Being on route to New Zealand after visiting Oregon, I figured I was flying over Hawaii anyway, so it might be nice to stop there for the holidays.
I arranged to meet my Kiwi friend Shirley there, and (eventually, following delayed flights) flew into Honolulu on 22nd December. Picked up the
rental car and found our apartment in Kailua, which is on the North-East side of Oahu. Sadly, my luggage didn't make the connecting flight in San
Francisco, so I was bikeless for the next morning. But United Airlines duly delivered it before noon, so I was able to head out for a ride in the afternoon.
But unfortunately, as far as riding goes, Oahu sucks! Nasty big roads and lots of traffic. And I kept ending up on ramps onto the highway without
warning. Not too much fun, but I managed a few hours. Then I just had to stay awake until 11pm to drive back to the airport to meet Shirley's flight.
Having not seen her in two years we almost didn't recognise each other, but that accomplished it was all fine. With the riding being so poor, it was
good that we only had three days on Oahu; nice to be walking on the beach on Christmas day, but very odd seeing the houses decorated with snowmen and
winter themes - this giant snow globe was the most amusing, apart from the family that had filled their front yard with a large pile of snow!
Then on Boxing day we flew onto Maui - a very short flight and a much nicer island. No car this time, so we took a cab to out apartment (Shirley had done well with finding great places to stay) in Kihei. Right on the beach, and a fantastic place, apart from the construction over the road..... The main reason I had chosen to come to Maui was to ride the volcano - at 10,000ft over 38 miles it is the road with the greatest height gain in the shortest time in the world, apparently. So after a short spin on the Monday when we arrived, I set out early on Tuesday to start my attempt on the summit. Although I had figured it would be about a three hour climb, I hadn't really appreciated just what that meant in terms of effort, especially with the altitude effects once I got over 2000m - I've been up to 2800m in the Alps, but never directly from sea-level! I had about an hour of flatish riding before I started going up, then another hour or so on larger roads before I turned onto Crater Road to start the final 22 miles and 2000m. That stretch of hairpins and switchbacks took me two and a half hours, and I actually had to stop for a brief breather with 500m to go, which I never do when climbing. It really was quite tough..... Still, very satisfying to get to the top, and incredible views. It felt like being on top of the world - the cloud had rolled in all around, I could see the Big Island sticking up out of the cloud to the East, and the West end of Maui in the other direction. The downhill was great fun - I overtook a lot of cars, and flew past the Downhill tour groups - it is really popular to be driven to the top before biking down; groups of riders on cruisers with full face helmets are guided down very slowly. From Kihei it took four and a half hours to get up, and then just one hour and forty minutes to get down! Very nice.
After having trouble navigating, and often ending up on the main highways, it was very useful that Shirley was able to buy me a map - so when I got back from riding the volcano I could see where I had missed the turning! The deceptive thing about the mountain is that it really doesn't look anything like that high - it just looks like a big hill from the coast, and even going up it never looked that high, except that I just kept on climbing! Studying the map, it seemed like there would be three major rides to do on Maui - and I had already checked off one of them by riding up the hill. So the following day, Wednesday, I set out to ride the Western loop. This circles the Western end of the island, and has big hills in the middle, where there are no roads - there is just the one route round the coast. Heading round to Lahiana it was flat and pretty busy with traffic, although there was mostly a decent sized shoulder. I picked up a puncture from a piece of glass - unsurprising considering the amount of broken glass on the roads - but was soon on my way again. After getting through the town the road got really nice - down to a narrow double-track first, then to a beaten up single-track, which was amazing. It just wound it's way along the coast, dropping down to each bay before climbing up again to cut round the next edge. Tough going (16% climbs in places) but so beautiful. There was even a village tucked away in the middle of nowhere, like a town forgotten, with just this little road for access, and a lush green jungle valley behind. The ride ended up being over four hours by the time I got back to Kihei; the much longer Eastern loop is going to be a bit of a challenge I think....
On Thursday I had a lazy day, with just a short spin in the late afternoon, then on Friday it was up very early to head off for the big loop around the volcano and the Eastern end of Maui. I left at 7am, in refreshingly cool 17 degree temperatures; that only lasted as long as it took for the sun to peek over the hill though. I reckoned it would be about 200km to get round, so it was going to be a long day. After I got across the island on the highway, I soon left the busy traffic behind as I picked up the Hana Highway. This is a popular tourist route, and really is an incredible stretch of road. For 30 miles it follows the coast through tropical climes, with waterfalls and single lane bridges. I was told it has over 600 turns, and I can believe it - it also has no flat roads whatsoever! The road surface is superb though, and the tree cover meant I was mostly riding in the shade, which kept the temperature in the mid-20s. Traffic wasn't too bad, although occasional a string of tourists would pass me, only for me to overtake them back on the downhill bits. I don't like to stop, but did take a few pictures, not that they really do it justice:
I reached Hana after three and a half hours, and stopped for some cake before pressing on. Hardly any traffic on the South side, and as the road worsened I could see why. First it turned to dirt, which was okay, as long as I went slowly on the downhills, but then it turned into this single-track of very badly repaired tarmac - imagine thousands of potholes all individually very roughly filled in. Rough as buggery, which wasn't too bad going up, but horrendous going down, I was getting really beaten up. And on top of this, it was a completely different temperate zone on that side of the island - very desert like, and with the midday sun and no breeze, also very oven like. I thought I had plenty of liquid to get me to the next services, but with the road slowing my progress dramatically and the temperature climbing to 41 degrees (about 106 fahrenheit), I was starting to dehydrate. Plus without extra water I couldn't eat in that heat, so was grateful that I greedily had two pieces of cake in Hana! Frustratingly, although I was cooking, just up the hillside I could see lovely cool cloud just taunting me. And the road wasn't being kind either - after seven miles of the world's roughest surface it suddenly changed to beautiful two lane black top, complete with centre line, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But then, very cruely, after a bridge and about 100m it went back to shit! At this point it was all steep uphill too, and I had a major sense of humour failure, with much cursing of the damn road! The heat and hills I could cope with, but combined with the surface and running out of drink made it really not very funny. As an indication of how hard it was, and how my body was taking a hammering, my average heart-rate after six hours was 167bpm.... Eventually the bad road ended, and I just had to keep climbing and count down the miles. Thankfully there was a bit of cloud to obscure the sun, and the temperature dropped a little, which helped. It was with much relief that I finally reached the Ranch with it's small store, where I was able to buy two litres of cold water. After that it was relatively easy - another 400m of climbing, with another glass inflicted puncture before the top, before downhill all the way back to Kihei. Eight and a quarter hours, 208km, 2600m of climbing; not a bad day's work!