Volcano to Hilo – 43 mi, 1,169’ elevation gain
What a day! We started by riding around the crater rim of Kileaua. There was an active lava flow that day, but since it was down at the ocean side, we opted not to do the additional 4,000 foot climb necessary to see it. We were quite content to see the 3 mile wide caldera of Kilauea, the steam emanating from the bluffs around it, the mile wide crater which is the home to Pele – Halema`uma`u and the Kilauea Iki crater.
There were lots of tiny bamboo orchids, prized for their long stems. We walked through the Thurston Lava Tube, an underground passageway created by fast flowing lava. It was nestled in a beautiful rainforest dominated by tree ferns and ohi`a trees.
Then we fairly flew down the hill 26 miles to Hilo. As we got lower, the temperature increased, and so did the humidity. Even though it had been easy, we felt tired when we pulled in to the Dolphin Bay Hotel.
We visited with folks in the lobby and it turned out they were in town for a geology conference for educators. In fact, he (Neil) was leading it. He asked if we wanted to go up that evening and see the lava flow. We didn’t miss a beat before saying, “YES!”
We had precious little time to shower and buy some food for dinner. But we were ready when the cars left at 4:30 to retrace the route we’d just ridden down. All along the way, Neil, who’d been coming here for 20 years, gave us a running commentary on lava, native botany, and island politics. It was fascinating.
We got to the end of the road an hour before sunset. We had to hike past a Disneyland-like parade of parked cars and tourists. Our little group was well outfitted with walking sticks, flashlights, water, and sturdy boots. Well, we only had tennis shoes, but the rest of the crew looked official. They were set on collecting samples from the active edge of the flow.
We set off into the year-old flows, picking our way up and down on the very sharp rock. Once darkness fell, the break-outs on the hillside above us were beautiful and enticing. But after about an hour, Sheila and I decided to turn back. We’d already gotten more than we had hoped to experience. We told the rock hunters to continue on and we’d meet them back at the start. They predicted they’d be back about 9:30.
We carefully threaded our way back. We stopped inside the fields to meditate under the overwhelmingly vast canopy of stars. The breeze was gentle. The surf pounded nearby. The hillside seemed alight with fire as new earth was being formed. It was a night for the four elements.
Our geologist friends tried to get to the flow, but failed. One man had both of his soles come unglued from his shoes as he hiked over the ever-hotter rocks. They had to tie them on with cord. That slowed the group down quite a bit. Then it started to rain on them which also didn’t help. They didn’t make it back until after 11:45 and were glad to finally see the cars. We enjoyed all our quiet time under the stars and were glad we’d come back early.
We were listening to the nightly rain from our bed at 1 a.m. after an exciting adventure.