Hawaii Training Updates and the BIG Haleakala Climb

April 29,2013

I’m loving my Hawaiian training week!  I’ve had the opportunity to do some great bike rides this week and see a ton of beautiful scenery.  The most unusual ride so far has been the climb up to the Haleakala volcano crater.  Haleakala is a shield volcano that forms 75% of the island of Maui, with its summit being 10,023 ft above sea level.  Its latest eruption is best estimated to have occurred in the 17th century.  From what I can tell, that classifies this guy as ‘dormant’… at least I hoped so!

Living in Pittsburgh has given me a lot of practice riding hills, but climbing Haleakala presented an entirely new challenge:  A long, winding road that climbed at an average 6-7% grade for just under 27 miles.  We started as the sun was coming up, and knowing that it would be a long morning on the bike, I settled into a comfortable gear.

From the base, the top of Haleakala was barely visible through the early morning fog and clouds.  It was really interesting to see how the landscape and plant life changed as we climbed higher.  We started at about 1700 ft above sea level, and for the first few thousand feet of elevation gain, the plant life was pretty standard: grass, trees, flowers.  At around 5,000 feet, we officially entered Haleakala National Park.  By this point, there were no more trees in sight as we looked upwards to the observatory at the top of Haleakala. We were above the tree line.  The ground was becoming rockier and yellow flowers were the predominant plant to be found.

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At around 7,000 feet above sea level, we started noticing that we were looking into the clouds instead of up at them.

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By 8,000 feet, the clouds were below us!

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Since I’ve never done a continuous climb longer than 6 miles, or at an altitude close to half of Haleakala’s altitude, I wasn’t sure how hard to work.  I wanted to be sure I would stay strong enough to complete the climb, and I was a little worried about having breathing issues from the altitude near the top.  Overall, I think I handled the altitude adjustment well, but I did notice a bigger difference than usual in effort level when I went from heart rate zones 1-2 into zone 3.  It was a little harder to breath working at a higher effort, so I kept a low gear and enjoyed the scenery while I spun my way to the top.  Every 10 or 15 minutes, I would crank up the gearing a few notches and stand up for a minute or so to stretch out my legs and back.

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When I reached 9,000 ft above sea level, I felt like I was on an entirely different planet. Large volcanic rocks ranging from black to grey to reddish brown were strewn about; the black-topped road with its double yellow line was the only thing breaking up the endless sea of rocks.

The last half mile or so up to the observatory was the toughest. Not only was I closing in on 10,000 ft above sea level after 4 hours of climbing, but the road hit its steepest pitch of the climb: 12-15% according to my Garmin bike computer.

I felt a tremendous feeling of satisfaction from completing the climb and reaching the summit after 4 hours of being in the saddle.  We won’t encounter any climbs this long in Race Across America, but knowing that I can complete such a climb is a nice boost of confidence!  Hawaii Day 5-6 107

View from the top looking into the crater… this is what I picture Mars to look like!

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