Maui Day 6-10: Upcountry and Kihei

…continued from Day 4-5: The Road to Hana

Day 6: Hey that’s Oprah’s road, let’s turn there… wait a minute

It was the last day of my tour and it wouldn’t be easy. There was a 3,000ft climb up ahead to the same part of the upcountry where I had been on my first day. But the route from the southeast part of the island is much more challenging. Much of the road is beat up and poorly maintained, some if it is gravel, and it still winds along treacherous cliff sides. It goes up the side of the mountain on a mostly barren, volcanic section of the island that is for all intents and purposes a desert. And it would be like that for 25 miles. It was the toughest part of the coastal highway system by FAR. I knew I needed to leave early to get through it before the sun rose to an unforgiving angle on that arid side of the mountain.

But hey, who wants to miss a good sunrise with their friends in a place like this? Not this dude. Four of us sat on a rocky outcropping along the shores of Kipahulu as the sun came up from behind the sea and set the sky on fire.

Twenty minutes later, I was off. The pavement gave way to dirt, I crested some hard passes, and equally as gorgeous cliffside vistas. Not a single beach I saw on my whole trip could hold a candle to that of the lost shores of Lone Keawe, whose rocky beach spread out between two huge cliffs. The dirt road descended to the edge of the beach, passed the facing cliff, and ascended into more madness. What a remarkable hidden gem on an otherwise blackened side of the mountain.

After a few miles, I got out of the cliffs and hit pavement again to my relief, only to discover that it was even worse. This section of the highway was paved a long time ago and hasn’t been repaved since. Potholes have just been patched as seen. For a long fucking time. So at this point, the entire road was covered in patches. It’s saying a lot to point out that this was actually worse to ride on than gravel. I actually had to go slower downhill not to lose control on all the shitty, bumpy non-road. This went on for 8 miles. 8 miles in the mid-morning, right when the sun was waiting to dry me out like a dead animal.

All of a sudden, I crossed a bridge and hit smooth pavement. That’s more like it. From there, the newly paved stretch went uphill for 10 miles before passing around the side of the volcano and into more forgiving, forested land. Sea level to 1,800 feet with no time to waste. The sun was out now in full force, and as badly as I needed water, I knew I had to ration what I had left. I finally crested the high ridge and turned northward to Kula, reaching cooler air and the shade of trees. With a half a bottle to spare, I made it to the first watering hole in the late morning, a ranch cafe in Keokea. All my training paid off.

After getting lunch and refilling my water supply, I continued my climb along Kula Highway. I bitterly passed the driveway to Oprah’s ranch. She bought land in Upcountry Maui a few years ago in a section between the Kula Highway and Kihei, and paved a private road between the two. To date, it is the only one of its kind in that area. The state has yet to pave a badly needed road between the two parts of the island, something the locals have wanted for years. For me, it would have meant that I could have coasted down to Mel’s house in 20 minutes. But since that driveway was closed to the public, I had to take the alternate route:

(7.1 + 10.5 + 1.2 + 11.2) – 4 = 26 reasons not to listen to anything Oprah has to say about resource conservation. Everybody on the island has to use more gas because of this, and the lack of a public road in that area also contributes to more traffic in Kahului. To make it even more obscene, Kihei and Wailea are perfectly visible from the uphill side of her driveway. I motion that Hawaii exercise its power of eminent domain. Open that road up to the locals, and leave Oprah a tidy sum. Hell, even if she did something shitty like charge a toll, I would have taken it. I was just exhausted and wanted to get back to Mel’s house so I could take a well earned nap. Instead, I turned north and gained another 600ft on the mountainside and descended 3000ft down Pulehu Road to Kahului.

I made a quick stop at a coffeehouse to flirt with a barista who I met on my way out to Hana a couple days earlier. She wasn’t there, so I came back to Mel’s in Kihei, finishing the tour at 2:30 in the afternoon. A big meal and a bike coma were in order. I passed out for 3 hours in a hard, deep sleep that I only get after long bike rides. They’re dreamless, and a couple notches under being knocked out. Whenever I do wake up, it takes me at least two hours to feel alert and functional again. I think I even get kind of high from it. They are amazing.

Day 7-10: Kihei – Turtle Watching

I did it. My 6 day bicycling expedition was over with, and now I could relax. I had four days to waste, which was fine by me.

I started by taking a snorkeling trip, thanks to Mel’s friend Delphine, who helped me get a half off deal through her company, Pride of Maui. She picked me up early in the morning on her way to Maalaea Harbor, where we got on a boat and left with a hundred other people for Molokini island. It is a small, crescent shaped island a few miles southwest of Wailea with a huge reef around it, and crystal clear blue water where you can see the ocean floor some fifty feet down. Because of this, Molokini is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. I was excited to get out with my camera and get some footage of the marine life.

After about an hour of swimming in the reef, I got back on the boat and we went to Turtle Town, another reef nearby with a healthy number of green sea turtles. A good hundred of us were out there looking for them and didn’t see anything for a good half hour. Finally, we spotted one resting on the sea floor. They can hold their breath for hours, so there was no telling how long that dude was down there, or how long he planned to be. Out of nowhere, another one swam ahead thirty feet to my right. I was one of the first people to take off after it. As it turns out, my camera was pointed too high and I only got a half second of it. Oh well, it looked pretty sweet.

I spent the rest of the time on the boat, eating chicken off the grill, drinking margaritas, and listening to the announcer describe the landmarks and scenery around the bay. He was in his fifties, and looked and talked like he used to host a game show. Delphine was on a break, and came over. She pointed out Oprah’s driveway, reminding me of all the fun I had yesterday in the upcountry.

I knew all about that road. It was why I had to ride for three extra hours in the heat at the end of my tour. There it was, clearly visible from the bay, winding its way up the mountainside like a fucking ribbon through time. And it’s not even her primary home, which is in California. I guess that’s what you can expect from the same person who gave us Dr. Phil. Screw her.

Early the next morning, I got up early, walked a block down the street, rented a paddleboard, walked to the beach, and got in. Thanks to Mel’s location, it really was that easy. She’s got a hard life, I have to say. Her friends worked at Maui Wave Riders, the surfing outfitter right by her house. Thanks to the connection, I got a good deal on the rental.

I had never done stand-up paddling before, but was well aware of how popular it was getting in the world of water sports. I figured I would give it a try. I paddled on my knees past the breaks to the calmer water, made a few attempts to stand on the board, kept falling off, and finally got it. It was a bit more relaxing than other water sports, which is why I didn’t enjoy it as much. After an hour or so, I got bored. I guess I just like to take out aggression, either by surfing or paddling down a wild river.

Out on the reef just past the breaks, three sea turtles floated on the surface, bobbing their heads up out of the water. I realized that they really were everywhere out here. Thanks to a good conservation program, they flourish on the reefs around Hawaii, and are common enough to be a normal phenomena to the locals. With a lifespan of 60 to 70 years, they can outlive many of us. I wonder what kind of wisdom a turtle of 70 years would have for we younger mortals. What goes on in the minds of these graceful creatures? They truly are badasses of the tropical sea.

The next morning, I went back. I wanted to learn how to surf. So I signed up for the first class of the day. It was just me and four sisters, and all of them were 8 years old. The instructor started by having us practice jumping on soft top boards, explained how and where to position our feet, and how to balance. Then we picked up our boards and went to the beach.

This would be a piece of cake, I thought. Especially since I’m competing with 8 year old kids. The awesome bearded mountain man that I am. I can kick their butts at this. I am a highly fit, well balanced, rugged outdoorsman, and they are 8. I’m going to win at surfing. I’m going to ride every good wave into the shore, and I’m going to rule at it. And they probably won’t.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. I have not been that wrong about anything in years. I wiped out time and time again, sending the board in the air nearly every time I tried to stand, while every last one of those girls caught waves and rode them to shore, over and over and over. The instructor kept telling me to paddle, look ahead, get my feet up, get them in the right place, whatever, and I kept wiping out. Finally after a couple hours, I figured out when to catch the breaks and get my feet up. I started catching the waves. It was shaky, but I was getting it together. I was exhausted and got out.

I needed a break from all of this. I was having a blast, but needed to relax somewhere quiet with air conditioning and zone out on my computer. I got cleaned up and went down the street to a Starbucks. It was my first chance to download the latest issue of the Walking Dead comics, since there weren’t any comic book stores on the island that sold it. I keep telling fans of the show to read the graphic novels, and that they really do outdo the show in awesome, desperate, brutal survival horror. That is, until lately, the shitstorm of things going on at the prison is finally getting to the same caliber. That, and Andrea is dead, so that helps. In the comics, Rick was in the middle of a standoff with Negan, a new villain who makes the Governor look like a youth pastor.

I didn’t get the chance to see Breaking Bad that Sunday since I was in Hana, so I bought some headphones and downloaded that next. A few episodes into the second half of Season 5, Walt’s empire, and his family along with it, were on the verge of a meltdown. In a promo commentary, the season was described by Cranston as a “Roller coaster ride to hell”, and this was the point where the roller coaster was inches away from a freefall. Nothing good could come of this, and as expected, I was right. Everything, and I mean everything, went to shit after that final curve of the story arc.

It turns out a good nights sleep was all I needed to let the muscle memory sink in. I rented another surfboard the next morning and hit the waves bright and early, nailing the very first one. Then I got the one after it, and the next one after that. I rode one wave after another into the shore for hours. At one point, a manta ray of three feet zoomed behind me and out towards the reef. Certainly as graceful as I remembered from TV, but I had no idea they moved that fast. An instructor told me he spotted a family of four of them close to shore earlier that morning.

After a couple hours, I was ready to come back to shore and get food. That, and the Cove was pretty crowded with surf classes. It wasn’t as much fun when I had to worry about dodging other beginners. I rode one really great wave all the way to the exit ramp, decided to end on a good note, and got out.

Later that night, a few of us went to Fourth Fridays, a town party in Kihei. Every Friday, one of four towns in Maui has a big street festival, and Kihei happened to have theirs on the same night that I planned to leave. Perfect. There was live music, art galleries, vendors, a food truck row, alcohol, and crowded bars. All right down my alley. We walked around, drank beer, ate good food, hung out. For the last time on the trip, I saw Haleakala turn red in the setting sun, feeling a bit sad to leave, but ready all the same. I never did get to that summit, so I guess that means that the volcano and I have some unfinished business.

Several hours and beers later, I said goodbye to Mel and her entourage of good people, and boarded an overnight plane to San Diego.

Mel asked me at one point if I thought I would come back to Maui again. I would like to, but I honestly have no idea when. Maui was just one place on a huge list of places I want to travel, and that list has already gotten bigger since I’ve been home. There’s Haleakala’s summit, which is doable with a better bike and a better plan. I know I can do it with a good carbon fiber bike and a death wish. That, and I would like to get certified for diving. The snorkeling was fun, but I think I would enjoy being able to stay underwater for longer, immersed in sea life and coral.

The fact is, all this shit that I’ve been describing to you is only the surface, and there is a whole myriad of things to do on that island. Pretty much every spot I rode my bike past has something about it worth checking out. But I’m glad to say it’s another place I can check off in my lifelong goal to travel the world on a bicycle. And I suppose it is halfway between me and New Zealand, so there’s that.