Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cycling the Haleakala Crater: From beach to 10,000 ft

By Ryan Borger, USAT Level 1 certified coach and owner of Borger Endurance LLC.

This past week I made my first trek to Hawaii, to the island of Maui for a week of solitude, honeymooning with my beautiful new bride Amy, and a bit of adventure. We stationed ourselves on the 6th floor of a condo building off the Kamaole 2 beach in South Kihei, thanks to the generosity of some close family friends who let us stay at their condo for the week. I planned on mostly enjoying the week relaxing at the beach, taking a bit of a break from normal training, while still keeping my run volume up and doing some open water swimming, as the thought of running in Maui seemed pretty pleasant, especially coming off a relatively cold Colorado winter and I don’t get much open water practice. I had thought about trying to bring my bike along, but quickly realized that wasn’t a viable option thanks to United Airlines hefty $175 bike fee, each way. Unable to run as planned due to a heel injury, I decided to rent a bike for the week once I arrived. Prior to the week, I didn’t know much about the island, nor it’s cycling routes, though I had heard rumors of Canadian pro cyclist Ryder Hesjedal splitting a 2:30 ride to the top of some massive volcano there, so I decided to look into it a bit.

The idea of riding from sea level to 10,000ft drew my interest pretty quickly. I ride up to 10,000ft occasionally in Colorado, but I start at 5300ft, not sea level. There's a big difference. With the approval of the wife and soon to be driver to pick me up at the top and drive me back down, we decided I give it a go, and to make the trek by bike up this epic volcano. I rented the cheapest road bike I could find for the week, from South Maui bikes, took a look at a map, and set out for it. I will add that I came back very appreciative of my light-weight Specialized Tarmac SL3… after riding a heavy aluminum bike I realized I’ve been carbon fiber brainwashed, and need to not take my lightweight carbon rig for granted.

If you ever get a chance to ride on the island of Maui, I encourage you to make the epic climb from the beach to the top of Haleakala. Hundreds of people get shuttled to the top daily, and ride bikes down as a popular tourist even, but only a handful do it the other way around. It’s a cool accomplishment, and a rare opportunity to ascend over 10,000 ft.

What will you need for the ride?

- 2 large water bottles, bars/food, gets, $5 for fee into the National Park ($10 for cars), money for drinks/refueling at the market, a cycling jacket, and a pocket map may be a good idea, although it's a pretty straight forward route

I was warned that temperatures can vary 30-45 degrees from the beach to the top of the crater, and to bring a jacket, full finger gloves, and the whole nine yards. I scrapped that idea since I only brought a short sleeve jersey and shorts, and decided to take a bit of a risk. I got lucky as temperatures only dropped about 10-15 degrees at the top; I was shocked to be at 10,000 ft. by the end of the morning, while still sweating in 50+ degree weather. I was fortunate for my luck.

I rummaged the condo kitchen, packed a few baggies of Fig Newton bars, a Powerbar gel (unfortunately I only brought one on the trip), $10, a small map, and filled my two large water bottles. Unfortunately again I left my Powerbar Endurance drink mix at home, but not to worry, we still had some strawberry margarita mix left over in the fridge. I glanced at the ingredients on back, and realized it's pretty darn similar to Gatorade, and filled a bottle with half mix and half water. It tasted a lot like Kool-Aid, not bad at all and saved me a few bucks and a trip to the store.

The start at Baldwin Park: Elevation 2 feet

I topped of my tires at Maui Cyclery right in front of Baldwin Park in the small town of Paia, my starting point. The ride starts off the beach at Baldwin Avenue for approximately 7 miles, which is relatively flat compared to the rest of the ride, with a slight incline until hitting the second small town, Makawao. It was snowing ashes on me the first 45 minutes or so, as a nearby sugar cane field was on fire. I later learned this was a way of either harvesting, prepping, or processing the sugar. Possibly conducive to the sugar farmers, but not to cyclists' lungs.

At Makawao/ Makawao Avenue, you have the option of turning right onto the busier highway, but I opted to continue straight through the stop sign 1 mile on Olinda Rd. until reaching the rodeo, where I was instructed to turn right at Hanamu Road. This route has almost zero auto traffic. The roads wind a bit, have a few steeper climbs, and pretty areas of Eucalyptus groves. I was sweating a ton as I was pushing the pace fairly hard, and it was very humid. You will run into the Haleakala Highway/State Hwy 377 at the Haleakala Ranch, which takes you to the entrance of Haleakala National Park/Crater Road and up above the clouds.

Baldwin Avenue, from Paia to Makawao (7 mi)

There is a market at just over 3000 ft elevation which you can stop at before the steep climbing starts, so bring a few bucks for a mid-ride snack.

I stopped at the market to refill the bottles, enjoy a quick chocolate milk and Powerade, which was well needed later on. Several miles past the market you will reach your final turn, a left at the entrance sign to the Haleakala National Park, which also reads 22 miles to the top.

The rest of the ride consists primarily of switchbacks, and the grind goes on, and on, and on... passing the elevation signs every thousand feet. It's important to stay mentally focused, though it was relatively easy to do since you're excited to get to the top!

The final 45 minutes was more challenging than expected, as I was running a bit low on calories, and my rear was feeling the ache of a few hours on a new bike saddle, though I plugged away at it. As I passed the "Summit: 2 miles" sign, I also passed two other cyclists on the side of the road. One was standing up next to his bike, while the other was collapsed over in a ditch. The guy was taking a much needed rest, and I think he was either a bit under-trained for this ride or went out a bit hard. I don't have evidence that he made it to the actual summit, he did make it about 500 feet from it to the visitor's center parking lot, where on our drive back down I found him like this, as the picture shows:

By the top, my wife Amy had been waiting for me for about 45 minutes. The ride from start to finish took me about 3 hours, 15 minutes, pushing at a relatively moderate, though not hard, pace for the majority of it, though my legs were shot by the end of it. I can say that Ryder Hesjedal's record of 2:30 is quite remarkable!

Here are a few final shots of the last miles, as well as the view from the top. If you're ever in Maui next, give it a shot!

The road above the clouds, and 2 miles to the summit

A view from the summit

Mission: Accomplished


Anonymous said...

Way Cool!!! Hope to do that some day. Thanks for sharing Bro!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan,

I've been looking for blog posts about Maui to feature on our site. If you're interested, you can drop me a line at Kate (at) Dwellable (.com)