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Surviving Hana road warrants bragging rights

More curves than a Hula girl,” brags the blue short-sleeved T-shirt.

With 617 twists, bends, switchbacks and “oh-my-god” comments covering 52 miles of road, no kidding.

“There’s no whining, no crying and no bellyaching,” a sign reads.

The tongue-in-cheek article of upper-body apparel makes more sense once you’ve braved the route to the oasis of Hana from the hippie, surfer-dude beach town of Paia (Pie-EE-ah) on Maui’s northeast coast. It might only be 52 miles to Hana from Paia, but it’s two hours of travel time, minimum, without stopping for any of the countless roadside natural attractions along the way. (Visit www.wheelbase.ws/hana for video clips and photo gallery.)

“Keep arms and legs inside vehicle,” said another sign.

Excuse me? Is this a ride through “Jurassic Park”? No, even if there is a real honest-to-goodness rain forest, but trees and rock cuts are close enough to deliver serious injury to dangling limbs.

Just to put things in perspective, there are spectacular driving routes everywhere, but few will challenge your ability to control a motor vehicle while looking at everything else but the road, have you trust that other distracted and green tourists know what they’re doing, too, and teach you to pull over when the locals ride your bumper and honk for you to get out of the way.

Few roads will completely and utterly physically wear you out. And few are honored by T-shirts — the great American tribute — that remind you of the experience with sage advice well after the fact.

“Persons with back, neck, knee and heart problems should not experience this attraction,” a poster warned.

The T-shirt reads like a warning for an amusement-park ride, but the danger is no joke.

One wrong move and it’s head-on into an oncoming vehicle or worse. Because the winding road is dangling off the coastline’s steep cliffs, there’s the potential for a landslide such as the one that covered a section of the highway March 21 for much of the day, forcing drivers to detour through more remote areas. The drive is not to be taken lightly.

“Obviously we’re just grateful that no vehicle was passing through the area at that particular moment, otherwise it had the potential to be a great disaster,” spokeswoman Mahina Martin told the Maui News.

The speed limit is less than 30 miles per hour in most places and grinds down to 10 when entering a corner. There are 56 one-lane bridges, seemingly strategically placed on blind curves, each with nothing but a rock wall on one side, a steep cliff on the other and falling stones just in case there’s not enough danger to make you wonder if it’s not too late to turn back … if only there was someplace to turn around.

Still, for anyone who loves a great road trip, the road to Hana is pure heaven, especially when a couple of thousand feet of elevation change is randomly dialed in for good measure.

“Safety harness required at all times,” I’m reminded.

Thanks for the tip.

The T-shirt should read, “Convertible top must be down at all times.”

Our faithful road companion was a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with the assorted flaps, plastic windows and collapsible tentlike garb tucked away to reveal the sky above filled with amazing scenery. There’s strange orange-swirl tree trunks (Rainbow Eucalyptus) with absolutely no bark, waterfalls cascading from 100 feet above and rock cuts that seem so close as to scrape the mirrors.

And after all this, the quiet town of Hana located on Maui’s eastern shore is tucked away like an undiscovered but highly polished jewel. Where, 52 miles away at the beginning of the trip, Paia is jammed with tourists, coffee shops, the popular Paia Inn and one of the best pizza joints to ever grace a main drag, Hana is so rural it’s difficult to tell where the town begins and where it ends. A small, quiet beach with vacant picnic tables and huge shade trees is a place to turn off the brain for a while and serves to recharge you, both physically and mentally, for the return trip, unless you plan to stay in Hana for the night … or forever, which would be the obvious choice.

In between the two towns, it’s 617 turns, 56 bridges, 52 miles and one wild ride.

It’s the ultimate road trip and this is one T-shirt that fits.

Jeff Melnychuk is Wheelbase Communications’ managing editor. Wheelbase is a worldwide supplier of automobile news, reviews and features. Drop him a note online at www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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