Monday, December 3, 2012

The ascension of Haleakala

I've only ever did a few ride reports and some day I'll get around to doing the Arctic Circle Ride but for now here is a blast from the past...

Ever have one of those weeks when you try to cram everything into just a few days? My wife Turra and I took a trip to Maui in 2005. The hard part was the vacation was shared with her sister and brother-in-law. Nice enough people but…

We had enough of the shared holiday and decided to get away. We rented a Honda Shadow 750 Aero. In 3 days, 2 nights we piled a couple hundred site-seeing miles on an island with only a couple hundred miles on it.

The second day of our moto trips, I decided to see how far up the volcano we could make it. Being that Turra only had a sweatshirt and shorts on and the 85 deg. sunny beaches were 30 miles behind, we didn’t make it too far. When I started to see goose bumps form on her legs, it was time to turn around.

I normally don’t have many insane moments but every now and then I do something really stupid, especially when riding by myself. I wanted to see that volcano from the top so I got out of bed at 3:30am and hopped on the bike and headed out to see the sun rise at the top. Since I had to drop the bike off that morning, I took running shoes and shorts in a backpack along with a rain poncho just in case. I was in Maui, who needed winter clothes? Since I had no plans to ride while there, all I had was a flannel lined denim shirt (a flyweight jacket) for warmth and sunglasses for eye protection, which usually isn’t a problem unless you leave at 4:00am.

It was really warm and quiet as I pulled out of the parking deck and headed south along the ocean. If there is anything you’ll learn immediately about Maui is that there are very few major roads. Of those roads, they form a figure eight around the two volcanoes that make up the island. The ride down was so peaceful and tranquil that it seemed like there was no wind at all. I could easily hear the steady thump of the motor as I left the ocean and headed inland between the volcanoes to the only road that went up the big hill. Rumor has it this road is the longest paved inclined roadway in the world gaining over 10,000 feet in 40 miles.

I turned on to the park road that leads up into the Haleakala Volcano National Park. As you climb, they have the elevations posted along the way. It was still pitch black out and got even worse as I climbed.  The sunglasses didn’t help any so I pretty much peered over them the whole ride up.  I later found out that there are no outside lights inside the park. There is an observatory on top of the volcano and they want to keep ambient light to a minimum. The road kept climbing and I kept getting colder. I stopped at a tourist info / ranger station about ½ way up to use the rest room and the hand driers to get warm. Onward I went and as the elevation gained the temps dropped. By the time I got to 7,500 feet and I could no longer feel my ungloved fingers. My hands have been up my jacket sleeve for miles but it hasn’t helped. 8,500 feet and I am shivering uncontrollably banging my knees on the gas tank. I can barely lift my leg to get my foot off the floorboard to the brake pedal. The clutch and hand brake are useless since I cannot pull them in let alone hold the throttle on. I was having a hard time concentrating and felt my vision started to get hard to focus.

Do I quit or continue? I still cannot see the top let alone see outside of what my bike is lighting up and my brain says I am going hypothermic. I cannot wait any longer, as the sun will rise before I get there. I continued on tying my best not to do anything any dumber. Remember Dumb and dumber riding into Aspen?

Finally the top!!. I was so cold I headed straight to the very dimly lit restroom not only to relieve myself, but also to use the hand driers again. After warming a bit I headed out and was greeted by a tour bus driver who asked me if I had actually ridden up to the top? I didn’t want to be a smart ass and tell him I was carrying the helmet to pick up chicks or something so I politely responded yes. He told me that it sometimes snows up here. Luckily it didn’t snow for me.

Warmth was slowly, very slowly creeping back so I wandered back outside to see what could be seen. Nothing, nothing but pitch black is all I could see unless you looked up to where millions of stars shone bright. I tried to jog around a bit but I couldn’t see unless a car pulled into the lot. I stumbled around a bit to find a spot where a park worker said would be a good place to watch the sun rise. 

It wasn’t long as the sky started to show layers of color as the sun came up over the ocean. Immediately I started to get warm as the rays hit my face and then it happened. I turned around only to realize, 1) Two girls next to me were making out, cool from some men’s point of view and 2) SNOW AND ICE IN MAUI and I wasn’t at the top!! I still had about a mile to go before I was at the real top of the volcano. Since I wasn’t peeing ice-cubes anymore I walked back to the bike and off I went to the true top. The terrain was barren and looked like a desert as was the inside of the volcano. Zero to 10,000 in only 40 miles and the view was spectacular. The first thing I did was call my uncle on the cell phone from the top of the world

The trip back down was just as interesting and it made the trip up even worse than I had imagined. There were dozens of hairpin turns around the ends of volcanic outcroppings I couldn’t see over on the way up. Of course one side was lava and the other side was unprotected ledges and step hillsides that had no railings. I sure am glad I was able to make all those turns on the way up! The further I descended the warmer it got and I tried to get some pics while rolling. As I left the valley and headed north along the shore I became saddened by the thought that later that day, I’d be on a plane heading back to the frozen bowels of hell called Ohio. I dropped off the bike and got quite a stare when the manager read the odometer. Thank God for unlimited mileage! I told him where I had just come from and his remark was that no one else was dumb enough to try and ride up there that early in the morning including the locals.

I went in the back to change into some running clothes as I had about 5 miles to run to get back to the hotel where we were staying. My clothes were still ice cold when I took them from the saddlebags!! I called T and told her I was on the way so she jogged south to meet me. In less than six hours I had gone from toasty in bed to freezing my butt off to running drenched in sweat from the blazing sun along the beach. As I saw T approaching I had to wipe the drool off my chin as I had had been passing bikini after bikini on my jog home. How often do you get to ride up a volcano, see snow, ice and near naked sunbathers all in one morning? I put my “blinders” back on during our walk back to the motel and drank everything in sight before we headed out for a final swim.

The trip was memorable from both the exhaustingly cold ride and the spectacular view from the top. So if you ever get to the islands, make sure you take a good coat, gloves and clear glasses for you eyes. Touring an area like that in a car or bus sucked but the bike totally rocked! Especially if you take the road to Hanna, the road is only about 10 feet wide in some places and the edge drops into the ocean.

1 comment:

  1. Just read your story.. Nice! You should have ridden a rental bicycle up Haleakala and then back down! Probably would had kept warmer.