Today is the day to ride up Haleakala, all 10,023 vertical feet from the ocean to the top of the crater.
The plan was to drive over to Paia and get underway by 7a.m. but the days are full and we’ve slept in a bit and then of course getting all the gear together, having breakfast etc. takes a little longer that expected. From the condo, the weather isn’t exactly great either, it’s raining. But, with the bike rented I’m committed so we set out for the close to 1 hour drive over to the stating point.
On the way we see numerous rainbows. In fact on the vacation we see one or more rainbows every day. it’s surprising how much rain we’re getting but it usually doesn’t last long or you drive a few miles and you’re back in the sunshine.
It’s still early when we arrive in Paia so there is lots of street and free parking still available. Shirley will spend the day investigating the many shops in town and relaxing on the miles of beaches. I unload the bike and gear up for the start.
As I leave the parking lot Shirley has already explained to some other tourists what I’m up to and I can hear them shouting “Go Garry, you can do it!” as I roll onto the street at 8:30 a.m..
The first few miles are exciting as I get used to the new bike, adjust to the roads and begin to figure out the gearing and what kind of pace I’m going to hold. It’s tempting to go hard early on with the excitement of the challenge ahead, but I’ve had some first hand advice about pacing and there is a long way to go. Already I’m taking note of the constant climbing.
From Paia it’s up Baldwin Ave. to Makawao and the first of many challenges on the ride. Just as you leave the town, there is a straight climb that jumps to a 10.4% grade for 0.4km (according to Strava). Now for a prairie rider this is a bit of a hill and while it only takes me just under 2 minutes, I’m out of the saddle and the heart is pounding by the time I crest the hill. A little easy peddling for a while on a more manageable grade and I’m good to go again.
The next interesting point of the ride is a corner that everyone warns you about. Miss the turn and you can do 1,700′ of needless climbing to a dead end. In fact when we drove up on Saturday to check out the route we missed this turn even though we knew what to look for and more or less where is was. This is not to be repeated today for sure. Just to document the location, my first stop of many on the ride is to capture a few photos at 9:24 am.
With “the turn” successfully negotiated, it’s onward and upward, ever upward, just more and more up.
I’m still feeling quite good and enjoying looking around taking in the beautiful scenery of the uplands farming and ranching areas. At 9:44 I’ve arrived at 2500′ vertical, just a little over one hour of riding. So far, it’s just been me and a few cars, I’ve not seen any other cyclists. The road quality is good and I think I’m beginning to stabilize my pace and efforts with a heart rate holding fairly steady at 163 BPM.
Over the next few miles I see a couple of other riders going up including a couple in matching kits that I chat with for a bit. At one point a rider passes me and we greet each other briefly, and then I begin to think “I can keep pace with that guy.”. He seems to be just slightly faster that my current speed. Then I remember the advice to ride a your own pace and I suppress the competitive urge to get on his wheel. Turns out this was a really good idea. A short while later I see the same guy coming down and realize he was not going all the way to the top and could afford to expend more energy on that section of the climb.
The next stop is at about 10:18 and I snap the directional sign to the national park. While I’m stopped, the matching kit couple that I passed a while back pass me. We’ll leap-frog each other for the next few miles.
Did I mention the unrelenting nature of the climb yet? It’s really starting to test my psychological resolve. Around every corner, there is just more “up”. I think over the whole climb there are only three very brief sections, each a few hundred feet, that are flat.
The stops are getting closer and closer together. It’s not 10:42 and the legs are saying “We need a rest!”. At this corner there is a Lavender Garden display also some zipline, ATV and horseback riding services.
While I’m resting a bit the BMC rider hammers by at quite a pace. I don’t see him again.
On the road outside the National Park somebody has nicely painted some signs on the road surface. Here I am at the half way point at 11:12am. In addition to elevation markers every 500′ vertical, there are encouraging reminders like “Breathe” and “Feed”. I have no problem with the breathe advice and at this point “feed” is just something I know I need to do, the desire to eat left some time ago, but I continue to force down some Power Bars.
Somewhere after 5,000′ things begin to get really tough. I’m feeling tired and I’m starting to wonder if I can really keep this up and get all the way to the top. The stops are becoming increasingly closer together and I’m starting to think about how I can explain to everyone who knows I’m doing this why I didn’t make it. The explaining seems more difficult that carrying on, so I just keep turning this cranks and setting short-term goals. In my head I’m telling myself “Keep going to that next corner”, “Another 10 minutes”, “to that sign over there”, and slowly progress is being made.
Stopped again at 11:41, good excuse to take a few more photos, which don’t do the elevation, grade or switchbacks any justice at all. This is one crazy road!. While I’m at and climbing through the cloud level, it’s not on the road and I’ve enjoyed sunshine the whole way. The temperatures have dropped significantly at this point. The refreshing coolness is nice, but the work of the climb is keeping me plenty warm with just a short sleeve jersey and shorts.
It’s 11:55 and the legs are screaming. It’s only been 14 minutes since the last stop. This section is really difficult for me, I’m tired, losing motivation but still pressing on.
Somewhere over the next few miles I get a second wind, and the riding is getting easier. I stop on one corner under some trees for a brief rest only to find that the Park entrance was literally around the corner, where I need to stop again to show my park pass. The entrance is at about 7,000′ and I’m finding that the roads inside that park are easier to ride. There is still a good grade going up, but it seems to be more consistent where as the road outside the park had a more variable grade making for short hard sections. Either that or the altitude and exhaustion factors are kicking in and I’m hallucinating. Either way I’m feeling good and push on to 8,000′ without stopping.
It’s 1:13pm and the confidence has returned, I’m going all the way to the top, and there is no stopping me now. Strangely, the riding is actually easier at this point, but there is a known hard section ahead, but no worries for now! After a good solid push, the frequent stops are returning.
OK, I’m going to start blaming all these stops on the altitude. I’m at about 8,700′ and this stop at 1:48pm is only 14 minutes from the last one! I am going to make it all the way, right?
Wow, an amazing push for 13 minutes before another stop at 2:01 pm, time for more photos.
Another short-haul and the top is visible at 2:25pm! The visitor center on the left, the summit in the centre and Science City on the right. The end is near! Notice that the road conditions have deteriorated at this elevation.
At short while later I’m at the corner that make the final turn from the visitor area to the summit. I should have stopped there for a photo, but I was feeling good and excited about the push to the top so I just motored around the corner and began what is probably the steepest section of the climb. I’ll learn later via Strava, that this segment is referred to as “The Last Brutal Effort”, and brutal it is. Despite being so close to the top, I’m forced to stop two times in this section. Getting re-started on this grade and being so tired is a challenge in itself. Then at 2:30pm, 6 hours after leaving Paia I ride across the last parking lot, up the path and top out at the summit!
At the top I met a guy from Calgary who encouraged me up the last section and took those last two photos. It felt awesome to make it to the top and I actually did a fist pump coming up the path at the end of the parking lot.
It was about 80°F at the bottom and at the summit 50°F, the predicted 30° cooler. For the ride down I’d been warned about this temperature shift. Going up and working hard in 50°F was no problem, but coasting down at up to 84km/hr was going to be a little cool, in more ways that one! After putting on leg warmers, a second long sleeve jersey, and a jacket, I’m ready for the decent, let the speed begin! BTW, no more pictures from this point on, no need to stop and having too much fun!
The first 3,000′ vertical feet literally flew by and seemingly all of a sudden I’m at the Park entrance, what a rush! The brakes really got a workout on the hairpin turns and more that a few times the rims heated up so much as to cause some brake chatter. I didn’t touch them but suspect they were smokin’ hot at some points. I’m using the full lane on the way down and at some points I’m closing up on some cars and need to back off. I’m being careful to stay on my side so as not to make a sudden discovery of a car coning up around a blind corner.
Coming up I should have taken better note of intersection where 377 joins Hanamu Road. As I get close to the turn I make a split second decision and end up turning too soon onto Kealaloa Ave. Shortly, I realize I’m going the wrong way and I’m a bit lost. To correct this mistake would mean more climbing, which at this point is out of the question. Without a map or GPS, it’s line of sight navigation. I can see the ocean and it should be all down hill so all further navigation choices are influenced by “going down” and “towards the ocean”. This results in me getting on Hwy 37, the Haleakala Highway, a very long, very straight decent. I think this is where Strava indicates I hit 84.4 km/hr! I think this might be a little fast, or at the very lease a brief spike, for sure there were some good runs at 60+ km/hr. All the speed your nerves can handle. In the end this works out, but adds somewhere between 6-8 extra miles to the ride, including 4 miles on the flat in the rain back to Paia.
It was an awesome day, a great personal accomplishment, and the climb can be summarized in one word, unrelenting.