We have been talking about it for a few years, going to Hawaii. Several of our family and friends have gone recently and come back with great stories, pictures and most of all, relaxed. My daughter is going to be out of high school in a couple of years so if we wanted to do this as a family, we needed to do it soon. So, during Christmas 2004, I did the research and found us a good deal at the Hyatt (where EVERYONE said we needed to stay on Maui) and booked the trip. I showed my wife the itinerary and she said it looked like a good deal when we were ready to do it. Told her she better get ready quick, we were going in June, it was already booked.
We chose Maui because it was recommended as one of the more beautiful islands, the resort we were staying at was highly recommended, it has a rain forest, and I heard it had a nice road. The only thing we planned before we left was my rental of a Harley Road King so I could ride the "beautiful, but DANGEROUS" Road to Hana.
My wife used to work for a company named Hana, so had some weird obsession to go to this place. I booked my bike in January with Hawaiian Riders (don't look them up, their web site is still there, they are not -- more on that later). While there are lots of stories about our trip, I will focus on our Monday event, the Ride to Hana. My son and I were going to ride while my wife and daughter followed behind in the car. It would also give Erik an out if the ride was too much for him (or too boring). This would prove to be useful.
A couple days before I was going to ride, I drove by the rental shop to make sure I knew where it was ... it was dark and empty. Hmmm, not a good sign. So the next day I called Hawaiian Riders to check on where to pick up the bike and the phone was answered, "Island Riders". Did I make a mistake? I asked if I had the right number and was told Hawaiian Riders had gone out of business in May. They had the number changed over and would honor the reservations. He checked and, while he did not know about my reservation, he had a bike for me anyway. And it was about $20 less than I had been quoted for the day. Dodged the bullet, but, really, there were enough places to rent a bike. I could have found another one I am sure. What did surprise me is that with all the bike rental places, I saw VERY few bikes on the road and not a single one on the Road to Hana.
We left the hotel and headed up to Island Riders just before 9am. When I picked up the bike, I talked with the slightly hyper ex-Livermore resident that runs the place about where I wanted to ride. This is the only guy that didn't try to tell me it was dangerous. He said, “If you like Hwy 1 in Nor Cal, you will love this road. Just beware of the locals, some of them think it is a race track.”
Got the bike and a couple of helmets for me and Erik. Interesting tidbit… while there is no helmet law in Hawaii, there is an EYE PROTECTION law. As the guy at the rental shop said, "You can ride butt naked if you want, but you better have eye protection."
He told me I really would not need a helmet and I told him I certainly hoped I would not need one, but I would be wearing one just the same. Part of my conversation with the rental guy was how long I should need. He said, "I will book you for the day. If you don't bring it back until tomorrow morning, no problem. You are going to need the day." Now, understand, this is about an 82-mile trip, each way. I asked when they closed and he said 6pm. I had to be back by then since I was leaving at 6am the next day to go snorkeling.
So we were off. First impressions of the Road King vs. my Road Star held pretty true throughout the day. The bike feels smaller than mine (88ci vs. 98ci is not why, though). It seemed a bit under-powered in the low and mid range and handled like a TRUCK. My Road Star feels like a race bike in comparison. The Road King had an excellent stock seat and real brakes. I wish my brakes were half as good (maybe the steel braided lines I just installed will help). The one thing that became very apparent by the end of the day is either the clutch on these things is built for a semi or this one needed servicing. My hand hurt for two days afterwards.
I also remembered why I love my windshield so much as we drove across the island. The bike vibrated strongly at idle and low RPMs (and riding below 10mph was a clutching exercise… and the Road to Hana has a lot of very slow turns) but smoothed out nicely as you started rolling. This bike is made for 80mph on the slab. The slow handling would be a benefit there as well, so, while it is a nice bike, it does not fit how and where I ride at all. I do qualify that this IS a rental bike (with only 7k miles on it) with stock tires (man I HATE cruiser Bridgestones) and may not be the best of specimens for evaluating.
On the map above, Point 1 is our hotel, Point 2 is Island Riders. From Point 2 up through the center of the island and to Kahului, the winds were ferocious. It was already 80+ degrees, so it was warm, but windy (it is almost ALWAYS 80+ degrees unless you go to the top of the volcano). Maybe some of the worst wind I have ever ridden in. I was missing my windshield a LOT. My son usually wears a full face helmet, but the closest fit they had for him was a 3/4 shell. My wife said from behind it looked like the wind would lift his head off. Not a fun part of the ride at all ... for either of us.
As we passed Kahului, the winds got much less severe. Driving at 60mph with no windshield was still a pain, but I knew it would not last. Just past Hookipa Park speeds drop, wind drops, and scenery begins. The road is in good shape and the curves are nice sweepers. A sport bike would be blazing through here. I just cruised and took in the smells. A little further along, the speed drops again. We were beginning the "treacherous" part. Many of the curves are posted 10mph and the posted speed limit is 15mph. For a cage, pretty sound advice.
Here, where the rain forest began, it cools off some and is very pretty. Most of the road up to this point reminded me a lot of Hwy 1, the road itself, as well as scenery. I love Hwy 1 up the North Coast and was at this point just thinking, "Eh, so what is the big deal?" The tightening of the road, while not terribly difficult, is different, but the vegetation is completely unique.
As we rode along, we saw a lookout/smoothie stand. The lookout was a crock. The sign was a way to get you to stop at the smoothie stand - that's about it. The place was run by a couple of young Aussie guys that were clearly budding comedians. The straight man took the orders, while the comic was in the back making smoothies and bitching up a storm about everything he could dream up. While we were here it started to rain a little. We had been riding in low cloud cover all day with breaks of sunshine, not abnormal for where we are. My wife wanted to know if I wanted to wait until it stopped. "Uh, we are in a RAIN forest. It is probably going to rain on me all day." Erik decided he wanted in the car while it rained (turned out he never got back on, but that's okay). So off I putted.
It rained just enough to cool me off, then stopped. I was dry five minutes later. I do confess I was wearing tennis shows (steel-toed boots took up too much precious space in the suit case), jeans, tank top and a nice Hawaiian shirt with Pink Flamingos (I make sure everyone knows they are PINK, since the guys that work for me seem to get great pleasure when I wear this shirt to work). I was not dressed as protected as I would have liked, but I had space limitations and if I wore my normal gear in Maui, I would have roasted to death. For a slow putt, I was willing to take my chances for the day.
The views and scenery were becoming breath-taking. I slowed down even more to take in the sights. We stopped frequently for pictures. The road was becoming perpetually wet. There were many leaves on the road, more than big enough to cover an entire tire, and occasionally some big banana leaves that you could get both tires on at once. THIS is why the road is treacherous. Not the curves, the big wet leaves. They were easy enough to spot and dodge, except with oncoming traffic. The Road to Hana is mostly a 1-1/2 lane road, so cars passing each other is a challenge. Not so for me, but I did have to slow down and wait to make sure my wife and kids behind me got through.
The beach at Hana - scroll----->
It rained on me two more times, the second time much heavier than the first, but no big deal. The third time, I pulled up under a tree for a while. It was like standing in the shower. I was soaked through this time and it took a lot longer to dry off. After that, the sun came out completely and the ride was glorious.
The Road to Hana Video, 17mb
Some footage and commentary by my 15-year-old daughter.
We got to Hana at about 1pm and stopped by the bay there to eat our packed lunch (Point 3 on map, above). We decided we would keep going to see how far the Seven Sacred Pools were. We agreed that if we did not hit them before 2:30pm, we would head back so I could get the bike back in time. A few more gorgeous waterfalls, a detour around a washed out road (between Points 4 and 5), and we made it to the pools at 2:30 exactly (Point 6).
We decided if we spent any time at all here I would never make it back in time, so we decided to come back in the car in a couple of days (where the pool pictures are actually from) when we had no time constraints. This turned out to be positive since the day we were there on the bike, we learned later, the water level was too high and we could not swim in the pools anyway. Two days later when we went, they just opened the pools back up while we were there so we got to swim in the pools. Note: the water in the pools is NOT AS WARM as the ocean water in the area.
During my ride, I had an orange parrot just miss my head as it flew across the road and we saw multiple small ferret-like critters skittering around. We got to analyze the driving on the island, too. Tourists just don't pay attention, too busy gawking. Locals make it clear this is THEIR island and you better get the hell out of the way. The road varies from 1 lane to 1-1/2 lanes through lush tropical forests and waterfalls are frequent. There are several botanical gardens along the road to stop at as well.
Heading back was more fun. The road was much drier, except a few slickery spots that are perpetually shaded. I headed on out to make sure I got the bike back, with the intention that the family would meet me at the shop. I kept an eye behind me and realized I must have married a re-born race car driver. Even in the Ford mini-van, my wife was keeping pretty good pace. Well, until, I found out later, she made the little guy car sick. My daughter wanted to know why Mom skidded around corners coming back, too. (I guess I know why my wife can't wait for the kids to get out of high school. She wants to sell our Caravan and buy a sports car!)
I got the bike back at 5:45pm ... 15 minutes before closing time. 164 miles took 8 hours and 15 minutes. Granted, we stopped a lot going in, but not at all coming back out. It is a great ride, but make sure you have no time constraints so you can take your time and stop frequently to enjoy the scenery. When we went back a few days later, we got to explore more and saw Charles Lindbergh's grave and a roadside stand where my son made me a smoothie by pedaling a bike to power the blender. More waterfalls and all sorts of other very cool places and things. You will be told that you cannot/should not drive all the way around the island. This is just patently not true.
Past the Seven Pools, the road is rough. It has dirt sections and is narrow and twisty. If I had rented a GS1150 or similar dual-sport, I would have had a blast on this road. I drove it in a Ford mini-van and the kids didn't even whine about the road, so it was just not that bad. The scenery past the Seven Pools is not that great, though there are some nice lava fields. But for the most part it is boring dry stuff. Near the end you wind up back in rain forest for a while and you will get wet, no doubt.
It was a great ride, I wish I’d had the bike for another day or two. If I get to go back without kids, I may just rent a bike, instead of a car, and do all of my traveling that way. If you ever get a chance to get to the Islands, make sure you plan at least a day to ride. I got to feel and smell things I never could have in an air-conditioned cage. There is just something about the place that makes you just not care how fast or slow you go, and you can just lope along and enjoy the views.
The only thing I need to know is ... why are there penguins at the Hyatt in Maui?
I have a lot more pictures of our vacation posted on my family web site. I have to get the underwater pictures developed still, but if you are interested in more, click HERE!