I’m not one to be lazy when I take a vacation, even when I travel to tropical getaways like Maui where the only decision you’re expected to make is whether you should order your third piña colada at the hotel bar, or mosey on down to the beach and pass out on the sand with beer in hand. My idea of relaxation usually consists of a frenetic day jam-packed full of outdoorsy activities: “It’s time to go hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, [insert sporty verb]!”
TBO kindly indulges my inclinations towards powering through busy, non-stop itineraries that span from dawn to dusk. (He’s fine with drinking alcohol as the sole item on our agenda, whereas I hate to waste a minute of travel just sitting around. Even my vacations need to feel productive, for better or for worse.)
Our second trip to Maui was no exception. When I learned of a 202k permanent, the “Hana Hiatus”, that looped around the eastern perimeter of the island, I asked TBO if he was game for a 126-mile adventure with close to 13,000 ft. of climbing — which was more than either of us had climbed in one day. We were already familiar with the route, as we had previously pedaled part of the Hana Highway and driven through most of the other sections. But we were excited by the prospect of completing the entire journey by bike and eagerly signed up for the challenge.
START: Kihei – 7:30am
Our first control was conveniently located less than a mile from where we were staying in Kihei, and we had the choice of checking in at a farmer’s market, bakery or ABC store. Once we got our receipt from the latter, we headed north towards Kalahui and Paia. As we cruised along the scenic bike path along Mokulele Hwy, the West Maui Mountains to our left and Haleakala on our right glowed in the hazy diffused light of the morning.
click images to enlarge
By the time we reached the storied Hana Highway at 9am, the heat was already starting to ramp up. Neither TBO or myself do well in warm weather; when the thermometer hits 85 degrees, we slowly transform into sluggish, barely functioning creatures. (You’ll never catch us doing the Death Ride for this reason.)
On our honeymoon, we let our whims dictate our pace and meandered leisurely along this popular scenic route. We’d stop at fruit stands for fresh coconuts hacked open with machetes on the spot, or we’d wander into a lush bamboo forest for a refreshing swim in a hidden waterfall pool.
But this time around, we didn’t stop. Each time we passed another alluring roadside stand or waterfall oasis, TBO gave me a sidelong glance — looking for some indication that I’d be willing to take a break. Trying to stay focused on our goal, I didn’t succumb to any temptations. We chugged onwards, soldiering forth on the twists and turns of Hana Highway that snaked up and down for the next 49 miles. I’d look enviously upon the busloads of tourists chattering away happily as they decamped to feast on sweet pineapple and mangoes and shaved ice for sale at the snack shacks, welcomed in by smiling locals.
Around mile 40, I started to meltdown, both physically and mentally. All of the sunblock I had slathered onto my face mixed with my sweat, then formed thick rivers of goo that dribbled down and repeatedly stung my eyes. I was overheated, out of water and my temples were throbbing from the searing headaches that creep up on me in high temperatures.
At the top of one seemingly long climb, I pulled up to where TBO was waiting for me in the shade. “I can’t take it anymore,” I said. “I’m done.” The humid, relentless heat had whittled away my energy and I was cranky, tired and ready to throw a tantrum.
“Come over here and cool down.” He was munching on some delicious banana bread we had bought the day before and gave me a bite. But that didn’t help to assuage my darkening mood.
“This sucks. I hate this! This is stupid! I don’t care if we make the next control! Let’s just turn around.”
I had been reduced to a whining, miserable shell of a person. And I was ready to renounce randonneuring and my bicycle in that terrible moment. All I wanted to do was to plunge off the side of the cliff into the ocean, which was so tantalizingly close that it had become sheer torture riding alongside it for miles.
“But isn’t that what randonneuring is about? Suffering? I don’t know how you guys do it.”
And frankly, right then, I didn’t either. Suddenly my dream of going to Paris-Brest-Paris seemed unobtainable, and I felt so discouraged and emotionally broken. But after TBO gave me his last sips of water – how’s that for true love – and I ate some more food, some semblance of reason returned to me.
“Let’s just get to Hana see how it goes,” said TBO. “We can turn around then if we’re not up to it.”
So we loaded ourselves back onto our bikes for the final 19 miles. We were still good for time, as we had banked enough early on in the flatlands. And once I resolved that I wouldn’t kill myself to get to Hana by the cutoff, the ride started to feel easier. Several serendipitous events kept us afloat: we stopped at one small waterfall that trickled down a rock wall adjacent to the road to soak our caps, which was the next best thing than going for a swim; there was one public restroom where we were able to refill our water bottles; the climbing eased up for a bit and we we were finally blessed with a rapid descent down into town.
CONTROL #2: Hana – 57.3 miles (+3h,4m-6h,8m) – Hasegawa General Store or other establishment
We arrived at just before 12:26pm in Hana — which TBO declared was burger and beer o’clock — about 45 minutes before our cutoff. After a relaxed lunch accompanied by some Advil for my headache and TBO’s sore knee (which he had strained the day before while bodysurfing), we reluctantly left the convivial atmosphere of the crowded restaurant. (TBO later admitted to me that he had mentally checked out at this point and during the subsequent hours of the ride, still imagined himself sitting there eating his burger and drinking beer.)
We weren’t optimistic about getting to the next control in time, which was 52 miles later within a 6-hr. window. Perhaps we could muster up the strength to putter along at least 9 miles an hour. At any rate, we resolved to finish the ride regardless of whether we’d complete it in a timely fashion. And here’s where the real ‘fun’ part of the ride began.
After a quick detour on Haneoo Road due to construction, we veered back onto Hana Highway. The full force of the afternoon sun bore down on us, and as if the heat weren’t enough, we were now subjected to 8 miles of climbing on rough pavement and dirt. Somehow I managed to sadistically enjoy this section, if only because navigating the bumpy, teeth-chattering, taint-battering road distracted me from my other woes. Yet I was still able to take photos, as one remote part of my mind was able to appreciate our situation:
“Look at this landscape! You are so fortunate to be here with your husband! Relish the pain and here, have some more endorphins and adrenaline as a gift!”
We encountered our last opportunity for sustenance at the quirky Kaupo General Store, which was packed with an odd assortment of tchotchkes like old cameras and dusty souvenirs. A bleached blonde woman with a deep tan and a distinctive flat Midwestern accent sat behind the counter. “Oh yeahhhhh. It’s hot out there, for sure. Cahhhhhhme on in and relaaaaaaax…”
We barely managed to peel ourselves out of our chairs on the patio after downing several cold drinks and comparing our increasingly pink forearms. But we continued our journey and returned to the narrow, pockmarked Piilani Highway, marred with potholes and uneven asphalt, to face the biggest climb of the day.
When we eventually transitioned back onto the smooth pavement, we knew this marked the beginning of a series of endless rollers that stretched far off into the distance. Now we had nearly the equivalent of Mt. Diablo to climb: 3500 feet. On Hana Highway, we were able to find some respite from the glare of the sun, but there was no escaping it now on this long, exposed road.
Halfway through this 20-mile stretch, I hit my second breaking point. I hopped off my bike and solemnly announced to TBO that I was walking. He doggedly forged on ahead, his jersey now fully unzipped to get more air to his inflamed skin. While he inwardly seethed from the scorching heat, dealing with his torment in stoic silence, I loudly cursed the encroaching clouds for not shielding us from the burning sun. Cars zoomed by, and their passengers gave me looks of pity as I pushed my bike along the shoulder. I’d periodically mop my sticky brow with a bandanna and forced myself to eat an energy bar while I trudged upwards.
The highs and lows of Piilani Highway was hard on both of us. TBO dislikes this sort of unpredictable terrain as it’s easier for him to find his rhythm on long, steady climbs. But we whiled away the time in the saddle by documenting our progress; he’d shoot videos, and I’d take photos to help preoccupy our faltering minds.
After walking up a second climb, I realized that slowly grinding up the hill was the lesser of two evils and willed myself to stay on the bike. Walking would only prolong my agony.
And lo, around 4pm or so, the randonneur gods smiled upon us. The thick clouds finally obscured our enemy, and a light rain began to fall. My legs started to move again and our flagging spirits were revived by the late afternoon ocean breezes. With our newfound energy, we felt we could tackle our final 1500 ft. ascent. And much to our surprise, we also realized we might actually have a shot at reaching Pukalani in time.
We zipped along until we reached the undulating switchbacks of Kula Highway that wove through the green pastures of Upcountry. This last climb felt interminably long and serious fatigue had set into my body and soul. But I was determined to get to our next control after all we had been through, so I focused on turning the pedals one stroke at a time.
Meanwhile, TBO had been looking forward to seeing the gorgeous vistas overlooking Kihei and Wailea from the ridge. He marveled at the majestic views in the fading light of the remaining hours of the day. Then an evening fog quietly rolled in and blanketed us with a gentle gray mist as we kept climbing.
After being cruelly teased by some false summits, we made it to the top at long last. And we were happy to say it was all downhill — all the way down to the finish. But we had one more control to visit and we rolled into the supermarket parking lot with just about 10 minutes to spare.
CONTROL #3: Pukalani – 109.2 miles (+5h,52m-11h,44m) – Pukalani Superette or other establishment
We took a quick water break and wolfed down more banana bread before heading out to the finish. Descending from 3000ft. elevation in the dark finally brought my core temperature back down to normal, and there’s no greater motivation than the home stretch to hammer as fast as possible. We reunited with the ABC Store right after 8pm, over 12 and a half hours from when we started that morning.
FINISH: Kihei – 126 miles (+6h,44m-13h,28m)
We plopped down in the parking lot to drink a celebratory beer and scarf down a bag of Maui potato chips until our lips puckered from the salt. TBO wrote the words, “Wash me,” on one of his dirt-encrusted legs as a humorous post script to our trip.
I was shocked that we finished in time and truly stunned that we survived with our sanity intact. It was certainly doubtful for a while and we cut it really close with our third control. TBO had already vowed that this was going to be his last randonneuring exploit as he’s not enamored with endurance riding. And this ride sealed the deal for him (although he’ll still come along for Populaire-length rides.)
As for me, I did question whether I had the stamina to continue with this sport. The day cast a demoralizing shadow on my self-confidence and made me feel anxious about how I’d fare in the heat on future rides; I’m crossing my fingers that the road to Brest and back won’t be a furnace. It was a bittersweet victory that really tested my inner resolve, but I could still admire the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. I hope tackling the 1200k later this year will give me greater insight on what I can accomplish.