March 25th, 2010

The Longest Day

The longest day of any vacation is generally the last day, and that goes triple for Hawaii vacations. (More on this shortly.) We got packed up and checked out of the hotel by 11, and went down to Kihei for lunch and some browsing-of-shops. That done, we cruised up the west coast of Maui to Lahaina for more of the same, plus a ride on the Sugar Cane Train, also known as the Lahaina & Kaanapoli Railroad.

It's a narrow-gauge live steamer that once hauled workers and tonnage between the now-defunct Maui sugar cane plants and downtown Lahaina. Investors bought the line when its longtime owners put it up for sale in 1969, and for 40 years it's been hauling tourists at ten miles an hour along a six-mile run that cuts through an exclusive golf course where the grade crossings are for golf carts. We waved at a lot of Japanese golfers who didn't seem particularly annoyed that we interrupted their game. This may be because the train is a huge attraction for Japanese tourists, to the point where all the signs in the station and on the train are in both English and Japanese.

The track is a little rough, and it's a clattery, noisy run that I suspect beautifully captures the atmosphere of most short lines in the steam era. Alas, the locos are not original, since a well-heeled locomotive collector (specializing in 1:1 scale!) bought whatever the line had been using prior to the sale. What's there now is a cute little oil-fired Porter 2-4-0 that (sans tender) could fit in my garage. (The Web site does not picture the Porter, which is not as glitzy-glam as the other loco, which was in the shed getting some work done.) There's a Baldwin 0-6-0 on display on the grounds outside the station, but whether it ever ran on the line is unclear.

We spent the rest of the afternoon prowling the shops in downtown Lahaina and watching the crabs frolic on the rocks along the ocean. After a slightly late supper downing some estimable sliders at Cheeseburger Island Style in Wailea, we picked up our bags at the hotel for the long flight home.

People who don't go to Hawaii much may not have heard that most flights from Hawaii to the mainland are redeyes: You take off circa 10:30 PM and fly for six or seven hours across three time zones, making for a landing at 7 or 8 AM. This is done for the sake of making connecting flights in Dallas or Phoenix or Denver; otherwise, the plane lands after most of the day's connecting flights to smaller cities are gone.

I'm an insomniac even in my own bed; sleeping while sitting upright on an airliner is a wistful fantasy. Carol, by contrast, puts on one of those foam sleep-collars and is out like a light. So I sat and read Thomas Cahill's marvelous Mysteries of the Middle Ages for two and a half hours until I realized that I was no longer taking notes in the margins, which for me generally means that my higher brain functions had shut down and I was now merely scanning words. For the rest of the flight I tried to put myself to sleep via several meditative methods, none of which worked at all. I was mighty glad at the five-hour mark, when the crew put the coffee pot on and I could wake myself up chemically to the point where I could think again.

We changed planes in Phoenix for the 90-minute hop to Denver, where we discovered that a huge blizzard had struck the previous afternoon. Over a foot had fallen (up to 21" in some places) and the roads were a mess. By the time we got to Denver, I was staggering, and after lunch Carol took the 93-mile drive home in the slushy right lane, while we looked apprehensively at all the cars in the ditch, among them plenty of four-wheelers. Here in the Springs it was a mere matter of two or three inches, and today's bright sun will melt most of that. More significantly, I slept for eleven hours last night, and thus life finally returned to normal after twenty-odd hours of continuous awakeness.

Much to do here. EntConnect in fact began today, but I will not be heading up to Denver until tomorrow afternoon for the 6 PM happy hour. I'll try to post updates while I'm there, so stay tuned.