The destination is something like an hour or so motorcycle ride from the usual sun, beach and sea pictures of Maui, but it's one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Tucked in lush gardens cultivated for three-quarters of a century, Kula Hospital perches thousands of feet above the South Maui shoreline.
Old trees nearly engulf the bunkerlike building designed by C.W. Dickey and constructed in 1935 as part of the nation's efforts to turn the tide of the Great Depression. It was built to last. Three-foot-thick walls were designed to be an earthquake-proof refuge for suffers of tuberculosis.
Until the 1960s, the hospital was largely self-sufficient with its own farm providing vegetables, fruit, pork, beef and dairy products. The old fields are long sweeps of green pasture anchored by Keokea. The historic Chinese village, with its two churches, two stores and a popular county park, sits at the end of Kula Highway. Straight ahead is the serpentine road to Ulupalakua. Angle left and a steep, uphill drive wanders up to the hospital.
The need for tuberculosis treatment ended with the development of sulphur drugs. In 1976, Kula San became Kula Hospital, providing long-term and emergency care along with other medical programs. The beauty and tranquility of the place underlines its isolation.
The 200 or so employees are a loving ohana, but still, for many of its largely elderly and disabled patients, the hospital can be a lonely place with predictable routines. For the past several years, members of the Maui Chapter of Street Bikers United Hawaii have been turning one day in December into a party, a chance to share the joy of Christmas with residents and staff.
Bikers, many of them close to the age of the residents, gather at Cycle City in Kahului at 9 a.m. on the day before the annual Toys for Tots run. A special feature of the Kula San prelude is the number of wheels involved. There are an uncounted number of bikers on Maui who have taken to riding three-wheelers.
There's one big difference between riding a standard, two-wheeled motorcycle and one that is a "trike" or side-car "outfit." The trike has one wheel up front and two behind. The "outfit" has a passenger chair attached to the side. Two-wheeled bikes at rest have to be held up. Three-wheelers will stand on their own.
It was a picture-perfect morning. A little on the cold side in Kula. A heavy jacket felt good in the 55-degree chill. A sunny spot on a rock wall in the hospital's parking lot was a good place to wait for riders from down country to arrive.
Aides wheeled some 10 patients out to a garden. There was the muted rumble of bikes coming up the long driveway. The riders backed their steeds into stalls reserved for visitors and the "night shift." One solo rider had a guitar lashed to a sissy bar.
Patients were wheeled up to see the bikes in all their chrome-gleaming glory. They and staffers were given the opportunity to go for a ride. The guitar was unlimbered and a Christmas sing-a-long was held. It was a much appreciated break from the day-to-day routine, especially for those patients without immediate family.
The trike run proved a good opportunity to combine a fun ride Upcountry with a chance to spread a little Christmas cheer.
Three-wheel riders are being encouraged to take part in the Kula San trike run Dec. 15. That gives you plenty of time to get your trike or sidecar rig lookin' good and running sweet. Meet at 9 a.m. at Cycle City on Dairy Road in Kahului. Cruise up the mountain. Have some fun in one of the most beautiful places on the island.
It's also a chance to make the 11th Annual Maui Toy Run Motorcycle Parade a two-day event. Street Bikers United is collecting unwrapped toys as part of the United States Marine Corps Reserve's 2012 Toys for Tots in partnership with the Salvation Army of Maui County.
The Sunday, Dec. 16, ride starts at 11 a.m. in the Walmart parking lot in Kahului, makes the cruise to the Lahaina Cannery Mall via Front Street and returns to the VFW Post in Kihei for a post-ride party. It's Maui's biggest Harley party of the year, but riders of any sort of motorcycle are welcome. Bring a toy or some cash. Donations are tax deductible. See sbumaui.org/toys for more information.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.