Dan's Bucket List Ride up Mt. Haleakala in Maui
Part of the Ritchey Where I Ride Series
Words by Dan Hertlein. Photos by Dan and Kathryn Hertlein.
While visiting my stepson who lives and works in Maui, my wife Kathryn and I had to get in some riding on our Ritchey Break-Away bikes. We take them everywhere we travel. Most people ride down the 10,023-foot peak of Mt. Haleakala using bike touring services, but I have always wanted to ride UP. I had no use for those servides or the mountain bikes they provide. My plan was to ride from the surfing coast town of Paia - at sea level - to the top. This is a 37-mile ride with a 6% average grade all the way up. Luckily for me, Kathryn would provide SAG support for me in our rented SUV, carrying food, water, etc. She also took her Ritchey Break-Away in case she wanted to ride a bit herself. She never did but instead got in some great hiking while waiting for me to text her for support.
I started at 7:00 in Paia on Saturday December 12, 2020. It was 80-degrees Fahrenheit but the weather can change instantly that time of the year and it was lightly raining as I started but that was OK. The weather forecast was nice with temps in the 70s and a chance of rain in the morning - this was accurate. I knew it would be cold at elevation so my seatpost bag was filled with a long-sleeve windbreaker, a long-sleeve baselayer, leg warmers, a full jacket, and my five Co2 cartridges and three tubes that I always carry.
I do endurance riding back home in Northern California (to date I’ve completed 41 double centuries and usually ride 7,000-10,000 miles annually). However, I hate to ride in the wet and cold of winter, so I'll instead walk seven to ten miles per day. Bottom line: in the winter, I usually ride once per week as opposed to five to six times in the warmer months. Still, there is no substitute for actual riding…
So, after kissing Kathryn goodbye, I started up Mt. Haleakala. The gentle and gradual climbing starts immediately. Also, the chickens!!! There are so many chickens in Hawaii, especially Maui.
After 12 miles, I texted my wife for some water. I started with two bottles with electrolyte powders and plenty of energy gel packets. Kathryn had bananas, a few gallons of water and a burrito in the car! After riding for about one hour and fifteen minutes, it was good to see her waiting for me at a safe spot. Traffic for a Saturday was light, and I was starting to see cyclists coming down the mountain. I filed my bottles and got back on my Break-Away.
Eventually, I made a left turn to the entrance of the climb at mile 15, which sits at about 3400 feet. The actual entrance to the park would be at 6700 feet at mile 25. The views are as incredible as you would expect. It was starting to get a little cool but I kept riding. The 6% average grade is quite accurate, so it was a grind. I was surprised to see nobody pass me on the way up except for one cyclist at 9000 feet. I guess going up isn’t a very popular ride. I did see a lot of people riding down, though. And that was my plan: to get up there and then ride back down for a 75-mile day.
I stopped at around 3896 feet to take a picture of my computer to send to a close friend who I ride with, as this is the elevation of the top of our local mountain in the Bay Area. This also meant that only had 6129 feet to go!
Once I got to the 4000-foot mark, the beautiful houses disappeared, and it started getting very chilly. At 4500 feet, I stopped to put on my windbreaker as temps were in the low 60s. I was also getting bored with my energy gels and needed something solid, so I texted Kathryn, who brought me my huge burrito at 5000 feet. I took a few bites while sitting in the SUV while I warmed up a bit. It was getting to be a long day and I was starting to feel the altitude.
Great…only 5000 feet higher to go.
Back on the bike, I kept wondering where the actual entrance to the park was. I texted Kathryn since she went ahead for her hike. She got back to me quickly and told me the entrance was a couple of miles ahead of where I was. It’s funny; when you are expecting two miles, it takes forever to get there. At least it seemed so on this ride. Finally, I saw the entrance. All vehicles, including bicycles have to pay an entrance fee. Thankfully, Kathryn paid my fee in advance so when I rolled up, the nice park ranger told me my beautiful spouse had taken care of the fee. She ROCKS!
Continuing on, it was getting quite cold (in the 50s) so I pulled over at the visitor center and used the bathrooms (no longer hiding behind trees like I had been until this point) and took out my cold weather gear. I sat down, enjoyed being off the bike, and put on my baselayer tee, leg warmers, and windbreaker. All that was left was my jacket, and I was saving that for when it got colder - and besides, the sun was out. I also put on the ear-warming cap I was carrying. Since I’ve done many double centuries in all sorts of weather, it’s better to be prepared.
I’m a stickler for making sure I document my rides, so I had my Garmin, phone and Apple watch all humming. Since the Garmin battery usually lasts about 12 hours, I thought I was covered. But since I had been using navigation (which I never usually do), it drained the battery quickly. It reminded me at 8,000 feet that I had a low battery. Great! I had no Garmin-specific external battery with me.
There was no way was I going to lose my data. I did have a power brick for my phone (which I didn’t need) but I had forgotten to pack a micro-USB cable for the Garmin. I thought I was prepared! I texted my SAG vehicle to bring me a cable and five minutes later, there she was! I plugged in my computer and put it in my pocket. It’s funny, without my cycling computer visible in its cradle, I felt somewhat incomplete.
At the 9000-foot marker, I pulled over and put on my jacket because I was cold and my phone confirmed that it was 49-degrees. I took advantage of the stop and took a nature break behind a rock and was amazed by the view. Simply awesome! After taking some lunar landscape pictures (I was above the clouds and it did look like the Moon up there - the volcanic rock reminded me of that). Haleakala actually is a non-active volcano as are most if not all of the mountains in Hawaii. As I mounted my bike, the lone cyclist I mentioned earlier buzzed by me headed in the same direction. He told me that he thought he was the only crazy person on the road. I told him, “NOPE!”
I took a final left hairpin turn into the wind and saw the main parking lot for the crater ahead. Odd, as I was only at 36.4 miles. I thought I was being cheated until I saw a sign noting a quarter-mile to the summit. I wanted it to be over. But since this would probably be the only time I’d ever do this (maybe), I decided not to call Kathryn to come down and pick me up where I stood.
I plugged ahead.
It was only a quarter of a mile but it seemed like it was three miles because I suddenly had to struggle to stay on my bike because the wind was intent on forcing me off. Also, this is where I really felt the altitude!
I continued on and then – BOOM - a wall! My Garmin said 13% which was very unexpected. I had been on the bike for seven hours, was altitude depraved, was completely unprepared for the steepness into the wind! But…I did it.
Kathryn was waiting for me at the very top, and she shot pictures and video of me riding up. It was beautiful, cold and very, very windy! I found out later that winds were gusting to 47 miles per hour! It certainly felt like it. Especially on that last 13% climb into the wind before the parking lot at the top. I got off the bike, hugged my support crew member and loaded the Break-Away into the SUV.
We then walked up a stupid amount of steps to the observation tower which overlooked the volcano crater, took our selfies and went back down to the car. Sitting and shivering in the passenger seat, I ate the rest of my burrito (I swear it had ice crystals in it) and knew exactly what I was going to do next: NOT ride down! I was done! Seven hours ride time was enough. I didn’t want the cold or the fatigue to get the best of me, especially after completing one of my true bucket list items.
Did I mention that I’m 67-years old?
I dedicate this ride to my mom, whose birthday is on December 12th - the day I did this ride. Rest in Peace mom.
Check out other amazing places to ride and even add to your own biking bucket list here.