Haleakala

| June 1, 2010 8:05 pm

by Bryan Shaner

It’s a big volcano: Haleakala is visible from most of Maui; in fact, it is most of Maui. What the heck do I think I’m doing: why am I going to sit on a bicycle for most of the day when there are so many cool things to do and see? And then there are the two guys in front of me at the as-yet-unopened bicycle shop in Paia.  They are probably 10-20 years younger and obviously in much better shape than I am. Plus they are in front of me. And when the door finally opens just after 8am, they seem to have all the time in the world.  I’m eager to get my rented bike fitted and be on my way. The shop closes at 6pm and who knows how long it will take to climb and descend this 10,000 foot monster. But these two guys are having a great time talking about all their biking accomplishments, and the guys in the shop are taking a lot of time cleaning up their bikes and getting them fitted just right. Finally, I ask another employee about how long it will take to climb and descend (he says 5-6 hours up and 1.5-2 hours down) thus letting him know that I would like to get started. He brings my bike out, and although it doesn’t receive quite the same loving care as those of the young duo, I’m ready to go by 8:45.

The bike feels pretty good although I try not to think about the fact that it has the same cheap rims that blew three front tires out on my Sequoia, and the fact that it’s a compact with a 39-34 low gear as opposed to my triple 30-28.  But the guy at the shop says the grade isn’t that steep and that I should have no problem.  Of course, I know that he has no idea whatsoever of my climbing ability or lack thereof.  But I’m eager to get going and after filling up my water bottles and adding a packet of Perpetuum to one of them, I head out the door.

I weave through the traffic in Paia and head up Baldwin Avenue trying to settle into this unfamiliar aluminum-you-can-feel-every-little-bump bike.  It’s a beautiful morning with the temperature in the low 70s with a slight headwind.  After a few miles I wish I had spent more time adjusting the seat as the nose is just a smidge high.  And as the grade increases I try to shift down into a lower gear, and of course, I’m already in my lowest gear.  I stop in Makawao for water and head up Olinda Road which is probably the steepest part of the ride.  I’m really wishing I had that extra gear, and it’s a relief when I come to the right turn on Hanamu Road for a few miles of rolling hills before the left on Haleakala Highway.  I don’t see many cyclists, but I do pass a couple and as part of my greeting mention what a great day it is to climb the mountain.  They look at me like I’m crazy and say, “You’re climbing that thing?”  And of course that same question has been bouncing around in my head every now and then as I look up and see how much of it there is.

I try to break the trip up into segments – 1000 foot segments – and not think of the whole 10000 feet all at once.  I’ve got my Garmin in my pocket and pull it out now and then to check my progress.  And it becomes increasingly clear that we’re looking at 6+ hours for the assent and who knows how long for the descent.  The guy at the shop said 1 ½ – 2 hours but I’ve read that it sometimes takes up to three.  So far, it looks like I’ll still get back before 6pm, but as the air gets thinner, I become less sure.

I read that you’re supposed to stop at the Sunrise Market to get water, so I do along with a dozen or so Japanese tourists who arrive at the same time.  It’s a small (tiny) market, so getting to the bottled water is not an easy task.  When I ask how much it is, I’m aghast:  $2.75 for a little bottle of water!  The cashier tries to be helpful by mentioning that I can get a big bottle for only $2.95.  But I don’t want a big bottle, so I get some tap water from the bathroom (after waiting for several Japanese tourists).  This should tell me that perhaps the altitude is starting to affect my brain.  I’m spending over $40 on this rental bike and over $2000 on this vacation, so maybe I could spring for the $3.  But no, I settle for some so-so tap water.

At about 5000 feet, I see a car pulled off to the side of the road and a young couple taking pictures.  This seems like a great opportunity to gather photographic evidence of this event, so we take each others picture and then spend 20 minutes talking about this ride and other rides and answering all sorts of questions about cycling.  I’m enjoying the questions and the break, but when I get back on the bike, lots of body parts don’t seem to work as well as before.

But then I enter the cloud layer that seems to inhabit Haleakala most of the day, and the coolness feels good.  At 7500 feet I’m feeling less happy about the lack of sun, but then at 8000 feet I’m cloud free and I feel great.  Well, my butt hurts so I’ve been standing a lot, and I’m going slower with the lack of oxygen, and I’m not entirely convinced that I’m going to be able to keep peddling to the top, and I’m really not sure I’ll be back before the store closes.  But endorphins are a great drug, and I feel great.

About half an hour later I’m still feeling pretty pooped, when five guys come screaming down the mountain in their road bikes.  And they are screaming, literally, at the top of their lungs.  Included in their screams are some comments to me such as “Way to go”  “You can do it” etc.  And strangely, it helps.  I’m feeling really happy about these guys and the lift they’ve given me.  In fact, when the last one yells “Way to go”, I reply “You too”.  Right about then this van shows up, and I realize that these guys didn’t bike up the mountain.  They had someone let them off at the top.  Of course, if my brain wasn’t so oxygen deprived, I would have realized that these guys would have passed me somewhere along the way if they had actually gone up.

The endorphins wear out about 9000 feet, and it’s a real grind the last 1000 feet.  It’s one of those so-close-yet-so-far summits that tease you.  But then I’m at the look out just below the summit where everyone comes to watch the sunrise.  It’s cold and windy with just a few mid day tourists.  The clouds have just begun to fill the crater, so the view is still great, and everyone wants to know about the ride up.

But I’m not quite to the summit.  There is another 300 feet that’s steeper than anything up to this point.  So in what seems like slow motion, I weave my way to the summit at 3:35pm (later I figure from my Garmin that I was in the saddle just over six hours).

After some pictures and more questions about the climb I head on down.  And it is heaven.  My butt is extremely grateful for the rest and my legs are pretty pleased also.  Like many slow climbers, I’ve learned to descend quickly and confidently.  It’s a bit slippery back through the clouds, but after that the road is dry and smooth, and the 5-6% grade is just perfect.  The corners aren’t banked too well at the top, but once you get out of the National Park, you hardly need your brakes.  I was back in Paia just under one hour and twenty minutes.  The total distance was 71 miles, so my average speed up was about six miles per hour (saddle time) and just less than 27 miles per hour going down.  During the summer you might need a camelback, but my two bottles were just fine.  I filled them up in Makawao, the Sunrise Market and at the visitor’s center.  The Perpetuum plus 4-5 energy bars were fine for fuel.  Be sure to bring $5 to enter the national park unless you’re over 62 (as I have been for a few years) and have your National Parks Senior Pass (which I did) and your ID (which I also did fortunately, since the ranger asked to see it;  maybe she thought that having a National Parks Senior Pass and climbing Haleakala on a bike were mutually exclusive).

Oh yes, I didn’t tell you who showed up at the bike shop a few minutes after me:  our young duo.  They drove their car up the mountain about 10 miles, then biked up to the top and back to their car.  I still don’t know why I never saw them on the ride or why they took longer than I did, but they looked a bit flabbergasted to see me.

I don’t think climbing Haleakala was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most challenging mentally.  That volcano may not be steep but it’s relentless.

5 Responses to “Haleakala”

Christine wrote a comment on June 2, 2010

Congratulations Bryan! The picture in the middle with the clouds and crater is fantastic!

Bob Shultz wrote a comment on June 2, 2010

What a great story. You make it easy to visualize the agony as well as the ecstasy. Obviously, all your climbing training is paying off.

Ken Goldman wrote a comment on June 2, 2010

Awesome ride, Bryan. Great story too. “maybe she thought that having a National Parks Senior Pass and climbing Haleakala on a bike were mutually exclusive”—vey funny!

Pinkie wrote a comment on June 15, 2010

Fantastic job Bryan! Loved reading your story!

Russell Bither-Terry wrote a comment on June 15, 2010

I also enjoyed the “maybe she thought that having a National Parks Senior Pass and climbing Haleakala on a bike were mutually exclusive”–made me laugh loudly.

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