Biking down the Volcano

When I first read about this trip with the Haleakala Bike Co., I knew I had to do it - I also knew that the prospect was a tad scary. After about 90 minutes sleep (too anxious/excited), I was picked up at our condo at 02h15.  We then drove over to the store front in Haiku Town, where we were outfitted with helmets, wind/rain gear, gloves and mountain bikes.

From there it was a drive up to the top of Haleakala volcano to watch the sunrise.  It was cold, even for me, as I secured my spot at the railing - not wanting to move for fear of losing this prime spot.  I imagine if I had brought some heavier clothing with me from home (winter coat, hat, scarf, boots...), it would have made my wait more comfortable.  The temperature was 5C (40F) and it was a long wait for the star of the show to arrive.  After an hour and 15 minutes, our reward began to brighten the horizon.

The sky started to lighten, as Venus began to appear dimmer and dimmer.  The outline of the crater below started to become more visible.  Then, on the floor of the sky (I can't think of a better way to describe the sight), a small pool of vivid orange/red began to appear.  That is what it looked like from 10,000 ft  (over 3000 m) - as if the sun were coming up through a carpet of clouds.  The hole widened and the colour became more intense.  Slowly, the sun rose through this opening in the clouds.  The colours were staggering and changed ever so rapidly.  Looking down to adjust the camera meant missing precious seconds of this transformation.  It was one of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenes I have ever witnessed.  Even though there were probably about 350 people up there to view this event, it felt like just me and the clouds.  Awesome.

At 7h00, the show was over (full sunrise was at 06h55), so we all headed back to our bus to warm up and head down to 6'500 ft - our staging area.  Our bikes were waiting there (there were 50 riders in our group today - another sold out sunrise ride).  We mounted up and everyone headed down the slope at their own pace.  This is a challenging ride, I am not going to kid about that.  But with good coaching from the staff, I knew it was going to be ok.
One of the 32 switchbacks on the road - riding through the clouds.
Starting out was hesitant.  It is a 23 mile (37 km) ride down to sea level (about a 90 minute ride down).  During the first 30 minutes of my descent, I realized I needed to release the death-grip I had on the brakes, if I intended to use my hands for the rest of the day (the cold temperatures didn't help either).

At the 5 mile mark, I stopped in at Higher Ground Cafe on Crater Road, for some breakfast.  A coffee and a spicy sausage hoagie were just the thing to keep me going (breakfast upon waking at 1h45 didn't seem that appealing).  I did a bit of browsing in the small storefront, then back at it.
Breakfast of champions - tomato, lettuce, spicy mustard, Maui onion, sausage
The sound of the wind in my ears during the descent was exhilarating.  The traffic was light and the drivers I encountered were courteous. There are lots of signs warning of bikers and I imagine the locals are used to lots of bike traffic coming down these mountain roads.  There was a narrow bike lane available most of the way down.  On many of the switchbacks, there was not - but I took it slow and the cars waited until I was out of the curve until passing.

There were about 4 hills to climb while coasting down the volcano - two I managed, two I walked the bike up (no judgements please, plus the bike had only 1 gear!)  A total of two hours later (including a stop to take off my sweater from under my windbreaker), I arrived back at the storefront in Haiku Town.  It was a truly remarkable experience and I am glad that I mustered up the courage to make it happen.

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