Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Haleakala: The Fast Way

*Photos: Eddie Gianelloni


Haleakala: The Fast Way

“Mainland, yea?”  Biting the top of her knuckle, the old wooden desk creaking as she leaned in heavy.  Pressing the phone to her ear and tripoding her elbows on the desk, she listened close for a few more seconds then looked up at me and asks: “So the dogs came after you?” her tanned forehead crinkling into the shape of a ‘V’.  
“Well, no.  Not really.”  Pausing mid sentence and putting myself in the ranchers boots on the other end of the phone line; this must sound ridiculous.  A runner from the mainland with no shirt and short shorts wanders off his ranch into the Kaupo General Store and wants to know why his dogs, specially trained to protect the livestock, come after him when he runs towards the livestock.
Meg presses the old phone back to her ear then leans back in her springy office chair: “Okay, thanks John, got it.”  I wander aimlessly in the cubical sized store.  Meg tilts her head, pinching the phone to her shoulder and shouts, “Just don’t try and steal any goats and the dogs won’t bite you.”  Loud enough for the neighbors to hear it. 
Leaving camp early that morning with the plan of running from the Kaupo General Store, at sea level, to the top of Haleakala, a ten thousand foot volcano on the island of Maui, things had not gone as planned.  With livestock spread across the route at three thousand feet and big white dogs ready to protect, retreating to find out if they bark or bite was the only option.
I’d met a lot of interesting people since pedaling out of the open air baggage claim in Kahalui.  An Olympic caliber runner and sometimes artist living upcountry on three hundred acres of ranch land, he chases down goats, oddly enough, on long runs from his door and sells them on Craigslist to get by; a group of long hairs that’d turned grey as they watched the world change and develop around their tent-beach community; and a Dutch man training full time to become a professional iron distance triathlete who’s never raced an iron distance triathlon—he’s strong, it’ll probably happen.  The people you meet from the saddle of a bicycle or pair of trail shoes defines the journey.  Going after three big human powered objectives unsupported and solo, the trail, ocean, and open roads bring great solitude and clarity.  It starts like any good adventure—with strong microbrew and detailed topo-maps. 
With a couple pairs of running shoes, a bicycle and Bob Trailer loaded down with camping gear and three pounds of quinoa, collectively known as Tuktuk, I bought the cheapest airfare I could find.  On a budget of twenty dollars per day I aimed to (1) set the fastest known time (FKT) trail running from sea level up ten thousand vertical feet to the summit of Haleakala Volcano; (2) ride Tuktuk around the one hundred and sixty mile circumnavigation of Maui faster than anyone has ever recorded; (3) swim across the nine mile Auau Channel from Lanai to Maui.  The bike ride was long and arduous and the swim was too windy and crossed a whale migration path during whale migration.  This is a story about running from the tropical waters of the Pacific, through jungle, ranch land, tree line and to the top of Haleakala’s moon-like crater.
10:00 AM December 14, 2012:
I’m tired and the dogs look angry.  Quickly scrambling to the bottom branches of an old tree, I could see the double track winding through two big knolls dotted with goats—seemingly aesthetic until I heard the barking.  Climbing steeply to four thousand three hundred feet in the first three and a half miles after an hour and a half ride to the trailhead from camp; the clock was ticking and I was tired.  Perched and sweating from the humidity, all I could think about was stories from Colorado: “…if you are in the high country and come across a group of sheep with big white Burmese-mountain-type dogs, turn, and run like hell in the opposite direction.”  Unfortunately I’m like a kid touching a hot burner for the first time—it’s not real until you experience it firsthand.
Retreating back to the Kaupo General Store my effort was thwarted.  The first section was hard enough, navigating head-high jungle grass through a maze of wild pig trails, looking for tree trunk colored sign posts with small white arrows.  There is no established trail until four thousand seven hundred feet, where a person goes through a chain link fence that signifies the Haleakala National Park boundary.  The lower half is pure cross country on Kaupo Ranch land.  The rancher opened the route as a courtesy to hikers, but let it be known he is still ranching and has dogs trained to protect the livestock from predators or the like.  Back at camp I fell asleep dehydrated and over trained—for the past two weeks I’d been riding Tuktuk from trailhead to trailhead loaded down with all her gear.  If I was going to complete the route I needed a different approach.
Breaking the budget and renting a car for a day, I set up base camp at Hosmer Grove near seven thousand feet on the other side of the crater.  Figuring the most efficient way to do the run would be duel sport; lock the bike to a fence post at the summit, watch the sunrise, drive around to the opposite side of the island where the trail starts, run the route, and ride fifty miles back to the car into the setting sun.
7:00 AM December 17, 2012:
No matter where you start, 10,000 feet is still ten-thousand-feet.  A marshmallow of weather squished the summit on run day.  Forty mile per hour gusts, sideways rain, and less than twenty feet visibility left me grinding my teeth with crossed arms in an overcrowded visitor center.  The summit parking lot was an ant hill of tourists from sea level who’d come from eighty degree weather in Kihei wearing tank tops and flip flops; there was frost on the ground.  The three mornings prior had been a blue-bird sunrise with a full moon and bright stars fading to calm weather and views of adjacent islands.  Frustrating, but today was not the day—I extended the rental car and drank overpriced coffee in beach cafés.
4:30 AM December 18, 2012:
The stars are close enough to touch from the door of my tent; recovered and anxious, it’s time to run.  What took ninety minutes on recon took forty.  Moving quickly but conserving energy, I met two Peruvian guys who tend to the goats.  We talked in Spanglish for a couple minutes, I told them about my first encounter with their dogs, now sitting obediently five feet away and ready to work.  I nick named the dogs Pica and Rico.  The Peruvians offered me a ride on their four wheeler, I gave them a high five, and ran up the hill.
Steep double track with bowling ball lava rocks slow progress, but soon gives way to more gentle fell style running across wind exposed fields with long range views of the Kaupo Gap; the long ramp exiting the crater through sheer walls and leading down to the ocean.  Knee high sub alpine grass-land and eucalypt forests defines the middle section of the run.  The route sees little traffic below the crater—if there ever was a proper trail the jungle ate it a long time ago.  Around five thousand eight hundred feet a pristine alpine trail emerges and it’s time to hammer.  Climbing nearly six thousand feet in the first five miles, steepness backs off, the wind dies down, and the crater walls close in protecting the runner from weather systems crashing into the West side of the volcano.
Low hanging cloud bands hover around three story cinder cones and the trail gives way to a lifeless moon-like sand box.  I’m thankful for the moisture in the morning air making the sand play dough.  The sun aluminates the stacked ridge lines of red, orange, and brown lava rock.  The route hugs the left wall through the belly of the crater via Sliding Sands Trail.  This upper section is one of the most unique alpine runs a person will ever experience.
The final three thousand feet is dry, on deep sand, climbing sustained switchbacks, and it hurts.  From the bottom of the crater I start to push hard toward the distant ridge—what I thought was the finish line.  Six miles and three thousand vertical feet later the number of tourists multiplies and I reach my bike.  Eighteen miles, ten thousand vertical feet, three hours and thirty seven minutes made for one of the most dynamic and varied runs I have ever done.
Unlocking my bike a grin spreads across my face—I was about to coast down ten thousand feet of brand new road as the sun set.  As luck would have it, my pedal broke at mile thirty and it starts to rain just as the road turns to dirt and cobblestone.

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