Thursday, April 16, 2009

IBC'ers Conquer Haleakala

Nobody has posted here in a while, so I thought I'd squeeze this in before the Battenkill reports show up. Over the past two weeks, two IBCers visited the Hawaiian islands with family. Riding, of course, was one of the primary activities. Steve Gauthier and I are grateful for understanding spouses who gave us freedom to feed our cycling addictions while there.

Of the two most well known rides on Maui, one is the loop around West Maui, a 60 mile, 4000ft coastal ride with non-stop killer views. It was a staple of our Maui stay. The other is the Haleakala hillclimb. Haleakala is notable because there are not too many places in the world where you can ride from sea level to over 10,000ft elevation in 36 miles. You pass through several climatic zones too.

On April 2, Steve and I climbed Haleakala. The weather during our stay on the islands was uncharacteristically unstable. This day was no exception. We packed arm and knee warmers with wind shells. That was it for me. Steve might have had a bit more. It proved to be not nearly enough.

Some of you may know Steve as a track and crit specialist. So what was he doing climbing a double Mt Washington? Just like he tried to get me involved with track, I keep working on him with the hills. Steve set an ambitious pace early in the climb. The sweat poured out of me in the sunny, muggy 80F air. I feared cramping due to electrolyte loss. I would never hear the end of it if Steve made the summit and I didn't.

It didn't take long until we hit the first rain, still on the wet side of the volcano. The rain was welcome though, cooling the skin. We then cut more into the rain shadow of the volcano and stayed dry for a while. Eventually, we start catching wetness again around 6000ft. This was in the clouds, the wind was driving the rain sideways, and it was much colder. We put all our layers on, resumed climbing, barely staying warm at 7mph working hard. I had begun to question the wisdom of going to the summit in this stuff.

Passing through the entrance visitor center, rangers warned us about hypothermia. Yeah yeah, we ride in New Hampshire at -10F windchill. We continued the climb, hitting rain each time a long switchback carried us towards the wet side of the volcano.

Around 7500ft, I still felt strong and maintained a stiff pace. Steve drifted back out of sight into the mist. I reached the summit still going strong. It was socked in with clouds, but only misty, not pouring. Normally there is a spectacular view of the crater. Not this day. We got to see it a later day. After waiting a while for Steve, I began to wonder if he abandoned. I dropped part way down to upper visitor center and waited some more. He finally appeared like an apparition through the fog. I rode back to the summit with him, a few hundred foot gain. There were very few tourists up on this raw day, but we found someone to take a photo. I think Steve said Haleakala was something he needed to do only once. It was my second time.

The climb was the easy part. We were shivering up top before beginning an hour long descent in pouring rain, temp in 40's, all coasting at speeds around 40mph. In two words, it sucked. The brake pads were not the type for wet riding. They had no stopping power. The rear hubs would go into a wild howl and bind up every time speeds went well over 30mph. Both our rental bikes with Mavic wheels did this. They didn't do it at same speed at sea level where it was warm on an earlier ride. Visibility was very poor in most places. Then factor in shaking so violently we could hardly control our bikes. We did not drop down out of the rain for good until the 4000ft level. We found an open country store in Kula at 3500ft. After buying some fuel and fluids, the kind lady that worked there came out with two piping hot cups of water to just hold our hands on. She felt so sorry for us when we struggled to hand her money because we were shivering so badly. We used the hot water to pour our Gatorade into. It took a good while after that to stop shaking, at least 30 minutes.

Descending at altitude when wet is particularly nasty. This is not the first time I suffered through this. Your body is wiped from the climb, you are doing zero work, wet, going fast, and there's not even enough oxygen to stoke the internal fire. I'll take -10F and snow any day. Layers work when not saturated. The climb was still worth it though. Two days later the wives dropped us off at the summit when it was more clear out for a dirt descent with mountain bikes. The first photo above was taken then. That was probably the sweetest ride of the trip.

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