OHE December 10, 1999 (Reef Runway)

Date: Fri, 10 Dec 1999 06:08:24 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Hiking at the Airport

Having hit the sack at about 4 AM on Saturday morning, I shed my week-long plan to return to Kaala via a scheduled Dupont hike. Alas, the day was not lost and, after errands, I was town-bound for a little exercise.

Although I had worked and studied at the airport for almost six years, I had never heard of the trail around the reef runway until this year. Ironically, the "trailhead", which is about 100-yards before the general aviation parking lot at Lagoon Drive's terminus, was always just a mere fifty yards away from where I parked each work-day! Having had an urge to do a coastal trail (since my visit to Halape and Keauhou), I decided I'd check this one out.

I reached the starting point at about 5:00 PM. Depositing the car in a marked parking space along Lagoon Drive, I gathered my backpack, donned my shoes, and headed down the short street to the airport's "South Ramp" fire station. I hopped onto the mortared-rock path to the left of the gate, passed the fire department's boathouse on the left and the fire station on the right. Uninterrupted cyclone fencing, triple-crowned with lengths of barbed wire, completely encloses the airport property: the trail travels alongside it. The tradewinds and low tide had the nasty effect of trapping all sorts of flotsam and refuse downwind of Honolulu harbor's industrial areas. As the rather wide, white-grit path veered to the left, I spied the sea of coagulated debris googling up and down, lapping against the rocks strewn with similar wastes.

Completing it's jib to port, the path becomes a bee-line course parallel to the airport's Runway 8R. While the overall fence-to-water distance averages approximately 20 to 25 feet, the five-foot-wide trail remains elevated about ten feet above sea level (low tide). The trail on this man-made island diverges from the "mainland" coast and I noticed I was getting progressively farther away from Lagoon Drive; separated by the calm, murky seawater, submerged mud flats, and tidal islets of Keehi Lagoon. I thought it amazing that these dredged-out areas comprises the airport's little-known "fifth" and "sixth" runways or, more appropriately: sealanes. They are still officially used for seaplane operations (namely, to those belonging to Island Seaplane Service - the same aircraft in the recent television production of "Fantasy Island")

I decided to pick up the pace and jogged the 3/4ths of a mile to the island's end. The path, still keeping its broad span, switched right onto a perpendicular course directly South. With Honolulu Harbor a few miles to my left, I gazed upon the shallow rocks and muddy shore interspersed with white sands and more beached evidence of human contempt. I kept up a brisk pace in an attempt to reach the island's south side before sundown.

The Reef Runway, one of the four runways at Honolulu International Airport, is a 12,000-foot by 200-foot length of concrete and asphalt. Although it was built large enough to serve as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle, its normal 24-hour role is for the many commercial aircraft which depart each day. Tolerating aircraft weights exceeding 850,000-lbs, it handles the majority of wide-body take-offs to comply with airport noise abatement policies. This hulk of pavement actually teems with a plethora of high-tech equipment on the wayside or hidden within its nooks and crannies - stuff fancy enough to execute a properly-equipped aircraft's exclusively-automated landing.

For about 2,000 feet, the trail crosses paths with the Reef Runway's eastern end. Being an avid aviation buff, I was joyfully treated to several aircraft flyovers - close enough to watch landing gears fold and tuck away. Ahhhh, nothing like fresh turbine in the morning - or afternoon, for that matter!

The trail took another perpendicular turn onto a much narrower path. In certain spots, the total width from fence to water was about eight feet: the walkable path about 2 - 3 feet across. At this point, the exposed rocks from within the sandy footpath began to dictate my pace and the comfort of my ankles. Despite its dimensional reductions, navigating it was still no problem - I even saw several bicycle tire tracks. And, just as I had done before, I noted how perfectly straight this trail was. Literally, this was, by far, the straightest trail I'd ever been on.

Fifteen minutes into the westerly course, with plenty of undiscovered trail ahead, the sun was beginning to set. I "dropped anchor" and whipped out my fishing pole to try my luck from this shore. It was noticeably shallow in these parts, but I didn't mind: my casting was just for practice and an excuse to stand there and marvel the unobstructed sunset view.

And what a yellow-orange-pink-blue bang of a sunset it was! I stood there in the cool Pacific breath, mesmorized by a sun melting away into a pool of yellow ocean. I didn't stop casting, even after the rosy disc had slipped beneath the horizon, away from those ropes of bursting yellow restraining it in the sky.

When the pale civilian twilight succumbed to the deep-blue night sky, I packed my fishing gear and began my trek back. Shortly after, I intercepted two guys at a quick gait in my direction, both lugging large internal-frame backpacks and gigantic fishing poles. We exchanged greetings and they agreed to show me their fishing spot which was further down the trail. They were planning on staying throughout the night and the following morning, fishing for Papio and Ulua.

I had no idea the trail went so far as we proceeded to brisk-walk it for about 30 - 40 minutes. Behind us, I spotted a small fireworks display shootin' off above the Honolulu skyline as we trudged toward Ewa. The path widened up and the shore switched from exposed suitcase-sized rocks to a long stretch of sandy beach. I don't think the water is deep enough to accomodate swimming, however.

After a half-mile of walkable beach, the shore narrows once more and transforms into heaped beds of shells and white gritty rock on the left of the trail. The stretch is lightly peppered with various trashy weeds and shrubs. In the dark, I noticed several walls of stacked rocks which probably served as windbreaks. I didn't think someone would attempt to start a fire out here for the airport control tower would instantly spot it and summon a security response. The beach and bed of shells/rocks are flat and wide enough to serve as campsites - just don't distract pilots with a campfire!

About an eigth of a mile later, the shoreline rises into a tall, continuous heap of stacked black boulders which extend 25-feet above sea level. Its height isn't noticable until one ascends the boulders. This is because the trail (which is between the boulders and fenceline) is level with the runway (which is 10 feet above sea level). A post-hike map review suggests that the presence of these boulders are required as the relatively wide assortment of shallow mud-flats, sand bars, and coral reef gradually narrows (as one progresses in a westerly direction) and disappears. The result is the exposure of this section of quasi-peninsula to an inundation hazard with waves greater than 10 feet in height. Of course, the same hazard makes said section a prime fishing locale.

After passing about three other fishermen scattered about the boulders , the pair I was walking with found a spot to set up shop. I wanted to see the end of the trail and departed from the two. The trail continued for another ten minutes until I reached the terminus. At this point, the fenceline takes an immediate 90-degree left-turn, then heads up and over the boulders. For those familiar with the airport, this is in the vicinity of the RWY 8R/26L and Romeo-Mike intersection.

Again, I yanked out my fishing gear and casted for about an hour - practicing the "joys" of fiddling around in the dark. I've heard of fishing by moonlight... by flashlight... even by lantern... but by aircraft landing lights? Interesting!

I spent a lot of time perched atop the boulders, watching aircraft take-off from the Reef Runway.and cross-over to land at Runway 4R (a runway closer to Lagoon Drive). I took pleasure in seeing, again, several of the aircraft I've actually worked on in the past.

Determining an approximate time by watching the flight departures, I realized it was pretty late. Heading back, I passed the two guys I had followed in as they lounged in chairs with their fishing poles propped on stands. I figured the bulk of materials they lugged in were probably of an alcoholic nature versus one of shelter concerns. They, too, hadn't had a lucky strike despite the fancy bait and equipment. I didn't feel too bad about my bum-luck with my simpler gear.

Engulfed in the hazy glow from the choir of street lights and head lamps in the distance, I proceeded trailhead-bound along the entire trail without the aid of my flashlight (which I kept in my pocket). I only paused along the eastern end of the island so as to experience a few more 747 and DC-10 flyovers.

I reached a teenager-lined Lagoon Drive-turned-drag-strip at about 11:30 PM.

Post-hike map review reveals this trail to be approximately 3.2 miles, from trailhead to terminus. As there is no elevation gain whatsoever, this is a good coastal trail for novice walkers and fishermen alike - provided they don't mind the loud aircraft engines!

Happy hiking!


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