We got to Hawaii Sunday afternoon late. That’s another story – a long story, to go with an extra-long flight – but I wanted to note that today, Ian heroically made it possible for me to do the Cycle to the Sun, the big ride up Mt. Haleakala. This blog post is a summary of my impressions and highlights, and is not intended to be a blow-by-blow account of each stage of the ride.
The night before, I slept really badly, and kept waking up, thinking it was time to get up. I was concerned about waking up Benji and Ian when my alarm went off at 4 am. So I ended up waking up at 3 am, dozing lightly until 3:45, and finally getting up. On the bright side, my alarm didn’t disturb my family; on the downside, I didn’t rest very well before a big ride that I really wanted to go well.
I’d gotten most things ready the night before – measuring sports drink powder, sorting and selecting what food to carry, that kind of thing – so in the morning I just bagged all my bike gear and a spare set of regular clothes up to take to the car with me. We got a free rental upgrade that resulted in our driving a Nissan Murano, which fits my bike easily in the back when the seats are down. Nice!
Just as I finished eating breakfast (an ungodly volume of instant oatmeal and yogurt), Ian got up, so he helped my carry my bags while I managed the bike.
About 40 minutes of driving got me to the proximity of the start, but I wasn’t sure about parking and such. The guys at West Maui Cycle, who have been all-round helpful, mentioned a public parking lot in Paia, the start town. I found that, parked, got ready, and was rolling at 6 am.
Now, the thing about 6 am in Hawaii at this time of year… It’s pitch dark. Driving over there, I literally had no idea where the water was and where the mountain was. It was DARK; oh, and cloudy, so sadly no nice stars. Fortunately, I had brought my small blinking front light and my bright rear light, for just such an occurrence. Unfortunately, I hadn’t envisioned riding in complete dark. I brought lights for dusky conditions, when I could see but it was still dim out. I turned my little light on solid, which did almost nothing to illuminate the road but was better than blinking, and went carefully, hoping there weren’t any hazards in the road. Happily, aside from some bumps, I didn’t hit anything.
I heard a lot of very active exotic birds just before daylight, and rooster crowing accompanied me for a couple hours.
It felt like a good hill pretty much right off the bat, but I couldn’t see enough (actually, for a good while, couldn’t see anything) to really tell. I made sure I was following the route I’d made for my Garmin, and just found a pace I could sustain (this worked out to be 8.8 mph going up and 23.7 mph going down). After about an hour, I reached another little town, and topped up my bottle. I’d read details of the route and where to stop beforehand, but of course couldn’t remember once I was on the road.
Spoiler: Water actually wasn’t an issue at all. I had plenty to drink the whole time, unlike when I do the West Maui loop. I topped up once more before the visitor center; nothing interesting about that.
Anyway, I rode uphill for a long time. Eventually the sun came up, and a while later there were spectacular early-morning views of West Maui. This was at about 3,000 feet. I switched from thinking in miles to thinking in feet climbed for this ride.
I didn’t take many pictures after that, because I was riding up, and up, and up, and up. It was like the longest, hardest trainer ride ever. It was also like riding up Mt. Baldy and Mt. Ashland, but just on and on several times. Actually, Mt. Baldy was really similar in another way, too – both Baldy and Haleakala end with soul-sucking 15% or steeper pitches.
First, however, I’ll say I stopped at the visitor center at 7,000 feet. I went through periods of feeling kind of lousy and then back to feeling OK again, and through the lousy times I kept thinking of the visitor center. Not coincidentally, the lousy feeling often happened when I went around a switchback and went from having a tailwind to a headwind (I’ve never seen so many switchbacks in a road before; maybe somewhere in the Alps has more, but seriously, I think I spent over an hour switchbacking). The wind became an increasing factor over the ride, and I’m glad there wasn’t more of it. What I had was ample.
The visitor center was closed, but restrooms and water remained open, and the water was delicious! It came from some cloud precipitation system they had, and therefore skipped steeping in sulfur and all those other deliciously volcanic minerals most of the Maui water contains. I was diligent about eating and drinking frequently, and had no significant trouble with cramping. But I did make sure to fill my bottles, because there was no water from there to the top, another 3,000 feet.
Here’s me, happy to have tasty water; and the view.
By the way, here’s me a couple hours later at the same spot on the way down.
Notice anything? Yep, while I climbed the last 3,000 feet, some serious clouds rolled in. I missed riding through them on the way up, fortunately, but couldn’t miss them on the way down. It took a long time to get through the clouds even going down, and I did feel pretty cold for a while.
However, you may have spotted that I have a vest on in the second picture. That’s because I followed the advice of many people and brought a vest, warm arm warmers (I actually wore cool arm covers to protect from the sun on the way up), and long finger gloves. These made it bearable to descend the 10,000 feet all in one go, even with getting rather wet from going through the clouds.
Oh, another thing about the visitor center: They had some displays up about the nene, an endangered Hawaiian goose probably evolved from the Canadian goose. They live in the Haleakala park area and on the big island. I learned a few things about it, and thought, “huh.” But then, riding a while later, I saw a large grey bird fly across the road and hide in the heather (or heather analogue) off to my right. My first impression was “turkey!” but then I realized it was (a) flying better than any turkey I enter saw; (B) do they even have wild turkeys in Hawaii?; and (c) duh, it was probably a nene. Cool!
Anyway, I had a goal of taking less than 4 hours to do the whole climb. Despite what I can honestly say was my best effort, I took 4:05 to reach the very top. I actually got to the lower summit parking area just before 4:00, and it actually took me another 5 minutes to climb that last maybe 1/4 mile at a 15% grade into the wind the whole way. I probably would have been faster getting off and walking, but darn it, I was going to finish, no matter what! I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, 100%.
A nice, if rather inept, lady took my picture at the top. Also, many, many people stopped to tell me that they had passed me on the way up, and were impressed I made it. Me, too. A couple guys from Colorado wanted to know if it was harder than Colorado mountains, but sadly I couldn’t weigh in on that, never having ridden in Colorado. What was hard was around 8,000 feet and thereafter, I started getting dizzy, especially during harder efforts. That’s one reason I was so slow on that final little kicker. I’ve never been that high before, and the air was noticeably thinner.
The views were spectacular.
Now I wish I’d taken a picture of the way I came up. Oh, well. Next time? Some people asked if I’d done it before, or would do it again, and at that moment, at the top, I said no. That could change if I forget how gruelling it was, or if I had a riding buddy.
Then I rode down. One of my legs had stiffened up as I ate and recovered at the top, and it was pretty painful to start. By the end I actually felt decent, considering. I actually felt more anxious about my safety on the way down than up, so I kept the speed very moderate and went around corners carefully. Twice I passed the long lines of people on beach cruisers doing a ride down the mountain. There are companies that ferry people and cruiser bikes to the top, and they then all ride a guided ride down. I saw lots of such groups coming down as I went up, and many vans passed me. They were descending very slowly, however, and I quickly left them behind.
It took me 1.5 hours almost exactly to ride down, excluding my stop at the visitor center, and with one slight route confusion due to a road that closed for construction after I went through in the morning. It was odd coming into Paia at the very end: I didn’t recognize anything, because I’d come through in the dark on the way up.
And that was it! I made it. I’m grateful for the training rides Dad and I did the last month or so; I’m also grateful the weather cooperated and the wind wasn’t worse; and that Ian and my family here made it possible for me to do it.
Now I’m going to go sleep, hopefully for a very long time.
Edit to add: Here’s my actual route.