Seriously, though. It was fucking awesome.
Trail running happens where you least expect it. In the most unlikely of places. While I was familiar with HURT and the beautiful beaches of the Aloha State; I was less familiar with the reality of planning a trail run on the better side of a Volcano. Maui running has lots of info (big props), but you never know until you start to plan your drive up the ever windy road into the mountains that the best laid plans and can go quickly a-rye.
The plan was to explore Poli Poli State Park on the HoneymoonParadise of Maui. While most visitors stuck to the 4-star hotels, we preferred less pristine accommodation – at least for a day. I recall from trips to Tanzania that “Poli Poli” to them means “Slowly Slowly” – and not a truer statement was made here.
It takes an hour to get to the trail head from anywhere close to an ocean by car and that’s mostly working your way up a very windy road. You pass a lavender farm and a handful of parasailing launch points. Maui running suggests you drive to only the place where 4WD vehicles can go – we took their advice. While it did seem drivable, the reality was that if the weather turned bad you could get stuck. Getting stuck I’m pretty good at; not this time.
We started early; the sun, when it broke through the clouds, was searing. Good running weather to help us save the water. Mostly though, it was quiet – too quiet. We did run into a few hikers – introduced ourselves ( “if you hear about someone falling off the Volcano – yup, that’s us” ) and continued knowing that at least someone was up here besides us.
Because we parked outside of the 4WD zone it turned our planned 1.7 mile approach into a modest 3 mile run to the trail head. While not awful, it did mean less time on the trails and more time on the fire road. I recommend driving as far in as possible until it’s clear you’re at the trail head – otherwise you may be on foot more than you may like. Take note – 4WD is essential and bad weather can move in fast.
It was also at this point that I was really wondering why I was so out of shape. Did sitting on a beach for 3 days really turn me into a slug? Oh wait – we’re over a mile above sea level. Now I get it. How quickly you forget that elevation isn’t a joke – there’s less oxygen up here. You remember – oxygen – that stuff that keeps you alive; good stuff.
Now, to the trail.
Given we added 6 miles to the day just because of our conservative parking, we proceeded with a modest 5 mile loop. And it did not disappoint. Tons of runnable terrain on the first leg, including a number of switchbacks, downhill bogs, excellent terrain and tons of fun. The trail started like a horror movie – fallen trees and fog; it was the perfect setting for getting hacked to bits by a serial killer or eaten alive by Sasquatch.
Starting in a counter-clockwise motion, we figured out a series of connecting trails from Redwood to XXX that would give us a loop we could work with. The trail markings were very impressive given how remote it all felt. Maybe it’s not remote to locals.
“Shhhhh…do you hear that?!?! WTF is that?!?!!? AHHHHHHH! ALIENS!?!?!?! ” — Voice in my head.
Running into trail maintenance crews was both terrifying – in the dense fog, they looked like aliens; orange hardhats and jumpsuits – and voices aside, somewhat impressive. The overgrowth there is considerable and without frequent maintenance I’m pretty sure this would have quickly resembled either the island from LOST or the FIRE SWAMP. Any moment, rodents of unusual size were sure to raise their head.
This was in the downhill runnable section and we proceeded quickly past with a nod and a smile. Friendly aliens they were indeed. Things were looking up. The trail waves were big and pillowy with a gentle roll and pitch that gave as much as it took – simple joy personified.
But of course, the law of the trails always reminds us that what goes down – must come up. This is where a lot of the running stopped. Not only did we encounter the relentless series of roots upon roots upon roots ( did I mention roots ) but when they say fallen trees they FUCKING MEAN IT!!! Roots, rain and slick. The way up reminded me of my years doing Danzan-ryu Jujitsu (throw, fall on mat, repeat ).
One of the coolest features of the islands is they have this epic series of Micro-climates. You can go from wind, rain, fog, midst, to sun and back again all in one day. The forest captures these in nooks and crannies creating interesting vegetation and fauna that capture the mind and body ( that means spider-webs, people ). By the time we got back to the trail head it felt as if we’d travelled around the globe. The run out resembled nothing like the way in – more like northern California redwoods in the summer; full of thicket and ivy.
We ended the run with a quick shower outside of our car – nothing like some frontier medicine to wash away the grime and circumstance. It truly was a great way to end the day. As we descended by car to Makawao, it occurred to us just how unique an experience this was – while everyone was sitting on a beach we were experiencing the Maui that few dare to tread. And all for the very low, low cost of a few Bikini Blond beers – not too shabby.
We rode the trail wave and survived. Still, this place has secrets – there’s many more waves to ride & we’ll be back to keep searching for the big one.
Another area that is incredible to run is the King’s Trail. This trail starts south of Kihei and while not as richly dynamic as the upper part of the island, the views are more stunning & weather-cooperative. There are a few downsides.
You are running across Lava fields and it’s slow going – simply because you are compelled to take picture after picture after picture. It’s just too beautiful. Another downside is that if you take this route, you better start damn early – some shade, though mostly exposed – if the sun hits you, you may not have enough water to finish the day. Remember, the black lava sucks up the sun like a Anteater sucks up ants – and doesn’t let go.
Still, you’re close enough to the ocean to cool off and take a dip – saving this long run for next time. Less elevation; more sun; more runnable sections; more fun.
Maui Running: http://www.mauirunning.com/where-to-run-on-maui.html
Garmin Details: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/811237589