Our 50th State

Travel Hawaii on Motorcycle

Hawaii on Motorcycle

Forty-nine states. That was how many we had ridden to and through. And I wasn’t sure that was going to change; there were so many negatives about a trip to the 50th state.

First was the flight. My last commercial flight eight years prior ended up taking as long as it would have if surface roads had been traveled. That flight was the last vacation my wife, Melissa, and I had taken together on anything other than two wheels.

But the bigger issue was the state itself. Hawaii is the fourth smallest state, with the Big Island being about the same size as Connecticut. This may seem strange to the average vacationer, but it was initially difficult to get excited about going to Hawaii. I couldn’t see flying a fifth of the way around the earth, just to go to a Connecticut of beaches and cabana boys. I have little interest in either and I’m definitely not a lay-around-thebeach kind of person (people who do like to lay around on the beach are probably happy about that).

How was Hawaii going to compare to wide-open spaces of the Great Plains or the grandeur of scenery in the Southwest? There can always be surprises, but would there be gems like the Berkshires and quiet, steamy summer coastlines in the Southeast. Would a land known mostly for tourism have people as genuinely friendly as the Midwest, with local food to compare with the South?

Despite the negatives, 49 was incomplete. Forty-nine had to become 50. And so we jetted off.

The travel went surprisingly smooth with anticipation helping to ease the discomfort. We approached the island covered in clouds; Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were poking through. As the plane descended, I realized my prejudice was very wrong. I didn’t see scenes of waving palm trees and crowded beaches, but a moonscape of lava, with waves crashing against a craggy shore that looked intriguingly familiar, yet unlike anything I’d seen before.

While shipping the Gold Wing to Hawaii might have been an option for a longer stay, we rented an Electra Glide from Big Island Harley-Davidson in Kailua-Kona. When we originally started motorcycle touring, it was on a Harley-Davidson Super Glide, so it felt completely appropriate that we rounded out our 50th state on a Harley as well. This was the first of many encounters with island people who were friendly and helpful. With tourists coming in and out on frequent rentals, they maintained a great sense of humor. I guess I wasn’t surprised at that one – they were motorcycle people!

We had already driven around the island some in a rental car, but this really didn’t prepare us for riding a motorcycle through Hawaii. As we left the dealership and rode north, we went through the almost bleak landscape our Boeing 757 had landed in. Squinting just a little bit, the scenery might have been a combination of Wyoming and Oregon. Wyoming on the right, as mountains with scrubby brush loped up and out of sight, and Oregon to the left as waves crashed against an uninhabited shoreline.

Continuing near the northern peak of the Big Island, resorts and small parks dotted the coast and the area had more in the way of tropical vegetation. Here, palm trees did wave in the sun. Boats could be seen out on the water. The area was reminiscent of southern Florida or the Gulf Coast if the black lava had been white sand instead.

Rounding the northern tip of the island and working our way south and east, the terrain undulated with more rolling hills. Green fields filled with cattle would not have looked out of place in Kansas or Oklahoma. The trees took on the mix of foreign and familiar: evergreen, but different.

We continued south toward Hilo, now on the “wet” side of the island; it rains almost every day on the east side of Hawaii, usually only briefly. Rivers could be seen plunging through gorges, feeding lush greenery. The trees, vines and other varied plants on our right reminded us of the Ozarks in Missouri. The coastline on our left looked more like the Northeast, with businesses and homes dotting the area.

Passing through Hilo could have been going through a Midwestern city if we ignored the intermittent view of Hilo Bay. We frequented many local restaurants and bought groceries locally during our stay. Drinking Kona coffee, eating Kalua Pork, Huli Chicken and Saimin noodles and sampling sweetened poi was a culinary trip to real Hawaii. A run up Saddle Road brought us up to unexpected elevations such a short distance from the Pacific Ocean. There weren’t tight, twisty roads and switchbacks, but the temperature drop, up to 6,600 feet through sweeping curves, was reminiscent of the mountains through Maine and Vermont. The upper elevations are sometimes covered in snow, which could have brought us mentally back to the Valdez Highway in Alaska.

Volcanoes National Park lies about an hour ride from Hilo and reminded us of many of the other parks we’ve visited in the previous 49 states. The Jagger overlook, especially alone, in the very early dark hours of the morning was even more grand and amazing than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The many available hikes in the park were doable by adventurers of all abilities and were similar to treks in the Black Hills in South Dakota or the Smokies in Tennessee. We even rode through one torrential rainstorm not too far from the park. It just isn’t a real motorcycle trip if rain isn’t encountered at least once.

And while the ride through the Big Island of Hawaii had many unexpected treasures that reminded us of the previous 49 states, it was at the same time, uniquely Hawaiian. There were vast plains of lava of many textures and colors, and unique flora and fauna we’d never seen before. A stop at the southernmost point in the United States and standing on the rocks where Captain James Cook was killed 237 years previous, made Hawaii an adventure that had to be experienced.

Riding through the previous 49 states prepared us for the 50th, and was the reason to go. Still, riding a motorcycle through “our” 50th state, Hawaii, was much more than expected. We thought we were going to Hawaii to put a checkmark next to the number 50. We left having experienced much more.


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