The ocean had a cloudy complexion, a light gray created by an overcast sky. The filtered light made a convoy of islands stand in stark relief. From the pali lookout, Maui's Puu Olai, Molokini, Kahoolawe and Lanai sat serenely on the line marking the end of here and the beginning of there.
The lookout parking lot was full, but there's always a sliver of space for a motorcycle. Making the turn off Honoapiilani Highway was easy. As expected, traffic everywhere on Maui was light. As expected during the whale season, there was a crowd of hopefuls draped over the railing.
The whales were being coy. In the distance, an occasional explosion of white marked the presence of one of Maui's winter visitors. Wishful watchers held their tiny point-and-shoot cameras and smart phones up for a shot of a lifetime. Wasn't to be. No breaches. No spouts.
Two slow-moving whale backs barely disturbed the wind-ruffled surface before sliding into the deep. A third whale back appeared a few yards farther out to sea. The size of the two humpbacks suggested a mother and calf, a speculation reinforced by the presence of the third, a possible guard auntie or juvenile male.
It was the first stop on a day traditionally devoted to roaming. There's nothing quite like going for a long motorcycle ride on a day when the island's attention is riveted on an East Coast football stadium. The game and the ride began at 1:15 p.m.
Down Pulehu Road out of foggy Kula, across Mokulele and along Piilani highways before dropping down to the coast to sample Kihei without the usual glare of sunshine. Spotty traffic. There's a feeling of the beach town as it was 30 years ago.
The Kamaole beach parks were loosely littered with bodies. No bikinis strolling down sidewalks. Too bad. The lack of traffic left plenty of space for gawking. It was more than warm enough for the winter refugees, but what's a beach town without sunshine? The old houses at the end of Kihei Road held the answer: A village of residents forever tied to the sea.
The recent rains had filled Kealia Pond and covered the mudflats on the makai side of the road. Once upon a time, Alexander & Baldwin thought about turning the flats into a marina. Opposition to the idea led to the creation of the Kealia National Wildlife Refuge.
Baby Dancer purred through the pali at a steady 40 mph, 5 mph above the legal minimum and 5 mph below the legal maximum - the only speed setup of its kind on the island. Blame whale-watchers.
A highlight of any ride to Lahaina is Olowalu. The highway is covered with the spreading boughs of ancient monkeypod trees. The shade wasn't needed but beautiful roads are in short supply on Maui, never mind spectacular views.
One of the most unexpected views comes at the top of the new Lahaina bypass. The light, smooth-flowing traffic allowed plenty of time to gaze at the developments at the foot of the mountains and spotting a sign pointing the way to the bypass. Make the turn.
Where's the bypass? The road seemed to lead off to nowhere. There it is. In bright sunshine, the slab leading left glares as only fresh concrete can. The bypass can claim a couple of Maui firsts - an overpass and an honest-to-Oahu on-ramp. At the top of a 12 percent grade, Lahaina is spread out below. There's no savoring the best-ever ground-bound aerial look at the old town sitting around a white smokestack. "Emergency Stopping Only," the signs say.
The most direct way from the bypass to Front Street is through the Lahaina Cannery Mall parking lot. A left turn. All the tourists seem to be down near the harbor. The sun glitters off the sea. Settle into a spot next to the library park. A young man leans against a coconut palm, his attention riveted on a book. A couple of surfers carry their boards across the grass.
"What's that?" asks a tourist, pointing at the orange-and-white striped navigation aid planted behind the library. She's told it marks the port side of the Lahaina Harbor entrance channel. The starboard side marker is down on a seawall literally anchored by an ancient, rusty chain. Out in the roadstead, a clutter of private boats wallow where whalers and the U.S. Navy once moored.
The most action at the harbor was a bus unloading a tour group. It could have been Lahaina circa 1970, with or without dogs sleeping in the street. It wasn't though. It was simply Super Bowl Sunday, one of the best days of the year to get reacquainted with Maui. The 94-mile ride was a bonus.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.