Bree Versus the Volcano

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Ben: One of the main reasons we came to Maui was to make an attempt at climbing the Haleakala Crater by bicycle. Haleakala in the tallest peak on Maui, standing at a whopping 10,023 feet above sea level. For context, that’s about like riding a bike from sea level to the peak of Brighton.

We started by renting our bikes in Paia on the north end, at a shop called Go Maui Cycling. Due to our itinerary, this was the only shop that could cater to our needs. They open at 8:00 AM, which is remarkably early for a bike shop. It seems that they cater to the Haleakala climb, due to the early opening time and various Haleakala paraphernalia in the shop. We arrived shortly after they opened, but so did several other people all hoping to ride the crater. It took them quite a while to get our bikes set up, and we didn’t get on the road before 9:10 AM. The bikes were nice, though (Scott CR1) and well maintained.

The journey up the crater traditionally begins at the ocean (though many choose to begin at the Sunrise Market). In this case, we were in a hurry to get on the road due to the heat, so we found the first sideroad we could that had ocean access. It is not, however, shown in any of the maps.

The ride begins down Baldwin Avenue in Paia – right in front of the bike shop. The town quickly turns to country, as the road weaves through sugar cane fields in the damp heat. Around mile 5.2 I veered off of Baldwin avenue. This was probably not the best choice, as it resulted in more highway riding than I would have like. It would have been better to continue on Baldwin to Makawao. Next time perhaps?

As I passed through the town of Pukalani, the terrain became less field-laden and more like the up-country of Maui that Bree and I love so much. The heat was still pretty intense, though, and I was completely damp, regardless of my relatively low exertion effort.

Bree: After taking Ben’s picture at sea level, the plan was that I would drive our rental car up to the base of the national park and park the car at the Sunrise Country Market right around 3500 feet. There, I would unload my bike and start my climb, hoping Ben would eventually catch up. Unfortunately, I took several wrong turns which led to a fair amount of extra driving and since Ben’s phone was dead, I had no way of knowing if he had experienced similar problems. I headed into the market to buy some bottles of water when I realized that I had also failed to hand him his wallet or camera, leaving him basically disarmed in case of any problems. Instead of heading up the road, I flipped around and headed out to find him.

Gratefully, he’d ended up exactly where he was supposed to be, only a few miles away from the market. I handed him some a cold bottle, which he downed in what seemed like a single gulp, and I promised to meet him at the market just a few miles back where I had come from. Despite the insanity of the morning, I couldn’t help but be totally stunned by the beauty of the countryside. It felt like an entirely different world.

At the 3,500 ft mark, Ben was looking pretty exhausted and I was getting worried. While Ben’s biggest strength on the bike is his hill climbing skills, its one of my weaker areas and I was worried that even the 6,500 feet I would be climbing inside the park would be too much. In any case, we knew it was going to be a long day.

By 11:30, we had refilled bottles, Ben had refueled on some pasta salad from the market, and we were off. A couple miles in (and I was already winded) we stopped for a photo at one of the pull offs. A family standing there asked us if we were planning to ride up the whole thing and were stunned when we told them that Ben had already ridden that high from the coast. Later in the day, and much closer to the top, we saw them on their descent when they honked, waved, and cheered us on. We laughed as we received similar attention all the way to the top, wondering just how crazy we must actually be if we ourselves had become part of the tourist attraction. A couple of families even took our picture!

Somewhere around the 5500 foot mark, the beautiful green terrain with beautiful wooded forests met the cloud line and within minutes, we were immersed in the clouds, soaked and getting chilly. The intensity of the hill climb kept us marginally warm enough, but the chill was definitely concerning.

A few miles later, we arrived at the visitors center, where we took a few minutes to refill our bottles for the last time, eat our peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars, and catch our breath. We were grateful to have a place to get out of the wet and add some layers. Back on the road, we were still literally inside of the cloud and soaking wet. We were stressing about running out of warm clothing and how we were ever going to stay warm the for the next 11 miles, when suddenly we pulled into clear blue sky, above the clouds. From there, it was just a long 11 mile grind as the air thinned around us. The landscape quickly changed from green and lush to rocky, dry, and barren but now above the clouds, it was still beautiful.

Ben had caught his second wind by this point and was now spending a good amount of his energy coaxing me forward, since my legs were feeling pretty thrashed after around four hours of riding. Every fifteen minutes or so, I would ask Ben how close we were, and he would always answer “just an hour left!” Sadly, the more tired I got, the slower we were moving, and the longer our projected summit time got…

As we neared the top, cars would roll down their windows to cheer us on and tell us that we only had “three miles” or whatever to the top. I’ve never been so relieved to see anything as I was to see the visitors center. Then I realized that the visitors center isn’t located on the summit. The summit wasn’t far, but it was a steep 11% grade, and it about did me in. By the time we finally rolled into the overlook, I was totally out of gas. I collapsed on the wall, wondering how I was ever going to come up with the energy to sit on the bike for another hour to get down and how we were going to prevent feezing to death on our way. All the while, Ben was apparently feeling pretty great, even though his ride had been 30% longer than mine, and he spent 20 minutes walking around taking photos of the spectacular views, helping some families get a portrait at the top, and answering everyone’s “how long did it take you?” questions about our ride. Tired as I was though, it was impossible to deny that it was absolutelybeautiful.


It started to get cold though, and we knew we needed to get down before it had a chance to get any colder.  We put on all the layers we had, Ben kindly loaned me his jacket, and we headed down. Everything we had read indicated that the ride down would be boring and tedious, and as we had experienced on the way up, freezing cold. Much to my suprise, the ride was nothing but fun. The banked switchbacks prevented us from hitting any ridiculous speeds but kept things interesting and much to my relief, all the cloud cover that had plagued us on our ascent had magically disappeared. It was just us, our bikes and the road and a whole lot of well deserved coasting, and although it was still a little chilly, the beautiful green countryside far made up for any complaints. We couldn’t have asked for a more impressive end to a very long day.


For ride stats, feel free to check out my Garmin Connect results.


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