I got a taste of that climbing, and coasting, when I went up to Haleakala. I decided to take it easy on my legs and get shuttled up. At first, I made arrangements with the Haleakala Bike Company (HBC, 808-575-9575) in Haiku. I was going to be camping, so they gave me a very good deal. They considered the shuttle up to be only “half” of one of their tours, so they quoted me half price on their trip that left at 9:00 am. That came to only $22.25, very reasonable.
I waited about a week, timing my trip for what I hoped would be drier weather. A few days before I was scheduled, though, I made a new acquaintance, and we planned a day hike in the Haleakala crater. On the way up, he took me and my bike to Hosmer Grove. I canceled with HBC, and it was something of a relief. Getting from where I was staying in Kihei, all the way to Haiku by 8:30 in the morning, with full camping packs, would have been a pull.
There had been a certain elegance in the idea of coasting down ten thousand feet. I had a touch of disappointment, first talking to the bike company. They can only legally take bikes to the entrance of Haleakala NP, elevation about 7,000 feet. And then, technically, the destination is their shop in Haiku, which is not sea level. I shouldn’t whine. I saw their clients a couple times, masses of red-helmeted people coasting down the roads all in a string. By early afternoon they were getting into the lowlands. They looked like folks who maybe didn’t ride bikes much in their everyday lives. But, hey, they seemed happy.
Hosmer Grove campground is near the Haleakala National Park (NP) entrance, also about 7,000 feet elevation. The “grove” is different kinds of temperate zone trees brought to Hawaii by the forester Hosmer, to see if they would be suitable for timber. None of them were. Something about falling over in storms. But some of the species have found the Maui uplands very much to their liking in terms of growth and reproduction. So the Park has to continually cut trees from the edges to keep the grove from spreading. Otherwise forest would eventually take over the whole band of native shrubland, which the Park is mandated to preserve. Why don’t they just cut it all down and be done with it? Well, the grove is just too nice, I guess. It’s full of twittering birds, and it’s such a comfort and haven after being out in the intense mountain sun, and sometimes intense wind.
Hosmer Grove is probably the least complicated place to camp on Maui. There are no fees, and no reservations; first-come-first-served. There’s drinking water and toilets. You can make a campfire in a fire ring, and there is abundant free firewood from all the trees they have to cut down. There are other campsites in the park, but they are in the crater, so out of the question for bike access. I am going on about this because, reading the lists and descriptions before I got to Maui, it wasn’t at all clear what was what.
If you do want a backcountry experience on the top of Maui, the other camping areas are a substantial hike in. You can easily find out the details, but here’s a local tidbit that is not advertised. The official picture is this:
- you either camp with your own tent, no reservations needed, or
- you stay in one of the cabins, which require reservations months in advance, and even then there’s a lottery.
Now here’s the tidbit. You can call the Park the day before you want to stay at a cabin. If the reserved party has cancelled, you get it for the night with your credit card number.
I was happy to spend my days at Hosmer Grove. I had given up aspirations of biking to the top. I wanted to learn more about the geology and ecology of the volcanoes. I had already been to the summit on a car trip, and then again on my day hike into the crater.
It is a Maui thing to do to go to the summit for sunset or sunrise. On the first car trip, we timed it for sunset. Once was enough. Not much to see below, except clouds. Someone had big binoculars, and it was enlightening to look at the snow banks over on the Big Island, the thirteener mountains of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
But standing on Maui at ten thousand feet, it was cold. That sun took an awful long time to go down! My first evening at Hosmer, other campers were making their plans to waken in the wee hours and hitchhike up to the summit for sunrise. My one summit sunset had been enough. I figured the sunrise would find me just as well anywhere I was.
I took a leisurely morning on the nature trails, learning about Hawaiian plants, birds, and wildlife. This is my personal idea of fun. Being a botanist, it was like having traveled to another planet. Maybe to other people it would be nothing more than bushes that looked a little odd. But to me, here was stuff like nowhere else on earth. I could scarcely even tell what it was related to.
It really was like another planet. In scifi stories, the colonists bring earthly life forms in their starship to a new solar system. Then they are all marooned, for epochs. The surviving species mutate and evolve. Maybe clover grows into trees, grass starts bearing nutlets, bats don’t need to fly anymore and learn to walk. The stuff on these uplands really was like that, to my biologist’s eye.
About the middle of the day, I pedaled the mile or so up the road to the headquarters (HQ) visitor center. I spent a couple hours reading books, and bought a few. Now that some of my curiosity was satisfied about these strange life forms, I decided to go out and have another look at them.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I could go either uphill or downhill. I’d come from downhill and seen that. I cranked along, leisurely, looking at the endemic shrubland. Being from Colorado, the altitude was no problem.
Before I knew it, I’d gone a mile. Then another mile. I have no need to go to the top, I told myself. When I’ve seen enough, I’ll just turn around and coast down. Another mile. Interesting little tree there, with golden flowers like pea blossoms. And that bush with coral purple berries. The name of that’s in the book.
Another mile. Another. That bridge, I bet when it rains, there’s a waterfall over that black basalt. A little pool in the rock hollow now. How many people ever get to see that, zooming by in their cars? Eight thousand feet elevation. Here’s the pulloff to that crater trailhead, Halemauu. Guy last night at Hosmer was talking about hitching up here. And isn’t that cool! The park has made a special pullout, just for hitchhikers! It even says so.
What’s this? Only six more miles to the summit? Funny, it’s still pretty much the same vegetation along here. That mile wasn’t so hard. Now only five? The long runs of these switchbacks are uphill south, so you get a little extra push from the prevailing northerly breeze. Will slow you down on the descent too. Descent. I can just turn around and go down any time I please.
How did I miss a mile marker? Must’ve got broken off. Now it’s only, what? Three miles? Four? Leleiwi overlook, pretty neat. Bushes are finally starting to thin out. Nine thousand feet elevation. Just bare black and red lava. There’s a silversword plant. Another one over there. Like the ones they have planted on display at the summit parking lot.
And there’s the summit observation building, like a glass pagoda, on the ridge right up over there. Can’t be far. Another mile. Here’s the Visitor Center already. With those signs for the tourists “High Elevation, Walk Slow”. There’s the trailhead we took yesterday, a ways down the Sliding Sands.
OK, I’ll bike slow. Middle ring has done good up till now, but this last mile is steeper. Shift to the granny gear. There’s Magnetic Peak. I can see into the crater. Didn’t remember how this road spirals around. Who’s that honking? Pickup truck full of young guys, waving; a cart in back with their singletrack bikes. Passing me. OK, I’ll see you all at the top.
Now the parking lot. This handicap ramp runs up the ridge from here, skips the stairs to the top of the hill. And here we are. Time for a drink of water. I wasn’t planning on this. Anybody asks, I’ll say I was headed to the beach and took a wrong turn.
I’d done between 4 and 5 mph up from HQ, except for the last steep mile. I really wasn’t prepared for this. I was in shorts and Tevas. I’d brought a windbreaker and rain pants. Now I put them on. Rain could happen any time. As usual, clouds were washing around the mountain, a layer about at their typical 5,000 foot level. Kind of like slow-motion surf. Similar to surf on a tidal rock, a wave of air could splash clouds up over the summit in minutes. I had been lucky to have sunshine all the way, and the exertion to keep me warm. But the 5:00pm sun was lowering, and a lobe of cloud seemed to be reaching up for it right now.
Good brakes on the first, steep mile down. Then the switchbacks. The luffing nylon I wore served as much a needed airbrake as for warmth. Temperature was probably 40 or 50 Fahrenheit, but with no pedaling and the wind, my tootsies were chilly. Nine thousand elevation. Another switchback.
The occasional cars were courteous. I paused to let one pass, and what is that bare twigged bush below the pullout? A few leaves remain. It’s a peach tree; dropped its leaves obedient to day-length winter from its homeland, I guess. Grown from a pit somebody lobbed off here decades ago. Hawaii is like a giant terrarium. Anything you drop in doesn’t die, but grows.
Eight thousand feet now. Moving fast, but still this is taking awhile. There’s Hosmer Grove below, some clouds dancing up behind, but still in the sun. Another switchback. The bridge over the basalt watercourse. Man, this is a chilly ride! Imagine that, being cold in Hawaii. Glad I believed the literature, and brought some clothes! Now HQ. I shouldn’t’ve been so brusque with that man. He saw me on the bike and asked if I was going to the summit. No, just here to look at books. Shoulda known!
Last mile to Hosmer. Here’s the turnoff. A little uphill crossing a swale. Pedal. My feet are so cold they barely work. Chilled all over. Shivering. Finally, pull into the parking. Dismount. Pad on numb feet over to my tent. Pull on warmer clothes. The sun is winking low between the trees, just about to set. A new contingent of campers. Folks in the next site have set up at the fire ring.
“Hey, can I share your campfire?”
The pink light of sunset caught shreds of cloud dancing off the slopes of Haleakala. It looked like the mountain was still erupting.
About nine o’clock at night, the clear sky clouded over and a soft drizzly rain began to fall. I was warmed up by then, and ready to bed down. The rain rattled heavy at times through the night. Once, I looked out and saw stars. Sometimes the droplets whispered, quiet as someone sprinkling from a saltshaker onto the tent rainfly. By morning, it was a steady Oregon style rain. Not always heavy but, for all you know, everywhere and everlasting.
I waited a couple hours to see if it would quit. It kept on. I’d planned to head down this morning anyway. I had brought the lightest weight compromise of warm clothes I could muster. I put on every scrap. I had wool socks and neoprene bike booties inside my Tevas. I zipped up the rain layers carefully; habits from the Pacific Northwest — don’t get wet in the first place because you aren’t going to get dry again.
I imploded my camp. Methodically, in the cramped confines of the small tent, I compressed and packed each piece of gear waterproof, then tossed the bag outside. Finally the tent itself. Collapsed, rolled up, shaking out as much water as practical. Strapped it all on the bike and set out.
Passing out the entrance station, I wished I had a picture. It could have been Vancouver. Your nylon-swathed bicyclist, perfectly adapted to the eternal wet. The bulky mass of the packs visually set off the vertical line of the rear wheel, seen from behind, reflected in puddles. The figure disappearing into gray mist.
A mile down the road, I came out from under the clouds. In another mile, I was in sunshine. Rainbows danced over the valley below. Down and down I went. A few more switchbacks, and I stopped to peel off layers in the warming sun. Here was another biker coming up, the other side of the road. We nodded acknowledgement to each other. He looked bewildered, but maybe it was just the exertion and concentration. He was lightly dressed, with only a tiny pack. I hoped the rain quit by the time he got up there.
I guess that’s a way to summit Haleakala. Start early, go light, and just tough out what weather you find. I had started down from Hosmer about 10:00am. The climbing biker would be to that level well before noon. He could easily make the summit, as I had, by early afternoon. Then, the wild ride down. It had taken me only half an hour from the top down to Hosmer. This leg I was on now, the tight switchbacks, I traveled in an hour, even with stops to enjoy the view and stow gear. By 11:00am I was at the junction of 377. It was all fast downhill then to Pukalani, and on down to the lowlands.
I did not go that way just now. The tight switchbacks below the park entrance curl through meadowy slopes of green grass and groves of eucalyptus trees. Ever on the lookout for camping options, I had noticed a place called Skyline Eco-Adventures at about 4,000 feet elevation. I mentally filed it as maybe they’d be into letting a bike tourist camp there, who was making a slow packed-out climb up Haleakala. All the rest of the area looked to be a private ranch, too open and exposed to just sack out unobtrusively.
From the junction, I went south on 377 to check out some places of botanical interest. The road climbed a few hot, slow miles. Then it was all downhill, first to the south junction of 377 and Kula Highway, then downhill north on Kula Highway all the way to Pukalani, then all the way down the Haleakala Highway to its junction with Hana Highway a few miles east of Kahului.
This last stretch, the six miles from near sea level to 1600 feet in Pukalani, had taken me a good hour and twenty minutes to climb with full packs (it’s where we met for the crater day hike). Going down, it was only 25 minutes. The road is straight, and steady downhill, and you can go as fast as gravity, aerodynamics, and your nerves allow.
So, with that rain, the lesson of biking Haleakala is: Be Ready For Anything!
Even though I didn’t end up biking all the places I first envisioned, a bicycle is a good way to get around Maui. Near the shore, it’s always warm, so you don’t need to carry a lot of layers. If you wear clothes that can get wet, you don’t have to worry about rain.
It took me awhile to appreciate the charm of snorkeling. This was mainly the process of figuring how to rig the equivalent of a tight-fitting mask that would work with a full beard. Snorkeling then was like effortless levitation, floating, in flight above this multicolored wonderland of rainbow-hued fish, coral, turtles, or whoever else was out that day. Sometimes, you could even hear the whales singing.
Lugging scuba gear on a bike would be a bit much, but snorkeling equipment is small and light. Perfect for the two-wheeled traveler.
If you’re into bike training, Maui offers lots of options. Out from Kahului, you could have long, flat fast rides into the valley and back. You could have steep twisty uphill rides, such as the north side of West Maui, or after you get out the Hana Highway a ways. Or, if you want to burn yourself out for the day, there’s Haleakala. Take it as fast as you can, as far as you can, then coast home.
Hitchhiking seems to be a standard Hawaii way to get around. I heard lots of people mention having hitchhiked, but I never saw anybody doing it. I take it then, they didn’t wait long for a ride! I never tried it on that trip, though I am a veteran of many years hitching in an earlier life. I don’t know how it would be hitchhiking with a bike, to connect the dots on some of the trips. But this is after all the land of aloha!