Being from Indiana, I don't have much experience climbing, ok, so I don't have any! But if you're on Maui and a cyclist, climbing Haleakala is just something you have to do. Here's the ride report I sent to my team:
Dressed in knee warmers, ss jersey with a ls jersey over it. Left the wind vest there, wish I wouldn't have. Dipped the tire at 0ft above sea level and started rolling at 6am.
You immediately start to climb 3-4% up through Paia and through tropical farmland. You go through all the aspects of island life in this first third of the climb. Shanties, mansions, beautifully landscaped churches, cemeteries and pineapple fields. Only the occasional switchback here, you pretty much just ride straight up the slope with the occasional pitch up to 8-9% maybe a little steeper. I was starting to get a little pain on the outside of my left leg and decided my seat was too low. A quick stop and an inch higher and everything felt great. I started getting nervous, all the ride reports I'd read talked about how easy it was to miss the first real turn, my Garmin was up and running and it helped to know there was a horse arena at the turn, there it was and an easy turn.
The weather is pretty much perfect at this point, clear and sunny. I could see the telescopes at the top of the mountain shining from the very start of the ride 10,023 feet up and 34 miles away. I'm warm but not too warm in my long sleeves with the jacket unzipped.
The altimeter clicks off 500', higher than any hill I've ever climbed. And the summit is still pretty much in the same place way up there. In fact even though I'm now steadily in the 5-6% climbing, I still don't consider myself to be on the mountain yet but still on the lower plains to the north. Up ahead the steeper sides of the mountain lie in wait.
The road itself is beautiful, what looks and feels like not more that a few years old asphalt with fresh painted yellow and white lines, perfect for rising.
Starting near the 3000' level the foliage starts to turn into what I'd call manicured tropical. Everybody seems to take care of their property up here and have a green thumb. Flowers and exotic plants are everywhere. I'm high enough now when the view opens up I can see all the way across the Maui valley to the West Maui Mountains and the ocean on both the north and south side of the isle. Smoke belches from the sugar cane factory on the central plain and jets fly their approach into Kahului Airport at my eye level.
It's been about an hour and a half and I'm coming up on my first planned stop, a little market setting at about 3500'. My legs are feeling pretty good and I've all but emptied two bottles of water/Gatorade so it's time for a refill. If I'm having any problems it my stomach, the mixed plate Hawaiian pork may not have been the best choice last night. A quick stop to the restroom and I'm feeling MUCH better, bottles filled, a quick stretch and I'm on my way.
Up the road about a half mile is the last turn of the ride, marked by a sign saying Haleakala National Park. Up I go. 20 miles and 6500' of climbing left.
The downhill riders start to come by, accompanied by their watchful minders they drift down the mountain, rain suited, full face helmeted statues unable to take their hands off the bars for a wave or spare a sideways glance. Their minders and the speed governors on their bikes keep them at no more than 20 mph, at some points as I pass them I seem to be going faster up than they are down. Some of the women smile as they go by, the men all mentally hand over their claims to manhood as they realize what I'm doing / they're doing. I give them all the Hawaiian "Shaka" hand sign to solidify weakness.
Up the road I see a couple of cyclists also going up. As I approach I see it's a man and women on touring bikes, though only the man has one saddle bag. As I pass I say howdie and they respond in kind. The women says "I wish I had your bike!" and then they were gone.
The bike is nice, more than I expected really. It's a fairly high end Fuji, full carbon, full Ultegra with a nice compact crank and an 11-28 cassette. Right now I'm using that 28, spinning up the slope. My plan has been to keep my HR below 170, top of my zone 3. Lately the advertised 5% grade has been more like 6-7% but I'm spinning it out and keeping things in control.
The scenery begins to change. I enter a dense pine forest, the smell is intoxicating. The trees huge. Through gaps I can see I'm about equal in height to the mountains to the west at 5000'. Some clouds are starting to roll into the valley below from the east. Above, clouds are also beginning to form. The ones below are heavy, above, light and wispy. It's a little chilly here, I zip up my SS jersey.
As quick as I entered the pines, I'm back out onto a large grassy hillside. I suppose this must be the beginning of the switchbacks because here they are. It really is something to see. The black ribbon of road with its bright yellow and white markings cutting back and forth through the green grass and black volcanic rock. I pass a cow. Someone has written on the road "5000 ft"
The grade has started to vary at this point in the switch backs and now it is more often 6-8% as it is 5%. 4% feels like downhill and is cause to move to a few higher gears and roll some speed. It is short lived though and quickly gives way to something steeper. On one stretch of 9%, "BREATH" is stenciled on the ground in bright blue letters. It's timely advice.
Nearing 7500 feet the trees are gone, I didn't notice when, but it's getting more and more rocky. Clouds are beginning to wisp by and the whole of the isle below is shrouded in their white veil. It's just me, the top of the mountain and the clouds. I roll up to the Park ranger station and can't find my money to get in, after digging through all my pockets I finally find it, hand over the $5 and continue on for the next mile up to the park station where I stop once again to use the facilities and refill the bottles. In my excitement to continue on I forget to stretch.
Off I go again, on and up. Looking back as I continue to climb the switchbacks in the distance I see another rider behind, just entering the station. Now there's two people, and two people make a race. I pedal on with new determination, using less of that 28 cog and standing more often on the longer straights. To change up the muscles used. They say this is the altitude you'll start to feel the lack of 02 but I'm not feeling bad at all. Good.
The wind is starting to kick up, and it's getting colder, small wispy clouds are zipping across and down the road like little apparitions. The summit is visible again, the observatories still shining in the sun. They look impossibly close, but my altimeter says they are still 2500' up and 8 miles away.
The only vegetation left is small dried up grasses. It's starting to look liked surface of mars, sharp red and black rocks with steep drop offs. I think I'm getting close, but then way up the hillside, I catch the glint of a car window above on one of the switchbacks ahead, by it's size it's miles away. Scale is everything up here, and there's just nothing to reference it with. I think to myself of Marek, on his 3rd Christmas opening presents and saying in his scratchy little voice "oh my, oh my, and OH MY, this is going to be AMAZIK!". And it is. And it continues up.
I pass the 9000' level and at this point realize I AM going to make it. I also realize I have more left to climb than any single hill I ever had ridden before.
I turn a switchback and think I'm in the final run, then turn away, turn back and I'm sure this is it, then away again. And Again. Finally the visitor center comes into view and I take the right hand to the summit. Ack! It's a half mile of 12%! Insult to injury! My HR is going up, way up but I don't care anymore, my legs are burning and that's ok too, through the parking lot and I get cheers from some of the motorists that passed me on the way up. Cool, I ride the side walk to the very top and I'm greeted by the park ranger with 'congratulations!'. I'm elated. She takes my picture at the sign, 10,023 feet above where I started 4:33 ago. I try to call some people but no signal. Shucks. Overall it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. The advice to stretch a few times was right on. It felt good to stand on top the mountain. The guy I'd seen behind me arrived about 5 minutes later, it was time to go.
I zipped everything up, ate a banana and started down. Strange I hadn't given much thought to this part but it quickly became apparent I could kill myself descending. That first 12% downhill with the wind whipping left and right and the road turning beneath me was an eye opener. And it was COLD! I thought of the wind vest I'd left in the Jeep, it wasn't doing much good there.
To sum it up, the descent was fast, rarely under 30mph for an hour and a half. I tried to save the brakes as much as possible, riding them was a hard temptation to resist. My teeth chattered so hard at one point I bit my tongue. My hands hurt from being in the drops but I had to be there for control and braking.
I passed the couple on bikes still on the way up with a quick wave and a smile (I ran into them again the next day in Hana 50 miles away. They were in the process of riding their bikes all the way around Maui. Quite the adventure.)
The ride turned into rolling fast down the straights, braking hard in the turns and rolling back up to speed over and again. I've heard people describe this descent as boring. I would describe it as one of the scariest things I've done.
Once off the mountain proper I took to pedaling to keep over 30mph and generate some heat. Unbelievably I passed some of the downhill bikers still on their way down. You couldn't pay me to do that.
I rolled back into Paia, packed up an was done. Wow. If you ever get the chance, this is one to do.
The data from my Garmin, which decided to lock up 2/3's of the way back down:
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