Cruising through Cowboy Country

Trip Start Jul 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 24, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Sunday, July 29, 2012

Have I mentioned that we are absolutely incapable of an early start while on a cycle tour? At least for the morning we were leaving Hilo, we had the decent excuse of a downpour to delay us from packing up. And then there was the business of breakfast. How could we miss the opportunity to eat a loco moco (or moco loco as Matt prefers to call it) at the home of the original: Cafe 100. As we easily each polished off a to-go container of rice topped by a hamburger patty and runny egg swimming in brown gravy, we were glad to have a long day ahead just to make sure we would burn it all off.

Not that we ended up leaving any time soon, since we got distracted with little stops along Hilo's main downtown street; look the farmer's market, oh a visitor center, and wait are those people checking out our bikes? They were. This adorable honeymooning San Francisco couple had just completed their own bicycle tour of the Big Island. Unlike in Iceland, they would be the only cycle-tourers we would meet on our entire trip. After some box scrounging and creative packaging at the post office to mail our camping gear ahead to Maui, we finally set off scratching our heads at how it had come to be early afternoon.

Our riding that day was scenic but generally uneventful. No longer in the rain shadow of the great volcanoes, it finally looked and felt more like what Matt expected Hawai'i to be. We rode past numerous waterfalls tucked away in lush jungly vegetation on one side, and the crashing surf of the ocean on the other. With only a stop for dinner at Tex's Drive In for Big Island beef burgers and their legitimately famous malasadas for dessert, we rolled in to the Waipio Hostel just before dark, a cute little place with citrus and mac nut trees in the yard for your picking pleasure and a nice view of the ocean from their outdoor kitchen.

The next morning we continued down the road to the Waipio Valley overlook, worthwhile in and of it self, but made more memorable by hiking down the extremely steep road to the valley floor. Barely populated by people, with wild horses and taro patches, Waipio's remote and undeveloped state is devoutly protected by Hawaiians as a well-preserved microcosm of the past. The sole single-lane road helps to keep the modern world at bay by limiting access to confident drivers of 4x4 vehicles in low gear and tourists in decent enough shape to hike down and up. 

With another distant destination we needed to make that day, we only had time for a quick appreciation of a waterfall dropping the height of the steep walls at the back of the valley and a jaunt to the black sand beach where we were entertained by backpackers (quite ungracefully) fording the mouth of the river. While we had gotten a ride in the back of a pick up through the muddy sections of road to the beach, we weren't so lucky on the way back. Matt (quite ungracefully) got one foot stuck in the mud past his ankle, so his shoe made an amusing squishing sound all the way back up the calf-burning road out of the valley.

Heading west out of the Waipio area, the landscape transitioned to the open grasslands of North Kohala. We were in paniolo country now, and with my Montana roots, I felt right at home, although I had to stop mooing at the cows when passing by because they were always so startled that I set off a few mini-stampedes. With the weather also in constant transition between sun and showers, we welcomed the opportunity to dry off and warm up in (where else but) a brewery when we reached the town of Kamuela (Waimea). Once the sampler tray of brews by the Big Island Brewhaus had been thoroughly tasted and bellies filled with yummy tacos and burritos, we could put off the inevitable no longer: the Kohala Mountain Road.

And how our dread quickly turned to elation once we began the climb up the reasonably graded route with hardly a car passing by. It was slow going heading up, but only because we had to keep stopping for photos of the amazing sight unfolding behind us. With the fluctuating weather, we were in rainbow country too. Cowboys and rainbows, that's a nice combination. By the time we reached the high point of the road, we were descending into the sunset lighting up the sky over the Big Island's most northern point. It was surreal to feel so immersed in all of that perfect beauty.

It also felt quite surreal to settle in to our "cabin" for the next couple of nights. It was described as rustic, and was anything but. It was so lovely and luxurious that it was difficult to motivate for any sightseeing the next day. But we did eventually make it out to Pololu Valley, a dramatic place in the same spirit as Waipio, but with only a steep trail for access instead of a road. We also enjoyed wandering around the close-knit community of Hawi, so small-town that all the shops were closed by mid-afternoon that Sunday and left us no choice but to ride back to the cabin and relax on the lanai. Darn.


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