maui to connect with nature and get grounded.
She had rarely been to that park and hadn’t been in months. But that day she was called to go.
The 35-year-old physical therapist, who had a whole day to herself, figured she’s go for a 3-mile hike and spend a couple hours in the woods.
“I don’t really know what happened,” she said Tuesday morning, speaking to reporters while in a wheelchair. “All I can say is that … I have strong sense of internal guidance, whatever you want to call that — a voice, Spirit, everybody has a different name for it.
“My heart was telling me walk down this path, go left. Great. Go right. It was so strong.”
She said it turned out to be not nearly as strong when after meditating on a log she wanted to go back to her car.
She tried one path and it didn’t get her back to her car. She tried another. No luck. And another.
She came to the realization she wasn’t on a human path; she was on a boar path.
“At that point I had no choice because everything looked the same I said the only thing I have is my gut. I don’t have a compass. I don’t have a cell phone,” she said. “So, Spirit, or whatever you want to pray to, I said I need your help right now.”
She said she listened to her sense of guidance, which instead of taking her back to her car, took her on a 5-mile journey, one she called a “spiritual boot camp.”
Seventeen days in the woods
Eller ended up spending 17 days in the woods, trying to get back to her car and then just trying to stay alive and be found by the searchers in helicopters.
She spent two days in a Maui hospital being treated for severe sunburned, a twisted knee and ankle problems before she went home Monday night. She hopes to be back at work in two weeks.
Eller thinks the days she spent alone in the woods, surviving, her mother said recently, on berries and stream water, is part of something bigger, something that has been changing her life since she moved to Maui four years ago.
It taught the physical therapist who often treats people in great pain what it is like on the patient side.
Eller, who is also a yoga teacher, said she would get down and feel like a victim.
“This is not your punishment. This is your destiny. This is your journey. This is part of your path,” she said.
She said she eventually accepted that this would be a gantlet of painful endeavors and she had to choose life.
Eller said she would find things she could spell out SOS and she’d hang pieces of clothing where it could be seen from the air.
But as helicopters passed over — she estimated there were at least 20 times they were nearby — they couldn’t see her.
Until on Friday evening, when a helicopter involved in the search but surveying spots to put crews into the forest spotted her.
She had been sitting out on a rock, frying in the sun, and here came another helicopter. But she saw someone pointing at her.
“I just fell to the ground and just started bawling,” she said.
In hindsight, Eller says that even though she hates cell phones, she should have taken hers with her into the forest. She also will take a water bottle next time.
That next time, though, in this park, won’t be anytime soon, she said, laughing.