Russ took a look at the sky over Kula.
"Got to get going," he said. "I want to get in some flying before the clouds come in."
We'd been standing in the Morihara Store parking lot, talking about motorcycles. Traveling on two wheels was what got us together. On this Sunday morning, the topic was mufflers, keeping them socially acceptable without muting the music.
"Yours sounds great. Low tone. Not that loud," he said. "Mine tends to shriek. Twist the throttle and it sounds like an open-wheel race car. Neat, but loud." The talked veered off to a concluding discussion of tire wear. Russ drove off.
After breakfast with a friend at the Kula Bistro, climbed on Dancer. She was ready to go anywhere on the island. Chores at home dictated a relatively short ride. Idling along Lower Kula Road, various destinations and routes came to mind. Polipoli sounded about right.
A left on Kula Highway at Rice Park and another left on Kekaulike Avenue, trailing a song only a single-cylinder engine can sing. Hang a right on Waipoli Road. It had been a while since I'd ridden along the shaggy asphalt under an arch of eucalyptus trees. The road was wet from a night rain. The sky was clear except for high clouds and traces of fog on the upper slopes.
The eucalyptus ends at a cattle guard marking the beginning of the Polipoli Recreational Area Trail, a slim track originally constructed by the Works Progress Administration. (Ask an old-timer.) The cattle guard is in a slight curve. Woops. Dancer's tires slide a little sideways on the wet iron bars covering a shallow pit.
Off to the right is the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. Parking for the farm is on the other side of a long loop. A paraglider comes sailing in for a landing. Two people dangle from the rainbow canopy. The front guy begins running when his feet hit the ground. They get down safely.
Shouldn't be hard to find Russ in this wide expanse of treeless ranch land visible from anywhere in Central Maui. Sure enough, there's a clump of trucks along the road just ahead.
A dozen or so mostly older guys are busy socializing and watching miniature airplanes whirring back and forth. The pilots watch most intently, their thumbs manipulating little joy sticks on book-sized radio controllers. The days of gasoline engines on radio-controlled planes are long over. Electric motors spin the propellors on these little buggahs.
Russ is behind his truck with a number of RC planes at his feet. Most of them are made out of Styrofoam that can be easily repaired after a crash landing. He's holding one of the smaller planes. It's missing its canopy, exposing the high-tech lithium battery and control servos inside.
"This a fast one," Russ said. "It'll hit 60 mph." He picks a larger plane. It's fuselage and yard-wide wings are battered. Frankly, it's ugly. "This one is really agile." A little later, he proved the point. He launched the plane and immediately had it hanging on its prop and dropping into swooping turns. His adroit thumbs maneuvered the plane through a succession of fast barrel rolls.
The roadside was covered with radio-controlled planes of every description, including faithful replicas of military fighters. There was a particularly pretty three-wing Fokker of World War I, Red Baron fame. A tiny Saber Jet zoomed across the sky. This is the plane that went up against Russian MIG 14s during the Korean War in the world's first jet-on-jet dogfights. No visible propeller. Russ explained there was a turboprop inside the fuselage.
One flier launched a four-rotor, palm-sized helicopter. Russ said it could carry a camera and the owner had used it to make real estate videos by flying it inside hotels and condos. The owner also had a beautiful twin-engine civilian plane that could retract its landing gear.
Everyone was watching the clouds roll in. "It's hard to fly if you can't see your plane," Russ said. Visibility dropped to a few hundred feet.
The flying ended but the socializing went on. One of the guys said they were grateful to ranch owner Freddy Rice for allowing them to level off parking and landing strip areas. A few diehards hung around on the off chance the sky would clear.
Dancer was fired up and headed downhill, through fog that turned into mist that turned into rain. 'A'ole pilikia. Home was only a couple miles away - down in the sunshine where you can fly at will . . . on two wheels.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer and editor for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.