A gorgeous early morning promises a beautiful day in Kula. Of course, there's always the possibility of afternoon clouds. The day is just aborning. La is flexing his muscles, chasing away the nighttime chill. It's amazing how much warmer it is in full sunshine.
There's an errand to be run up to Kekaulike Avenue, a strange thing to call what passes for a highway on Maui. But avenue it is. It was once called Upper Kula Road. That was before Haleakala Highway was extended through ranch lands into Kula and up to the summit in 1935.
Before then, the way across Kula meant traveling what is now Lower Kula Road. Kula Highway came much later. The road wiggled its way to Keokea and beyond. Getting to Upper Kula Road meant driving across upper Omaopio and then up one of the three or four side roads in the Pulehu and Waiakoa ahupua'a or to the Waiohuli-side intersection with Upper Kula Road.
Decide to take Pulehuiki Road. "Place Names of Hawaii" spells the land division of the same name Pulehu Iki. Pulehu literally means "broiled." Hmmm. That probably is a reference to the bottom end of the ahupua'a where rain is scarce and the sun is hot. Iki generally means "little."
Pulehuiki Road is one of those Kula offshoots that resemble a driveway and confuse all but those most familiar with the area. The bottom entrance of Pulehuiki is something of a challenge from the Waiakoa side. Turn right off Kula Highway, cross a bridge, swing left and immediately right again. Pulehuiki angles the wrong way. It's impossible to turn and stay in your lane. It's that sharp.
Stay in first gear. The asphalt begins a steep, serpentine climb to Kekaulike. Within a minute or two, the drive turns into a chicken-skin adventure. The sun is at just the right angle to blast its way through sunglasses. Auwe! Here and there, usually in corners, I'm driving blind. Literally.
It's always a 20 mph road, second gear all the way. Good thing. With the blinding sun, it's impossible to see anything coming the other way or those out for a walk or errant dogs or trash cans or mailboxes or . . . whatever. The width - or lack of it - is a challenge even with full sight. Creep along.
I think you can tell the age of up-and-down mountain roads by how much they wiggle. If they were built when horses, mules and oxen were used to haul wagons up steep inclines, they had to go back and forth, not straight up. Early cars and trucks were woefully underpowered for uphill tasks. The back-and-forth swing of the track made it possible. Even with the topographical design, it must have been a journey to avoid. I'd guess it was mostly downhill with the uphill trips made via Upper Kula Road from the Lower Kula Road intersection. I doubt the roundabout route would have taken much longer.
When John Loudon McAdam's road-building innovation - mixing crushed rock with coal tar, and later, oil - replaced cinders and dirt, the routes had already been firmly established and enshrined in land deeds. On Maui, roads are often the legal boundaries of property.
Pulehuiki eventually angles to the right, giving some relief from the eye-searing sun. But. A major but. The middle section of the road wanders left, right into the path of the sun climbing over the northeast flank of the mountain. The only eye relief comes shade cast by roadside buildings and trees. A little time to relax before the next blind curve.
Yikes! Out of the glare, in a too-brief section of shade, a woman and her dog appear. Squeeze right, dazzled, not knowing what's on this side. Aaah. Safely by. Dead slow. Only a driver with a death wish moves faster than he can see.
This isn't any fun.
La keeps moving up and westward. Dense stands of mostly eucalyptus spread shade. The trial is nearly at an end. The intersection with Kekaulike is at hand, or wheel, if you will. Sit there for a bit. It takes a conscious effort to untorque a face frozen in a grimace during the short drive.
Think about facing an unexpected danger. There can be other road hazards in the Kula region - fog, heavy rains and idiot drivers. But not today. The sky is blue. Not a cloud in sight. Little or no wind. La is high in the sky where he belongs and not in my eyes.
Next time, I'll wait until later in the day before braving Pulehuiki or any other journey that might lead straight into the sun.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.