Saturday, September 30, 2017

Volcano by bike--down the mountain

In my previous post, Volcano by Bike, Getting There, I described how my husband and I left our hotel at 2:00 a.m. to drive up Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii, to watch the sun rise and then ride bicycles 38 miles down the mountain to the coast.

Watch sunrise at Haleakala National Park.
Back to business

Each person in our group was observed biking around the parking lot to determine riding position.  The entire group could only go as fast as the slowest rider, who would be at the front of our single-file line (not me, thankfully).

Our guide showed us hand signals to indicate such things as “move off the road” and “stop,” necessary because we were riding down Hwy. 37, the same road we had used to ascend the mountain in the van.  I never saw these signals, however, because of my intense concentration on the treacherous (at least to me) road itself. 
The yellow rain suits helped keep us warm and dry.
There are no guardrails on the rim; miss a curve or skid, and you disappear down the rocky mountainside. Fear of embarrassment, should this happen to me, was more a deterrent for carelessness than any possible fear of injuries.

The code of the mountain for bike tours is “first up, first down.” Groups leave at 20-minute intervals to prevent overcrowding on the road.  Since we were the second van up, we left soon after sunrise.  (Later arrivals sometimes don’t get off the summit until almost noon.)  Breakfast at the historic cowboy town of Makawao was planned for approximately 8:30 a.m., and we didn’t want to be late.

According to our guide, riding speeds would reach 34 miles per hour, but I thought, Not me! I couldn’t imagine pedaling at that speed, especially on a curving mountain road. What I didn’t realize was that because it’s all downhill you never have to pedal, and you still pick up speed. Men, generally heavier than women, were in the rear, and many literally rode the super heavy-duty brakes on their Schwinns the entire trip. 

Being a lightweight, I had trouble keeping the pace, since the only way to gain speed should a break occur between myself and the person ahead was to lean forward in a racing stance and hope the aerodynamics would provide a sufficient boost to close the gap. Often it didn’t. I missed some gorgeous scenery while hunched over the handlebars of my bike, viewing only the upper edge of my helmet resting on my sunglasses.
A little crazy posing for Larry and me
Morning mist shrouded the early ride, as our bikes careened along the zig-zagging road. Negotiating tight turns, we swooshed along, passing through moist clouds, and again appreciated the cumbersome rain suits. 

After riding about 14 miles, we took a rest stop, a welcome opportunity to shed the bulky helmet temporarily and look beyond my eyebrows to the gorgeous scenery I was missing. Sunshine glimmered on the billowy sea beyond Haleakala’s rim.  Distant islands danced on undulating ocean waters. I breathed deeply of the clean, crisp air that grazed my face and sighed with relief. Half way there, and I haven’t tumbled off the path.  Realizing that the hardest part of the journey was now behind us, I was ready to continue riding.
Rainbows are a common sight as you come down the mountain.
The road became more level with fewer sharp turns as we continued our descent.  Despite warmer air, intermittent rain showers convinced us to keep wearing rain suits.  Eucalyptus forests, pineapple fields, and plantation towns passed as we made our way towards the sea.

Nine hours after leaving, we were returned to our resort at Kaanapali, weary but ecstatic.  I had done what I set out to do: complete the challenging journey and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It’s an accomplishment that I still recall when obstacles threaten my path. 

Note: Newer regulations at Haleakala National Park do not allow riders to start from the same elevation that we did—it’s more like 9700 feet. But the thrills are the same!
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




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