I’ve fulfilled one of my dream trips of a lifetime: cycling down Maui’s Haleakala Volcano. And to make the trip even more memorable and special, I did this adventure trek at sunrise!
Arriving Before Sunrise:
I joined a group of thrill seekers with Cruiser Phil’s Volcano Riders for this unique, exhilarating experience. We were driven (at 2:15 am!) to their shop, where we were given a continental breakfast, including some black Hawaiian coffee to wake us up, while the bikes were loaded into a trailer, and then we were driven in a van, with the loaded trailer, all the way to the summit of Haleakala via the steep, winding, twisting mountain road. We arrived at our destination in the dark, so there was very little use of looking at ‘the scenery’ on this ascent, and we assembled at the summit by 5 am, in anticipation of that day’s scheduled 5:40 am sunrise.
“Haleakala” means “House of the Sun”, and I find it difficult to find the right words to convey to you the special feeling that I had to be on that summit, at a height of over 10,000 feet, in the stark blackness of the night – and then to witness those first rays of light in the sky as the sun was about to emerge – and then to see the sudden bursting forth of that bright yellow ball of light! It was awesome!
Let There Be Light:
I was soon able to take photos deep into the volcano, for it was as if a vast number of stadium lights had suddenly been switched on – and it was, indeed, bright! In just a few minutes of actual elapsed time, it felt as if I had gone from night time to noon!
Baby, It’s Cold Outside:
Standing on Haleakala’s summit, in the wee hours of the morning, brought to light another reality of the situation: it was windy and cold! We were bundled up in vests, weather-proof parkas, and gloves, and we needed all of these items. However, as time passed, and we began our descent by bike, it was certainly necessary to stop and strip layers of clothing along the way. By the time we reached our destination far below, we were actually sweating! Yes, it’s quite an extreme temperature change!
A Controlled Descent:
Our cycling leader was Jay, and he led the way down. No one was allowed to pass him, and this controlled our speed. He used hand signals so that we knew when we had to cling to the edge of the road (because of approaching traffic) and when we could use the centre of the road, too (because the road was then clear, and it was certainly safer on those sharp curves). He had us ride in single file, and he had us stop for several photo ops (another way to control our speed). Our driver, Josh, followed us down in the van, and these two were in constant radio contact (for greater safety). At each stop, we could go to the van and retrieve our cameras, but we weren’t allowed to carry them during the actual descent (yet another safety precaution).
An older couple followed the cycling group down the mountain, as passengers in the van with Josh, and they were able to get a photo of me on the actual descent. Riding right behind me was their grandson! This couple (from Oregon) had decided that they’d reward each of their grandchildren, upon graduation, with a week’s vacation in Maui, and this particular grandson had specifically requested to “bike down the volcano” – so here he was!
Several companies offer escorted tours by bike down Haleakala. Cruiser Phil’s is one of these, and they’ll provide round trip transportation from your condo or hotel, good bikes (with lowered seats ,for greater stability), and other top equipment, including warm clothes, gloves, and full face helmets. You may feel as if you’re dressed for a space shuttle when you begin your two-wheeled descent!
The bike trip is very well organized and quite safe – if you follow the leader’s instructions. However, not everyone always does, and there have been some very serious accidents, even deaths. After all, you’re basically going down a treacherous mountain road, for about 40 kilometres, with more than 30 very sharp, challenging hairpin turns – some without protective guardrails. I loved it!
For More Information: www.cruiserphil.com; toll free phone: 1-877-764-2453