Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best. Ride. Ever! - Haleakala

Apparently I've been thinking about this ride for a while. Since November of 2008 judging from my frequent blogging...

When we began talking about expiring miles and points, etc., etc., and Maui became a possibility, I figured this may be my volcano moment.

Maui Cyclery had moved to Paia, which placed them closer to the water. Elevation: About 18 feet. I decided I wasn't going to worry about that 18 feet in the grand scheme of things.

I rented a rig from Donnie (the legendary mayor of "Cycling-up-Haleakala-town") and handed over my pedals and saddle. The setup was done by Nathan, who happens to be the nephew of Greg Lemond. It was a windy day and while tweaking the rig, Nathan kept collecting surf reports from the locals wandering in. Not only is he multifaceted, but he had some cool things to report regarding the future of his uncles' brand. But I digress. The shop rents Titanium Litespeeds. I had mine set up with a compact 34-50 crank and a 12-30 cassette. (Both ends of that range would come in handy.)

After a few days of phenomenal "local" riding on the Western half of the island,...

...the appointed day rolled up and so did I.

There were six of us cueing up. Donnie and Ralph repped the shop, and between them had about 500 climbs. The other four of us were jumping into the volcano for the first time. But here's the thing. The US Park Service no longer lets business operate within its' boundary, so Donnie and Ralph weren't going any higher than 6500 feet on this trip.

Rolling out of the shop, you jump on Hana Highway... for about 50 feet. You then take a right onto Baldwin, and start climbing.... for the next 36 miles. Literally, it happens that quick.

Winds out of the northeast were pushing along a typical microsystem of rain directly in front of us for the first six miles. We were misted on, but the heavier stuff stayed out in front of us.

Sugarcane and pineapple swap places with homes, schools, a rodeo, and Makawao, an old cowboy town. A stretch of 12% getting out of said cowboy town at 7 miles causes a few tweaks in the glutes, but nothing a few electrolyes at the next stop won't solve.

Two SAG stops planned, 3200 feet and another at 6500 feet, just short of the park entrance. Donnie has a truck meet us with water, gels, electrolytes, bars, and clothes. Yeah, and electrolytes... And then more electrolytes...

After 13 miles and an hour twenty, we reached 3200 feet. By this point I was so hungry, I snarfed down two tubes of Clif Shot Bloks and two gels. Also topped off both bottles adding Chris Lieto's Base Salts to each, and took 4 Hammer Endurolytes. Five hours of climbing and thin air reportedly leaves even the best susceptible to cramping. Us mortals need to be extra vigilant.

Speaking of the best, Ryder Hesdahl, who has a place near the start of the climb, holds the current record to the top at 2:38. Trust me when I tell you,.... ouch.

The middle section, above 3200 hundred feet, is reported to be the hardest. Steady 6% with switchbacks for just over 10 miles to 6500 feet. Early on, we pop out of the trees and the vistas start rolling in.

The road winds up allowing views below, where you've just been, and glimpses of the road above... I going up there, huh?... The wind becomes stronger, or more accurately, less constricted, and the temperature keeps sliping down.

An hour and 20 minutes later, we're at 6500 feet and the truck is parked beside the road again. It's odd. You're in Hawaii and the first thing you reach for is warm clothing. Long sleeve jersey and vest. Since this is the last support stop, I also roll up the jacket and stuff it in the jersey pocket. Top off the bottles, eat a ridiculous amount, and saddle back up.

A couple hundred feet and it's time to pay the man. Glad we got a heads up on this otherwise I would have been pan handling a 5 spot from passing cars.

So they say the middle section is the hardest climbing. Okay... but the last 13 miles is probably the most challenging. Temperature is dropping, winds picking up, and someone swiped all the dang oxygen the higher you get. None the less, at just past 6500 on this day, you end up on top of the clouds. It's a pretty cool show.

The point is to take a look every so often as to not miss the incredible views to your right... eh, left... right. Switchback-palooza, and with each turn to the north, a headwind that keeps building. Weather service says 20 to 25 with gusts to 40. Relief in the form of turning downwind is welcomed, but short-lived. The grade is relentless. There are no breaks.

The Park Service has put in elevation signs every 500 feet. Someone else has stenciled messages in bright blue paint on the side of the road... Wisdom such as "Breath" and "Feed". I took that second one to heart on a regular basis.

The mountain goat beside the road at 7500 didn't cooperate with my picture taking agenda, which is a drag, because he looked like a cross between a border collie and a buffalo, not something you see everyday.

Not sure why it's just the left side that's acting up, but at 8200, I have to stretch the quad to get it to knock off the complaining. Same deal again at 9600. That's a drag because I can see the top, but have to hop off none the less. Also doesn't hurt to catch my breath. I prop the bike up on a rock and take a few shots. It's like a moonscape above 9000 feet.

Ten seconds after I take the last picture, a wind gust sends the bike flying. Glad nothing got busted.

Don't want to wait out the quad, so with it mostly in check, I get back on and crank out the last 400 feet.

Riding up to the 10000 foot sign.... What can I say, its just a great feeling. I got a bit emotional remembering how long I'd been thinking about this, and how I had battled mentally, not only for last 5 hours, but for the last 5 months. For the most part, you believe you can do it. But there's always that question mark, buzzing quietly like bad neon, off in the back corner of your head. Will the systems overload? Will the quads toss it in short of the top. Will I mess up the fueling and superbonk?

Never the less, here I was, handing my iPhone off to a complete stranger and telling him to shoot away.

I made it.

After a spin around the observatory parking lot, checking out the incredible views, I went back and stood by the sign again, just taking it all in.

After 30 seconds, a rental car rolls up and a Japanese guy sticks a huge Nikon out the window and asks if he can take my picture.
"You ride bike up mountain!"
"Yes,.. yes I did."
I'm guessing that will generate a few laughs back in Tokyo. Heck, I'm still laughing about it as I write this.

There's only so much 50 degrees and 30 MPH wind a sweaty guy can take before he senses it's time to move on. So after a last big gulp of thin aired vista-drama, I mount up and roll back a few hundred feet to the visitors center where Scott, one of the three of us who made the top is changing his third flat of the day. Once that's cared for, it's layer time. I have glove liners that go under the cycling gloves. I swap out the sweaty skull cap for a dry thermal skull cap. I zip up the layers of Pactimo and add the jacket over them.

After a few swigs of water, we all pop open the drink spouts on the bottles. Donnie clued us in ahead of time that if the bottles are closed during a fast descent, the tops pop off as the pressure builds and squeezes the bottle.

What happens next... well, for the next hour and 11 minutes... is flat out adrenalin euphoria! For 36 miles, I averaged almost 30 miles an hour. The longer pitches between switchbacks allowed us to cap out at 40 mph, scrubbing off just enough speed to carve lines through the turns and crank it up again. We split up rather quickly and I basically had entire the road to myself all the way down.

I'm yelling and hollering into the wind. I'm having a blast. It's roller coaster city - except only the down part. For 30 miles, not a single car. It's frigin' cold, but the Pactimo is getting the job done nicely. I'm starting to feel just a bit of warmth heading down to 6500 and out of the park, but just as on the climb, the cloud layer is packed in right there and I'm right back in wet clouds.

Back out of the clouds at 5000, still flying, still chilly. With a headwind continuous down into Paia, warmth only starts to show up in the last few miles as traffic dictates a bit of a slowdown. I roll into the shop feeling so alive. And very hungry.

It would be three days before that particular cloud layer broke and the top was visible from sea level. But I knew it was there.

I don't have an official Morgan Freeman approved bucket list, but if I did, this little venture would be on it.

And it would have a check mark next to it.

If you get the chance to do the same, take it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going Up!

Worlds Greatest Rides...

This is Haleakala, a sleeping volcano on the island of Maui.

What is it with tall stuff?  Why do we look at tall stuff and say "Wonder what it's like on top..."  As luck would have it, there is a road to the top.  It's a 36 mile trip from sea level to 10,000 feet.  And a good time was had by all.

Let me quickly say that I wasn't packing the internal fortitude to tackle the entire climb.  I was, after all, supposed to be on vacation, rewinding after a stretch of grade A crazy in the day gig. But I still had to take a bite.  

This is Maui Cyclery...

Also the home of Go Cycling Maui, a magical little enterprise that makes really cool things possible.  Donnie and his crew will rent you a nice Litespeed, spin your pedals onto the cranks, turn you over to a local who knows the island, and let you create some of the most incredible rides on the planet.  They'll even load the Suburban up with goodies and SAG the ride.

For the vacationing flat-lander, there are opportunities to dance with Hale without sacrificially tossing your carcass into the smoking pit.  I jumped on the opportunity to climb some 4000 feet... to a great little coffee house.  Great views, minimal traffic, and the strange looks from the cruisers coasting down from the top after their 4 am "Dramamine Presents" van ride to the summit.

On a regular basis, Donnie sends trips up to the top. Local lore has it that a good number of pros swing in to chew on one of the few 10K foot climbs not requiring a passport.  Donnie, a retired pro rider himself, told me he's not topping Haleakala much anymore.  "It's brutal." 

No matter how far up you go, you then have the opportunity to show off your skeells coming down.  Lots of hairpin turns.  Lots of blind corners.  The locals have a distinct advantage.  Glued to the back wheel of my lead, watching the speedo dance around 40 MPH, there were a half a dozen times where he piled into a corner and my eyes got bigger.  I had to make a decision to trust that he knew something I didn't about the real estate around the next corner.  He did.

Bottom line... any ride on Maui is an incredible thing.  In addition to a breakthrough workout, there are views, there is foliage, and there is the laid back island 'tude that can't be matched. Fly in your own sled or rent from Donnie - if you're on the island, it's a must.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Feelin' Green

It's a shot from half court, but it's an interesting concept.  

Apparently this how far I can go if I were to ingest one gallon of liquid fuel.

39 miles per gallon

Created by The Car Connection

What this doesn't take into account is that same gallon of fuel taking advantage of two wheeled technology. Take this same engine, with the same fuel, and add a crank, a pair of Zipps and a saddle, and I'm thinkin' we double that number, at least...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blog Season

Greg and Laura...

So now that Kona '08 is morphing into an NBC special, and the 70.3 championship is nothing more than an online donnybrook over drafting, and all the big bucks pros are heading to the other summer, aka Australia, the stateside remnant are now left with the annual winter challenge of.... finding compelling material to blog about.  

This is where months of training will separate the cream from the cow.  The pros will launch collections of high protein recipes, great Computrainer repeat workouts, photos of big name tri friends helping with interior decorating, fantastic winter runs, scoops on new coaching agreements, gear reviews on pre-release goodies, reviews of great sports movies, and photos of the new box turtles - Greg and Laura.  The unfortunate few (who are probably the most inspirational) will post progress reports as the body is coaxed back to some semblance of health.  The regulars will follow along and celebrate each bit of good news.

Then there's those of us who live "on the verge of blogging."  Ours is not a life that lobs up anything approaching daily "wow".  Ours is the more mundane, which is why we vicariously expand our horizons via others blogs, all the while dreaming of the day we'll be forced to narrow down the blog topics choices, picking only one out of our incredibly interesting day.

But there in lies the enticement.  We read other peoples blogs and hold out hope that someday, maybe even soon,... our lives will be that interesting.  And if not, we can always complain about drafting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fish, Skate, Breath...

Total Immersion...

Def 1:  Being completely involved in your pursuit.  Focused.  Avoiding distractions.

Def 2:  Laying on your side, slipping quietly underwater, feeling your nasal passage filling gleefully with water, because you haven't quite mastered "balance".  

Flew to Atlanta this weekend to further my journey from cinderblock to swimmer at a TI Freestyle Workshop.  Signed up for Charleston, but with only two of us, we moved it to the coaches home "turf".  In all, a terrific experience.  Bill was a great coach with a clear game plan to move through the weekend.  The underwater video taping alone was worth the trip.  Ever watched yourself swim?  Scary!

Surprise 1:  The pool was filled with salt water.  I'm guessing Saturdays' six hours in the water would have been much harder on the epidermis if we were dealing with chlorine.

Surprise 2:  Dial in the stroke and 25 m becomes so effortless that you can do repeats on just one breath.

Granted, there's a lot to keep track of to achieve that "dialedinness".  That's where muscle memory comes in.  (I'm hoping my muscles have better memory than my brain...)

Not ready for the 10K swim just yet, but then that event is hard to wrap my head around.   Mom always said "Don't go in the water right after eating."  How would she feel about an event where you eat while you're in the water?  

Bottom line - strongly recommended.  

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lost in Translation

Reality checks are important.  CompuTrainer sessions are great.  Love 'em.  I know, not necessarily a universally shared position.  But I love long sessions in a controlled environment with uninterrupted efforts and gobs of feedback.

But, numbers are what they are.

What matters is how it translates to real rides.  The time trial portion of ABD's Fall Fling a short, but very real reality check.  It suggested a number of possibilities.  One is a pure and simple failure to increase power.  We're not totting a watts meter on the bike so we can't fall back to numbers, but there's always the stopwatch.  And the elapsed time was well off the majority of riders in the age group.  

It's also possible we were dealing with a bit of over-training, but if that's the case, that's equally troubling considering the amount of training we've been doing - in comparison to the typical training regime of the 70.3 or IM athlete.

Since it was the last of the season, it signifies the official start of the next winter of training.

Friday, October 3, 2008


So the brand is growing, the races are selling out within hours, and the big dance in Kona is buzzing like the Superbowl.  Want to watch?  Here are the options.

Go there.  Great excuse for a vacation, and to check out the course, and to gawk, etc...

Or plop your sedentary backside down in front of a computer for x number of hours and hope the streaming server has enough headroom so as to not kick you out just as Chrissie gets ready to send Norman into an emotional meltdown - by passing him.

I'm already logged in.  Doesn't appear to be anything happening yet......

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Five Disciplines

As the rookie, the newbie, the froshie... It's become clear that a serious triathlete must spend serious amounts of time working in each of the five triathlon disciplines.  They of course are:

1  Swimming
2  Cycling
3  Running
4  Nutrition
5  Blogging

I've been running for a while, I'm getting the cycling to come together, but as for the rest....  well ya gotta start somewhere....