Since Ryan had the most experience driving a stick, we decided that he should take the wheel. What our buggy lacked in social graces it made up for in character. The friendly smiley-face painted on its hood softened the angry roar of its engine. There were no doors, so we had to be limber to get under the roll bars and into the seats. Heads turned as we made our way around Hāna. I was surprised to see locals’ and tourists’ faces light up and have them throw us friendly shaka gestures as we passed.
We made a pit stop for provisions at Hana Farms (whose freshly baked chocolate-chip banana bread, with its crunchy, sugar-crusted top, was the perfect pairing to a cup of joe), then headed east, toward Kaupō. With its serpentine curves and stunning vistas, the Hāna Highway is a popular Maui attraction, but that northwest passage tends to be congested, which could lead to stop-and-start traffic. Not so fun with a manual transmission. So, suitably caffeinated, we ventured on to hit the scenic spots beyond Hāna and Kīpahulu via the southwesterly route that would take us through Kaupō, then upcountry into Kula. We’d arrive back in Kahului in time to return the buggy before the six o’clock curfew.
After our second stop and an early lunch of hulihuli chicken at Kōkī Beach, I was ready to give the stick shift another try. To my surprise, I got the buggy into gear smoothly, and soon felt so at ease that I drove the rest of the way back. I felt empowered as I accelerated and shifted into the higher gears, especially on the long stretch of newly paved road west of Kaupō. It was a thrill to rediscover that adrenaline rush. Okay, it wasn’t all Herbie the Love Bug; I stalled a few times in first gear. But hey, in my defense, the gears weren’t numbered, so I had to follow the “h” configuration by feel. Trial and error. Baptism by fire. I was out of my comfort zone, but driving the compact, open-air vehicle enabled me to connect more deeply with the road and my surroundings. I had unobstructed sightlines, the sun on my skin and the ocean breeze in my face. Ryan and I couldn’t hear each other, so we gave up trying to chat. Just as well, I could focus on becoming one with the buggy and the asphalt.