Trails of Glory

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Search of the Meganeura, a.k.a the Giant Dragonfly; on the Island of Kauai

On my last day of our trip to Kauai I dropped Trish off at the Lihue airport at 11am for her flight home. Our flights were separate and mine didn't leave until 10:30pm later that evening. With over 8 hours to kill I was determined to discover something rarely sighted but known to exist up by Mount Wai'ale'ale, also known as the wettest spot on earth, receiving on average 450 inches of rain per year.

We rented a Jeep Wrangler and had not yet found a chance to get it muddy. I drove 12 miles up Highway 580 from the eastside of the island along the Wailua River. The last 5 miles are on a 4-wheel drive road which receives several rainfalls a day. That day was no different with potholes filled with muddy water and several stretches of 6 inch deep muddy trails.

I had researched the route and had a few trail options to explore along the way but opted to bypass all of them in order to hike through the jungle into the headwaters of the Wailua, the Wai'ale' ale Crater.

I finally found the end of the road and spotted the gauging station.

Just as I pulled into the roundabout a Giant Dragonfly buzzed across my windshield.

It was very large, at least an 8-inch wingspan and a long blue body. My camera was in my pack and I lost the opportunity to snap a photo. But now I had hope that as I wrangled my way through the upcoming jungle trail I would find more even larger dragonflies.

Wrangle turned out to be an underestimation of how I managed to follow the trail. I started out by crossing a bridge over shallow flowing water coming from the crater.

I could see the back wall of the crater in the distance covered in lush green vegetation. I was told that the Blue Hole, the actual headwaters, was about a 2-mile hike in along a gnarly muddy trail and several stream crossings with a lot of boulder hopping. I found the beginning of the trail on my right and went in about 200 feet before the trail quickly turned to shoe-sucking mud and moss covered branches that I had to low crawl under in order to continue.

I began to notice that someone had recently wrapped orange duct tape around tree limbs at key decision points. These markers saved me a lot of time but were sparse and not always where I needed them. At those times I ended up in the stream and boulder hopped until I spotted another tape marker. I got lost twice and scrambled through wild raspberry bushes, scratching my lower bare legs. 

I wore Teva sandals which turned out to be a wise choice. Many times the only option was to step ankle deep into the mud and hang onto the thin trees on the side in order to not lose my balance and fall down. I spent an hour traveling just over a mile when I found an orange piece of tape draped over a rock.

A couple feet away I spotted the empty cardboard tape roll laying amongst the rocks on the side of the trail.

This was a bad omen indicating that the trail was unmarked from here on out. I continued for several more meters and quickly lost any sign of further trail options. I made my way back to the stream to see how close I had come to the crater wall. The wall was daunting and huge with a thick cloud covering the upper part of the crater.

There were several helicopters flying below the crater rim carrying tourists on sightseeing excursions. I wondered if anyone could see me with the white hat I wore on my head. I took a couple of photos and low and behold I spotted another Giant Dragonfly whir past me along the rushing stream. He did not linger and I lost another opportunity to snap a photo.

It was 3pm and I was getting hungry. I decided that it was a good time to make my way back and get down the road back to Lihue before dark. The return trip was just as difficult coming back as going out.

I recognized several landmarks and plants which helped but the footing was terrible. It took me an hour to return the one and a quarter mile journey. I felt a sense of accomplishment in that I was weary from the hike but mostly because I did in fact spot two Giant Dragonflies and got the Jeep dirty enough to get a snooty look from the rental agent.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bruce Gungle: If You Can't Stand the Heat - Get Out of the Oven!

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Bruce Gungle and talking about his running career and exploits in Death Valley at the Badwater 135-mile race. Bruce is a unique kind of runner in that he thrives on running and living in desert heat. The following profile and interview provides excellent insight into what it's like to manage your body in extreme temperatures and also details what drives the trail and ultra-runner to reach higher goals and limits.