The late Charlie Nalepa played a part in a Sunday of discovery for a malihini reporter from the city. The year was 1973. The malihini had spent his first week on Maui digging up stories for The Honolulu Advertiser. Some days it was hard to find something worth reporting. The island was just that side of being sleepy.
The first day of rest since Young Brothers had delivered the reporter's Triumph motorcycle rolled around. The reporter was more than glad to get out of a rental Datsun 210. He was looking forward to seeing what he could see while straddling 500cc of willing horsepower.
The boss in the city didn't expect any copy, but there might be a feature story lurking in Maui's wide expanses. Work was a habit that didn't respect days of the week. Besides, the gig basically was a 24-7 job ready for anything and everything. That's true for reporters anywhere and everywhere.
The sun had been up for a couple of hours. While eating scrambled eggs and Vienna sausages chased by a butter-soaked pancake and two cups of coffee at Sheik's, a plan was formulated. Take a run to the summit of Haleakala and then visit a weird event scheduled for Kahului Harbor. Something might be worth writing about.
The morning sun had just started heating up the asphalt outside of the restaurant. Pull on the helmet, open the gas tap, tickle the carburetor and jump on the kick-starter. The bike muttered to life. There was little or no traffic in Kahului or on Hana Highway - a far cry from the streets of Honolulu. Up Haleakala Highway with mostly open road ahead. Wide views stretched in all directions. The bike's tires sang a sibilant song.
A left turn at Five Trees led to an equally smooth transit. At first, pastures on the left and pineapple fields on the right. After the one-lane bridge, the road turned into a series of sensuous curves. The sweet-handling Triumph begged for a little more speed. A few cars, maybe carrying sunrise visitors, came the other way but it was easy to stay in the right lane.
Crater Road required more attention, especially those uphill, decreasing-radius curves. Even so, the views and the scent of sunbaked grass were distracting. On a curve, some cow had left a brown, wet-looking pile of manure. Spotted it too late to swerve. Trust the bike. The tires hit the cow pie. The bike slid sideways across the road but stayed upright. Whew! God bless English engineering and no downhill traffic. Proceed at a slightly lower rate of speed.
Lower-land heat gave way to a sharp chill. The self-generated wind whistled through a denim jacket over a sweatshirt. Bare fingers began to stiffen. At the top, wonder about altitude-spawned temperature changes on a tropic island. Savor another soul-swelling view and head down to where minimal riding gear would be more appropriate.
The jacket came off at the harbor. The beach was covered with several hundred people. They were laughing and yelling encouragement and derision at a motley armada in the water. The Haleakala Dairy Milk Carton Boat Races were underway.
Charlie Nalepa's brainchild strained credulity. Racing was taking a back seat to survival. Craft of every shape and style floundered in the flat water. Each of the craft was constructed entirely of Haleakala Dairy half-gallon milk cartons. The more astute and ambitious builders had covered the cartons with fiberglass. They might not have been swift but at least they were staying on the top side of the water.
Each time one of the boats began to slip into the briny, there were hoots and laughter on the shore. Even the about-to-be-dunked sailors were laughing. This was a side of Maui that was new to the malihini reporter. Islanders loved a good joke, which the milk carton boats were. Definitely.
The death of the master promoter brought back a day of Maui discovery, the first of many. The memories began with an email from Peter Baldwin via Maizie Cameron. They were further prompted by a short obituary last Sunday and a Tuesday front-page feature centered on Charlie Nalepa's success at making Haleakala Dairy's POG known around the world.
Charles "Charlie" Nalepa died Aug. 2 in his Kihei home at the age of 76 - the right man at the right time in the evolution of the island. He was a Maui original.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.