Rick Shory

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Biking Maui, part 8. Haleakala.

I got a taste of that climbing, and coasting, when I went up to Haleakala. I decided to take it easy on my legs and get shuttled up. At first, I made arrangements with the Haleakala Bike Company (HBC, 808-575-9575) in Haiku. I was going to be camping, so they gave me a very good deal. They considered the shuttle up to be only “half” of one of their tours, so they quoted me half price on their trip that left at 9:00 am. That came to only $22.25, very reasonable.

I waited about a week, timing my trip for what I hoped would be drier weather. A few days before I was scheduled, though, I made a new acquaintance, and we planned a day hike in the Haleakala crater. On the way up, he took me and my bike to Hosmer Grove. I canceled with HBC, and it was something of a relief. Getting from where I was staying in Kihei, all the way to Haiku by 8:30 in the morning, with full camping packs, would have been a pull.

There had been a certain elegance in the idea of coasting down ten thousand feet. I had a touch of disappointment, first talking to the bike company. They can only legally take bikes to the entrance of Haleakala NP, elevation about 7,000 feet. And then, technically, the destination is their shop in Haiku, which is not sea level. I shouldn’t whine. I saw their clients a couple times, masses of red-helmeted people coasting down the roads all in a string. By early afternoon they were getting into the lowlands. They looked like folks who maybe didn’t ride bikes much in their everyday lives. But, hey, they seemed happy.

Hosmer Grove campground is near the Haleakala National Park (NP) entrance, also about 7,000 feet elevation.  The “grove” is different kinds of temperate zone trees brought to Hawaii by the forester Hosmer, to see if they would be suitable for timber.  None of them were.  Something about falling over in storms.  But some of the species have found the Maui uplands very much to their liking in terms of growth and reproduction.  So the Park has to continually cut trees from the edges to keep the grove from spreading.  Otherwise forest would eventually take over the whole band of native shrubland, which the Park is mandated to preserve.  Why don’t they just cut it all down and be done with it?  Well, the grove is just too nice, I guess.  It’s full of twittering birds, and it’s such a comfort and haven after being out in the intense mountain sun, and sometimes intense wind.

Hosmer Grove is probably the least complicated place to camp on Maui.  There are no fees, and no reservations; first-come-first-served.  There’s drinking water and toilets.  You can make a campfire in a fire ring, and there is abundant free firewood from all the trees they have to cut down.  There are other campsites in the park, but they are in the crater, so out of the question for bike access.  I am going on about this because, reading the lists and descriptions before I got to Maui, it wasn’t at all clear what was what.

If you do want a backcountry experience on the top of Maui, the other camping areas are a substantial hike in. You can easily find out the details, but here’s a local tidbit that is not advertised.  The official picture is this:

  • you either camp with your own tent, no reservations needed, or
  •  you stay in one of the cabins, which require reservations months in advance, and even then there’s a lottery.

Now here’s the tidbit.  You can call the Park the day before you want to stay at a cabin. If the reserved party has cancelled, you get it for the night with your credit card number.

Looking east into Haleakala crater

Looking east into Haleakala crater, roughly in the direction of Hana.

I was happy to spend my days at Hosmer Grove. I had given up aspirations of biking to the top. I wanted to learn more about the geology and ecology of the volcanoes. I had already been to the summit on a car trip, and then again on my day hike into the crater.

It is a Maui thing to do to go to the summit for sunset or sunrise. On the first car trip, we timed it for sunset. Once was enough. Not much to see below, except clouds. Someone had big binoculars, and it was enlightening to look at the snow banks over on the Big Island, the thirteener mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

Sunset from Haleakala, looking over the observatory.

Sunset from Haleakala, looking over the observatory. People who think it spoils the view call it "Science City".

But standing on Maui at ten thousand feet, it was cold. That sun took an awful long time to go down! My first evening at Hosmer, other campers were making their plans to waken in the wee hours and hitchhike up to the summit for sunrise. My one summit sunset had been enough. I figured the sunrise would find me just as well anywhere I was.

I took a leisurely morning on the nature trails, learning about Hawaiian plants, birds, and wildlife. This is my personal idea of fun. Being a botanist, it was like having traveled to another planet. Maybe to other people it would be nothing more than bushes that looked a little odd. But to me, here was stuff like nowhere else on earth. I could scarcely even tell what it was related to.

It really was like another planet. In scifi stories, the colonists bring earthly life forms in their starship to a new solar system. Then they are all marooned, for epochs. The surviving species mutate and evolve. Maybe clover grows into trees, grass starts bearing nutlets, bats don’t need to fly anymore and learn to walk. The stuff on these uplands really was like that, to my biologist’s eye.

About the middle of the day, I pedaled the mile or so up the road to the headquarters (HQ) visitor center. I spent a couple hours reading books, and bought a few. Now that some of my curiosity was satisfied about these strange life forms, I decided to go out and have another look at them.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I could go either uphill or downhill. I’d come from downhill and seen that. I cranked along, leisurely, looking at the endemic shrubland. Being from Colorado, the altitude was no problem.

Before I knew it, I’d gone a mile. Then another mile. I have no need to go to the top, I told myself. When I’ve seen enough, I’ll just turn around and coast down. Another mile. Interesting little tree there, with golden flowers like pea blossoms. And that bush with coral purple berries. The name of that’s in the book.

Another mile. Another. That bridge, I bet when it rains, there’s a waterfall over that black basalt. A little pool in the rock hollow now. How many people ever get to see that, zooming by in their cars? Eight thousand feet elevation. Here’s the pulloff to that crater trailhead, Halemauu. Guy last night at Hosmer was talking about hitching up here. And isn’t that cool! The park has made a special pullout, just for hitchhikers! It even says so.

What’s this? Only six more miles to the summit? Funny, it’s still pretty much the same vegetation along here. That mile wasn’t so hard. Now only five? The long runs of these switchbacks are uphill south, so you get a little extra push from the prevailing northerly breeze. Will slow you down on the descent too. Descent. I can just turn around and go down any time I please.

How did I miss a mile marker? Must’ve got broken off. Now it’s only, what? Three miles? Four? Leleiwi overlook, pretty neat. Bushes are finally starting to thin out. Nine thousand feet elevation. Just bare black and red lava. There’s a silversword plant. Another one over there. Like the ones they have planted on display at the summit parking lot.

And there’s the summit observation building, like a glass pagoda, on the ridge right up over there. Can’t be far. Another mile. Here’s the Visitor Center already. With those signs for the tourists “High Elevation, Walk Slow”. There’s the trailhead we took yesterday, a ways down the Sliding Sands.

OK, I’ll bike slow. Middle ring has done good up till now, but this last mile is steeper. Shift to the granny gear. There’s Magnetic Peak. I can see into the crater. Didn’t remember how this road spirals around. Who’s that honking? Pickup truck full of young guys, waving; a cart in back with their singletrack bikes. Passing me. OK, I’ll see you all at the top.

Now the parking lot. This handicap ramp runs up the ridge from here, skips the stairs to the top of the hill. And here we are. Time for a drink of water. I wasn’t planning on this. Anybody asks, I’ll say I was headed to the beach and took a wrong turn.

Me with my bike at the top of Haleakala

Hadn't really planned to bike up here today.

I’d done between 4 and 5 mph up from HQ, except for the last steep mile. I really wasn’t prepared for this. I was in shorts and Tevas. I’d brought a windbreaker and rain pants. Now I put them on. Rain could happen any time. As usual, clouds were washing around the mountain, a layer about at their typical 5,000 foot level. Kind of like slow-motion surf. Similar to surf on a tidal rock, a wave of air could splash clouds up over the summit in minutes. I had been lucky to have sunshine all the way, and the exertion to keep me warm. But the 5:00pm sun was lowering, and a lobe of cloud seemed to be reaching up for it right now.

Good brakes on the first, steep mile down. Then the switchbacks. The luffing nylon I wore served as much a needed airbrake as for warmth. Temperature was probably 40 or 50 Fahrenheit, but with no pedaling and the wind, my tootsies were chilly. Nine thousand elevation. Another switchback.

The occasional cars were courteous. I paused to let one pass, and what is that bare twigged bush below the pullout? A few leaves remain. It’s a peach tree; dropped its leaves obedient to day-length winter from its homeland, I guess. Grown from a pit somebody lobbed off here decades ago. Hawaii is like a giant terrarium. Anything you drop in doesn’t die, but grows.

Eight thousand feet now. Moving fast, but still this is taking awhile. There’s Hosmer Grove below, some clouds dancing up behind, but still in the sun. Another switchback. The bridge over the basalt watercourse. Man, this is a chilly ride! Imagine that, being cold in Hawaii. Glad I believed the literature, and brought some clothes! Now HQ. I shouldn’t’ve been so brusque with that man. He saw me on the bike and asked if I was going to the summit. No, just here to look at books. Shoulda known!

Last mile to Hosmer. Here’s the turnoff. A little uphill crossing a swale. Pedal. My feet are so cold they barely work. Chilled all over. Shivering. Finally, pull into the parking. Dismount. Pad on numb feet over to my tent. Pull on warmer clothes. The sun is winking low between the trees, just about to set. A new contingent of campers. Folks in the next site have set up at the fire ring.

“Hey, can I share your campfire?”

The pink light of sunset caught shreds of cloud dancing off the slopes of Haleakala. It looked like the mountain was still erupting.

About nine o’clock at night, the clear sky clouded over and a soft drizzly rain began to fall. I was warmed up by then, and ready to bed down. The rain rattled heavy at times through the night. Once, I looked out and saw stars. Sometimes the droplets whispered, quiet as someone sprinkling from a saltshaker onto the tent rainfly. By morning, it was a steady Oregon style rain. Not always heavy but, for all you know, everywhere and everlasting.

I waited a couple hours to see if it would quit. It kept on. I’d planned to head down this morning anyway. I had brought the lightest weight compromise of warm clothes I could muster. I put on every scrap. I had wool socks and neoprene bike booties inside my Tevas. I zipped up the rain layers carefully; habits from the Pacific Northwest — don’t get wet in the first place because you aren’t going to get dry again.

I imploded my camp. Methodically, in the cramped confines of the small tent, I compressed and packed each piece of gear waterproof, then tossed the bag outside. Finally the tent itself. Collapsed, rolled up, shaking out as much water as practical. Strapped it all on the bike and set out.

Passing out the entrance station, I wished I had a picture. It could have been Vancouver. Your nylon-swathed bicyclist, perfectly adapted to the eternal wet. The bulky mass of the packs visually set off the vertical line of the rear wheel, seen from behind, reflected in puddles. The figure disappearing into gray mist.

A mile down the road, I came out from under the clouds. In another mile, I was in sunshine. Rainbows danced over the valley below. Down and down I went. A few more switchbacks, and I stopped to peel off layers in the warming sun. Here was another biker coming up, the other side of the road. We nodded acknowledgement to each other. He looked bewildered, but maybe it was just the exertion and concentration. He was lightly dressed, with only a tiny pack. I hoped the rain quit by the time he got up there.

I guess that’s a way to summit Haleakala. Start early, go light, and just tough out what weather you find. I had started down from Hosmer about 10:00am. The climbing biker would be to that level well before noon. He could easily make the summit, as I had, by early afternoon. Then, the wild ride down. It had taken me only half an hour from the top down to Hosmer. This leg I was on now, the tight switchbacks, I traveled in an hour, even with stops to enjoy the view and stow gear. By 11:00am I was at the junction of 377. It was all fast downhill then to Pukalani, and on down to the lowlands.

I did not go that way just now. The tight switchbacks below the park entrance curl through meadowy slopes of green grass and groves of eucalyptus trees. Ever on the lookout for camping options, I had noticed a place called Skyline Eco-Adventures at about 4,000 feet elevation. I mentally filed it as maybe they’d be into letting a bike tourist camp there, who was making a slow packed-out climb up Haleakala. All the rest of the area looked to be a private ranch, too open and exposed to just sack out unobtrusively.

From the junction, I went south on 377 to check out some places of botanical interest. The road climbed a few hot, slow miles. Then it was all downhill, first to the south junction of 377 and Kula Highway, then downhill north on Kula Highway all the way to Pukalani, then all the way down the Haleakala Highway to its junction with Hana Highway a few miles east of Kahului.

This last stretch, the six miles from near sea level to 1600 feet in Pukalani, had taken me a good hour and twenty minutes to climb with full packs (it’s where we met for the crater day hike). Going down, it was only 25 minutes. The road is straight, and steady downhill, and you can go as fast as gravity, aerodynamics, and your nerves allow.

So, with that rain, the lesson of biking Haleakala is: Be Ready For Anything!

Clouds in the Haleakala crater

Clouds in the Haleakala crater. Car is for, uh, SCALE.

Even though I didn’t end up biking all the places I first envisioned, a bicycle is a good way to get around Maui. Near the shore, it’s always warm, so you don’t need to carry a lot of layers. If you wear clothes that can get wet, you don’t have to worry about rain.

It took me awhile to appreciate the charm of snorkeling. This was mainly the process of figuring how to rig the equivalent of a tight-fitting mask that would work with a full beard. Snorkeling then was like effortless levitation, floating, in flight above this multicolored wonderland of rainbow-hued fish, coral, turtles, or whoever else was out that day. Sometimes, you could even hear the whales singing.

Lugging scuba gear on a bike would be a bit much, but snorkeling equipment is small and light. Perfect for the two-wheeled traveler.

If you’re into bike training, Maui offers lots of options. Out from Kahului, you could have long, flat fast rides into the valley and back. You could have steep twisty uphill rides, such as the north side of West Maui, or after you get out the Hana Highway a ways. Or, if you want to burn yourself out for the day, there’s Haleakala. Take it as fast as you can, as far as you can, then coast home.

Hitchhiking seems to be a standard Hawaii way to get around. I heard lots of people mention having hitchhiked, but I never saw anybody doing it. I take it then, they didn’t wait long for a ride! I never tried it on that trip, though I am a veteran of many years hitching in an earlier life. I don’t know how it would be hitchhiking with a bike, to connect the dots on some of the trips. But this is after all the land of aloha!








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Biking Maui, part 7. Hana loop.

A few days later, a friend of my friends, another visitor from the mainland, was driving to Hana. She wanted a traveling companion. I took it as an opportunity to scout the road for biking. We went the north route. She had been coming to Maui for years, and remembered when the Hana Highway was dirt. Now it is all paved, from Kahului to the east end.

That north side of the island is rain forest. This particular day however, there had again been a kona wind. In fact, there had been, by Hawaiian standards, a huge storm. Being a visitor, I didn’t know the difference. Maybe fifty, sixty miles per hour was a brisk tropic breeze?

It had rained that morning on the south shore. I may have rained on the north shore, but now, this afternoon, it was clear. A gusty wind still tossed the trees, and as we made our way east, there was indication it had been fierce. Eucalyptus branches littered the roadway in places. At one spot traffic was stopped and a Hawaii Highways woman was walking back along the line waving certain vehicles on, and stopping at others to explain something. We got waved on. Around the curve, a huge tree had fallen, its branches choking the narrow roadcut where the highway ran. So far, the road crew had managed to clear a tunnel only big enough for small cars to get through. We crept past the ends of the cut limbs. Beyond, a queue of SUV’s, beer trucks, and the like, facing our way, was just going to have to wait.

Road,  barely cleared through the branches of a fallen tree.

Through the down tree limbs, barely enough room for a small car.

The rest of the highway to Hana, though littered, was uneventful. The terrain is very steep. Rock faces tower above, and presumably below, though the trees are too thick to see down much, most places. Every stream, of which there are many, is more a series of waterfalls splashing down through rocky alcoves. To get through this, the road is very twisty, hugging the cliff face on outside curves, then curling back to picturesque mossy bridges at watercourses. Though it was not raining this day, it obviously did a lot.

The run from Kahului to Hana is one of the standard tourist day trips. Only about 50 miles, the twists and the scenery easily stretch it to half a day each way. This afternoon, we were going against the flow. Most of the little rental cars were returning to Kahului by now. For biking, it would be good to keep that daily pulsebeat in mind.

Just west of Hana is another of the few “official” camping places on Maui, Waianapanapa State Park. We got there after hours, and a sign directed us to application forms to fill out, under a covered breezeway. In the gathering dusk, we set up tents on a broad lawn above a gray pebble beach. In the morning, reading the fine print, it was not entirely clear whether the “applications” we’d completed really entitled us to camp there. Something about deadlines and waiting lists. So we quietly packed and left. This might be something to check on.

There is no other evident public place to make a nightly stop all along the fifty miles of that north shore of the Hana Highway. Keep in mind, the weather will probably be wet! However, people in Hawaii are friendly. If you are social at all, you will meet people, as I did, who live all over the island. It is a small favor to ask to camp in someone’s front yard, if you’re into it. So many places, coming to a house, the drive would open out into a tiny, lovely valley, the dwelling set like a jewel among fruit trees and palms. If I had it to do again, there are two different acquaintances who’d be happy to have me, nightly stops to break up the Hana run. Remember, in Hawaii it is always warm.

Fifty miles is, of course not all that long a biking day. The road itself does not climb very high, but it is continual up and down; therefore more slow. Coming east from Kahului, the last town with a store is Paia. You would have to climb uphill from the coast, and out of your way, to other towns, such as Haiku. These are nice short trips in their own right, if you are in the area; but along the Hana Highway, Paia is the last real town.

Paia is pretty dang touristy. It has a really great place for provisions, Mana Natural Foods. This store looks like it was once a small grocery, now groaning under the weight of its success. The crowded aisles are narrow, and there are signs asking you to leave any packs up at the front, just for navigation logistics. You almost get the impression of having to crawl over the other customers while shopping, but the prices are good and the selection is outstanding. A high percentage of the Hana day tripping tourists undoubtedly stop there.

Along the Hana Highway, another option for food is the numerous fruit stands. These look as though local residents, when they realized their trees were going to provide more than they could personally use, decided to share the aloha with visitors. So they slapped a few boards together, stuck it out by the gate or driveway, and piled atop whatever crop was producing. Nobody is there to take your money. Prices are marked, and there is a jar or can for the payment, honor system.

So far as fruit growing wild, well, I was there in winter, the off season. One turn of the road had grapefruit trees, their fruit, overripe when it fell, rolling down the bank. There were endless guava bushes, but in January only scattered fruit. In season, I’m sure there are bushels, though how many guavas can you really use? The storm had knocked down coconuts, which we cleared off the right of way as a public service. I expect there were many mangoes, though out of season the trees blend into the background.

The town of Hana was described to me as being “old Hawaii”. Remote as it is, it’s not the same kind of touristy. There are no golf courses, malls, or art galleries. There is the gracious, and undoubtedly very expensive, Hana Hotel. There is a small airport a few miles out of town. There is one gas station. There might be a grocery store.

Hana from across the harbor, looking up the ridge of the island to Haleakala.

Hana from across the harbor, looking up the ridge of the island to Haleakala.


On past Hana, heading towards the south shore, is the coastal part of Haleakala National Park. This features the Pools of Oheo, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools. There are really more than seven, an indefinite number — you decide where they begin and end. But doesn’t “Seven” and “Sacred” have a nice ring to it? In this area, also, is one of the other few official campgrounds on Maui. I did not happen to go there, but it would be easy to locate if you’re interested. So you’d have a choice of two close to Hana.

Around the east nose of Maui, the route designation changes from Hana Highway to, surprise, the Piilani Highway. Remember? The road that goes through Kihei. But the road does not connect to the Kihei coast. You have to go all the way to Kahului, almost, and backtrack. I should have written down the mile marker, for distances. I think it was about 36.

This next stretch of road is in the worst condition of any on either of the loops around the Maui volcanoes. But it’s not really that bad. In other words, if you can bike this segment, nothing else on the island should be a problem, at least in terms of road surface.

This day, the road was actually closed, “But you can probably get through,” the Haleakala Visitor Center guide told us. Indeed, there was a chair-sized chunk of rock fallen from a cliff, and the tire tracks from cars pulling around it had to cut pretty close to the edge. This was just past the “road closed” notice. The road here was gravel, and steep, carved into a precipitous bank. It went on like that another mile or so, then improved. To my eye, the very worst part of this road is just where the pavement ends south of Hana.

Where the pavement ends the first time. Different maps show the road along the south side of the body of Maui as variously “secondary”, unpaved, or nonexistent. In fact, it’s probably about half paved. In the eastern reach, pavement keeps stopping and starting. It looks like maybe they focused their asphalt efforts in the valleys, and abutting bridges, where the road was more likely to wash out. The upland stretches are more gravel. By and by, going west, the pavement becomes more frequent, then continuous, though rough and much patched. Then, you come to new smooth blacktop, though narrow to be called highway. It’s like this, and has been for miles, by the time you come to where you can look down on La Perouse.

There are no towns along this whole south coast. One place name, Kaupo, has a couple of old missionary churches. One church you see perched down off the highway, in an inviting swatch of green grass near the shore.

We stopped for a dip in the Manawainui Stream, which rushes cool and inviting down between gray lava boulders. There I asked some locals about camping spots. They could not think of any place along the north shore other than the park near Hana.

“Along the south shore,” a young woman told me, “There are two spots. You can camp at Kaupo,” she indicated the church, “or at the place the road comes down to the shore.”

After the road, near Hana, becomes Piilani Highway, it climbs westward. This is not a steady climb. It jumps over some small, abrupt headlands. It snakes up and down from one stream to the next. It clambers across ridges. But overall, it gains elevation. Be ready for this. It’s the same section where the pavement comes and goes. Top elevation is probably less than 1,000 feet.

Somewhere around Kaupo, it starts down again. This is a more steady drop, but not entirely so. It’s then pretty evident where the road “comes down to the shore” again.

At this low point, it looked like ponds and marshes near the beach. These were probably from the rain the previous day. By this low point, it’s desert again. The land has dried out from tropical forest, which seem to go about as far as the Manawainui Stream. By the low point, it’s open grass and kiawe trees. Most of the time, there is probably no fresh water to be had. We had passed a small store that did not show on any map. West of the low point, though there are only remote scattered houses till after the road turns the corner and goes north.

This low point is also where the Kings Trail would intersect, if it existed. As the road began to climb again, I looked and looked down the slope below. I didn’t see even a trace of a track or trail.

This part of the Piilani Highway then climbs, not steep but steady. The land is open. If there had not been the past few months of anomalous rain, it would probably have looked even more like desolate lava then it did.

Then, the highway turns north, and quite abruptly everything is green. There is a spine or ridge running up from La Perouse, the “fracture zone”. where everything changes. It seem like any land at middle elevations should be called “upcountry”, but it’s north and west of this ridge that people give that name. Maybe the south face is too dry and the north face, above the Hana Highway, is too wet and steep.

The road continues to climb. It comes to the tourist trap part of Ulupalakua Ranch. The entire ranch is probably huge. The map dot marks a couple of features. One of them is a winery, where tour busses pull up and the happy haolies sample the vintages. There are historical displays and, I think, a store.

I made a beeline for the ranch office. I went in and explained, I was wondering if there were any way I could cut through, on a bicycle, on one of the dirt roads, from Maui Meadows up to the highway?

The lady was polite and cheery, but definite. “No, it’s private property, and the liability. I’m afraid there’s no way you can do that.”

I pushed a little more. “Could I sign a waiver, or something?”

She held firm. “There’s hunting in there,” she said, “It wouldn’t be safe.”

I think that’s what they always say when they want to clinch it, but now it was my turn to be cheery. “Well, if I hadn’t asked, the answer would surely have been ‘no’. Thank you!” and I breezed out. OK, I had come up with all the aloha I could muster. May as well quit on friendly terms.

A few miles north, the route abruptly changed from the Piilani Highway, route 31, to the Kula Highway, route 37. There was no difference in the actual road. So, I concluded, about here is where the road used to go down! Now, there was no trace of a connector. Just in case anybody’s thinking of climbing up cross-country, I wouldn’t advise it. Down by the Maui Meadows water tank, the land seems to go off in all directions as lonely, though concealing, kiawe forest. Like nobody would ever know or care if you were in there. But the tall, spreading trees obscure the fact that the woodland does not really extend very far mauka. Up here, just a few miles away, you look down from the highway across ranchland and grass meadows. If you came from below, you’d be out in the open, and probably find yourself climbing through somebody’s back yard before reaching the highway.

Supposedly, “they” are thinking of making a road from the shore to upcountry here again. If so, it will certainly shift demographics on Maui. People will be able to live upcountry, but quickly get to the Kihei beaches. Maybe the road will be there by the time you come visit.

Running northeast, the Kula Highway tops out a bit over 3,000 feet elevation, right about at the junction of route 377. Route 377 is a loop that runs roughly parallel mauka, east a few miles of the Kula Highway. It rejoins the Kula Highway at the upcountry town of Pukalani. Off the 377 loop is how you get to the top of Haleakala, so the north section is called the Haleakala Highway. The road continues this name from the junction of the Kula Highway in Pukalani, on down northwest to near Kahului.

You can coast, probably without pedaling at all if you try, from this first junction of Kula Highway and 377, north to the other junction in Pukalani, and then down. Of course the other way, you’d be making a steady, unbroken climb up to 3,000 feet. So this route around the body of Maui, you’d have a pull either way.

I never ended up doing it by bike. By the time I left, though, I had it figured out so I could do it next time. First, I’d try to time it with the weather, a dry stretch on the north coast. Starting from the valley, I’d take the first easy day getting out on the north shore somewhere. That coastline east of Paia is very picturesque, with big waves. I loved to watch the surfers, so deftly “walking” on that impossible water. I’d make the first night stop along the north shore somewhere.

The next day, on to Hana. It is entirely possible to get all the way from the valley to Hana in one day, but the road is a lot of up and down. More than that, there are so many amazing things to see; pools, cliffs, beaches, waterfalls. Then, I might spend another day just in the Hana area.

Coming back on the south shore, I’d make sure I carried plenty of water. The last public stop may be Haleakala NP. There are homesteads and farms perched along the road, who would surely give you water in a pinch; but the long steep access driveways and No Trespassing signs make it awkward. These habitations get sparse westward on the south shore anyway. Even with a water purifier, or no fear of pathogens, the last reliable water may be the Manawainui Stream.

I might camp at Kaupo, or more likely where the highway comes down to the shore. I’d try to get an early start out of there, while it was relatively cool. A three thousand foot climb in hot sun with no water is something to plan for. But then, that would be about all the effort for the day’s ride. You could get water at the Ulupalakua Ranch.  Or, for that matter, wine. Then, from the junction with 377, it is a solid downhill coast, more than twelve miles, to the junction of the Haleakala Highway and the Hana Highway on the flats a few miles outside Kahului.


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Biking Maui, part 6. The way mauka.

So I had to go see for myself.

I had already gone and seen for myself about the Kings Trail. Southward through Makena, the shore road starts as four lane, lined with boulevard trees, divided by a median. There are even sidewalks and streetlights in places. The road has full bike lanes on both sides. Southward, it tapers to two-lane by the state park. Through La Perouse, it dwindles further. The center line fades and disappears, though the pavement is good. This services a run of expensive beach houses and the reserve. By the time it comes out on the lava, the road has pretty much quit pretending it’s anything but one-lane-with-pullouts. The pavement continues all across the lava, and back into the trees. Finally, this quits. The track gets more rough and vague, past a series of coves where people come to camp, fish, and hang out.

The unpaved is rough. Where road work has smoothed the grade, the ledges and fissures are filled in with rounded fist-sized cobbles of black volcanic rock. Where no process has been at work but the passage of car tires, you have an unrelenting field of knuckley bumps, not rarely with thumb and finger joints, or even whole fists, thrown in. This is all solid rock, so there’s no give. Riding on it is possible, but delivers an uninterrupted series of bone-jarring shocks. It’s OK for a bit of fun, but we’d be talking half the south coast of Maui, maybe fifteen to twenty miles. Assuming the Kings trail, in passable form, still even exists. This was a bit too x-treme for my blood. I gave up on that route.

The dotted lines up from La Perouse, maps generally labeled them as simply “trail”. I got some experience with this sort of “trail”. One day, I went looking for a snorkeling place called The Aquarium. This was described as a small cove in the La Perouse area; protected, so lots of fish congregated there. The directions were to go to a certain place on the road, then take a trail across the lava. I spent about an hour trying what looked like trailheads. These all petered out in a few hundred yards. I asked around, but the people I talked to were like me, visitors trying to follow directions they’d been given.

Finally I met a guy who knew the area. He recommended, with the current choppy seas, that another cove called The Fishbowl would be a better bet. He pointed out where the trail began, an obscure red arrow spraypainted on the roadside. It got me there, and I had a very nice day in the water; but it was a lesson about those trails. Even at bicycling speed, I had missed the trailhead before I knew about the red arrow.

Walking the trail, I tried to imagine biking it, and just barely could. Take Utah slickrock, and cross it with rubble heaps from demolished buildings. Here we are crunching through some loose stuff, dandy as long as you stay upright. But you’d no more want to take a spill in that than in a bin of drywall screws. Here we are navigating a track between rock knobs strategically placed just the right position to tear your pedals off. Here we are stepping across a crack eighteen inches wide and ten feet deep, and trying to imagine what it would do to bicycle wheel..

It was obvious, the other La Perouse “trails” would be like that. From the shore you can see segments of the upcountry road going along hillsides a few miles inland. You can see them across the lava and cinder cones because there are no trees or anything else to block your view. So close, but getting there would be a trip. If you could find a trailhead in the first place. And if you wanted to deal with humping your bike through that lavascape for at least a couple of hot, dry, grueling hours, lugging whatever all gear you wanted for the rest of your trip, for after you got to the road.

Along by Kihei and Wailea, the dotted lines spanning to the upcountry highway somehow gave more a suggestion they were actual roads. These were the lot-of-aloha roads, often marked “Private” even on the map. I looked close, and one of them appeared to lead out from the top of Maui Meadows. In fact, this was the shortest one of all, only about two miles, if the map scale were honest, to the upcountry route.

I went to investigate. I walked up the steep neighborhood streets. At the juncture my map showed as the connection for this road there was a gate. I’d half expected that. The sign said Ulupalakua Ranch, no trespassing.

At the last house before the gate, a teenage guy was coming out the door with a dog on a leash.

“Hey,” I asked, “This gate, do they really care if you go in there?”

“Well,” he answered, “They don’t mind people going in as far as the water tank, like walking their dogs.”

Now we were at the gate, and there was a little door in it you could unlatch for just that purpose, to let your dog through. On the other side, a straight paved lane ran off uphill between the grass and kiawe trees.

I asked if the roads went through to upcountry, like my map showed a dotted line.

“No,” he said “If they ever did, they’re all overgrown now.”

I mentioned I was thinking of seeing about going that way on a bike, and wondered if the ranch would give permission.

“I’m sure they’d say ‘no’,” he remarked. “I don’t think you could make it anyway, with the rocks and kiawe thorns.”

“How about if I just did it, like, and stayed out of sight.”

“You could get in big trouble, trying to go through there on a bike.”

I walked up to the water tank anyway, about a half mile. The paved lane ended at a fenced enclosure. I scouted around for any tracks continuing on. If they were there, they were very faint. On the way back down, I looked closely at my map. There was an indication of a short straight spur road, presumably the one I was on. The dotted line to upcountry seemed to branch off right by the gate. I looked for it. Maybe it was those deeply rutted and overgrown tracks over there.

So much for a lot of aloha.

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Biking Maui, part 5. A lot of Aloha.

Everything on Maui radiates from the north bay and Kahului.  To bike a loop around either the head or the body of the island, it would be easiest starting and ending in Kahului. Around the east volcano, the body, it looked like there was no way to get on track except from Kahului.  From where I was based, that would mean an extra hour each way.

Such a loop would basically be a trip to Hana and back, the east end of the island. Along the north shore, the road goes direct, though anything but straight, from Kahului to Hana. The south shore, there’s more to it. Your Rand McNalley or State Farm atlas my not even show that south road. It exists, but I had some adventure finding out its mysteries.

The obvious route starts southeast out of Kahului on the Haleakala Highway, route 37. The road arcs south to a map dot labeled Ulupalakua Ranch (or sometimes just Ulupalakua). From there it goes east.  I could not help but notice that the part of this road near the Ulupalakua Ranch was very close, as the crow flies, to Kihei where I was staying.  Couldn’t I get there direct from Kihei?

Also, it looked like, between Kahului and Ulupalakua, that road went upcountry. When I’m ready to climb for sport, I will.  But when I want to get somewhere, I look for the level route, or at least get all the climbing out of the way at once. All the more incentive to try and find a shortcut up from Kihei.

I studied maps. Detailed ones showed dotted-line roads spanning from the Kihei-Wailea-Makena shore to the upper highway.  These were generally marked four-wheel-drive (4WD). I figured a few miles of steep 4WD would easily be worth the extra hours of not having to go all the way north to Kahului. Failing that, further south, there were various dotted lines labeled “4WD” and “trail” going up from the La Perouse area, the southwest corner of the body, to the upper road.  One of those might be a winner, if I were heading on east from there. Failing both of those, maps showed a dashed line, the Kings Trail, tracing right along the south coast, finally intersecting with the loop road where it came down to the shore about halfway along the south side of the body of Maui.

One of my first evenings on the island, some haolie folks, long time residents, were over for dinner. One was a women, advertised as knowing Maui like the back of her hand. I asked about these dotted-line routes. She slowly traced the area with her fingers. Local people all over the world know exactly what’s there, and how to get there, but they may not have glanced at a map in years.

“Over through here,” she brushed the whole south side of the island, “There’s not much. You’d probably only meet a few hunters and fishermen. It’s desolate. This is where the most recent lava flows are. And there’s no water,” she continued, “You’d have to carry all your water.”

I remembered traversing the southwest deserts years ago, biking cross country. I got a gallon milk jug, filled it with water, and strapped it aboard. Mental note; look for jugs. Two-liter PETE soft drink bottles work better nowadays. Tougher plastic, and less prone to leak.

“Can you get up from here?” I asked, indicating the Kihei-Wailea-Makena shore, “On these roads they show?” I pointed to the 4WD tracks.

“There used to be a way,” she said, “But they closed it off. They don’t want people going through there, because,” she wryly commented, “It leads to people going through there. If they could drive down to the shore,” she indicated upcountry again, “This area, would get developed. As it is, it stays relatively undamaged. So they let those roads get really bad too,” she pointed to the 4WD tracks

I pictured the private roads I had seen arrowing off through the cane fields in the valley. They were dirt, but passable, and nobody was on them but, very rarely, a cane truck. I figured the only problem would be permission. Sure, they don’t want cars, because cars are part of the general decadence. But people riding bicycles, we all know, are harmless.

“Would they let me through on a bike?” I wanted to know.

“I’d say, you would need a lot of aloha to go through there on a bike!” A lot of talking to the right people, in just the right way.

I turned my attention to the more south part of the island, the dotted lines near La Perouse.

“What about these?” I asked.

“Oh, you’d never make it,” she said, “It’s all lava. It’s like sharp broken glass,” she insisted, “It would shred your tires.”

Well, I thought, biking on Hawaii is no different than anywhere else. People will tell you the most dire things about the places you’re planning to head to. If you believed them, you’d never go anywhere!

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Biking Maui, part 4. West Maui.

A few days later, though, things were OK enough to explore more of the island. I looked at West Maui. The road around gets very crinkly and twisty on the north side. The map seemed to say parts were not even paved. I decided to make a day trip to check out conditions before trying the whole loop camping.

Again I had a kona wind. It was even raining around Kihei, usually the dry side of the island. Friends predicted it would be pouring where I was going on the north shore, the rain forest. I set out riding in swim trunks in a fine warm rain.

The wind was with me north up the Kihei coast and west across the marshy head of the bay. I picked up the Honoapiilani Highway, route 30, north. This time I was going through the valley by the west road. Rain showers came and went. As I was leaning forward in biking position, the water spattered across my back and trickled down my ribs, refreshingly cool.

You can get to the road leading to the north side of West Maui from the town of Wailuku, which is scarcely separate from Kahului, but further west up the hill towards the mountains. The climb up from Kahului to Wailuku in town was, I knew, steep and trafficky. Instead, I was taking advantage of the gradual climb the Honoapiilani route makes going north along the east skirt of the West Maui Mountains.

The road went through fields of waving grass, gradually climbing above the cane fields. I passed plantations of banana and coconut palms. The views got better and better, east across the valley to Haleakala.

From here, and from most of the valley, Haleakala looks like a long easy ridge. It doesn’t seem like it could be 10,000 feet high.  The broad northwestern face of Haleakala I was seeing, which slopes down to the valley and the bays, people on Maui fondly call “upcountry”.  You can see houses and buildings up there, tiny, with windows glinting in the sun. One of the main charms of Hawaii for me was that it is always warm. But I guess, living there, you can get too much of a good thing. Upcountry is cooler because of the elevation. People told me there were truck farms up there, which supplied vegetables. Some people even consider upcountry a more desirable place to live than the beaches. In the figure of the island, upcountry is the heart, the Heart of Maui.

Aerial view of sugar cane fields, looking east, with Haleakala beyond.

Looking east to Haleakala across the sugar cane fields. The broad face of the mountain above the valley is "upcountry". (This shot is from the air.)

Wailuku, where the Honoapiilani Highway took me, seems to be the government center. A cluster of tall office buildings clung to the hill slope. I spent a little while exploring. Beyond the highrises, which did not go far, was a delightfully seedy section of town, “the closest Maui has to slums,” one friend described it.

Bakeries and real estate offices graced the streets, with inexpert hand lettering painted on their glass shop windows. An historic church had signs around its fenced churchyard, “sacred ground – KAPU”. Kapu means taboo, forbidden, keep out. A catering business, wedged into a jumble of crowded storefronts on an alley, was named “Bento to Banquets”.  Bento is a traditional Hawaiian (from Japanese?) box lunch. There was even a hostel. The sign pointed down a narrow walkway besides a blocky two-story building with peeling gray paint. I mentally filed it for future reference. If I hadn’t had friends here for a base, my style would have been the hostel, at least for starts.

I found the road downhill and out of town. I crossed a big dry river course, guided through the city in a channel of concrete and stone. The weather had been generally dry for this, my first week here.  People said, though, the rain fell in torrents sometimes. I figured it must, to carve the canyons and gulches I saw. From the air, and from a distance, the windward slopes of West Maui looked like they had been raked by gigantic claws.

Here today, the light rain had stopped. As I coasted down to the northeast side of West Maui, I rode out from beneath the remaining gray overcast and into bright, hot sunshine. I was figuring this out. Clouds formed where breezes came ashore and rose up the slopes.  Usually the trade winds were from the northeast, and so those sides of the islands were rain forest. A kona wind brought showers to what were usually the dry sides, but gave the wet forests a sunbreak.

I was getting low on water, and looked for a place to fill up. Through the little community of Waiehu there were houses I could have asked at, but I held out for a public building like a restaurant. The road twisted and climbed. Houses thinned out, but every spot seemed to be somebody’s ranchette or yard. If I really ran out of water, I could always knock on doors.

Soon I was high above the coast, with spectacular views out across the blue ocean. Haleakala sloped down northward, east beyond the bay. Over across the channel to the west was Molokai. The road became ever more twisty, looping around steep ridges that plummeted to the surf, and curling back into stream alcoves where waterfalls splashed down.

The road curves were no issue on a bike, though I could see they would hobble a car. Pushing, I could probably have climbed on the middle ring; but I went up in granny gear, partly to go easy on my legs, partly to enjoy the view.

With an eye to camping, it looked problematic. Off the side of the highway, the ground sloped, mostly greater than 45 degrees.  Road cuts were typically eight or nine feet on the high side, perched above precipitous downhills below. Beautiful, but not inviting rest.  Every flat spot looked to be somebody’s yard, house site, or access road.

The road went up relentlessly, ever higher. Some of the ridges below were green grassy meadows, lush though steep. Tropical plants festooned rocky ledges on the roadsides. I came upon a banyan tree, like a gigantic spider scrambling in ultra slow motion up a small ravine.

  Banyan, Ficus benghalensis is technically a kind of fig, though the tree does not bear edible fruit. The spreading branches drop roots, which grow into other trunks when they reach the soil.
Ultimately, one plant can become a grove, or whole forest.  There is a story from India of an entire army once hiding in a single banyan tree.

There was not much traffic, either in my direction or the other. I had heard the advice for view-seeking motorists that, if they had a choice, to take the route clockwise, west-to-east across that north shore.  This way they would drive with most of the local traffic.  Going against, they would more often have to wait where the road narrows to a single lane.

I never had to wait. At one point, a few small cars faced off with an SUV, measuring widths and negotiating. I rode right in between. Counterclockwise, east-to-west, was a fine way to bike.  The relatively few cars had to go slow, and were easy to hear approaching from either direction. And that way, the right-hand side of the road was right on the brink, with the best views.

Climbing the steep curves, I came to a ranch entrance that advertised horseback riding. A brown local man was there and I stopped and hailed him. He greeted me first in pidgin, I think. Then, I was too slow on the uptake and he switched to English. “Is there a place I can get some water?” I wanted to know.
“Right there,” he indicated, friendly, “That faucet.” I went over to unscrew the hose and fill my bottle. “Take all you want,” he smiled.

The spigot was beside a trailer, just makai. The water system sputtered and leaked, evidently helping keep alive some of the palm trees on the hillside. Later, I thought the flow was probably tapped off one of the innumerable waterfalls, the source probably clean enough to drink just as it came. I was still getting used to Hawaiian water systems, which scrambled haphazard over the ground, or even above it.  Those pipes never had to worry about freezing, or the likes of raccoons and bears chewing on them, rooting them up, or blundering into them.

I asked about the road. “How far is it paved?”
“All paved, thirty years now,” he smiled.
“Funny,” I mugged, “My map shows it part dirt, and I got it just last week.”
“No more dirt,” he laughed, “Paved all the way around.”

I was learning this about island maps. Like the Bible, although they might be good for beautiful language and inspirational thoughts, they were not necessarily to be taken literally. Too many translations.

My cowboy related that the road would keep on going up, which it did, then down again, then up some more. By the time I reached the local high point, I called it good for a day trek.

The long Haleakala downhill is of course the most famous on Maui, but there are many others. On this north road there’s a pretty good one. From that local high point, milepost 9, you get 4 very twisty miles with only one slight uphill. You coast all the way down to the Waihee River Bridge at milepost 5.

I never did complete that loop around West Maui by bike.  It would certainly be doable as a day trip, with some speed. My own style is to poke along, stop and look at everything. Else, why not just sit on a treadmill and watch a video? Lots cheaper than airfare to Hawaii

Towards the end of my stay, the road further was described to me. The high looping route I’d traveled continued on and descended to a village on the north coast. Supposedly, I could have camped there. I wondered if this were the place named Kahakuloa I saw on my map. There were pools where natural salt collected, dried up from the seawater, so they say.

Onward, the road continued through remote country, until “abruptly”, they said, the resort areas began. I was over there some on car trips. Lahaina on the southwest face of the “head” is where the whale watching boats sail out of, and where the ferries to Molokai and Lanai dock.

The town of Lahaina is very touristy. You can get fresh pineapples shipped, or coconuts with scenes painted on them mailed to your friends on the mainland. You can buy your T-shirts, your conch shells, your wind spinners, or your earrings styled as tiny silver flip-flop sandals.  If you have the money to spend, there are art galleries. The pieces have four- and five-digit price tags. You can find most any kind of food establishment, from ice cream to five-star restaurants. There is a park with live music, and vendors such as glassblowers, printmakers, and leatherworkers, all overshaded by a huge banyan tree that takes up an entire city block.

All this part of Lahaina stretches along the shore, within a few blocks of the waves. In the back streets, I got the feeling the town has more heart. There are big old breadfruit and mango trees, these latter the old fashioned variety, mangos about the size of goose egg, that come all year. Bulletin boards posting yoga classes and outboard motors for sale hint that somebody real must live here.

Small mango fruits on a tree

The small "common mango", on the back streets of Lahaina

Further around on the west shore of West Maui, I was only there once. The motels go on, and the shore is all built up with houses.  This continuation of the Honoapiilani Highway is broad 4-lane, and you would have the choice of riding that, or the shore road that winds through the neighborhoods. Two of the scant several “official” places you can camp on Maui are along this south and west shore.


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Biking Maui, part 3. Baby Beach.

Later that same day I went to check out a beach I’d heard of. Your map may show another dot, south of Wailea, labeled Makena. Like Wailea, this is not a town, but a hodgepodge of fancy resorts, mixed with rugged open land. Maybe all these marked points were native fishing villages long ago, but most of what gets caught nowadays is tourists.

  The park where these beaches are is officially “Makena-La Perouse Bay State Park”. Locally, they just say “Makena State Park”, and refer to the whole area as “Makena”.

The beach I sought was in Makena State Park. Down there, you’re getting past the resorts, and the road narrows to two lanes. There is a scatter of funky vans and busses along the road selling food, for example one with a “FISH TACOS” sign. So if you’re there starving, this is an alternative to The Shops At Wailea.

You know you’re getting close to the park when you see a solitary hill, a volcanic cone, ahead at the shore. The road goes on the mauka (inland) side of the cone, whose dry slopes of dark cinders are thinly forested with kiawe trees. Just as you get past the hill, there on the right, on the makai (ocean) side, is the parking area for Big Beach.

The parking area is usually crowded. An advantage of biking is you don’t have to worry about that. You can lock up by the gate, which separates the parking area from the path to the beach; or walk your bike to Big Beach and lock it to a sign there. I even saw a bike that had been carried all the way to the final destination described below.

Big Beach is golden sand, and stretches a long way south from the cone, which forms a rocky headland. However, my destination was to the north. “Climb up and over the cliffs,” were the directions I’d heard. A steady parade of figures, picking their ways up and down the low ridge of dark rock, marked the way. There was a fairly easy route that followed a sloping fissure in the hardened cinder. The ridge flattened out on top, then sloped down to another, much smaller beach, cupped on the side of the Makena cone. A rugged headland beyond protected it from the resorts and golf courses to the north.

This was Little Beach, also called by the locals “Baby Beach”. A man chatting near the entrance had a placard nonchalantly propped against his bag, reading “Notice: Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Sunbathers”.

It was not so bad. Unclothed humans always give a delightfully primitive air to a place, at least from the neck down. As I strolled along, a sight that greeted my eye was a lovely wahine, standing with the surf washing around her knees, her long dark hair hanging down, talking on her cellphone.

I went swimming. One of the first things I had been shown about the rough winter seas was how to deal with big waves. If a breaker is curling towards you, and it looks like more than you care to be hit by full force, simply dive into it, under it, if you will. Up you come on the other side, and the worst you experience is the rush of that wall of water trying to pull your bathing suit off. On Baby Beach, that is not a problem.

  The southwest tip of the body of Maui is largely made up of the Ahihi-Kiniu Natural Area Reserve, or so you will see it marked on maps, and on the road. Locally, people just call it La Perouse, after the small La Perouse Bay that’s there.

Before coming home, I biked down to La Perouse, where the shore curves east onto the south coast of the island. Here is the 1790 lava flow. Or so the year is assumed. An explorer somewhat before that date mapped a small bay here. On a following visit, navigators found no bay, but a new tongue of basalt splaying out into the Pacific.

The lava is dark brownish black, and I have been thinking hard how to describe it. “Moonscape” gives some impression. If you’ve ever used one of those machines that grinds fresh peanut butter, remember how the stuff oozes out? It’s somewhat soft, but with a crumbly texture; and it rolls out in ropes and blobs. Now, imagine that lumpy puddle in your recycled plastic container magnified into a landscape, frozen in stone. Humps and ridges thrust up ten or twenty feet high, all made of chunks and pinnacles. Parts of the flow are almost flat, but with sudden cracks yawning across. Not much grows there, even after centuries; scattered ferns, occasional stunted kiawe trees, and a few other random bits of green.

I rode out to the end of the pavement, even a bit beyond. It was near sunset when I turned around. The route through Makena was evident enough, but climbing back to the highway I got lost again. By then it was night, and I pedaled up long hills that ended at resort parking lots rather than the road I wanted. My map got me out service entrances, but by the time I was home I’d had a long day of riding.

One advantage of going from Colorado elevations down to sea level is I’d have plenty of extra lung capacity. Or so I’d thought. That might have been my undoing. After that first day’s riding, I had all these sore strands in my legs, pulled muscles and tendons, like never before. With no speed limit from oxygen, maybe I’d pushed to the next weak link. Anyway, it was a bummer. I had to take it easy the rest of the trip.

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Biking Maui, part 2. Kahului.

It took most of a week for my bike to arrive. By then I had my general bearings, and set out to explore. I dropped down the steep streets of Maui Meadows and hit the Piilani Highway. This has wide and well-posted bike lanes all the way from the north end of Kihei, south to where it officially ends as a highway partways through Wailea. Today, I was going north.

  Kiawe (“kee-AH-vay”), Prosopis pallida is a tree similar to mesquite. It’s native to certain dry coastlines of South America. It got to Hawaii in 1828, one tree planted at a missionary church in Honolulu. It has since spread to over 150,000 acres, on the dry sides of all the islands.

The trees have wicked sharp thorns. The wry local joke is that the missionaries brought it to force the native Hawaiians to wear shoes. In all fairness, the Hawaiian kiawe population is unusual in that about 12% of the trees actually don’t have thorns.

The shape of the land along by Kihei is uphill to the summit of Haleakala on the east, downhill to the shore on the west. Overall, the slope is not very steep, maybe 20 degrees at most. However, erosion has cut gulches in the mountainside. The highway is quite level, but undulates up and down somewhat to cross these gulches. You can zoom along at a good clip. This is the dry side of the island. Upslope, mauka, which is mostly undeveloped, you see a thin forest of kiawe trees. The land is rocky, dark basalt. When I was visiting, there had been rains the past two month, which people told me was rare. As a result, the kiawe forests were all underlain with grass a couple feet tall, a springtime desert green, and the trees themselves were thick with their fine ferny leaves.

Downslope, makai (“toward the ocean”), the neighborhoods with their watered lawns sprouted banana plants, oleander bushes, mango trees, and the ubiquitous coconut palms. Though Hawaii is in the tropics, where it never freezes nor is even cold, it’s seldom too hot either. All the while I was there, the temperature was in the 70’s, day and night. Like eternal perfect spring. A lot of the plants were familiar. I’d seen them as houseplants, or on office windowsills. Here they were growing outside.

North of Kihei, I went from the four-lane Piilani Highway to the two-lane Mokulele Highway and tunneled through the cane fields. Although there was a steady stream of traffic, the road shoulder was wide and biking was easy. My destination this morning was the Saturday swap meet and farmers market in Kahului. The section of road through the cane plantations was not long, but seemed so from the sameness of it. Endless tall sugar cane spread out across the valley. Lining the edges of the road were rows of wiliwili trees. These trees have branches that grow almost straight upward, so ranks of them form a windbreak. I heard this was to keep the red valley soil from blowing across the highway and causing driving hazards during the time the cane is harvested and before the next crop grows.

Altogether, travel time was about an hour to the farmers market. After loading up on mangoes, papayas and the like, one of the things on my list was a detailed map.

People in Hawaii are friendly. As I pulled into a gas station, an old man greeted me, “What you want?” he asked cheerily, eyeing the packed-out bicycle. He looked to be a local, as people call the native Hawaiians, and by extension the immigrants who have been here a long time; Samoans, Japanese, Portuguese and of course poi dogs, people of the various mixed blood.

“A map,” I answered.
“Where you going?” he wanted to know.
I thought of one of the trips I was planning, the one I had the least nebulous idea of how I’d actually accomplish. “Around West Maui,” I replied.
“Oh, you don’t need a map,” the old man gestured from his folding chair, “You can’t get lost, just follow the road. An’ you just camp by the road side when you get tired,” he added reassuringly.

After all this, I would have felt like such a crass haolie if I’d gone ahead and marched into the station and actually bought a map. So I went on my way to explore a bit of Kahului.

Haolie (“HOW-lee”) is the Hawaiian word for Caucasian, white person.

Soon I was at the north bay. I rested on the beach and ate a cherimoya, and watched a young surfer practicing in the small waves of the harbor. Then I turned west, kind of looking for the West Maui road turnoff. I got the general idea where it was, then figured that was enough for an initial reconnoiter. I turned south to pick up my route home.

You guessed it. Soon I was totally lost. The street names seemed familiar, but with ten vowels and only eight consonants in the language, Hawaiian words all sound the same. When I finally came upon a gas station, I bought a map right away.

I made the trip between Kihei and Kahului, the south and north sides, many times, through the valley from bay to bay. With a tailwind, even packed out, I clocked myself at 17mph. That first day though, coming home, I rode against a stiff kona wind. The wind in the islands is usually from the north, or east of north. Nobody ever explained to me exactly what “kona” meant, but people said it when the wind came from opposite the usual direction, south or southwest, “contrary”.

This day, that stiff breeze stretched the return trip to a tough hour and a half. Through the middle of the valley, the tall cane and the ranks of wiliwili trees down the sides of the road broke the force somewhat. In that several-mile corridor of 2-lane, the traffic is a steady stream and close enough to make some people nervous, though there’s 3-4 feet of good shoulder most places. The upside is the traffic is close enough you can catch some of their draft, and get pulled along in the air wash.

The first couple of miles out from Kahului, the highway is new, divided 4-lane, with a fancy detached bike path to the east. It kind of looked as though they were thinking of making it like that all the way through the valley. Maybe by the time you get to Maui, you can cruise through the valley there without dealing with highway traffic at all. But then maybe you won’t have the wiliwili trees blocking the wind for you either.

Once you get to the north end of Kihei, you have two choices for going south. The Piilani Highway, further mauka, has a good bike route, and it’s fast, but it’s just a highway. The road along the shore might be a bit slower, but there you go if you want to find restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and general beach life.

Oh, and did I mention beaches? All through Kihei, seems like more of the way than not, right by the road is some public park or other. On the makai side of the park is a beach. You can pull in there and jump in the warm surf. Many of the parks or access streets have a public, well, shower I guess you’d call it. A sort of post with water sprayers on the top that you can turn on to wash the salt off after swimming.

As you get on down towards Wailea, the stores become sparser, replaced by multi-story hotels and condos. But that’s where I was going, to home base.

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Biking Maui, part 1. Lay of the land.

First, some geography. Before going there, the islands of Hawaii were just meaningless blob shapes, scattered in a swatch through the Pacific. I knew they were volcanic but hadn’t thought much beyond that. I now have the perspective that each one is basically a central volcano, or a tight cluster of them as on the Big Island, tapering out in all directions to the sea. All except Maui. This island is unique in the chain. It is made up of two volcanoes with low land in between. This low portion is the isthmus, or valley, giving Maui the nickname “Valley Isle”.

The two volcanoes are different ages. The older one is smaller, to the west and centered somewhat north of the other one. This is called West Maui, and the volcano is extinct.

The eastern volcano, Haleakala, is larger and taller. Its last eruption was more than 200 years ago, a small basalt flow near the southwest coast. A few centuries is a geologic eyeblink, so Haleakala is considered dormant, but not extinct.

  Haleakala is pronounced “holly-yokka-LAH”, with the accent, the extended “AH” vowel, on the final syllable. It means “House of the Sun”.
If you said it without that final accent, it would mean “House of the Raspberry”, after the akala, the native Hawaiian raspberry.

If you look at the outline of Maui, you can see it as a sort of human figure in side silhouette. West Maui is the head, set off by the isthmus. The West Maui shoreline even has some vague profile features. A “face” looks southwest, and the north shore is the back of the head. The isthmus is, of course, the neck. Ok, when you get to the body, this analogy breaks down. Is he/she in a fetal position, or a tight full-lotus?  Or very fat, but dismembered?  Well, let’s just let that go for awhile. The east lobe is bigger, so it’s got to be the “body”, right?

Studying the maps, three bike trips immediately suggested themselves. If your atlas is up to date, you can see there are coastal roads ringing both the head and the body. The third trip is easy to guess. Any Internet search with the words “bike” and “Maui” will get you lists of companies who will shuttle you up Haleakala, from whence you coast down. “Ten thousand foot elevation change,” they advertise, “in less than forty miles!” I pictured swooping down through rain forest, the giant fronds of tree ferns swaying in the tropical breezes, over roadsides thick with ginger lilies and orchids. The top part, high on the mountain, I couldn’t imagine. But, being from Colorado, where 10,000 feet is not particularly high to climb or bike, I hatched the idea of going one better and climbing up Haleakala by pedal.

To give further perspective, I should mark where I was based. The neck narrows between the rounded outlines of the two volcanoes, and so the island has two bays, one to the north and one south. The main town is Kahului, roughly centered on the north bay. The Mokulele Highway, route 311, goes south from there, through the sugar cane fields of the valley, to Kihei on the south bay. This bay is not strictly south-facing because the head volcano is smaller and further north. From Kihei, the east shore of the bay does run pretty much due south. However the other shore trends west, then southwest, before curving north, around the “face” to complete the circle around West Maui.

Your Rand McNalley probably shows Kihei as a dot, with another dot, Wailea, further south on the east shore. If your map is really good, it shows two roads connecting these dots, a thin line directly on the shore, and a thicker line, the Piilani Highway, route 31, parallel about a mile to the east.

In fact, Kihei is the only one of these two dots that’s actually a town. Wailea is a resort area that trickles down the shore as a string of big fancy motels and golf courses. It doesn’t have any real center, but there is The Shops At Wailea where, in addition to jewelry and gallery art, you can buy some food if you’re stuck down there biking. Be aware, it will cost you about as much as jewelry.

The Wailea map dot marks the north end of the Wailea resort area. Kihei has city limits, and these go from its map dot at the northeast corner of the bay, southward to the Wailea dot. Kihei town is a long strip, confined between the highway and the coast, except for one little lobe, almost at Wailea, that extends mauka (“toward the mountains”), east of the highway. This neighborhood is named Maui Meadows, and my friends live there. This is where I stayed most of the time.

To help you imagine what your biking experience on Maui would be like, I’ll describe what I was riding. You can allow for your own style, whether more gnarly, or more cruiser. I was on my big black Gary Fisher Aquila, nearly ten years old but everything working. It had 21 gears, three front rings and seven rear. The chain was worn to where it had some flex, but nowhere near skipping teeth, and I was glad of that on some of the grades. It had a good granny gear. I’d put new nobbies on before shipping it from Colorado, and the tubes were puncture seal.

I ride a bike the way your typical redneck drives his pickup truck. I haul stuff, go in all weather, live on it. I don’t care if a few cosmetic things are trashed. On this bike, I don’t fuss about trimming every ounce of weight. I don’t race, and I seldom do single track with rocks bigger than your fist, or ledges taller than your hand.

I go camping on the thing, and plan trips without any contingency of a sag wagon. I have a rack and panniers, and all the tools to do everything on the road short of rebuilding a wheel. I carry water and food, usually enough to sustain for three days both me and the hapless souls who came along having no idea what we were getting into.

Public payphone, orchids on the side panel.

A touch of Hawaiian style