Saturday, April 11, 2009

Vertical Mile for Breakfast

The weather held true to forecast. We woke up to the gloomiest skies of our trip this morning with light rain. Since I didn’t get the planned riding in Thursday, I hoped to get a decent ride in early Friday morning. The bike shop told me about a route to the summit of Hualalai, 8200ft above our hotel. I think it is the fourth highest peak on the islands. On the maps, the summit looked land-locked by private land. The shop told me no worries, just access the 4WD from a certain dead end road.

Scenic but rainy, cloudy Kaloko Rd

Afer another early breakfast, I was rolling from the hotel by 7:30am. At least the rain was warm at sea level. I followed the coast along Ali’i (Ah-lee-ee) drive for five miles into Kailua, a nice warm-up. My legs were positively trashed from Thursday’s 6.2hr sufferfest. The prospects of actually riding off-road today were slim given the weather.

Palani Road heads east out of Kailua. It quickly gains 1500ft. Rush hour traffic sucked. There is minimal shoulder in places, construction in others. Not an ideal bike route, but it was the most direct way up.

Summit of Hualalai from Mauna Loa on Thursday

At about 1500ft, Kaloko Drive is taken to continue the climb. This road averages 9% grade for 7 miles, gaining 3500ft. It is a dead end residential street, essentially an l’Alpe d’Huez or Whiteface Mtn climb, except steeper. There are six switchbacks on this road. These are not your typical hairpin deals. They are big swoopy turns that persist at fall-line gradient for a couple tenths of a mile, gaining about 200ft each time. Topo tells me some of these approach 20% grades. With tired legs, I failed to hold 4mph on a few of the switchbacks. A 30 lb bike, soaking wet clothes, and 10 lb Camelbak doesn’t help the climbing rate much either. I found that I gained altitude at roughly one foot per revolution of the crank. I was wheelying a bit too. If you lived at the end of this road, roughly 5000ft above sea level and worked in Kailua, your commute home would be a buggah.

What happens to empty water bottles when descending from 12,000ft to sea level

I entered the lower cloud deck around 2000ft. Visibility dropped to less than 200ft. I didn’t have any blinkies with me and it was still too warm to wear my hi-viz wind breaker. A lot of contractor trucks were coming up, presumably for new home construction. Fortunately I could hear them coming over my heavy breathing.

Around 4000ft, I broke above the lower cloud deck. There was still heavy overcast above, and it was still raining out. Near the end of Kaloko Dr, a left is taken on Huehue St. It gains 640ft at 16% grade. This pretty much finished my legs off as I crested 5000ft altitude. I believe this is the highest paved altitude that can be reached in the area. Access to the off-road system looked questionable to me. I’ll need to check back with the guys at the shop about it. Even if public access was certain here, I probably would have opted to not continue the climb to 8200ft anyway. It was pouring out now, and the temperature was probably in the low 50’s up here. I put on the long jersey, wind shell and knee warmers in preparation for the descent.

The initial descent on Huehue St was quite a rush. I could easily have gone over 50mph with big MTB, knobby tires and floppy wind breaker. Poor visibility and big rain drops smashing my eyeballs through the back of my head limited my speed to 45mph or so. When I got to the stop sign at the bottom, the rain was sizzling on the brake rotors. Less than 5 seconds of hard braking did this.

Continuing the descent on Kaloko Dr, I got back into the dense cloud cover. At least I could go faster than cars, but visibility sucked. I was going over 40mph most of the time, braking heavily only around the 15-20% grade switchbacks. I was just starting to get cold as I dropped back into muggy tropical air. The remainder of the descent down Palani Rd was not nearly as hairy as the climb traffic-wise. I took the lane and easily stayed with the traffic at 38-42mph for the next four miles.

GPS track of vertical mile climb from hotel. Mauna Kea and partial track up Mauna Loa in background.

I finished this all paved ride in 3:07 riding time with 35.5 miles and 5220 feet of climbing. As best I could tell, 5000ft feet of climbing was monotonic, that is, no downs on the way up. Thus you can coast 100% of the way back down too. This is another unfinished business climb. I would really like to make it to the summit of this one, especially on a clear day. I caught a nice photo of it protruding through the lower cloud deck from Mauna Loa yesterday. The crater at the top of Hualalai is supposed to be quite impressive. I had an offer to ride it Thursday with one of the guys from the shop. In hindsight, I should have taken the offer.

The rain tapered off in the afternoon. The bay right next to our hotel is supposed to have the best snorkeling on the big island. We decided to give it a go, renting way over priced gear from a curbside vendor. At least I got Rx lenses. We still had heavy overcast, so we weren’t sure what to expect. The tide was starting to come back in. The bay is very shallow to begin with, making it hard to not bang your knees on corral. First impression, the water was kind of yucky. A little further out, it wasn’t that bad, but not as clear as around Maui. The fish were phenomenal though. Huge schools of every kind imaginable, every color represented. This was way better than any of the four areas I’ve snorkeled around Maui. To top this off, the bay has many sea turtles, and they are not timid. They are protected, and swimmers are not allowed to touch or interfere with them in any way. They are so big that it is spooky to swim up close to them. I finally figured out how to get half way decent photos with my polyurethane camera bag. The clear window must be stretched tight across protruding lens, else the camera won’t focus or image is heavily distorted from diffraction. I can last about 60 minutes in the 70F water before severe shivering sets in. This was kicking along aerobically. Mom and Cathy only lasted about 40 minutes. Moving along, you can see pretty much all you want in an hour. The snorkeling definitely made up for a dreary day.

We begin the trek home on Saturday, a red-eye flight. I hope to get a short morning ride in. We plan to visit a Kona coffee plantation before heading back to the airport. The weather has been rather poopy for riding and hiking here, but still better than some of the stuff New England and Michigan have been getting while we’ve been away. Monday morning reality is going to suck.


Gina said...

Nice Fish pictures

Glen said...

Doug, great adventure. The photos are excellent too. I agree, Monday should be a bit of a letdown.