Wednesday Trail Work Report by Mike Muench

It hasn’t rained much in Manoa Valley over the past weeks; dry and humid, like the rest of the island.  I ran most of a HURT loop last Friday and I didn’t even get much mud on my socks– which is a testament to how dry things have been.    But when I got up at 5:00 AM on Wednesday morning it was pouring.  The squalls had been loafing down the valley releasing those big dime sized drops that can hit a leaf and knock it right off the tree.  I was tempted to just roll over and go back to bed.   But PJ had scheduled trail work for 6:00 and there was no getting around the fact that I had talked to her the night before and committed to being there.   I roused myself, made a pot of coffee and listened to the rain as I my brain reconnected with my body over a my morning hit of caffeine.

It was still raining a bit when I arrived late at the top of Manoa  Road.  PJ was out of her car laying out the tools and Bozo and  Harold and Trish were getting their gear together.  We were discussing who got what when the Huffer arrived.   There was a paucity of people and a more than  ample selection of tools.  Not wishing to seem reluctant to commit to a hard days work we each of grabbed two tools and headed up the road outfitted like platoon of Conservation Corps. Conscriptees.    We hadn’t gone 20 yards when it started to rain hard once again.  Big hard drops fell fast and furious in one of those little wind kind of showers that never seems to pass.   It began to rain so hard that when Harold stopped under the Paradise Park pedestrian bridge to grab a breath of air we all did the same.   We stood there partially sheltered from the downpour for maybe ten minutes  talking softly and feeling the rain pound the ground into vibration in what seemed to be a never ending crescendo of noise and water.    

It was still raining when we moved on.  There was work to do, we were already soaked, and there seemed to be sufficient gaps between the still pelting rain to grab an occasional breath without drowning.  Harold and I strode ahead of the others, in what seemed to develop into kind of an ultra ultra workout.   Quite frankly I forgot, as I always do, just how far it was to the slide beyond the apu’a’a markers and ‘over the edge’ tree– that’s the one that you have to tightly grab the hand hold when you go under it because the ground slopes at what seems to be a 70 degree angle toward the abyss.   Anyway I forgot how far it was, and the tools were heavy, so I pushed a bit hoping to get there before my arms fell off.   As we made our way up the trail we endured the constantly dripping water and mumbled occasionally about the places that needed work.   Why we didn’t just stop at one of ‘em and do the work that needed doing is something I have no answer for.  PJ said go to the tree.  I don’t think Harold suggested we stop but he may have, but it was early in the morning and I wasn’t thinking too clearly, and it seemed urgent to get where we were going.   So Harold and I kind of sprinted to top, and when we got there and started working it was no shock to find that the day was already very long and we were worn out before we even started.   

Now the purpose of this note is to encourage you to come out and do
trail work.  Unfortunately until you have done it you will not have a
very good handle on the information I am imparting.   But the major
reason to work trail is that you make that section of trail your own
personal place.  By spending time clearing rock, and getting rid of a
lot of debris and overgrowth you come to understand that area very
well.  You know what has been done that day, and where the path is
supposed to go.  You also see those things that are difficult to deal
with and more fully understand the work a rounds that are discussed and
tried by others on the crew.   When it comes time to run that section
it will likely be a lot less nasty than it may have once seemed.
Somehow the trail becomes friendlier and more manageable.  You know
where to step because you understand it was planned that way.  It is no
longer that nasty rocky, rooty and muddy section far back on Auhualama
where you always slip, it becomes that switchback where you cleared
away that rock you had started to hesitate at, and built a few good
foot falls just off to the right edge of the trail. Perhaps you even
carried out a vendetta against that particular root on the trail that
had laid you out flat more than once, or blackened you toe a few months

I personally feel that spending time on the trails trying to make
things better has a positive energy associated with it.  Much of the
run becomes friendlier and this tends to overcome whatever negative
energy you might feel to be associated with these places.    If that
guy Kalapu would come out for trail work, for instance, maybe he
wouldn’t be fleeing alone out of Manoa on night HURT loops swearing
that he was being chased by a posse of night marchers.  If you plan to
do HURT the extra energy that you can create in some of these sections
may be the deciding factor.    Now this is an issue that many people
don’t particularly like to discuss and I can understand that.  But this
is Hawaii and things are what they are.   Anyway, the first point is
reason enough to come out and work and learn the trail.  The second may
be an added bonus.

PJ schedules trail work to be no longer than about six hours, and for
most people, even HURT types, that is about what one can do and still
walk steadily back out.   I always find that the first half hour to an
hour are the hardest.   Physical labor, whether running or swinging a
pick, takes time to warm up to.  Six hours using muscles that are not
particularly familiar with the required movements can produce a state
of wear that is on par with a very long training run.    It’s real good
exercise.   And if you do what Harold and I did you can actually get in
a short but very intense training run to boot!

So we all got to the ‘Over the Edge’ tree and started turning those 70
degree outward  slopes into runners highways.   In the matter of  a
half  hour  the trail along that section began to lose its very high
technical rating.   I say high technical rating because, as most of us
who have gone under that tree know,  it often feels like a slip over
the edge is a very real possibility.   The need for slow careful steps
in a place like that is reason enough for me to give it a high
technical rating.    And just so we all understand.   It is still a
dangerous place with a high technical rating, and anybody who goes by
there is nuts and is taking a risk.  Act according to your own skills
and judgment.   

We worked our way down the switchbacks raking and clearing and enduring
the occasional heavy rains.   My personal forte is digging drainage
channels and berms.   It’s my feeling that the trail surface is
determined largely by the hydrology and it is important to get the
water off the trail quickly and before it can cause erosion or pool. 
My feelings  about this comes from the time when I was up on these
trails during a rather large rain storm.  Perhaps you remember the one
that swept away cars in Manoa and filled half the University with mud?
Well, guess who was fool enough to find himself  up there in the midst
of that.   That was what I call ‘freight train’ rain;  when the rain is
so hard that the sound of it beating on the leaves and ground can drown
out the sound of your own terrified screams.    I don’t recall too
clearly the exact reasons for my howling, but it is likely the panic I
felt ensued when the entire hillside turned into a massive waterfall.
Wading along up there, clinging to roots and searching for footing I
tended to notice the cataracts that exploded from upslope and the
impact these had on the flooded ledges that sometimes function as
running trails.  So now, whenever I can I impulsively cut channels to
drain water; and hopefully the paths will be a bit better prepared to
handle flooding. 

One thing you should understand about these channels and berms is that
I tend to put the berm on the lower side.  The berm crosses the entire
trail and is where you should step.  The channel is on the upper side
and is often 4 to 8 inches deep.  Going up the trail it is easy to see
the berms and to step up on them and over the channel.  Going down one
needs to keep an eye out for the channels and step over them and down
onto the berm.    Step into one of these channels and you could twist
an ankle or fall off the trail.   It’s a trade off.  We either get the
water off the trail or we have deep ruts and channels that are even
more dangerous.  Again if this sounds too complicated then use your own
judgment about venturing out on the trails as they are inherently
difficult and dangerous places where most of the hikers/runners who
intentionally and repeatedly go there are of highly questionable sanity
and cognitive ability.   

I worked my way slowly down behind the others until they were gone.  I
think they snuck away and left me there—I was wearing this really pilau
shirt that I hadn’t washed for a few weeks and could hardly suffer
myself.   In any case, long after I was very much alone, I heard Harold
calling me from what could have been the trail junction at the Falls he
sounded so far away.  I hooted back and he said something about the
trail being ‘so long as the whole’ which didn’t make much sense to me,
but I figured he meant that they were done for the day which is pretty
much what he meant I guess.   

Swinging that trail hoe for hours had taken a bit out of me and I was
staggering on the way out.   The fact is that there is a lot more to do
in Manoa.  The trial needs a lot more work.   To put it very mildly at
this point in time it still has a very high technical rating.   Both
Mike and PJ are planning additional work days.   Please give this some
thought.  The body you save might just be your own. 

By the time I made it down to the Falls trail I was covered in mud from
clearing away some of those puddles that form in the bamboo.  I just
can not resist playing in mud and water and the evidence was plastered
over me as if I’d performed a sacred right of anointment.   As I made
my way down the Manoa trail an elderly woman of stern countenance, and
who could have passed for my fourth grade teacher, looked at me harshly
and scolded me by saying ‘How could you possibly get so dirty?”   

“The waterfall got plugged up, Mam.  I had to climb up there and clean
it out. Nasty job.”   I said with a wide smile that exposed one of the
only places on my body that was not covered in mud.   I always wanted
to talk back to my fourth grade teacher.  Leaving her there speechless
and with a scowl on her face was an added benefit.   

The other encounters along the trail were of a Caliban nature.  Women
moving off to the side of the trail with reluctant smiles and men
rushing to herd their female charges out of harms way.  It  is just
amazing how people react to a large mud covered monster striding
erratically through the forest with a couple of  large weapons in its
hand.  Hey, they were tourists, I figured I was just a part of the
Manoa Waterfall Show. 

I made it back to the before 1:00 and PJ was still waiting for me.  I
dropped the tools and was home showered and back at my desk before 2:00
pm.   Easy no?   Something you can do in the morning and be back to
work in the afternoon.   Give it some thought.  We and the Trails need
you out there.