The Ascent of Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii

I spoke to some lovely people in the West Maui Cycle shop here in Lahaina about climbing the volcano, and they said to wait as the winds were strong.  I looked at the weather forecast and decided that Sunday would have to be the day.  I had really wanted to get it over with sooner, as the apprehension was preventing me from really enjoying myself out here.
Saturday evening and I had a headache from constant tension in my neck and shoulders, but I was determined to ride Sunday, so I loaded the car with my support kit (pump, tubes etc) and food and water, and then went to bed.
Sunday morning and I was up at 6am (7pm UK time) for my Sunday morning ride, which although not a long one at 57km, was going to be tough, as there were over 3,000m of climbing to do in one go.  Porridge seemed like a good way to start the day, with some very strong coffee.
My wife and son and I (and the bike) in the car, we headed the 30 miles or so to Paia, the official start of the ride.  The weather was looking good with the temperatures not looking so hot yet, and not much wind.  As we came round the island, the bulk of Mt Haleakala appeared, with a large bank of cloud on its flanks.  It really is a huge lump on the horizon, and I was filled with apprehension again.
I told my wife I was nervous, and she asked “about what?”.  My reply was that having tried this climb before, and blown out at about 2,000m I knew what sort of discomfort I was in for.  I did not tell her that a cycling club colleague had suffered a heart attack last week on a hill in Surrey, but it was preying on my mind.  I am older than him, and heavier and slower, and have been slobbing it a bit out here (hey, the beer is excellent and the food too good not to eat and the beach, pool and whale watching are generally more attractive than the gym!).
Anyway, Cranleigh Cycling Club jersey on, I got on my Fondriest TFZero (prepared for me for this very ride) and set off up Baldwin Avenue at about 08:10 – UP being the operative word for the day.


I guess I was feeling quite energised as the first few minutes were great.  The bike felt good, I felt good.  My plan, such as it was, basically meant me taking it steady the whole way – no mad speed at the beginning.  I had to keep my HR under control, as I was expecting the altitude to cause problems higher up.
The road from Paiai to Makawao is really lovely.  The sugar cane fields were waving in the breeze and everything was green and lush, albeit there was a fine misty rain in the air.  I was quite grateful for this, as it was cooling me in the very humid morning.  I am one of those who really sweats for Britain, so I have to keep hydrated when cycling.  Humid conditions let you know when you are sweating, as you just stay wet, and I was, but wait till later for more sweat news!
The road climbed at about 5-6%.  It was a good smooth surface and wide enough not to have to worry about cars (although so far the experience with motorists had been really good compared to home).  Makawao is a nice little village where I think there is a famous bakery, with the best cream puffs, but not today.  I saw one of the many downhill cycling support vans, and tapped on the window to check directions (I had previously missed a turn near here).  The driver said that yes, I needed to turn right at the rodeo, and that the kick up in front of me was the steepest on the whole climb.  Gee thanks I thought.  In fact it was quite a kicker, and went up into double figures on the gradient.  I spotted the tiny sign to Haleakala, and headed right, where the road was like a roller coaster for a while, with loads of downhillers streaming towards me, and the leader shouting good luck (this was to become a feature of the ride!).
My support crew missed the turning, and waited patiently for me to near them so they could take photos/video and get a drink ready.  Hey ho, they eventually realised I was not coming, and looked for the right road.  My son had sensibly made up a large container of electrolyte drink for me, and so could quickly refill my bottle when needed (which was frequently).  I had also taken the advice of my good friend from Adelaide in Australia who said I needed something savoury to eat on top of the horrendous gels and so on.  I had toasted some onion bagels and put cream cheese on them for a change from isogels and bars!
What is a climb in Surrey where I live?  Box Hill, Bury Hill, Leith Hill, White Down, Barhatch?  How long are they?  OK they can be steep, but really not so long.  I knew in my mind that a 33+ mile ride climbing over 10k feet would be tough, but when you find a 5% gradient is a relief, you know things are going to be a bit hard.
The scenery on the road is just amazing, but once again, when you are climbing it all gets a bit boring!  I cannot believe that riding in this environment can be monotonous, but sadly several hours of climbing can be a bit like that.
There was a small downhill section, which at first I thought was great, until I thought that actually I have to get to a specific height, which means that any downhills would have to be re-climbed.
I went through the lower pastures, through the forests, into the higher pastures towards the scrub and then the desert.  I think I was lucky that the cloud was low, such that the moisture was condensing on my arm hairs.  The cloud was low such that there were fewer miles to climb in the cloudless altitude.  Even so, with a gradient of 5%+ as the lowest, it was hard.  
For the first few hours all I did was pedal and refuel.  However when I entered the National Park I was clear that I had cycled further then I did before, and therefore had to carry on.  The sign said there was another 22 miles to go.  At my speed that was several hours of cycling.  Luckily the only aim was to finish the ride, not break any records, or rules.  I was so pleased to have made it this far and thought to myself that I had it in the bag.  Ha!  Although I never felt like giving up, it was hard and relentless.  I stopped sweating, which is always a bad sign for me.  I did feel sick from time to time, and had some bad bouts of cramp, but every now and then I would see my son in the distance with the GoPro ready.  He had set it on the road, on a rock, on the car and so on – all managed using the viewfinder on his iPhone (amazing technology eh?).
I used the Garmin Virb to record a few sequences – mostly me going past signs showing the altitude, and me swearing that this was the last time I would try this.  Recording the road for 5 hours would have been very boring.


Eventually I could see the observatories ahead of me and I knew that meant the top.  A cyclist came down past me and said “nearly there”.  I was above the clouds, with a clear blue sky above, lava fields all around and a road which for me only went one way.  I could see the visitor centre, but my target was a little observation hut at the upper car park.  This last stretch was probably no more than half a mile, but it kicked up to 18%+ and my breathing was the fastest and hardest it had been.  OK, so I had managed to pace myself just enough.
I hit the highest end of the car park and dismounted – I had done it.  I was actually quite emotional at that point, not really believing that I had pushed myself to cycle 10,000ft vertical, or 3,000+m.  I had to walk to the very top with the bike, to get the photo at the sign saying 10,023 ft above sea level.
The views were epic too – the crater itself is astonishing, and we could see the 2 big volcanoes on Big Island (Hawaii itself), Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  One of them had snow on the top.
It was a really hard climb for me, but all the training and support made it happen – thanks to my family mostly, and to those who believed in me and helped make it happen.