It’s All Downhill From Here
The bike ride was my dad’s idea.
“It’s 26 miles, all downhill. You won’t even have to pedal,” he reassured us.
Actually, it’s more like 23 miles.
Inexperienced cyclists kept getting hurt on the twisted roads at the summit of Maui’s Haleakala volcano, so they made a new rule that the bike tours had to start outside the boundaries of the National Park.
Undeterred by this daunting news, I booked eight of us on a self-guided tour with Maui Sunriders, who offered the best deal at around $60 per person. I even sprung for the summit tour, figuring we’d have a look at the crater before starting our bike ride.
What I did NOT do was book a much-hyped sunrise tour. It departs at 3:30AM in the winter, which would have required us to leave Lahaina at around 2AM. In the end, this was a very wise move.
“No sunrise tour this morning,” our hyperactive guide, Mike, said as he strapped our bikes to the van. “Terrible weather. Terrible. I’ve got a feeling you folks are going to want the rain gear today.”
Great news. Really excellent.
A short blonde woman pointed at a box full of gloves.
“Will we need gloves?” she asked.
“Ehh,” he said. “You’ll probably be okay without them.”
Fourteen of us piled into the van for the 90-minute drive to the summit.
Mike talked the whole way.
“Facilitate,” he shouted. “If you don’t remember anything else, facilitate, facilitate, facilitate.”
Without warning, he pulled over to the side of the road. All of the passengers tensed, unsure of what was going on.
“That’s facilitation, folks,” he said. “If you’ve got a line of cars behind you, just pull over and let them pass. Facilitate the traffic. But remember, never look behind you. Very dangerous.”
I guess we were just supposed to sense the traffic, then. Either that or pull over periodically just in case facilitation was needed.
The van roared back onto the road and Mike kept talking.
“Usually you’d see a lot more bikers. Looks like the weather’s kept most of them away today.”
We later discussed how the same thought passed through everyone’s mind at that moment:
Then WHAT am I doing here?
Mike shook his head as we climbed higher. “Should’ve told you guys to grab some gloves,” he said. “Sorry about that.”
The scenery gradually disappeared, obscured by drizzling rain and thick mist. When we reached the park entrance, Mike stopped to let the ‘express tour’ people off.
“I wish we were doing the express tour,” Megan said. “Then at least it would be over with quicker.”
“Yeah,” Kate said. “Why aren’t we doing the express?”
My sisters turned around to look at me. I said nothing and pulled my two hoods tighter around my face.
“Wow,” Mike said, pulling into the parking lot near the visitor’s center twenty minutes later. “Summit’s closed. That’s when you know it’s really bad.”
The visitor’s center is 9,740 feet above sea level, and overlooks the top of the Haleakala volcano, which is 3,000 feet deep and covers 19 square miles of jaw-dropping views.
That’s what was depicted on the postcards, anyway.
Here’s what we were rewarded with:
It was like climbing to the top of Mordor.
Then – it was time.
“Let’s do this,” Megan said, strapping on her helmet.
We started our bike
ride coast at 6500 feet, and, true to my dad’s word, didn’t pedal until we hit the Maui Sunriders offices in Pa’ia, almost 2 hours later.
I gripped the brakes religiously, remembering to start with the right and introduce the left, increasingly paranoid that the wind would blow me over the guard rail. Mike’s advice about facilitation wasn’t really necessary, as the weather had scared most of the cars away.
Occasionally, we stopped to make sure our gloveless hands hadn’t developed frostbite.
My mother was miserable.
“I keep thinking there’s nothing I can do to get out of this,” she said. “Except ride all the way down.”
It didn’t help that she stepped on cow poo during the first pit stop.
Then a funny thing happened.
I started to enjoy myself.
Once I loosened up a bit on the brakes, I noticed all of the things I could see.
Like plants that don’t grow on Korean roadsides:
And large-scale dollhouses:
And then do you know what happened?
The sun crept back out.
I didn’t even need gloves anymore. (Which, obviously, was a good thing since I didn’t have any anyway, Mike.)
As we broke for lunch at Polli’s Mexican Restaurant in Makawao, I was in high spirits again.
I realized that if I wanted to see the rainbows of Hawaii, I was going to have to put up with a little rain.
Of course, stuffing my face with an enormous beef burrito helped, too.