Kekaha to Polihale and back again

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Whatever it takes to get to Polihale is worth it.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    There are places to pull off the dirt road to Polihale State Park and enjoy the scenery.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    The road to Polihale comes with views of great beauty and treacherous potholes.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Jim Benkert makes his way out of Polihale State Park on Sunday.

When my friend Jim Benkert asked me if I wanted to join him Sunday morning for a 20-mile training run from Kekaha to Polihale State Park, I said sure. I’ve never run out there. Good to try something new. Sounds like fun.

And it was — for 15 miles.

After that, not so much.

I’ll explain.

After parking at the community park, we headed down Kaumuali‘i Highway, nice and cool, still dark, just before 7 a.m. We were greeted by a perfect sunrise, a sparkling blue ocean, the sound of rolling waves and the singing of unseen birds. It was as good as I hoped and all seemed easy.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the three-mile dirt road — an old cane haul road, I’m told — that leads to Polihale, which is at the end of the Napali Coast and at the edge of the Mana Plains. The road, infamous for its rough conditions, did not disappoint. Potholes of all sizes marked the entire length of the road. A few SUVs and trucks crept by slowly in both directions, some hugging the side, others zig-zagging their way through a minefield of dips and bumps and a few craters.

While Jim pressed ahead, I stopped several times for pictures and to Facetime my wife and show her the scenery of mountains and meadows.

Our stop at Polihale was relatively brief — jump in the ocean, admire the beauty of the endless white sandy beach, eat some energy beans, drink some water and start back.

Heading out on the battered road was easier the second time. This time, I knew the lay of the land and followed Jim closely. I was feeling fresh and strong, we even kept pace with a truck for half a mile.

It all changed back on Kaumuali‘i Highway.

By now, the sun was beating down. There was no shade. The next few miles were endless. Damn right it was hot. With about 3-4 miles to go, my CamelBak ran dry. I slowed as Jim pushed ahead.

After another mile or so, I desperately needed water. I thought about waving down a car but figured no one is going to stop for some crazy shirtless man shuffling along the highway. I looked around for a building or house with a faucet but saw none. I did the only thing I could: I plodded on. Funny thing was, my legs felt fine. I was just zapped of energy. I had nothing left. The Westside heat and humidity got me good. I really just wanted to stop and take a nap somewhere but that would leave Jim trying to figure out what happened to me and I’m too old to have a babysitter. So I trudged on, wondering why this highway stretched on forever, flat, dry and hot, and why did I ever think this was going to be fun. Whose idea was this? Why did I ever listen to Jim Benkert?

I caught up to Jim, who walking now. He wasn’t happy, either.

“I’m done,” he said.

So was I.

I walked the final quarter mile, feeling a bit sick because I was overheated and dehydrated, and when we got back to the Jeep at the park, I found a faucet and splashed water all over myself. I was thankful it was over. We had covered, in total, nearly 21 miles. Good Lord, that was a bugger. The final three miles might have been the toughest of my life.

Still, you know the saying. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Only, I don’t know that I’m any stronger.

I do know this: I’m definitely not any smarter because given the opportunity, I would do it all over again.


Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at

  1. Sue January 8, 2020 9:24 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing this with us! Sounds like a tough time out there. Good job finishing this grueling run!!

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