A week or two ago, I posted a question asking about rides in Maui. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do because of a two month hiatus from cycling. Well, I’m back from Hawaii, and I ended up riding up Haleakala (a continuous 36 mile climb) utilizing a combination of stubbornness and low gears. ;) Here’s my ride report:
The day started off in a beach-side town called Paia. At around 8, a group of ten guys got together to prepare for the ride. I was (sort of) fitted to a Litespeed that ended up being quite a bit too large for me. Throughout the process, the overall feeling that pervaded the group was one of relaxation and camaraderie; it was obvious that most of these guys had ridden up the mountain before. Meanwhile, the seeds of doubt were beginning to spread in my mind, their tendrils blocking most other thoughts. From the vantage of the shop, the volcano looked huge. I started to become impatient, waiting for the ride to start. At 8:30, I got my wish.
The ride started off without much fanfare. We rolled out of the shop and started a very gentle climb up a small country road, bordered by huge fields of sugar cane. Similar to Mandeville, the only indication that we were climbing at all came from the sweat that was soon dripping down my face. After about 1000 feet of climbing, I began to realize just how badly I was fitted to the bike. The seat was an inch too high and the stretch to the handlebars seemed too far. I began to detach from the group at this point and rode for the next 2000 feet by myself, hoping someone would stop to see why I was riding so slow. The road during this section was very pleasant, with large trees casting shadows onto the road that provided a welcome relief from the sun. Unfortunately, my lower back was hurting far too much for me to enjoy the scenery. At about 3200 feet, I reached a designated rest stop and to my relief, one of the guys had stayed behind. He lowered my seat height and the back pain disappeared entirely.
With the back pain gone and someone riding alongside me, I felt rejuvenated and optimistic that I’d make it to at least the park entrance (at 6700 feet). To be painfully honest, I had been entertaining thoughts of turning back before I even reached 3000 feet. The second third of the ride went by much more quickly than the first. The scenery was constantly changing; we went from large, open fields to what seemed like a rainforest. However, this section was probably the least interesting part of the ride, as we pedaled along at a steady rate up a consistent 5-7% grade.
At 6500 feet, I met up with most of the group that had dropped me earlier in the ride. Almost all of them were going to head back down, saying that they were done for the day, which left just me and one other guy from Texas. We shrugged and continued on. Unlike the rest of the group, we wouldn’t have another chance to conquer the mountain, and we were determined to make it to the top. At the park entrance, we stopped to pay the $5 entrance fee, but the park attendant let me in for free. From there on, the ride got a lot harder, possibly because of the altitude or simply the previous miles of climbing. Surprisingly though, my legs were the things slowing me down; my cardio/breathing felt fine. As we reached the higher elevations, the scenery changed yet again, going from rainforest to barren rock. All I could see was reddish rock, looking distinctly like the surface of Mars. The Texan and I began to act like automatons, simply bringing one pedal over the other. In my delirium, I started to quote something I remembered from a childhood movie called Finding Nemo, “Just keep spinning, just keep spinning, just keep spinning…”
We started to use each elevation sign as an excuse to stop for a few minutes. 7000 feet… 8000 feet… 9000 feet… Somehow, the closer I got, the farther it felt. With 2000 feet left, I imagined it as one last climb up Piuma. Yet when I got to 9000 feet, I felt farther than ever. The worst part was, the road had a little painted number to show how far away you were from the top at every single HUNDREDTH of a mile. I knew that they’d only make it worse, but my eyes stayed glued to those little numbers from hell. Finally, with one mile to go, the end was in sight. For the last mile, I put my head down and just pedaled. If anyone’s ever been in a track race, that last mile was akin to the final sprint of a track race, when your vision goes blurry and you lose sight of everything but the finish line. After what seemed like forever, we reached the visitor’s center, only to find out that there was another quarter mile left to go. Here’s the real killer: that last quarter mile was easily the steepest part of the ride. I’ve read that it’s something like a 14% grade. After going for so long, I obviously wasn’t going to quit, but I let out a guttural yell of frustration.
Finally, I reached the real summit and collapsed. Some tourists congregated around me with expressions of congratulations and some even took a few pictures (which felt incredibly weird). I was engulfed in relief and a feeling of personal accomplishment, but it left me knowing that I’d be back for more.
I’d like to end this post with a “thank you” to everyone in this club. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and overall friendliness of the entire club, and I hope to continue to meet everyone on upcoming rides. Also, I’m really sorry for the length of the post.