Biking Down a Volcano
Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 4 mins
As of this Journal Entry, we’re just over halfway through the #FindYourSummit elevation challenge. It’s been invigorating to watch people from around the world participate in this monthlong elevation challenge in collaboration with Summit Coffee. Watching everyone stack up vert left and right brings brought back fond memories of a visit to one of our goal summits … Haleakalā. Bombing down 10,000+ ft from the top of a dormant volcano was certainly one of the most amazing cycling experiences of my life.
My wife, Kristi (of “My Mount Marathon” fame), and I headed to Hawaii for a "relaxing" babymoon before our 2nd child, Maximus, was born. Sure, we would hang out on the beach, lazily read books, and talk about the meaning of life, but my stationary attention span is wildly impatient and there was too much to experience throughout the island.
In addition to quintessential couples massages, coffee and pineapple plantation tours, and sunset dinner cruises, I was constantly looking for new action across this amazing island oasis. Open ocean swims, Standup Paddleboarding with sea turtles, hiking to remote waterfalls, running the XTERRA World Championships course, caving in lava tubes, and even driving the famed “Road to Hana” were all on the trip agenda and were each truly amazing experiences.
But then there was Haleakalā. “House of the Sun” to native Hawaiians, this dormant volcano rises majestically on the eastern portion of Maui and is, by far, the highest and most imposing peak on the island. This shield volcano is so massive it makes up 75% of the entire island itself and has long been a sacred land for native Hawaiian culture, wildlife, history, and mythology. The official summit, named Puʻu ʻUlaʻula (translated to Red Hill in English), sits at 10,023ft and is downright breathtaking. The 360’ views are jaw dropping. The rare biodiversity is astounding. The opportunities for recreational activities are endless. This was at the top of my list for this trip.
Just like the touristy sunrise photo opportunities (reservations sell out months in advance), there are countless touristy bike companies that will rent you a bike, shuttle you up the House of the Sun and set you free on your decent. The problem with these tours is that they only shuttle you as high as the entrance gate to the Haleakalā National Park at 7000 ft (Established on August 1, 1916, Haleakalā is the 10th oldest National Park in the system). These tours also set you up with a janky and beat up bike (I know I sound like a bike snob ... I am one) and group you with other Instagram seekers. I was completely enthralled with the idea of a true summit to sea ride and wouldn't settle for a janky rig for the longest descend of my life.
After spending too many hours researching my options before our trip, I found Maui Cyclery, located within a seashells throw of the beach in Pāʻia, who offers a legit arsenal of speedy and descent worthy bombing bikes. A couple of phone calls later, we had a Scott Addict lovingly named “Walton” (Bill Walton, an avid cyclist himself, often swing by the shop when in town and uses this bike), strapped to the back of the rental car and we were heading towards the sun.
Increasingly giddy with excitement around each hairpin turn, we reached the top and were awestruck with the expansive views, rolling clouds, and whipping winds that we had learned to expect. After soaking up the views and seeing the Hawaiian Island chain from a completely different perspective, it was time to set sail. With my rear wheel on the geographic summit of Haleakalā at 10,023ft, it was all downhill from here.
Aside from the childlike “weeeeeee” feeling throughout the 36-mile ride, I was surprisingly intrigued by the evolution of the various ecosystems that I passed. At the summit, it was an alpine desert with dry, porous, and barren landscape peppered with the famed Silverswords (found only at high alpine peaks on Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii), brilliant vegetation started to shine once I entered the subalpine shrublands and I was greeted with a beautiful display of native flowers across the color spectrum.
The natural vivid floral exhibit quickly disappeared as I pierced downward through a cloud (still a mind-blowing experience to this day) before zipping through the tropical rainforest that much of Hawaii is stereotypically known for.
With rainforest and switchbacks behind me, I found myself passing through the small Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) villages of Makawao and Haliimaile with grazing cattle all around before finally bringing the front wheel of “Walton” to a stop in the calm lapping waters of the Pacific Ocean at Lower Pāʻia Park. A true and literal summit to sea experience that has left a perma-grin smile on my face each time I think about it.
I know exactly what you're thinking. Me too. The next trip itinerary to Maui will include a ride in the other direction. Maybe, I’ll hit up my friends at Maui Cyclery again. After all, they do host the Cycle to the Sun race each year. Maybe I'll schedule our next elevation challenge to coincide with their race in case anyone want to experience this amazing island for themselves.
Mahalo and happy climbing!
Journal - Biking Down a Volcano
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Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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