Cycle to the Sun: Bicycling up Haleakala, Maui
1 Training Train for a 38-mile climb? If you aren't in shape and plan on simply taking it easy and spinning to the top of Haleakala, you may likely end your ride well short of the top of Haleakala's lunar summit — it's a grueling climb. Being out of shape and carrying too little fuel (see below) can be the major challenges of this ride. Training beforehand on Maui is difficult with heavy traffic on the limited roads (although traffic on the Haleakala climb is not an issue). Going out too hard to the base and steeper, first third of the climb may come back to bite you later on, say above 8,000 feet... This can make finishing very difficult, leaving you short of breath and feeling like one of those slow-motion, zoned-out climbers slogging towards the summit of Everest footstep-by-footstep. This is the biggest surprise of the ride — the last 2,000 feet or so is a lot harder than expected (although the road is excellent and elevation gain gradual). After reaching the top, you may find yourself looking around desperately (and pointlessly) for a soda machine like I did. After giving up, I promptly laid down on the warm sidewalk and napped for a good half hour. Ride total: about 7 hours and about 90+ miles round trip cycling from Kihei. Also read full ride reports, esp. the comprehensive Chain Reaction diary of biking up Haleakala (links below right).
2 Check the weather Obviously, try to go on a clear day if you have multiple days for biking in Maui. Tricky though — morning may be clear and it may cloud in the afternoon anyway (although you may have climbed above it by then). Leaving at first light (around 7:30 am), I was at the summit when clouds starting shrouding around the 6,000 foot level. Cycling down Haleakala through the clouds is like going through thick, moist fog with little visibility although not uncomfortably cold.
3 Sunscreen Calves and a few other missed spots were cooked after hours exposed to the strong sunlight at higher elevation.
4 Fuel Brought, bought and ate all of what was thought to be adequate and still bonked around 9,000 feet (with two+ miles to go). This almost ended the ride (does Domino's deliver?). Doing it again, I would take a longer rest at the 7,000-foot visitor center, eat and drink, and then push on for the remaining ten miles after feeling the GU kicking in.
5 Cold riding gear Limited to what I could stuff in jersey pockets which included arm warmers, light windbreaker, and winter gloves (no knee or leg warmers). The chilly wind gusts begin about 8,000 feet, but a windbreaker was enough and the rest was adequate for cycling down the descent. By the bottom it was in the 80s to 90s again.
6 Consider biking side roads up to the park (about the first third of the ascent) instead of busy Haleakala Highway. Coming from South Maui (Kihei), it was an obvious choice bike an old route — Pulehule Road (right on Hansen, then shortly after look for the dump trucks turning on the road to the right - this is Pulhule). However, this alternate cycling route was not as gradual with steep pitches in some sections (especially the terrible Lower Kimo with no triple or compact crank) and surface not as smooth, but there was sparse traffic and much greenery. Of course, if you bike from Pa'ia you should go up other alternatives (see other ride reports).
7 Pause at the pleasant Sunrise Market and park center The Sunrise Market is at about 3,500 feet up Haleakala, on the left just after entering the national park (don't ignore the sign which states no food or services afterwards!). If you're only planning one stop, this is the last place for liquid or solid fuel and the owner stocks everything you'd ever need. Downhill cyclists also congregate here on the way down so you can swagger around telling everyone how easy going uphill is will be. Note: many cyclists begin the climb here as well, as it is the official start of the park land. Also check out their wall map of what's to come. Later, at 7,000 feet, there is water and restroom at the park visitor's center. If this was Everest, consider this base camp IV from which you'll make the final and hardest push. There is also a water fountain ten miles later at the summit. Unfortunately, there are no soda machines or food at either park center.
After you've done it, give yourself a pat on the back, but before you get too cocky you should know that there are cyclists who every August actually race up Haleakala and there are a few very, very disturbed souls who actually race on foot to the top.
For much, much more information see the very detailed Haleakala ride reports above right (including elevation profiles). Although United charged $80 each way for my bike, there are good rental bikes are available in West and South Maui. There is also one road tour operator, Go Cycling Maui. Excellent although limited riding in Kihei cycling along the excellent road (with bike lane) fronting the Wailea resorts, about 45 minutes roundtrip to the end of the bike path (you can ride all the way to La Pernouse although the road is narrow and choppy). Kids? Here are some notes about that.
~ Patrick Morris