A Ride Up A Volcano

A memorable day on a mountain

Many pay for the privilege to descend this mighty mount
But we are cyclists and we chose to climb!

In May of 2007, I went on a week long vacation with my family to Maui. It goes without saying that my bicycle went on vacation with us! I mentioned that this was a family vacation, meaning that while Mom, Dad, my sister and her fiancé were out sunning themselves on the beach, I was out doing that thing I love…pedaling my bike.

Maui is not a bad place to ride. Yes, it is warm. The sun can feel rather intense, but it is generally not that hot. Most mornings are in the low seventies and things quickly get up into the eighties. Warm? Yes! Humid? It’s the tropics, so yes to that, too. But, is it too much? When you consider that you are pedaling in paradise, it’s pretty nice, indeed.

It is true that there is a fair amount of traffic in certain areas, but most of those areas have decent shoulders on which to ride. There might not be the greatest number of roads from which to choose, but there are some good rides to be had. The West Maui loop is absolutely stunning.

For the most part, I was riding by myself. One notably exceptional highlight was the ride up Haleakala. My sister’s fiancé, Paul, is no slouch on a bike. A former record holder for the old 10 mile Dry Creek Time Trial, he’s spent a fair amount of time in the saddle. On a Wednesday evening, Paul rented a fairly good performance road bike from West Maui Cycle. We then made preparations for the 38 mile ascent of the 10,000 foot dormant volcano.

A carbo-loading feast is different in Maui, especially on a vacation. Had we been home, we’d likely have had pasta. But tuna abounds on the islands and the rice is plentiful. It was easy to get enough fuel!

The next morning, Paul and I received the assistance of a VERY seasoned and experienced cycling pit crew – my Dad! He offered unparalleled and unflinching sag support. He woke up early and drove us from our hotel to our starting point near the airport. Then he proceeded to leap frog us all the way up the mountain alternatively taking photos and offering food and water. Really, we had the easy bit of just pedaling… We couldn’t have done it without him! Thanks Dad!!

Paul and Steve in Maui

Paul and Steve, near the airport in Maui, prepare to start the climb of Haleakala

We started near the airport. It was about as fine a day for such a climb as you could possibly get on Maui – roughly 78 degrees at our 9:30am start and not terribly windy. Though sunny, looking up there was donut of a cloud surrounding a good portion of this mighty mount.

The first 8 miles, or so, are just not very steep. But the real challenge to the first few miles is the wind. Though not a pummeling gale, Paul and I were challenged by a crossing head wind that kept the pace down. It was a bit daunting to climb into the wind on such open, straight roads. But soon, as we gained a bit of elevation, the winds diminished. After the first several miles, the road begins to get a little curvy and there are places to hide from the breeze. By the time we reached nearly 2,000 feet of elevation, the wind became a non-issue.

For a brief period, the cloud around the mountain felt like a large beach umbrella. We were still warm, but the higher we climbed, the more the sun was getting blocked. The closer we got to cloud-level, the cooler it got.

By 4,000 feet we were completely enshrouded by the mist. The roads were damp and the light rain was a bit of a blessing. We had climbed into the middle of the cloud and we certainly had no worries of overheating.

We kept climbing, gaining elevation and pushing our way through the cloud. The temps started slowly rising again. At somewhere around 6,000 feet, I saw something that was beautiful and unique. The temperature increase was causing the moisture on the wet road to evaporate quickly such that it created a thin carpet of fog that lifted off the road and hovered at no more than 2 or 3 feet above the ground. The gentle breezes and passing cars would swirl the fog into patterns. As the climb carried us higher and closer to the cloud ceiling, the occasional ray of light would pierce through the gray and collide with the twisting tendrils of mist in a multi-spectral explosion. Oxygen deficiency can provide such thrills!

At around 7,000 feet, the terrain becomes a bit lunar – or perhaps Martian. There is lots of red rock, very little vegetation and switchback after switchback.

By 8,000 feet, we climbed high enough above the cloud that we are treated to a breathtaking panorama, the blue Pacific extending in nearly every direction. The climb continued like this, with every hairpin bend in the road revealing an even more spectacular view.

Steve nearing the summit

For nearly the entire climb, the grade had maintained at a fairly steady 4 to 6 percent. For the past 37.75 miles of the 38 mile climb, the legs have ticked over at a near constant work rate. Until, that is, you get up to about 9,850 feet. And then all of a sudden, you have to drag yourself up the last steep pitch. But, that last bend is SO worth it! Around the final turn is that sign that says “Elev 10,000 feet” and the feeling is victorious, the view is incredible and there is nothing like it!

Steve at summit

This was Paul’s first time up the mountain and it was my second. It had been about 10 years since I had done it previously. I may just have to go do it again someday.

Paul and Steve at the summit of Haleakala.
Mission accomplished!

They say the best things in life are free, but it does, in fact, cost $5 to get your bike into the National Park that is Mount Haleakala. Seems a small price to pay for a memory that will last a lifetime…

This entry was posted in Epic Cycling. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.