Just saying it out loud makes it sound pretty extreme–”mountain biking down a volcano at sunrise“–and it is extreme. This is one activity that I wouldn’t suggest for the faint of heart, but would highly recommend to adrenaline junkies and adventure seekers like myself.
It’s not an intensely strenuous activity, but it requires a bit of will power to even take on the task in the first place. From our little group alone, three of us were supposed to be taking the tour. However, one dropped out at the last minute and only two of us were left. That just goes to show you that the idea of “mountain biking down a volcano” can leave some feeling a little daunted.
When I first learned that I would be biking down Haleakala with Maui Bike Company, I was completely psyched and eagerly awaiting the day. Once I arrived on Maui I started to hear stories from other people and actually began to get a little nervous. They were talking about the dangers that could occur and emphasizing on the fact that I would be completely alone. There was no way that I was going to back out, but I certainly went into the day with a couple of butterflies fluttering around in my stomach.
The day start at 1:00 am, as I woke up at Makena Beach. We were the first people on the pick-up list, and would be leaving the hotel at 1:45 am. By 3:00 am we had picked up the remaining passengers (a couple from Taiwan, a couple from mainland US and a Bulgarian mountain biker) and arrived at the store to get sized for bikes and fitted with gear.
We were out the door by 4:00 am and on our way up the mountain. We arrived well before sunrise, even with a couple of stops along the way. It was quite chilly so I sat on the bus until I could see the sun starting to peak through the mist.
Haleakala is a Hawaiian term for “House of the Sun“. It was named this because the summit is where the demigod Maui snared the sun and forced it to slow its journey across the sky.
As it started to get brighter, I made my way over to the crowd in front of the viewing point. I wandered around, trying to stand on rocks and even attempted to balance on a rickety fence by the ledge–I couldn’t get a great view with all of the other people standing here. Then I looked up. To my right was a taller peak of the mountain. I could see a couple of people standing at the top, but couldn’t figure out why everyone else wasn’t up there. I would just have to investigate for myself.
The sun was about to breach the crater and I didn’t have much time to spare. I jumped off my rock and quickly ran over to a path that seemed to be going in the right direction. It twisted up the side of this mini-mountain and made it’s way up to the top. Half way up my asthmatic lungs started to scream at me, but I was determined to make the summit for the sunrise. I pushed harder and kicked my little feet all the way to the top.
Just as I stepped up onto the peak, I saw it. One bright yellow beam of sunlight literally swiped its way across the sky in front of my, exploding into a firey display of lights and disappearing shadows. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and almost forgot to start snapping photos.
Here I was, with the best view in the house of Mother Nature’s phenomenal morning show with the crowd cheering in unison below me in the excitement of the moment. I took a seat on the ledge overlooking the entire glowing crater and looked around at everything in front of me, including a barren-looking depression and scattering of volcanic cones called Ka Lu’u o ka O’o, Kama oli’i and Pu’u o Maui.
The lava flow that erupted from Kama oli’i has almost completely engulfed a previously formed cone, which can be seen poking up through the lava in front of the other three cones.
The summit of Haleakala is an erosional crater (meaning that the crater itself was created by weathering, rather than any volcanic explosions) with cinder cones superimposed within it boundaries. In a wet tropical climate, moisture seeps into the volcanic rock, causing large portions of the mountain to slide down into the surrounding ocean.
The peak of Haleakala may only be 10,023 feet above sea level, but it’s height from the sea floor makes it a mountain much taller than that of Mount Everest, and therefore the second tallest mountain in the world (second only to its neighbour, Mauna Loa).
The clouds were hovering around the mouth of the crater, glowing a soft pink in the early sun. The light streams were stretching across the scene below and the colours of the rocks and grasses were beginning to pop in fluorescent reds and greens. It’s not entirely common, but the floor of the crater can get some green growth on it, especially where the windward side rains spill into it.
–geology rant over–
I sat there in awe, for some time, just staring at it all and taking it in. Unfortunately, if I was going to ride this bike down the volcano before 10:30 am, I would have to get a move on.
So, with that, I took one last look at the sun rising over the crater of Haleakala, and started back down the hill to the van. We drove a bit of the way back down the mountain, and out of the crazy crowds of tourists. We couldn’t bike from the very top, due to National Park regulations, but we would be biking a great deal of the way down.
Once we found the right spot, the van pulled over and everyone gathered their bikes and belongings. I waited patiently, but was one of the very last people to receive their bike. Needing to gain some ground to catch up with the others, I hopped on immediately and took off down the mountain.
I had completely forgotten what the others had been saying to me, and pushed the idea of any danger out of my mind. I was no longer scared as the wind blew past my face and leaned forward on my bike to gain speed. Then, came my first turn.
This wasn’t just any turn, it was a hairpin turn on the side of a mountain, with nothing below by rocky cliff and open air. I veered my bike to the right and kept up my speed. Before I could even think of patting myself on the back, another turn was up ahead–this time I would be on the outside ledge, with nothing between us but a short railing.Thanks to Kyle Ellison for the photo
Nailed it. This wasn’t going to be so bad. I took turn after turn with very little problem and really began to get the hang of the terrain and atmosphere around me. Once I got a little further down the mountain, traffic started to pick up a bit. We were riding down the main road, and tourists were starting to leave the crater. It required a good amount of forward focus and peripheral awareness, especially as each turn took place.
When there were no cars around I was able to ride down the flat roadway and pick up a little more speed. Eventually, I had passed the rest of my group (there were 35 of us in total) and sped way my down the entire mountain. Once the ground started to level back out, there were a few up-hills involved (which my asthmatic lungs got a little angry at again), but I managed them in the end.
The volcano’s decline itself was pretty awesome, but it was also quite nice riding through the countryside of Maui. We coasted through forests, small towns and lots of farming areas. The roads were lined with all kinds of exotic plant-life that I had never seen before, and it was great to see it at such a close range. I could easily hop off my bike if something caught my interest–not like driving in a car or bus.
In the end, the bike ride itself was a great achievement and I’m totally glad that I did it. But, what ended up being a spectacle of its very own was watching the sunrise over Haleakala crater. I’d say that the view alone was worth the entire tour price, and the adrenaline filled bike ride was an added bonus of adventure. Of course, if you’re not up for the bike ride yourself Maui Bike Co. offers sunrise van tours alone–but you just HAVE to do one or the other!
This trip was made possible by the Maui Visitor’s Bureau; all thoughts and opinions are my own.