West Maui Loop

December 14, 2014

There is just something about seeing the world on two wheels. It’s sensory, not just visual. Or, maybe it is just whiling away time, in an uber-sensory way. And, it’s free. In every way of the word.

This sort of free, uber-sensory whiling was just what I needed this week, and so I stole away from our family vacation to selfishly ride my bike the other day. I had tossed in an old pair of mountain biking shoes and a kit into my carry on before leaving Colorado just for this purpose. I left just after dawn, as the trade winds were gently blowing the nights’ storm clouds upcountry, clearing the way for a beautiful day. The roads were still shiny and slick with dew, the air warm and getting warmer, and the sun was just beginning to peek up over the mountains, dappling get the road between the trees as I pedaled out of town. Pockets of chilly air were hiding around the curves and in the gullies; hitting my arms and cheeks as I whipped my way north and east. Birds were just waking, giant hibiscus just opening to meet the sun. 

Falling Rocks + Dropping Jaws

The Tarmac + The Hibiscus

What was a four-lane highway with a supported bike lane in Lahaina quickly turned to a two-lane highway with a generous shoulder, where all lanes were mine for the taking; there was barely a car, a bike, a soul in sight. And so I relaxed and let my wheels roll over the undulating, almost-like-roads-to-nowhere and quickly began to get lost/found again in the ride. Out of Kapalua, past the Honolua Bay overlook where the early bird surfers were beginning to line up I pedaled and into the rural, jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside. There aren’t any proper towns between the resort community of Kapalua and tiny Kahakuloa, and then very little civilization again between Kahakuloa and Lahaina; I had every reason to believe that this road would leave me feeling alone in the world, humbled by hills, and inspired by the vistas and whales leaping in view. Also, there was banana bread. 

Happy Wahine

The miles just ticked by in the cool of the morning, and I got to digest all the things we’ve been up to lately. This year. All that’s coming up next. I’ve done a lot of bike riding around the world now, and I haven’t experienced that many places you can hop on a bike, start riding,stop thinking and stop paying attention to everything but the wind in your face, the clouds on the horizon – identifying the scents in the breeze (they were plumeria this day.) When I wanted to lay down in the road to take a photo, I did. I hadn’t brought a GPS and so I had no idea where I was, how long I’d been gone, or how much longer I’d be. So I sang songs, crushed up hills and soaked up the sun rising. I bombed down, into s-curves nearly overgrown with jungle, the tires kicking up sticky silt off the road onto my newly tanned legs and ankles. It was a lot like spending the morning on a roller coaster built for one, high above the ocean, and I was beaming like a little kid with an iron stomach.

Road Ablaze

 

Somewhere amidst my daydreaming, I came across a trailhead on the side of the road that split in two; one route led straight uphill to a lookout, the other down the cliff on a goat path to the sea.  I carried the bike up to the lookout and watched the waves crashing below, turning east to let the so warm my face. From here, I could see the road for miles in each direction, not a soul. Maybe a motorcycle somewhere out there (I could swear I heard the braap of his engine,) but really, it was just me. As I got the bike back on the road and began to pedal again, I couldn’t help but wonder if my insistence to ride this day had caused a flutter behind the scenes of my very own Truman show. What if this was all in my imagination and there would be no village to stop in, no banana bread, just me and the road that would continue so long as my imagination could create the scenery? This reality didn’t seem so bad; to be in my own little bubble of aloha-filled heaven.

In itty-bitty Honokohau, the two lane highway had turned to one skinny lane on the very edge of the cliffs that comprise the little valley of Kahakuloa  and shortly after that, the road appeared to drop off into an asphalt wall into the Bay below. Weathered signs saying “SHAVE ICE/BANANA BREAD/ALOHA/OPEN!” hung on the janky guardrails that would purportedly protect vehicles from falling over the edge of the cliff and into the sugar cane or black rock beach below. As I pushed back in my saddle and prepared to descend I must have donned a grin a mile wide and visible – literally – from a mile away because that’s about as far away as Lorraine had been standing; across the Bay, in the lanai of the home she grew up in. I swooped into the sun filled valley, banked left, bunny hopped a stream feeding to the ocean, and ducked under the overgrown sugar cane hanging over the road, past a tiny church, and a handful of thatched roof homes and nearly ran straight into Lorraine whom was standing at the foot of her driveway now and greeted me-with an equally large grin – by saying: 

“Just you this morning? You’re certainly enjoying yourself for being all alone!”

Kahakuloa Bay

Immediately, she took my bike from me and racked it. She pointed me to the bathroom, took my bottles and filled the, with cool clean water. The first words I was able to get in edgewise were about her famed banana bread, which was cooling on the countertop, still warm from the oven. I told her I’d take an entire pocket-sized loaf, eating half now if she would help me squish the other half into my jersey pocket. She agreed with a smile and a laugh. 

I took my loaf, and followed at her insistence to the lanai behind her home; the rocky beach of the bay nearly came right up to meet the grassy yard, and in a few weeks, she said, they would have whales breaching in the bay. Banana trees bordered the yard; the same trees that went into the bread, she said. She had spent her whole life here, knew everything about this place and was eager to share it. I must have spent 30 minutes being introduced to the plants, herbs and spices that sprung up like weeds from the greenery that looked just like generic jungle to an unassuming onlooker. We talked about passion fruits and how they grew on vines, not trees. How bananas were actually quickly growing herbs, and how sometimes she has orders for banana bread so big she has to borrow bananas from her neighbors. About this banana bread…

I’ve never had bread so filled with banana, yet not mushy, or cloying. Buttery, nutty slices that slice so cleanly and eat so much like cake that you forget what you’re enjoying. I don’t know if this is the best banana bread I’ve ever eaten because of this whole adventure, and I was on my bike, and she was so very welcoming and the scene just so unbelievable? But when I asked for her recipe, she told me she couldn’t really share it because the secret was in the ground in this place. I know she is right.

 
Where the Bananas Grow
 
Lorraine on the Lanai w/Banana Bread
 
Lorraine's Banana Nut Bread
 

The sun was getting high in the sky by the time I was inclined to get back on the road again. I pedaled home completely elated; rejuvenated by my stop and un phased by the brutal sun at my back as I climbed back up the asphalt walls that hid Kahakuloa from the rest of the world. The tourists had woken now and we’re driving the route, passing me in their joyless air conditioning. The road looked completely different on the way home, the ocean was more active now, kicking up spray, the tropical fragrances of the morning had developed from hints to perfumes with the late morning heat. The road had dried in the sun and so the descents were much more worthwhile and zippy than they had been on my way home, and there might have even been a tailwind….or just the knowledge that there are still places in the world like Lorraine’s little banana bread shack that caters to visiting cyclists because it just feels like the right thing to do. Because they’re there, and because , in Lorraine’s words “why not? Someday, I might find myself on your doorstep and might need a helping hand, or a spare tube, or some water, or banana bread and you’d do the same thing for me! I might even be on a bike!”

 

If you ride the West Maui Loop:

  • West Maui Cycles is a great resource for bike and helmet rentals, as well as local road and mountain rides. Their shop is also a great place to start the ride and they have several blog posts on the route itself – here and here.
  • At the time I rode the route, part of the road was closed on the weekdays for repaving. The route between Lahaina and Kahakuloa is still absolutely worthwhile (and has a great deal more climbing!) if you ride is as an out and back; turning back towards Lahaina after Lorraine’s banana bread shack. During the weekends, the entire loop is open to cyclists.
  • Note that there are not any services, water stops, or towns between Kapalua and Kahakuloa; bring a spare kit, plenty of water, nutrition and use common sense with narrow roads. 
  • Early in the mornings, and during the winter months, the roads will be dewy and wet in the morning and there is a strong chance for washed out/silt covered corners. Use caution when cornering and descend with care.
  • Navigation isn’t much of a concern with this route, depending on where you begin it. Since I didn’t take a GPS with me, I don’t have a map of my route but this is a great map and Maui riding resource.
  • The road on this route will turn from a four-lane highway with an ample shoulder, to a two-lane highway without a protected bike lane, to a single lane through the most rural part of the island. Be aware of vehicles and conditions and always ride with care. 
  • The entire West Maui Loop, from Lahaina and back again, is roughly 60 miles. My route – from Lahaina to Kahakuloa and back, was more like 50 miles. I actually recommend this tactic because you can squish the ride in before other family activities, you get the best parts of the route (and the banana bread,) more climbing and less traffic on major roads. Something to think about. 

 

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