Friday, September 22, 2017

Volcano by bike--getting there


Our day began in the middle of a nighttime yawn.  The van was due at our resort at 2:00 a.m. to take my husband, me, and 12 other questionably sane visitors on Maui, Hawaii, to the top of Mt. Haleakala to watch the sunrise and then bike 38 miles back to the sea.

Startled out of sleep by my subconscious alarm at 1:50 a.m. (in his excitement my husband inadvertently set the clock alarm for 2:00 p.m.), we jumped into prearranged layers of clothing and sped out to meet the van. 

Ready to roll

After loading all its passengers, the van headed for the town of Paia where we picked up a guide and trailer full of bicycles, helmets, and other necessary equipment for our sojourn down the mountain.  While our group rode bicycles, the van would follow in case of accident or mechanical problems.
The large crater of Haleakala  before sunrise
Rising above 10,000 feet, Haleakala (meaning “House of the Sun”) is the highest peak on Maui and the world’s largest dormant volcano.  It features a crater seven miles long and two miles wide that was formed when eruptions filled two existing valleys carved by erosion from the summit.  I felt safe from lava flows since the last eruption was 400 years ago. 

Outstanding views of Maui’s neighboring islands can be seen from the rim together with its rust and purple interior of sliding sands and meadows. That’s good reason Haleakala National Park has become one of Maui’s most popular destinations.

After an hour and a half of winding uphill on Haleakala Hwy. 37, the only road to the summit and one reputed for climbing the most altitude in the shortest distance (thank goodness it was dark), we arrived at the summit.  Although we had been forewarned of temperature drops and strong winds on top of Haleakala, the wind chill factor below freezing was still unexpected. After all, this was Hawaii in June.
The sun begins to peek over clouds and mountain peaks.
Our driver offered everyone muffins and juice and questioned each of us on our expertise with bicycles. In other words, how long since we had last ridden a bike? My answer was somewhat misleading about my skill as I rode frequently but on the flat prairie land of coastal Texas, very different from the terrain we were about to tackle.  I’m totally unprepared for this, I thought as butterflies fluttered in my stomach.

Each rider was issued a rubber rain suit, heavy and bulky but definitely capable of keeping out wind and water. Looking like a gaggle of blue and yellow aliens, we ambled outside to await the sunrise.

Bright, full sun at daybreak!
What a spectacular moment that is.  As 5:20 a.m. approached, locals joined visitors in trying to secure the perfect picture spot. Folks from sixteen bike tours and others who had driven to the top of the volcano just for this sight crowded together.  Wrapped in coats and blankets as protection from the chill, all were there to witness the miracle of light rising over the clouds.

Day arrives.

A faint glow draped the edge of distant mountains, gleaming through the foggy mist and resembling reflections on water more than the beginnings of a sunrise. Suddenly the sun burst over the mountaintops, shattering night in an explosion of light and warmth. 

In minutes the temperature rose 20 degrees. Only the clicking of cameras broke hushed “oohs” and “aahs” as spectators attempted to record a scene impossible to convey by mechanical means.
The crater is bathed in a red glow after sunrise.
With the sunrise still gleaming in our brains it was time to shift focus and get ready to ride down the mountain. I’ll describe that experience in my next post.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

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