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Aug 1, 2004

Circumnavigating the Big Island of Hawai`i

August 1- 11, 2004

We’d been talking about going to Hawaii for many years. We finally made it thanks in part to having frequent flier miles and good friends with a condo in Kona/Kailua (thanks John & Mary Anne). After a year of planning with input from ETC members Gary & Rita who often lead rides there and a trip guide from Kona Coast Cycling Tours we finally made it. This was our first self-supported tour. Even without camping, it was a new and challenging experience to ride loaded down with our necessities.

To say this tour was awesome is an understatement. Our journal will provide you with many of the details of the 281.4 miles we rode, including daily elevation profiles (totaling 22,539’) for the cycling geeks. The things it cannot convey are some of the most memorable: the intense sweet fragrances, being under the expansive canopy of stars, the denseness of the humidity, the blessings of not getting caught in the rain despite nightly monsoons, the exhilaration of flying full tilt down the mountains, the serendipity of going to the lava flow after letting go of that possibility, the awe of watching planet earth being born, the breathtaking interplay of rocks and ocean.

Aug 1, 2004

Sunday, August 1, 2004 – Travel Day

Today we began our Hawaiian odyssey. Caught a ride to the Seattle Airport at 7 a.m. (Thanks, Billie!) It would be 16 hours before we left controlled airspace (because we were using frequent flyer miles our connections weren’t optimal). We were prepared with lots of snacks, sandwiches, books, and water bottles. Or so we thought.

Click to see white ginger enlargedA 2.5 hour flight took us only marginally toward the islands. We landed in Salt Lake City around noon and switched to a tiny little plane to head to San Francisco. Made it to Baghdad-by-the-Bay (I wonder how they feel about that moniker now?) with time to spare before our 5:30 departure to Honolulu.

To pass time in the Salt Lake airport and on the next flight, we rented the movie “Monster” starring Charlize Theron. Wow. It was an intense, troubling, and very well done movie. I’d recommend it to everyone except Colby. Way too much sad stuff for her. Dropped the movie off at the SF airport before flying to Oahu.

Click to see ohia flower enlargedThe last leg of the trip was the toughest. It was a 5+ hour flight. You’d think there would be more service on a flight that long. We got two rounds of soft drinks and a sack lunch. Ham and cheese. We were pretty much out of our own sandwiches by then so we just snarfed the chips and cookies. There was some kind of short in the in-flight movie. Every now and then it would just blow static in your ear. It became too irritating to listen to, so I turned it off. Sheila had wisely chosen to ignore it from the beginning.

It was dark when we arrived at Honolulu. All our gear successfully made all their transfers, so we were pleased. We were too late to catch a flight to the Big Island, so we just spent the night. Our hotel was only a 10 minute ride from the airport, thank goodness for small favors.

Aug 2, 2004

Day 1: Monday, August 02, 2004

Kailua – 15 mi, 400’ elevation gain

We were still on mainland time (3 hours earlier than Hawaii) so we got up early, meditated, then headed for our 8:30 plane from Honolulu to Kona. We thought we could find some food at the airport. Ha ha ha! Settled for 2 cinnamon rolls and 1 bottled orange juice for $10. A little later we saw our first rainbow. Ah. Vacation.

We flew in a 717 (you read that right) to Kona. They are cute little twin engine jets. It was mostly cloudy over the islands, so we didn’t have much of a view, although we did see Waikiki as we flew east. Caught a cab to our friends Mary Anne and John’s condo in Kailua. The cabbie told us they’d been getting more rain than they’d had in any summer in 20 years. That didn’t bode well for a cycling tour.

Click to see image enlargedThe condo is right on the 18th hole of a very nice golf course. The view from the lanai is seen left. That’s where I set up to put together the bike. Nothing got bent or broken this time, but the rear wheel required a bit of truing, which took some time. When I finished, we had a couple of umbrella drinks and relaxed.

Click to see saffron finch enlargedLater we took Clio out for a shakedown ride. Immediately found out I hadn’t tightened Sheila’s handlebars enough. She had to hold my saddle while we were climbing our first hill. A quick adjustment, then we cruised into “downtown” Kailua. Spent some time talking to a woman who turned out to be a timeshare salesperson. We thought she was a tourist information clerk. She tried to convince us to spend 2 hours of our trip getting a sales pitch. I don’t think so!

We located the local health food store and stocked up on supplies. Then we headed back. About half the time we were riding, it was raining. Just spatters, but it was so warm it didn’t matter. It was like riding in a sauna.  We did need to do laundry and take showers when we returned.

Click to see gecko enlargedWildlife report: From the lanai we saw Myna birds, saffron finches, zebra doves, wild turkeys, a yellow-billed cardinal and neon green geckos.

Aug 3, 2004

Day 2: Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Kailua to Na`alehu – 58.9 mi, 5,039’ elevation gain

We had planned on getting an early start today to beat the heat. But overnight a HUGE tropical storm system hit the Big Island. It rained torrentially from midnight on. It rained so hard they had to announce school closures for 6 public schools between Kailua and Na`alehu. They closed the only highway, too. Needless to say, we didn’t get off to an early start.

Click to see Spencer & Sheila with their bike loaded enlargedThe rain finally stopped around 9:30. The Mamalahoa Highway reopened about then so we packed up, closed  the condo and hit the road about 11. We were FULLY loaded. Two huge panniers, our rear and front trunks both stuffed (front trunk courtesy Cate & Dave) and our shirt pockets bulging with Clif Shots & Bars and soy drinks for the next morning. We quickly discovered that all the extra 50 pounds really slowed us down! Plus we gained about 1000 feet in the first 6 miles. But, it wasn’t raining and we were happy.

We got some nice downhills as payback for our climb out of Kailua. They inevitably resulted in more climbing. Funny how that works.

At 18 miles we stopped at the Furikawa store, last stop for 30 miles. We ate lunch, filled bottles, bought some Gatorade, then headed out for a 25 mile climb through open lava fields.

Click to see gardinias enlargedBy now the sun was full out. It was hot, sticky, and hilly. We soldiered on, passing gardenia trees, macadamia nut farms, rubber trees as tall as my school and lots of lava fields. There was no place to get water or leave any behind. We utilized scrub trees for rest stops twice on that climb.

Finally, with water running low, we arrived at Bell’s Restaurant. They let us fill our bottles. We bought a macadamia nut fudge brownie to enjoy at the end of our day.

We also saw a bike tour group from Backroads. They’d just ridden in from Volcano, going the reverse direction we were. We chatted, then set off on our last 12 miles.

Click to see rainbow over lava fields enlargedThe 4 o’clock headwinds were stronger than any we had in Arizona last year. Riding along a ridge of a`a lava didn’t leave anything to slow down the wind. On the plus side we were greeted with the rainbow which marked the downhill to Na’alehu.

The day’s main ride ended with a 6 mile downhill into Na`alehu. We hit 42 on that stretch. We just took the lane and were ready to let cars deal with it. Fortunately, there were none going as fast as we were.

Arrived at Shirakawa Motel at 55 miles and 5 pm. James Taylor had once stayed at this spartan motel. We averaged an astonishing 13 mph for the day. But we had to ride another 3 miles to get to the nearest restaurant and back. Enjoyed a nice veggie stir fry at Shaka’s, the southernmost restaurant in the United States. It started spitting on us as we climbed back up the hill to our motel.

Aug 4, 2004

Day 3: Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Na`alehu to Volcano – 42.2 mi, 4,459’ elevation gain

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Had a good night’s sleep in Na`alehu. Listened to the pouring rain most of the night but woke to dry pavement. We fixed oatmeal and OJ for breakfast. Got an early start (7 am). Saw an Italian couple loading their car as we left. We exchanged “buon giorno’s” and rode off.

After 9.2 fast miles we arrived at the black sand beach of Punalu`u. Getting out of their car was the Italian couple. We visited with them a bit. They were from Milano. On the beach we saw a hawk’s bill turtle –- la tartaruga grande! He had to be 2.5-3’ long. Quite impressive.

We headed off to begin our 27 mile climb to Volcano. We’d packed all the water we could carry, 4 bottles and a quart of Gatorade. It would prove to be enough, just barely.

The first part of the climb was 5-6%, pretty steep. After 10 miles it eased off. Now we were counting the miles until magical mile post 31 where there was water to be had. We were rationing out our water and with 6 miles to go, I started cramping. I drank much of our reserve supply to recover and we started again.

We were pretty much out of water, but only had another mile when our rear tire went flat. Yoiks! Another half hour in the sun on the open lava field while I made a hasty repair. Then we beat feet to the nearby campground with water. It never tasted so good.

We cruised over the crest at 4,024’ and on into Volcano National Park. We met another couple who was cycling around the island by themselves. They were one day ahead of us on their trip and were actually finishing in Hilo. They had stayed at many of the same B&Bs we had scheduled for the trip including My Island.

We had plenty of protein with our Thai dinner. It was exquisite. My muscles were still cramping all night, however. It wasn’t until Thursday that I was fully re-hydrated.


Aug 4, 2004

Day 4: Thursday, August 04, 2004

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.

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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.

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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.

Aug 6, 2004

Day 5: Friday, August 06, 2004

Rest Day (no riding)

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We slept in and woke to another hot and muggy, but dry, day. This was just a day to relax in Hilo before we took a tour to the top of Mauna Kea volcano at sunset. We visited Rainbow Falls and the natural food store for lunch and provisions. We saw a lot of large banyan trees along the way. Then we just relaxed.

At 3:30 we were picked up by Arnott’s tour company. They drove us once again to Rainbow Falls, but this time we heard a Hawaiian legend to go with it. Then we drove up to the 9,600’ level of the mountain.

There was a small visitor’s center there filled with tourists heading to the mountaintop for sunset. There were a dozen of us on our trip and Sheila and I were the only North Americans in the bunch! We spent about 40 minutes acclimating to the altitude before we drove to the summit.

We topped out around 13,600 feet. We saw about 9 international observatories perched on the false summits of the mountain. Our guide broke out parkas to save us from the biting cold and the stiff winds as we waited for the sun to go down.

I decided to take advantage of the chance to hike to the true summit, about 10 minutes away. It was surprising how much the altitude affected me. I was a little light-headed so I took care to breathe deeply and move cautiously. Before long I was on the top looking at the last rays of sunshine slipping below the clouds. It was incredible. Sheila got a picture of the shadow of the mountain forming a perfect pyramid on the clouds below. What a sight! (see bottom photo)

As darkness swallowed our party, we drove back down to the visitor’s center to do some star gazing. Our guide handed out binoculars so we could zero in on the celestial sights. He used a laser pointer which really impressed Sheila. She still can’t believe it worked to point out stars.

Eventually we got cold enough to want to head back to Hilo. As we pulled in to the Dolphin Bay, the rain was coming down hard again. Amazing.

Aug 7, 2004

Day 6: Saturday, August 07, 2004

Hilo to Honoka’a – 52.2 mi, 7,374’ elevation gain

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The heavy storm due to hit the windward coast of Hawaii failed to materialize. We were able to start out with a full ration of sunshine again. John, the owner of Dolphin Bay, served us delicious cinnamon muffins and fruit for breakfast again. He was most gracious and very helpful during our entire stay. When we told him we might skip Akaka Falls due to the tough climb needed to see it, he replied he’d reserve the dates for us again next year, plus the rental car.

Highway 19 on the Hamakua Coast was another great road. The traffic wasn’t too bad, the shoulder was almost always wide and clean. The scenery was spectacular. This was the first time it felt like we were riding along the coast. The ocean was always in view. Plus, since this was the wet side of the island, the vegetation was much more lush. Many of the plants we saw were the same as our well-known houseplants… on steroids. HUGE mother-in-law tongue, philodendrons, rubber trees, jade, and many others. Also a  wide array of fragrant blooms (gardenias, wild ginger) and tropical fruits including bananas, mangos and papayas.

We took the Onomea Scenic Bypass early in the day. It wound us deeper into the rainforest. The road was littered with fallen fruit and palm fronds. We passed a large botanical garden two hours before opening time. It would have been a nice detour.

We had tailwinds all day and  we generally were moving pretty good. So we decided to take the side trip to Akaka Falls. The initial climb to the town of Honamu was incredibly steep. We stopped at a local’s home and asked if we could drop off our panniers before continuing the climb. She graciously said we could. We had a pleasant chat before grinding up the 3 mile, 1,700 foot climb to the falls. Along the way we passed through large sugar cane fields. Turns out that the cane industry is pretty much gone from the Big Island. It’s been replaced by macadamia nut and coffee production.

There was a half-mile walk around the falls. We got a glimpse of Kahuna Falls before seeing the 420 foot drop which was Akaka Falls. It was a wonderful sight, though I still think that Snoqualmie is more impressive since it has a much greater flow.

We continued traveling up the coast passing over numerous narrow bridges across small, verdant ravines. They often sported waterfalls on the uphill side and wide vistas as they opened to the sea. We also had to drop through 3 major gulches. These had fast, steep, twisty descents which turned into slow, steep, twisty, and WINDY ascents. It was amazing that we always had a headwind climbing up out of a gulch. The gusts were strong enough to bring us to a complete standstill at times.

We had a pleasant lunch at a park in Papalua visiting with a family from Oahu. Then we rode on. And on. And on. And on.

The combination of heat and humidity began to do us in again. By the time we arrived in Honoka`a, I was very cranky. Then we couldn’t find our hotel. Once we did find it, we couldn’t check in until 4 p.m. because the owner was on her daily break. It was less than pleasant. We wandered the town and eventually ate an early dinner at the health food store’s Indian restaurant. We felt very lucky because the restaurant was only open two days a week. The dahl was particularly scrumptious.

Obviously, we opted to NOT ride out to the Waipio Valley overlook. It would have added 16 miles to an already long, hot day. We just didn’t have the legs for it. It was much easier to just lay back and not do anything during the afternoon’s heat.

Still, it had been a full and beautiful day.

Aug 8, 2004

Day 7: Sunday, August 08, 2004

Honoka’a to Waikoloa 35.7 mi, 2,669’ elevation gain

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This was our shortest day of the trip. We got out early again, but that didn’t save us from the humidity. We were dripping as we gained nearly all of our 2600 feet in the first 10 miles. We were in Waimea, the top of the saddle, by 8:45. We stopped at a large, well-stocked natural foods store to stock up and get some treats. After a frozen dessert and more water, we were ready to zip down the hill. We’d been warned it was narrower and traffic would be troublesome. It didn’t turn out to be the case. We were going the speed limit most of the way down so we just took the lane. There was no traffic that stayed with us. It was exhilarating.

Then we had a 10 mile slog into headwinds along the coast to our resort hotel at Waikoloa. We were in before 11. Check out wasn’t even until noon, so our room wasn’t empty yet. We changed into swimsuits, then we rolled our bike into the luggage storage room. We got a couple of hotel towels and headed to the beach.

It was beautiful. It was our classic Hawaiian experience. Palm trees lined the beach, swaying in the gentle breeze. There was no surf whatsoever. That seemed weird. We grabbed a couple of lounge chairs, splashed in the water, then laid around basking in the sun. We watched outriggers and para-surfers. All that was lacking was a pair of good books and mai tais. But it was pretty good anyway.

Cell phones are wonderful. The front desk called us when our room was ready. We went in and cleaned up. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the comforts of the resort from the internet connection to the poolside restaurant. (We made sure we got umbrella drinks there to complete the picture!)  The evening ended with us watching a hula demonstration with the sunset for a backdrop.

Aug 9, 2004

Day 8: Monday, August 09, 2004

Waikoloa to Kailua – 34.4 mi, 1,429’ elevation gain

This was scheduled to be the easiest day of the trip. It was. We got up and out of our hotel by 7 to try to beat the headwinds that prevail on the Kona Coast. It only worked for the first 3 miles. Then we were pushing against them the rest of the way.

Click to see hybiscus enlargedBut it was all easy rolling roads, generally sloped down. We were riding the route of the Ironman Triathlon. We actually saw other riders this day. They looked pretty intensely focused. I’d say most of them were in training for the big event.

The lava fields here were dotted with the most unusual graffiti. The words were written by laying out white rocks on the black lava. I don’t know where they found the white rocks. But it wasn’t unpleasant to look at.

Click to see image enlargedWe quickly arrived in Kailua. Sheila went on a shopping mission. (Probably the most unusual thing I saw on the entire trip!) She was looking for the perfect Hawaiian dress. She’d go into a row of shops while I’d ride the bike down a few blocks to wait for her. She’d catch up and we’d repeat the process. I think she went in every shop in Kailua, and there are lots of them! Sadly, no luck.

Click to see papaya enlargedWe got back to the condo, cleaned up, did laundry, packed the bike, and just sat. It was too humid to go to the beach. It felt decadent just to enjoy the view with one last umbrella drink in hand. So that’s what we did.