A Cycling Tour of Rugged West Maui

Bicycletter - November-December 2005
By Alfredo Garcia

Hawaii, our 50th state, is well known for its lovely beaches, the culture of “Aloha” and its Pacific shorelines. The typical recreational activities include swimming, surfing and hula dancing. However, the islands also have roads suitable for good cycling. I’ve brought my bike to the Aloha State twice, both times to Oahu and succeeded in one of two attempts to complete the Hawaiian Bicycle League’s Oahu Perimeter ride. It was fun.

June 2005, I went to the island of Maui for the marriage of a young nephew, Glen, who wanted a New York relative present. Those who rode on my Lincoln Tunnel night ride a few years ago may remember Glen. As a Christian minister, he had come to New York City for pastoral training. With a rented bike, Glen rode with us and gave his blessing with a prayer for a safe trip at the 24-hour rest stop at an Edgewater shopping mall.

I wore a black tuxedo and served as a groomsman for Glen and his fiancée, Mary Ann. Most of my relatives were at the wedding (e.g. 100 people surnamed Garcia). After hours of reception feasting, chatting and giving them some help to dismantle the reception, I was able to start focusing on bike riding in the “Valley Isle” – even though I had less than a week before heading back to the Big Apple. To get ready, I did some impromptu solo training rides, with the hot sun and steep roads to climb.

By the time Sunday morning came around, I was good and ready for a 7am ride start. I was on my own, going into the 4th mile along into West Maui mountains, with a cousin following me in his car; he had given me the essential Filipino biscuits (pan de sal) for snacks. The night before, several relatives had to persuade me to carry a cell phone.

The first twenty miles went through what the tourists consider “un-Hawaiian” places—chicken farms, goats, cattle, horse ranches and a haven for donkeys. There were fruit stands that weren’t opened yet – it was still too early. During that day, I had to walk my bike once because a baby calf was following me on the road. His mother cow was getting worried, and I was just a little afraid it would charge me like a bull. I’m a cyclist, not Manolete the famed matador. Ole!

Near the mountains of West Maui, the roads are extremely hilly. I had to walk up them three times because of the steepness. It was mostly desolate. There were a few homes and businesses but the landscape with its gulches and rocky beaches won’t allow too much development.

My cousin was concerned I didn’t call within 3 hours. It must have been that there was no phone service on isolated Kahakuloa, an ancient town where most of the original Hawaiians in Maui lived. Now it’s a small community, with a Christian Church and its uniquely shaped Kahakuloa hill.
When I got to the first sign of “civilization,” a resort town of Kapalua, I called and reassured the Garcia clan that I was okay. I was surprised to learn that the resort towns of Hawaii aren’t entirely resorts, and I saw a good many residential homes. At Kapalua, I went to several of its beaches to collect vials of sand for a co-worker. Then I hit the road some more, and got to Lahaina by 1pm for lunch. While I went by the Chinese Museum, there wasn’t enough time to go in but I did, of course, take pictures.

Since this was my first ride around West Maui, I was intimidated by the physical challenge at first. And, with its isolation, I had some fear that something bad might happen. But as the miles piled up, I felt confident. My legs were still strong and my breathing was fine.

My original plan was to ride 60 miles, but since things were going well, I decided to do an extra 10 miles to another resort town, Kihei. This region was towards the Haleakala volcano, and as I got there, I turned back.

The final 20 miles were annoyingly hilly, made worse by some very strong headwinds! The mountains of West Maui also seem to attract a lot of clouds. That turned out to be a blessing for me. Even with the headwinds, I was able to get a cool breeze and not too much contact with the sun. And hardly any sunburn.

It’s worth noting that certain sides of West Maui’s mountains have no green vegetation— rain just doesn’t get there. I also picked up a bike lane that goes through a tunnel. Before you go through, you have to press a traffic button light. It didn’t work, but I got through anyway.

I finished the ride by 5pm, returning to Wailuku. Instead of going on a downhill, I took a climb up a steep hill and went by a house of a favorite Aunt. A few day before I had made the mistake of telling her of my ride and she was worried. But no one was home when I arrived. Then I returned to my cousin’s house.

The combination of hills and headwinds kept my average speed down to 10mph. Still, I had no problems, pedaled at my own pace and didn’t bonk. I was proud to think that I took on a route frequently used by locals, but later I found out they ride the West Maui perimeter often to build strength, at least once a month. Arghh!

My late Dad, Ciriaco, once lived in Maui after he emigrated from the Philippines during the Great Depression. After World War II, he left for a life working on ocean liners & cargo ships around the world and eventually settled in New York City. Before leaving Maui, he gave his automobile, to his brother Florencio – Glen’s Dad. The vehicle served my father well in excursions around Maui.

Like father, like son?

The Fuji Touring Series road bike I used has served me well for a decade. Yet before heading back to New York, I gave the trusty two-wheeler to the cousin who lodged me. Unlike my Dad, I hope to make more journeys to Hawaii, especially with a bicycle.