A skimpy breakfast and a craving for a good burger led to a favorite motorcycle ride. Baby Dancer was aimed at Ulupalakua, a favorite destination for weekend motorcycle riders. During the week, the ranch store/grill/deli is a common stop for tourists and local locals. One of the signs outside the store explains it is a "restoration station" for travelers driving around East Maui.
To Keokea, it's only three miles of wide, tree-shaded gentle curves swinging around small groups of older houses and lush pastures. The 3,000-foot altitude makes the generally flat route a favorite of bicycle riders and runners who enjoy the views and cool temperatures.
The wide highway ends at the age-old Henry Fong General Store with its Chevron gasoline pumps, an adjacent art gallery and Grandma's Coffee Shop across from the uphill road to Kula Hospital.
Gear down to 20 mph for the school zone running by St. John's Episcopal Church, a one-time mission for the area's Chinese, a park and the Roman Catholic Our Lady Queen of Angels.
There's a four-wheel-drive pickup being refueled at Fong's. The driver stands outside his beat-up vehicle, no doubt talking story with one of the store's employees. A half-dozen cars and trucks are parked at Grandma's. The place is more a local source of caffeine and conviviality than tourist stop.
Pick up the pace at the start of the serpentine scrawl of asphalt that makes riding a motorcycle both demanding and rewarding. Up, down and around. Baby Dancer's small engine makes it mandatory to tap dance through the gears. It's either that or accept the fact she's not happy coming out of sharp turns when the tachometer is below 6,000. Making the turns at a quick pace means paying strict attention to the road and being ready to whoa for a tourist car on the other side of a blind turn. Pickup trucks driven by akamai residents are a different story, but constitute a different kind of hazard when coming the other way. With a rear bumper in view, forget about jamming and motor along at a bicycle pace.
Run by a restored rock fence neatly constructed without mortar. Only waist high, it's no Great Wall of Maui but it never fails to bring to mind how much labor and skill it required - in the old days and now. One pasture sports a number of half-grown native trees, each protected from grazing cattle by a circle of fencing.
A clutch of tourist cars are cooking in the sun overlooking Sun Yat Sen Park. Oprah's Road to Makena stretches down one side of the collection of lion statues and calligraphy noting the importance of the father of modern China and the role Keokea played in the country's early 20th century revolution.
A few miles on the Keokea side of Ulupalakua, it's raining enough to dapple goggles and dampen pant legs. Island lore: Never put off doing something outside just because it's raining. There are dry patches of roadway under trees. The rain continues on into the center of the ranch. Park the bike and head into the store with its collection of tourist and cowboy stuff.
The routine calls for placing your order in the back of the store. Sign of the times: There's a choice of cheeses that can be added to the meat from ranch-grown cattle. Pepper jack sounds good. Pick up a beverage. On a cloudy day, coffee seems most appropriate. Belly up to the counter and pay the tab to one of the smiling employees. Motorcycle trade has inured the staff to leather jackets. No one says anything about riding in the rain so there's no chance to say, " 'A'ole pilikia, haole skin no leak."
The burger is expertly cooked on a side lanai grill. The cook calls my name for the pickup. It's a little too wet to sit at one of picnic tables. There's a lanai spot under a sign that says "Chewing is permitted but spitting is not."
A couple of tables away, there's an old friend. Emily Bott and one of her daughters have been out looking at the wind farm out Kanaio way. Both were impressed by the huge size of the propeller towers.
A bare-chested ranch kid juggles a burger, chips, a soda and change from a 20. No pockets in his shorts. He manages by stuffing the bills in his waistband. Later, he's spotted slowly driving an ATV up a steep driveway, lunch tucked away somewhere. A horse on a short length of rope plods along beside him.
As usual, the burger is juicy and filling - one of the best on the island. The motorcycle ride out and back is a bonus. The rain has stopped.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.