Running Hawaii
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Running Hawaii

Running Hawaii

by Martin Dugard

I ran with my wife in Hawaii. This may not mean much to those who think nothing of a run with their spouse, but I am an introvert and a running snob. Running is where I refresh dead batteries. I run very fast sometimes and almost walk others, depending upon my mood. I write stories in my head, or sometimes just poems, or burrow into some stream-of-consciousness bazaar that may or may not lead to personal growth. Sometimes - most times - I drift so far from reality that miles pass without my noticing. Hence, I guard this time. I need this time. I always run alone.

But in Hawaii...well, Hawaii is magical. I don't care how many times you travel to these bumps on the Pacific, these green sanctuaries kissed by trade winds, equidistant from Australia and Japan and America, so overpopulated with people like me, who don't live there but act way too much like we own the whole damn place - they're magical. They defy desecration. So that part about running to recharge my batteries? I don't need to. Hawaii gets me so blissed out I forget to be stressed. Same holds for stories, poems, personal growth, shopping lists and the occasional mental rant. In Hawaii, I want to share the experience. Tradewinds, sunrise, sunsets, beaches. Running alone in Hawaii isn't just romantically stingy, it borders on an obsession with solitude.

So I ran with my wife in Hawaii. On Maui - more specifically, Wailea - in the shadow of the Haleakala volcano. We jogged along the concrete walkway starting at the Outrigger, sometimes dropping down into the sand to run along the water, sometimes sticking to the concrete. The walkway fronts about a dozen hotels, so we were part of a pleasant movement of humanity. Runners, walkers, strollers were all there. We ran until we came upon a deserted beach and felt like swimming. The sand was white. The breakers were pleasantly small. We left our shoes on the sand and dove into the blue Pacific, swimming out about 50 yards and kissing like a couple of high school kids who can't keep their hands off each other, then running right back to the Outrigger. All in all, a very good run.

On the island of Hawaii, I tried an adventure run. It was messy and sweaty and just this side of dangerous. I ran alone. I'm writing a book about British explorer James Cook, and I wanted to see the exact spot he died. It was in Kaleakekua Bay, a half moon fronted by cliffs and lava and elephant grass, 15 miles outside Kailua-Kona.

Thousands of Hawaiian warriors took turns stabbing him to death. His body was carried away from the beach and buried in a shallow pit, over which a fire was built.

The heat slow-cooked Cook. Meat and bone separated. His bones were divided among the island's prominent chiefs. Legend says they can still be found hidden in caves on Mauna Loa. When the British demanded his body back, a hand and some shoes were returned. Captain Charles Clerke, Cook's hard-partying second, buried them at sea, just inside the mouth of Kaleakekua.

Don't try to swim out and find the cannon balls weighting the casket. Tiger sharks claim the bay as prime feeding turf. Instead, do your Cook homage with a visit to the white obelisk jutting from one side of Kaleakekua. You can see it clearly from the other side of the bay, where the road ends in a gravel car park.

To lay hands on the monument, the only access is down the same trail Hawaiian warriors trekked two centuries ago, carrying Cook onto the slopes of the volcano. The unmarked trailhead lies on Napoopoo Road, four driveways down from the Chevron station. A dead pig covered with flies marked the trailhead last time I was there.

The other obvious run on Hawaii is the infamous lava fields. Too much pain there, though. I opt instead for the glory route, and trot along Kailua-Kona's Alii Drive, where Iron men and women take their last steps to the finish of the annual Ironman Hawaii Triathlon World Championships. The moment is always serene and surreal and, unlike the lava fields, shaded. I detour into the clear blue bay for a swim when I'm done, then down the road to the Hard Rock for a burger and beer.

So you've got your love and you've got your pain. Now let me tell you about my favorite run in all Hawaii. It's most unlikely. Most unparadise-like. It's on Oahu, in downtown Waikiki. Now, there are plenty of great places to run on Oahu. Just because Honolulu defines the island doesn't mean it's all development.

On the windward side, there's the wilderness near Makapu, where Jurassic park was filmed and guns from the USS New Jersey were placed into the volcanic hillside for shore defense during World War II.

There's wilderness out there in Makapu. Jungle wilderness with ochre trails and plants never lacking for water, and hillsides so steep they'll break your heart if you try to run them too fast. And, since Hawaii is a land without snakes, that whole wilderness thing is a lot more palatable. There's something about a long run through tall grass that makes me think of snakebite. Not so in Hawaii. Bugbite, maybe. Snakebite, no. So I park my car at the Makapu parking lot and run the Jurassic wilderness and gaze upwards at the lava columns climbing thousands of feet into the sky, knowing my only fear is dehydration from all that humidity. I love running over there. But, as I said, my favorite run is in downtown Waikiki, at dawn. I like to trot along the main drag to Waikiki Beach, from Fort De Russy down Lewers Street past the Denny's in front of the Outrigger Reef, then out past the Sheraton. Then it's out along Waikiki Beach, where a policeman once threatened to arrest me during a hurricane because I shouldn't have been standing on that usually idyllic beach with a hurricane about to make landfall at 150 mph.

Then past the Honolulu Zoo and up the slopes of Diamond Head into the middle of that crater. Then up the steps. And up and up and up, until I'm on the volcano rim itself, staring down into the Pacific straight ahead, or Honolulu to my right.

Places like that are timeless, and I think of the history of Diamond Head - the water-borne warriors guiding their canoes home by its compass, the whalers and missionaries of the 19th century, the socialites of pre-World War II Honolulu, then the devastation of Pearl Harbor that led the crater's core to become a military installation. A honeycomb of tunnels and armament stores once lay inside.

Something about this tangible aspect of the island's history makes me, your typical tourist, feel connected with Hawaii. Makes it feel sort of homey. And that's why I go back again and again.

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