One Guy, Two Wheels, and a Volcano

One Guy, Two Wheels, and a Volcano

Photo by Jeff King.

Maui (Part 3) – Cycle to the Sun

My wife convinced me to come to Hawaii for the family trip because of this ride. My excitement and admittedly, even the nerves for Cycle to the Sun were growing with each passing day leading up to the ride on Saturday. Friday was the pre-reg and rider packet pick up day. It was also the day that I picked up my favorite jersey that I own to date. But in a few short hours, I’d be putting in the effort to earn it.


The ride start is at 630am from Paia town. The drive from Kaanapali to Paia town is just under an hour so I rolled out before sunrise. Downstairs in the lobby, I ran into another rider who was also pushing his bike out to the car. We exchanged greeting but it was obvious that both us were still waking up. The parking lot was pitch black. All was quiet except for the distant roar of the waves from beyond the hotel.

The drive to Paia town was not too different from the drive to Kaanapali the first night we arrived. Instead of sleepy anticipation of arriving at the hotel, it was now replaced by sleep anticipation for arriving at the start line. By the time I arrived to park in Paia town, it was actually bustling with the riders getting ready to ride (and in some cases race). The race start is on a side street off the main drag and is actually easily missed and not spectacular at all. But no one seemed to really notice since we were all just trying to get ready and stay warm.

The group turns out to be smaller than I expected. Most of the riders are local. I meet a few out-of-towners like me – including someone who had done the Whistler Gran Fond (one more ride added to my list). I find a spot close to the back of the pack and waited for the start….

Rolling Out…

By 7am we were rolling past neighborhoods and open fields where homes had yet to be built. Heading east toward the edge of town. It was a gradual 4 percent until we hit this one road that felt like the builders took what should have been a 4 day job and turned it into one. This thing must have been 9% or 10% and it came out of no where. The road was like a rocket ship straight through and out of the neighborhood area to the base of the road leading up toward the park entrance. Mile less than 3 and I was already out of the saddle. I had been officially welcomed to Cycle to the Sun.

The Climb…

The first thousand feet were sunny and yielded extraordinary views. The valley and ocean down below looked spectacular. The view was infinitely better from the saddle than from the car a few days prior. I could see West Maui and the valley that separated the two volcanoes that form the entire island. The racers were long gone and I was slowly moving to the back of the pack but I didn’t care. I was simply taking it all in. I couldn’t help wondering if may mid range gearing was a wise choice or not… Looking back I don’t think I would do this ride again without a compact crank.

Photo by Anton Repponen.

Honestly, one of the big thoughts on my mind for the first part of the ride was whether or not I would make the first timed cut-off at the entrance of the park. I was so relieved when I did. Think constant time and distance math for the better part of the first 3,000 feet. Finally the sign up ahead welcoming me to the park appeared. I had made it with like an hour so left!

The sun was still out at this point and the climbing continued…

The Middle Part…

Somewhere around 6,000 feet I started to feel it. The pitches were a steady 6% and the actual switchbacks (I had lost count of how many at this point) were actually the reprieve on each of the parts. I had expected it to the other way around. Perhaps it was more mental than anything else. The switch backs broke up the monotony of the straight sections of climb (the part that all cyclists live for right?).

As you ascend, you literally look up and see the next cross-section of road above you. And at one point it felt as though there was no end. The lavender farm and the park entrance that I had passed over an hour ago was a distant memory.

Going Up…

At around 7000 feet, the minimal SAG support was there to cheer me on and hand me a water bottle. It was super encouraging and helpful. The support crew definitely had a lot more pep then I did at that point. Soon after that, I saw the first of the shuttles taking the finishers down the mountain. To make matters less encouraging, a racer who had already finished in excellent time ripped past me on his descent from the sun.

And Up…

At 8,000 feet I got off my bike and stopped for the first time that I recall since the park entrance – which was like 6,000 feet ago. I wasn’t even going by mileage at this point. A mile or two later I stopped again. I wasn’t completely spent, but perhaps it was the thinner air or something. I needed to stop and rest. And then the perfect motivation showed itself.

Photo by Anton Repponen.

I look down the mountainside across the volcanic formations and alien landscape. Three switchbacks down, I see a guy on a Pedego (one of those standing bikes with no seat – like a stair master on two wheels). And my one thought was, “Oh H. E. Double Hockey Sticks. No.”

I got back in the saddle double time and just started granny gearing it with a second boost of determination and focus. There was no way that a guy on a Pedego was going to pass me up less than 5 miles from the finish. No. Way.

The End… Sort Of

Photo by Jad Limcaco.

I made it to the bottom of the observatory but then found out that I had to ride up the driveway to the observatory to the end. I got off and walked. No joke. I didn’t have much left for that last little pitch so I walked a few hundred yards and got back on, turned the corner, and crossed the finish line at the upper parking lot. I was probably one of the last ones since I’d already seen two shuttles go down on my way up.

More importantly, I had finished.

Unofficially the rider organizers didn’t tell me that I could ride back down if I took my bib numbers off. And unofficially, they never said that I should put every article of clothing back on before I did so. And unofficially they didn’t tell me to ride safe and have fun and that it was going to be epic.

But it was.

The Reward

Photo by Tevin Trinh.

I literally descended through the clouds. The sun had come out at the peak and was baking the moisture off the surface of the pavement. The entire road had the effect of being completely covered in dry ice. This was followed by several thousand feet of dense cloud followed by sun on repeat. I was drenched. I was dry. I was drenched. Braking was sketchy to say the least. (Mental note, come back with disc brakes).

By the time I pulled back in to the parking lot in Paia town I was bone dry. The challenging ride followed by the most unforgettable descent was one of the most exhilarating experiences ever. I had ridden down (and up) a volcano. Haleakala unlocked.

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