60km Volcano Cycle Ride Stresses Safety

FROM TRAVEL TODAY | EDITED BY MICHAEL BRETT

At 6 a.m. the sun was just rising on the summit of the dormant volcano, 3000m above us as we left our apartment for the big adventure—a 60km bicycle ride down Haleakala.

Our most worrying thought: could those of us who had not ridden a bike for 20 years cope? Biking down Haleakala is one of the musts of a visit to the Hawaiian island of Maui. But usually it is an adventure for the young. When we four oldies turned up at the assembly point we found all but one of our fellow adventurers were young enough to be our children.

Three companies run guided bicycle tours down the mountain. Ours,MAUI MOUNTAIN CRUISERS, won our support because of its claim it provided the safest tours.

The safety angle was stressed repeatedly as we made our way up the mountain in a van which towed a rack full of bicycles. We would each wear a helmet and gloves; there was to be no passing, no turning round, no two-abreast riding, no taking a hand off the handlebars or a foot off the pedals.

“We make 29 180° turns in the first 10km,” said our leader. “We have to maintain discipline.”

At the summit it was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear, with a view stretching 160km to Mauna Kea on the Big Island. We lined up for helmets, gloves and bikes. These were tough, no-frills mounts with big seats and two handbrakes.

The doubtful cyclists in the party were given a test—and passed. We lined up for the run. Our leader went first, then the most timid of the party. The most competent cyclists brought up the rear. As no one was allowed to pass, that ensured there was no racing downhill. Behind all the cyclists came the support van, in radio contact with the leader.

Circumspect and a little scared, we began the journey—eyes riveted on the road in front—fingers working the handbrakes as we reached speeds of 30km/h. We needed to maintain this speed so as not to hold up other traffic.

By the first stop, 25 minutes after leaving the summit, we had covered 16km, dropped nearly 1000m and gained hugely in confidence. I even found myself zigzagging gently, but stopped before our leader noticed and ticked me off.

We left the lava of the summit behind and reached scrub country. At the ranger station grew a fragile silversword plant, found only on Haleakala.

On we went; the cold increased as we entered a cloud. For a few minutes we were miserable. Then the terrain and the vegetation changed again, and the air warmed. We were into ranch land and then horticultural country. This part of Maui is famous for its onions and proteas.

Two hours after leaving the summit, we stopped again. It was only 11 a.m., but we had set out at 6 a.m. and it was more than time for lunch. Our orders had been taken on the way up, and we devoured the filled rolls and Maui potato chips awaiting us. A beer would have gone down well, but we must not drink and ride.

The sun was warm now, so we peeled off our jackets for the last leg and heeded our leader’s call for renewed care. We were to use a secondary road, and the traffic had increased.

Twice we pulled to the side of the road and stopped to let cars past. Down through Makawao we glided, past historic Makawao Union Church, the cemetery, pineapple and sugar cane fields and into Paia.

We pulled over to the side of the road, reluctantly realizing that the ride was at an end.

Our steeds were loaded on to the trailer; we took our places in the van and returned to base.

We had ridden the volcano and we stood, proudly but rather stiffly, about 3m tall…

Riding down Haleakala with MAUI MOUNTAIN CRUISERS costs $185 per person at Sunrise and $150 at Midday. It is money well spent.

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