COURTESY OF KINGS' TRAIL RIDES
The four-hour Kings' Trail Rides leads to Kealakekua Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District that is home to the Captain Cook Monument.
Guide takes you for more than a ride
Don't call him David. "There are too many Davids around; I don't answer to it," Bones Inkster said firmly.
The wiry 67-year-old cowpoke got his nickname from collecting bones, an interest he's had since he was a teenager.
Kings' Trail Rides
Meet at: 81-6420 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, island of Hawaii (near the 111 mile marker on Highway 11)
Tour: 9 a.m. daily. Reservations required.
Cost: $135 per person on weekdays, $150 per person on weekends and holidays, $125 for repeat guests and groups of five or six. The price includes lunch and the use of snorkel and mask. Minimum age is 7 and maximum weight is 250 pounds. The tour is not open to pregnant women.
Call: (808) 323-2388 or (808) 345-0616
Web site: www.konacowboy.com
Notes: Wear long pants, closed-toed shoes, sunscreen and a swimsuit beneath your riding clothes. There's no place to change at Kealakekua Bay except in the bushes. Bring a small bottle of water, towel and a hat. Some riding experience is preferred but not necessary.
"I've always liked their shapes," Inkster said. "I hate to see them disintegrate outdoors. To me they're art, so I collect them and display them all over my house. I've got bones and skulls from cows, bulls, beavers, dogs, bobcats, crocodiles pigs, horses, sheep, goats, mongooses, rats and geckos."
Inkster has nurtured an affinity for animals since he was young; he grew up on a small dairy owned by his parents in Newton, Conn.
When he was a youth, he made his way west to New Mexico, Arizona and California, where a friend who was born and raised on Oahu urged him to visit Hawaii. He headed to Oahu in 1969, visited the Big Island the following year and never left.
"Moving to Hawaii was easy," said Inkster. "It seemed like home from the first day I was here."
He spent the next 20 years as the owner and operator of a tree-trimming service and part-time hand at various Kona ranches.
In 1980, through mutual friends, he met Sally Hodgins, a fourth-generation kamaaina who shared his passion for horses. They married and raised four children, all of whom have won ribbons in local rodeos.
Kings' Trail Rides was born in 1989. Inkster serves as the tour guide and handles just about everything that's required for the care of the company's 13 horses, including shoeing. Sally does the office work, prepares lunch for the tours and assists as a groom and guide.
Most of their horses are sturdy pure-bred quarter horses or quarter-horse crosses.
"They're all well trained, gentle and sure-footed," said Inkster. "We've had most of them for many years, and some were even born in our pasture."
He talks about them as though they're good friends.
"Rowdy is our daughter Nicole's rodeo horse. He has competed in everything from roping events and barrel racing to pole bending and goat tying. Even at the ripe old age of 19, he's the alpha male of the herd. When he goes on the trail ride, he always wants to be up front, but he's easy to handle and very good-natured, too."
Inkster rides new trail horses for at least a year before he'll put a guest on them.
"That's why they're so good," he said. "I ride them with cattle and take them out to chase pigs with my dogs. They live around my house where cars and motorcycles always pass by. ... I put them in all kinds of situations so when they go on the trail, nothing fazes them."
COURTESY OF KINGS' TRAIL RIDES
THE FOUR-HOUR tour begins at the 1,200-foot elevation of Kealakekua and ambles two miles down the Kaawaloa Trail, an ancient footpath once tread by Hawaiian royalty, to the shores of Kealakekua Bay. Along the way, Inkster points out rock-walled cattle pens built in the 1800s the traditional way with no mortar; the remains of a heiau (ancient place of worship); and an abundance of greenery, including monkeypod, avocado, eucalyptus, Christmas berry, coffee, koa haole, tamarind and mango trees.
The trail can be challenging; it's uneven, rocky and lined with deep ruts. But that's part of the thrill of "country riding" and how you can hone your horsemanship skills. "Keep your feet forward, heels down and lean back a bit in the saddle," Inkster advised. "Trust your horse and take it slow."
You'll dismount close to the edge of Kealakekua Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District that is home to 80 percent of the 680 species of fish found in Hawaii, including the yellow tang, Moorish idol and parrot fish.
A two-minute walk or swim away is the white monument honoring Capt. James Cook, who's credited with discovering the Hawaiian Islands. Interestingly, the 5,682-square-foot parcel where the monument stands belongs to Great Britain.
On Jan. 6, 1877, Hawaiian princess Miriam Likelike and her husband, Archibald Scott Cleghorn, who was then serving as British consul, deeded the land to England for $1 with the instructions that it was to be used "to keep and maintain ... a monument in memory of Captain Cook."
"It's beautiful there; it's often hard to get people out of the water, even for a lunch break," Inkster said.
He puts out a delicious spread of sandwiches filled with ham, thinly sliced cucumbers and red onions, and lettuce from a friend's garden. Conversation goes anywhere the group wants it to go. It could be about Big Island history, the life of a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) or the guests from all over the world who've ridden with Inkster.
Years ago he received a call from a woman who asked if he would be willing to take her father, who was in his 70s. "I said, 'I'll take him as long as he can get on a horse,'" Inkster recalled. "We were riding along, and I asked him what he'd done before he retired.
"He said, 'The last 40 years have been as boring as hell; I worked as an insurance salesman. But during World War II, I was in the Air Force flying planes and was shot down twice over Japan. That was really exciting!'"
Because Kings' Trail Rides are limited to just six participants, Inkster gets to chat with everyone.
"I enjoy showing them this unspoiled part of the Big Island," he said. "You can't drive here; you have to come on foot or in a boat or on a horse."
Unlike other riding outfitters, which might employ guides who aren't familiar with local history and customs, Inkster leads all of Kings' Trail Rides.
"You get information from the horse's mouth -- me," he said.
He's an animated storyteller with tales galore to share, and by the end of the ride, you'll feel as though you've made a new friend. Just don't call him David.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.