No Smoking Section

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Those aren’t clouds…

I was very happy to find some Portuguese Sausage at the store yesterday, so we grilled that up with some eggs for breakfast. That and some Kona drip Coffee was a good start and shook clear the last of the shakes from being bounced around the boat so much yesterday. Today’s plan was to take a beginner hike around the Iao Needle, a great state park with a giant famous rock in the middle. I like big rocks. Sasha is very keen on doing lots of hiking, and at the bottom of the park there’s a trailhead so this seemed like a great start.

We drove from Lahaina in the west around the coast road to the central valley. We stopped at a scenic overlook, the ocean as still churning with Molokini in the distance. We were hit with a wind gust and Yulia’s hat went over the rail. It fluttered a bit and landed on the trail below. Fortunately, I was able to hike down a bit to get it back. Hats have a mind of their own sometimes if they haven’t been domesticated.

We continued around and up the valley. The island isn’t that big, and so long as you aren’t having to take a little windy road, it’s pretty quick to get around. We were up to the park in no time, and stopped in the Korean gardens below the park for a quick walk (and restroom break) before going up to the needle. The gardens are nice, but we didn’t want to take too much time as we wanted to get on the trailhead. The parking for the main Ioa Needle park was a mess. Cars were lining the road, and it looked to be really crowded. We paid and went up, walked to the main vista, took the obligatory picture, and headed back down to the river where the trailhead starts. Unfortunately, the trail was closed. Apparently due to potential flash flooding. That sucked as walking around the park wasn’t much of a hike.

We headed back into the local town, Wailuku to grab a bite and see if we could locate another trailhead. We found a nice little Vegetarian Health Food joint and grabbed lunch (vegetarian Food – or as I call it, side dishes). I found an app that had links to Hikes in Maui based on distance from you, with ratings. This was handy as I found a short hike that was just back up the road by Ioa Needle park. So we could get this hike in and not lose too much time. Perfect!

We drove back over to the park, and it took a few passes to find the trailhead. once we spotted it, We headed up into the woods. The hike was listed as just a bit over a mile, with great valley and water views. The trail was easy to follow, but got pretty steep fast. We climbed through the brush, to come to the main body of the hike. It went straight up. Literally. No switchbacks, just a straight climb up the mountain. We figured that it would level out after a bit, but no. We climbed the face of the hill for almost a goddamn mile before we found the first view vista. The view was absolutely amazing, but at that point we’d had enough. We worked our way back down, which was even harder. It ended up taking a full hour round trip, and we were shaking and sweating by the end. Got a couple of great photos though.

We decided to head back to Lahaina, and on the way took a quick stop at The Maui Plantation. They had a little farmer stand on the corner, a soap shop, some great gardens, and a zip line course and a few shops. It was a nice shady spot to cool down for a bit. The wind was still blowing pretty hard in the valley, So we left and continued our trip back around to Lahaina and  the west side of the island. I put the top down in the car, and we headed down the highway. The wind was strong but behind us so it didn’t feel too crazy. Just a few minutes later, Yulia was looking up into the hillside and commented, “is that smoke?” It looked like clouds to me. Yulia was sure it was smoke, and as we approached the first highway intersection the police and fire lights flashing proved Yulia right.

It was a big brush fire. The high winds were whipping it up, and it was moving south towards the highway. The police blocked off the road, and were diverting traffic away from the Main highway. Of course, this is the only way back to our town, so we were stuck until they opened the road. There was a lot of smoke, but the fire didn’t look that big. It was probably a smart precaution to et everyone off the highway. Of course since the police didn’t completely block the shoulder, some idiots decided to just drive around the cop car and get back onto the highway. I’m not sure if they were really stoned locals, or filthy tourists who just couldn’t bother to interrupt their vacation with something like, say, laws or police, or not getting caught  in a brush fire.  The policeman directing traffic saw this, and I could hear him shout, “SERIOUSLY??” He walked over and pointed the line of idiots off the shoulder back into traffic. But first he let the rest of us through.

We were directed on to the highway that leads back to the airport. There aren’t any turns in the middle of the island, so we actually ended up back at the airport. We weren’t sure how long it would take to re-poen the road, so we turned south and headed to Kihei. Once the roads opened we could head straight across from there to the main Lahaina road. We could see across the valley. The smoke was getting thicker. The high winds were feeding the fire and driving it south, and up the mountain.

This was not good.

Traffic was snarled everywhere. At this point we were able to get updates over the radio. One of the DJ’s had just made it to work, he was coughing on air  from the smoke as his car was one of the last to make it through to Lahaina before the road was closed. Lights were flickering in Lahaina as the fire was impacting areas of power lines. The Police and Fire departments reported that the fire was jumping the highway in places, and that the road was closed until further notice. We figured we could find a beach and wait to see what happened.

It took us some hunting around to find a space. We initially found one place with a sandy beach along a dry wash, but as soon as we got out of the car, we were hit by multiple Arrakis-level sandstorms. In about ten seconds, our ears, hair, pockets – everything was full of sand. With the sand in my ass I’m pretty sure at this point I could *literally* shit bricks. Across the water we could see the far side of the island. It was covered in smoke. We could smell it across the bay. Things weren’t getting any better. We shook ourselves out the best we could, and drove a bit further south. We found another beach behind a few buildings, with lots of trees, and that seemed to keep the wind at bay.

The girls took a long swim, and I just hid in the shade. I was already overheated from the hike, and the cool shade was relaxing. I tried to find some news online. There wasn’t much yet. The Maui County webpage noted the highway was closed due to a brush fire. I’d figured out that on my own. The smoke and police were my first clue. I signed up for the Maui Police alerts by text, hoping that would give a clue. The girls finished their swim. It was good that we were all cooled down, but we still had nowhere to go.

We spent the afternoon touring around some Hotels. The Wailea area is pretty upscale, with the Four Seasons, a bunch of high-end timeshares, shops, and resort type crap. It’s all nice but it just doesn’t feel like Hawaii. It’s probably the curse for a lot of these areas to end up turning into bigger facilities. Everything is expensive, the pool at the Four Seasons looks like Kublai Kahn’s Fat Camp. It really made us appreciate the fact that we were staying in an actual neighborhood. I like Hawaii for Hawaii. We can find a cookie-cutter resort in Mexico for less money. If you never leave the resort, it just doesn’t matter where it is.

Eventually we stopped for food at the outdoor mall. We stopped at the Tommy Bahama’s restaurant there. The place actually had a pretty good view, and we hit Happy Hour, so we stocked up on some Drinks, great fish, and sliders. We were still trying to figure out how to get back when the hostess suggested we try the back road to Lahaina. I wasn’t sure what she meant, so when I asked she explained that there’s a back road around the north side of Maui to the west. I knew of a really dangerous twisty dirt road on a sheer cliff that goes around the north, was that it?

She laughed at us and said that the road wasn’t that bad. It sure sounded like a good plan. We took our time eating dinner, hoping the road would open. It didn’t. Before we left, I asked our server what his thoughts about the north road were. He said it was a really dangerous twisty dirt road on a sheer cliff that goes around the north. It would take at least 3-4 hours to get from Wailea all the way around. And we were going the bad way around, meaning we would be on the outside of the cliff.

Fuck. Dodged that bullet.

At this point we decided to find a hotel nearby. There was no indication that the road was going to open before tomorrow. Yulia checked her Expedia account and found a place just up the hill that would accept her points. There wasn’t much left in the area, and we were looking at several hundred dollars unless we could swing a deal. Expedia was not letting us book online, so we drove up to the hotel to see what we could do. It was away from the waterfront, but had a stunning view of the whole bay. There was a pastel colored Late 40’s jeep out front, and the whole place had a very Rat-Pack vintage vibe to it. We went up to the front desk and gave them the update on how we were stuck here and needed a place. We showed him the Expedia listing, and asked if we could book the room. He explained that Expedia was messed up, and they didn’t have that room available. He did do a quick check, and had one extra room (a single) and  began working on his computer to see if he could swing us a deal. AS he was checking, one of the other women at the front desk told me that the news just announced that the police were going to start reopening the highway.

I looked over her shoulder and sure enough, there was an announcement on the Maui news that they were going to start opening the highway back to Lahaina. It was going to be one lane each way, but that would get us back. We had to choose now, stay or go? A quick family conference confirmed the initial assumption of Get The Fuck Out Of Dodge, and we thanked the folks at this hotel, stole some apples from the fruit bowl, and got in the car. We were back on the highway in no time.

There was a queue to get from Kihei, across Highway 310 to Maalaea, then back onto Highway 30 to Lahaina. It wasn’t that long, and once the police opened our direction to the first cars, things started rolling along. Once we made the turn at Maalaea, we could see the damage.

The fire burned from the highway interchange in the middle of the valley all the way to the south shore. You could see the dark line where it climbed up and over the mountain. It looked like black exhaust rolling up the hill. Specks of red twinkled all over the hillside. These were fires still burning. As we got closer to the burn zone, we could see fires still on the side of the road. Just little spots here and there. But the bad part was when we went around the south end of the island.

Have you seen the movie Constantine with Keanu Reeves? They show hell in that film as a hot, burned out version of Los Angeles. Everything is smoldering and dirty. This was worse. Emergency vehicles were all over the roadside. Trees along the roadside were still actively burning, giving a real vision of hell. It was dark out now, the sun had gone down making these fires all around the sole  source of light, with an eerie yellow cast. Fires were all around us, even burning over the tunnel we passed through. The line of cars crept slowly through the mess. Once we started heading north again, things returned to normal, but we could still see fire lines up in the hills. They appeared to float above us in the dark, lighting the sky.

It only took a little over an hour to get back to the Condo. It was surprisingly quick considering how many cars they were moving and the whole “on fire” part. Once back in the room  I made us all Mai Tais to wind down. Sasha got one as well, because I’m a great father that way. Lead by Example.