Summit Plummet: A Bicycle Trip for You

FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR | BY DAVID CLARK SCOTT

Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, Look Ma—no peddling!

Mount Haleakala, on the island of Maui, offers the ultimate noncyclist’s bike trip: 38.2 miles downhill. It’s billed as the best gravity-enhanced ride you can take outside bungee jumping—the heavier you are, the faster you roll.

We pull on our motorcycle helmets and gloves, zip up our rain slickers, and take one wobbly test-loop around the parking lot atop Maui’s tallest peak.

The view from this 10,000-foot high Pacific knob is impressive. You can look across the crimson-and-black moonscape of Haleakala Valley, a 7.5-mile long and 2.5-mile wide basin that’s often compared to the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.

Off to the right, on one of the ridges, are several white domes of the Haleakala Observatories, including a complex that tracks missiles as part of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”). In fact, the smooth ride down the mountain is courtesy of “Ronnie’s ray-gun project,” says Darin. Prior to 1991, the road wasn’t paved.

While the view is impressive, it’s chilly up here—even in summer—and we’re anxious to start our run. Single file, 13 of us push off on our specially designed bicycles (with extra-wide seats and motorcycle brakes), followed by the chase van. The pace seems a bit fast, and exhilarating.

For the first couple of miles, we’re above the clouds in the cold, crisp air, whizzing along the switchbacks past the barren, lava-rock landscape, dotted by the occasional silversword plant, a native species that grows only on the highest Hawaiian slopes.

It’s peaceful. Quiet. We glide through a fragrant pine forest, past lush emerald pastures occupied by cows and cactus. The rider ahead of me disappears into a cloud bank, and a second later we burst out the other side.

It’s getting warmer as we race through a grove of blue gum eucalyptus, and the pungent scent fills the air. Stretching out below us is all of Maui, an expansive quilt of pineapple and are sugar cane fields rimmed by white surf.

Lunch is at the 21-mile mark, and the steepest inclines are behind us. We strip and toss our rain gear and sweaters into the van. On the two-hour drive up the mountain, our guides had phoned in our sandwich choices, so they were ready when we pulled off the road at the Sunrise Market and Protea Farm, a spot that caters to hungry cyclists.

Haleakala means House of the Sun. Many visitors and cyclists get up early to watch the sunrise from the summit. Over lunch, Bob, a fellow cyclist from California, says he did the sunrise run about four or five years ago. “It was uncivilized,” he says, grimacing. “You have to get up about 2 a.m., and you get up there, and it’s freezing on the summit. I didn’t enjoy it.”

Darin, overhearing our conversation, agrees. “If you take our midmorning trip, you get five hours more sleep and you arrive back at your hotel about an hour after the sunrise crew.”

The last part of the trip takes us through more cow pastures and horse farms and under violet-blossomed jacaranda trees. We race past the pineapple plantations.

We stop for traffic in Makawao and Paia, a couple of little towns full of surf shops, art galleries, and tin-roof buildings with Old West facades.

We smell the Pacific before we see it. The van is parked ahead at a beachside park.

Find a Maui Bike Tour

MAUI MOUNTAIN CRUISERS (1-800-232-6284). Prices range from $150 to $185 per person. The difference between luxury and budget tours is that on the luxury tours, you start riding at the summit: These companies are licensed and insured to bring riders into the national park at the top of Haleakala. The cost also includes continental breakfast and a chase van and bike-riding guide in radio contact with the van, if you run into any problems. But you must stay with the group, and you can’t stop and smell the eucalyptus.

Copyright © 2002 The Christian Science Publishing Society