This isn't quite true, because the North Shore is a sleepy place, a world away from Waikiki. I didn't have to hike through jungle to find the set; basically, I parked and walked about a mile, stepping through some brush. It was no more or less arduous than a hike through the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. And then I was among the people of "Lost." They were eating and chatting. I had some hummus and read the sports pages of the Honolulu Advertiser.
It's all supposed to be a nightmare, but there is something tantalizing about being involuntarily yanked out of this complicated world and plopped onto some strange island where the resources — food, sex partners, potential employment — are finite and where, by virtue of surviving and sitting on a beach indefinitely, all past sins are forgiven and defects resolved.
Kate was a bank robber, Sayid was a conflicted interrogator in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Locke was an office drone who was disabled but magically walked after the crash. They all have their gestalt moments, and it starts with being lost.
So I went, went to get lost.
On the show, the characters are beyond lost; in reality, it is possible to stumble across them. As beautiful and pristine as it can be, the North Shore is also a kind of natural movie set, with good access to its nooks and crannies.
One day, for instance, I found one of the "Lost" jungles (it said "base camp" on the side of the road, so I figured) and was about to head in when a guy on a bulldozer said the boars were about. I kept going, but he shooed me away, more vociferously this time; apparently, these boars weren't extras. Twenty minutes later, I was at a Macy's buying underwear.
Was I lost? At that point, only in a 50% off sale. It is one thing to imagine escaping into a TV show, another to try to do it. You have to stay away from Waikiki. You have to decide whether you want to deal with wild boars and publicists. The one at ABC, after several weeks of negotiations, said a set visit wouldn't be possible; the show, hot as it heads into the climax of its first season, was under lock and key to deter spoilers on the Internet, where "Lost" fanatics trade theories about the characters' back stories and even whether they're actually alive or in some kind of sci-fi, existential limbo state.
To watch the show, you really wouldn't know that the bedraggled cast has to wait between takes for jets to fly overhead or that the cave sequences are shot indoors on a soundstage in Honolulu or that an actor might take a break from being stranded and hungry and broken to get a massage or facial at the Turtle Bay Resort.
Without traffic, a newcomer in a rental car will need an hour and a half to get from Honolulu International Airport to the North Shore, Interstate H1 north to Interstate H2 north to Hawaii 99 northwest to Hawaii 83 north. After all this north, you're on the Kamehameha Highway, two lanes that circumnavigate much of Oahu and yield consistently awe-inspiring views — ocean to your left and lush, green foothills and mountains to your right.
In March, it is still winter on the North Shore. Getting dinner is near impossible after 9. It is a sleepy place with a frisson of decadence but also, if you drive the length of it, a Mormon community, giant sea turtles you can pet and local fishermen standing next to beat-up vans, their poles cast into the sea in the black of night.
Not to mention mainland burnouts and mainlanders buying up what local real estate there is for sale. Not to mention the biggest subculture: "surfers and the girlfriends who support them," in the words of one islander.
These surfers live by nature's clock: They go where the wave is, when it is. In winter, the North Shore is renowned for them. Gliding along the Kamehameha in your rental car (tune the radio to KTUH-FM [91.3], the University of Hawaii's public radio station, with its eclectic blend of student-run music shows — thank you, deejay Nocturna), you see beach after beach whose names you learn: Sunset and Gas Chambers and Rocky Point and Banzai Pipeline.
According to a surfers' map I bought, Pipeline has "one of the world's great booming left breaks." These are waves in the distance, waves you have to paddle out to or be towed to on jet-powered skis. In winter, the North Shore is not a stand-in-the-water-holding-your-mai-tai beach; it's ocean-as-great-miracle-of-nature, at times majestic and at others angry, described as "messy."
The surfers and the girlfriends who support them rent ramshackle houses that used to go for cheap, or else they hole up in surfer youth hostels. (Backpackers, where I found myself one night, reminded me of a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, only grungier, with less-than-Four-Seasons bedding.)
Until you live among surfers, even for just five days, you cannot begin to understand how great their life seems. For one thing, they never have to wear a shirt, not even to go into the Foodland in Haleiwa. They are good-looking, twentysomething, or so it seemed.