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Into the Woods: Mountain biking in Maui's Makawao Forest Reserve

From the head of the Kahakapao Loop Trail—our chosen afternoon route—posted signage and well-marked bike trails make it easy to decide our fate. Open to mountain bikers, hikers and runners, the main loop trail and assorted other trails of Kahakapao are located between the 2,800-foot and 3,700-foot elevations of Haleakala. Trails range in length from a quarter-mile to 5.2 miles for the Kahakapao Loop, for both beginning and advanced mountain bikers.

During hikes, sunlight peeking through the forest canopy remind me of larger processes at work here between environment and ecosystem. The sun nurtures the undergrowth and my soul as I commune with the forest’s native kalo (taro), various ferns and other flora. Exploration is slow, thought provoking and casually impulsive.

Bikers negotiate one of the many sharp turns on the Kahakapao Loop Trail. Photo by Sue Hudelson for HAWAII Magazine.

Today, I’m whizzing by all of it, making quick decisions, with my main concern being steering clear of closely spaced trees.

Rain is often a threat at this time of day, but we experience only a light misting. There are no fallen trees or branches on the trail today, but the speed at which I’m pedaling negates any such surprises. It’s a snail’s pace compared to that of a biker we pass who is warming up for the annual Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon, less than a day away and set for Kahakapao.

We follow him deeper and higher into the Makawao Forest Reserve, where the loop trail is damp and muddy from overnight rains, to a half-mile pump track. A pump track is a dirt course composed of various jumps, berms and bumps designed for mountain bikers to practice moves or race each other. Hidden 
beneath the trees, in the midst of nature, the course resembles a low-to-the-ground roller-coaster track, heavy with tire treads from escapades earlier in the day.

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