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.”

Mike from Maui Sunriders gets our bikes ready.
Regulators...mount up.

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?

Ascending Haleakala's summit by van
I try to be positive while Jared expresses everyone's true feelings.

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.

Haleakala Visitor's Center
Megan & Jared's dad, Allen, show us what it could look like.

Here’s what we were rewarded with:

The views from Haleakala
Well that's...stunning.

It was like climbing to the top of Mordor.

Sisters at the summit of haleakala
Celebrating all that hard work we did sitting in the van as Mike drove us to the top.

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.

Winding road down Haleakala
Just imagine what those views must be like. Breathtaking.

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.

Stepping on cow poo Haleakala
Watch out for that...too late.

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:

Aloe plants on Haleakala
Great big beautiful aloe plants. At least I think those are aloe plants.

And large-scale dollhouses:

dollhouse of Haleakala
I'm sure I built a smaller one of these out of a box as a child. Or at least watched as my dad did.

And then do you know what happened?

The sun crept back out.

Sun comes out at the bottom of Haleakala
Glorious sun.

I didn’t even need gloves anymore. (Which, obviously, was a good thing since I didn’t have any anyway, Mike.)

geared up for Haleakala
Now this smile is genuine.

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.

double rainbow in Pa'ia
Look closely - that's a DOUBLE rainbow, baby.

Of course, stuffing my face with an enormous beef burrito helped, too.

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    1. The wind was so intense! I couldn’t believe I was still in Hawaii and that the sun was still shining on the other side of the island. It was worth it, though. I think.

  1. it’s… so… beautiful!!

    crazy, though. makes me think of Perry & my trip to Milford Sound in NZ – super rainy and gray at the beginning, could barely see a thing, but then it cleared and we saw amazing waterfalls from the rain. plus, now you have a great story 🙂 type 3 fun, as we say.

    1. I’ve never heard of ‘type 3’ fun but I like it. I had the same in Milford Sound, but the mist never really let up – as they say in Scotland, at least it was atmospheric!

  2. Haha I laughed out loud at your “Mordor” caption. It looks like everything turned out for the best and you had one great ride. I’m going to have to try this the next time we make it to Maui. I’ll be sure to bring my own gloves… just in case 🙂

    1. It did turn out for the best! I’ve got such fond memories of it now and can happily recommend it, even in inclement weather. But yes – if you value your hands, take the gloves. Hope you get to do it sometime and have some nice views!

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