As you may have guessed by the title of my blog, my personality, or my social media accounts, I am a very impulsive person!
This characteristic has followed me throughout my life and influenced decisions like the one I made to last minute fly to Maui and ride a bicycle up Hawaii’s second highest volcano! This is that story.
If you are familiar with Maui, Hawai’i, you have probably heard of Haleakala. Haleakala is the second largest volcano in the Hawaiian islands and the largest dormant volcanic crater in the world! The mountain extends more than 10,000 feet above sea level, with a dramatic and winding road to the summit. The ride begins in the tropical rainforest, ending in a tundral mars-like landscape high above any clouds.
Popular things to see at the top of Haleakala are the sunrise, sunset, endemic species, and ancient lava rocks from eruptions that formed the Hawaiian islands. Entry to the summit requires a national park day pass, which is less than $30 per car. Sunrises at the summit also require reservations ahead of time, but sunsets are FREE!
Travel Tip: If you want to avoid paying for a day permit, go through the gates before 9:00am or after 5:00pm when there will be nobody at the ticket booths.
So what made me want to ride a bicycle up to the summit?!
Riding Up Haleakala
Originally I planned to rent a car, but being a broke college student I barely had enough for the short 20 minute island hopper from Oahu. I stayed at a friend’s house and hung out with random people for the majority of the week, adventuring and exploring around the island. I planned to take the ‘car’ around Hana and explore some of the fun things I love to do there, my favorite place in Hawai’i.
Deciding to save money I realized I did not want to pay for a car, even though in hind sight there are amazing affordable Maui rental companies like this one! I decided to rent a $25 bicycle from a shop in Kihei and they hooked me up with a beach cruiser, mountain bike hybrid. The bike had a couple of gears and hand brakes, which I desperately relied on later on the ride. I packed it back to the house and prepared to leave at 6 am the next day, but don’t we all.
Day 1 – When Plans Change
Fast forward to the next day where I planned to leave at 6 am . . . I woke up at 12pm. A lot later than I planned, but I had absolutely no where to be. I packed two water bottles, an emergency blanket, light jacket, pants, and proceeded to cram my small tent into the bike’s frame. After getting on the bike and peddling out of the neighborhood I quickly realized I may be the worst biker in the world.
The 8 year gap of never riding a bike messed me up and I suddenly could not remember how to work the gears, balance, or even peddle. I managed to ride a couple blocks to a grocery store where I revaluated my life, and came up with a new plan to ride straight up Haleakala instead of going to Hana.
Now some people, I mean most people, would ask me “Why would you ever decide that was a better idea?”, because truthfully both ideas are probably equally as ludicrous. My reasoning for deciding to go up the mountain instead of around was because it seemed closer. If you had seen how terrible I was that first 15 minutes on that damn bike, you would not have expected me to even reach the grocery store 10 minutes away. I am telling you I was out of my mind.
After making the decision I loaded up with 2 turkey sandwiches, 2 lemon Gatorades, 2 jelly doughnuts, and some granola bars. Still to this day I have no idea how I managed to survive the 64 mile bike ride on that little amount of sustenance.
Day 1 – The Ride Begins
Starting the ride I left from Wailuku, almost on the slopes of the adjacent mountains, and began heading east toward the airport. The thing that makes my ride so crazy is that not only did I ride up Haleakala, but also an extra 15 miles across Maui to its base.
I passed the airport and starting feeling my stride as the bike was getting easier to handle, I was figuring out how to balance my tent and backpack, and the gears were working great. I kept riding as the incline began to increase gradually then becoming a steep ramp to the base. I had absolutely no training prior to this ride, and there were sections where I would peddle a few times and fall over because I could not maintain any speed.
It took me at least an hour to get to the base of the volcano and I began my ride up in ignorant bliss of how much pain my legs were about to endure over the next 4 hours. Turning onto the road up to Haleakala, I immediately noticed a drastic increase in the road’s inclination, my efforts to physically move the bicycle, and the gradually decreasing air temperature. All forewarnings of what I was getting myself into.
I began ascending the mountain moving to the switch backs that rake up the slopes. I remember counting the turns in my head from google maps to motivate my progress. I also had a playlist on loop with songs from Katy Perry’s Prism album that somehow synced with my erratic peddling rate. Why do I even remember that?
I wish I could reenact how tragic I must have looked. It was so steep I would peddle three times, cramp up, and just tip over. Over, and over, and over again. I kept doing this, counting turns, listening to Katy Perry, and getting bewildered looks from drivers zooming past.
Two bikers passed me at the bottom of the mountain. A girl in full gear smoked by, making me look like I was on training wheels. Her speed made me remember how poorly I was riding this bike, but she only went up a few turns before turning around reigniting my drive to continue. A guy passed me around the same time, literally standing on his peddles, running up the mountain. I replicated his techniques and it helped me cover more distance before falling down, and I never saw that guy again.
Since I had such a later start I planned to get as far as I could, stopping at the halfway free camp sites at Hosmer Grove. I was moving achingly slow towards the end of the day and collapsed on a small patch of grass on the side to watch the sun slowly creep below the clouds. My legs were giving up and I ended up walking and hitching a ride around the last 3 curves to the campsite. Once I arrived I made camp, ate one of my sandwiches, and passed out.
Day 2 – The Milky Way, Hypothermia, and Asthma
What people seem to forget is that when you are 6,000+ feet up on a mountain, even in Hawai’i it is going to be cold. I only had a small sleeping bag cover, my emergency blanket, a jacket, and sweat pants to keep me warm. Even though it was the middle of summer the temperature dropped well below 50°F, which feels 10x colder being in Hawai’i. I was shivering uncontrollably and just waiting for the morning to come before I got hypothermia. I went out of my tent at midnight to piss, and happened to look up to the most amazing sight I have ever witnessed.
The number of stars in the sky were unfathomable. I have never, to this day, seen that many stars. Every where there is usually black sky was filled with bright lights. You could easily make out the entire milky way, every constellation, the planets, and it has to be one of my top 5 travel memories ever. I just stood there awestruck pissing into the night, until I could not feel my fingers anymore.
I ended up waiting until noon to leave again because my body was still too cold to move. I started riding the bike and forcing myself to ride up the last half of the mountain. I kept passing elevation gained signs and with each additional thousand feet, my lungs began struggling to get air.
I was at such a high elevation that at one point I looked over and there was an airplane next to me, and I could see people in the windows. Each car that drove by me was filled with people wondering if I had actually ridden up that crazy road, and wondering how far I intended to ride.
The thought that kept circulating in my mind was that I could turn around and stop all the pain, but I just kept thinking that the ride down would be better from the top.
I finally made it up the 10,023 feet of Haleakala, and I only soaked it in for a few minutes as the altitude and temperature was killing me! All my hard work had paid off and I could finally turn the bike downhill, just letting gravity do all the work.
Day 2 – Oh You Thought It Was Over Did You?
Riding down Haleakala is a completely different vibe. You rapidly gain speed, and can be hurdling down the steep road at more than 40 miles per hour in seconds. I had to maintain my speeds because of the sharp turns and wind periodically shaking the bike, almost yeeting me off the side of the road into the jagged lava rocks.
I was tense for most of the initial descent, because controlling that cheap little bike was no easy task. I remember flying around a corner and some dumb tourist was backing into the middle of the street to take a picture of his wife. Her and I made eye contact as I swerved out of the way of her husband and zoomed by him at almost 50 miles per hour.
I was almost down to the first visitor center at 7,000 feet, when my bike started acting mad weird. I remember being like there is no way I have a flat tire right now right? I pulled over at the center and sure enough my tire was completely flat. Turns out the beach cruiser, mountain bike hybrid bikes are not suited for a 64 mile bike ride or 40+ mile per hour speeds. #themoreyouknow
So here I was stranded 7,000 feet up a mountain with no bike, no water, and no more food. Typical vacation with me I guess.
Getting Down The Mountain and The End
The friend I was staying with happened to call me when I pulled over and told me she would meet me at the base of the mountain, but I had to figure out how to get down. Some nice guy loaded me up in his truck and I just sat there watching each turn, hating myself, and remembering how bad it hurt to ride all the way up there.
He dropped me off at a gas station and I just lay there with my bike on the asphalt ground waiting for my friend. She ended up bringing her whole family to see the white guy that road a bike up the mountain.
First my local friend gets out and said, “this is why haoles shouldn’t come to Hawai’i” jokingly. Her mom comes over to me and her first questions are, “are you on drugs”, “are you crazy”, and “do you want some chicken”. Her dad was just looking at my bike like, “you want to tell me you rode this thing all the way up Haleakala?? You’re crazy man”.
I know everyone is dying to know if I will I ever ride my bike up Haleakala again?
Well that answer is an obvious NO! (maybe). I will for sure go back and be dropped off at the top so I can actually ride down the entire mountain. I felt so robbed after having to sit in the back of that truck watching each turn go by, but it is nice to know that I could ride 64 miles without any training or practice, and on a damn beach cruiser at that!
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