There are those words that are their own definition, that beg understanding as they roll off the tongue. Haleakala is a word of binary importance. Either it means nothing to you because you’ve never heard the word, or it conjures that great volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It is either gibberish or a sacred place, nothing or a home to a particular quest.
I first visited Haleakala in 1993. Almost exactly 19 years ago. The meeting occurred during a week of blissed-out love, the rising soufflé that arrives immediately following a wedding. My first wife and I signed up for a tour with Chris’ Bike Adventures, an outfit I’d sourced through our hotel because they allowed clients to descend at their own pace on mountain bikes, rather than while wearing hideous yellow jumpsuits and ridiculous motorcycle helmets and riding one-speed cruisers equipped with drum brakes. Our guides were more priests of empowerment than traffic cops to liability. Chris’ operation was different in another important regard: To allow his clients the freedom I found so attractive, we had start further down the volcano, outside the national park.
Today, following a succession of crashes, all tour companies begin their rides outside the national park. But solo riders, well, solo riders still have unrestricted access to the park’s complement of roads. If you want to descend those whole enchilada, by yourself is the way to do it.
Haleakala is a climb like no other. It is a whopping 36 miles, almost perfect in its unremitting elevation gain, perfect and pure in the way that Great White Sharks are perfect and pure: They eat, swim and make baby sharks. Nothing else. Haleakala goes up and up and up. Nothing else. If you climb Haleakala from Paia (pah-ee-uh), you will ascend some 10,200 feet, starting at sea level. The 8,300-foot Col du Galibier is an also-ran by comparison. Suck it, bitches.
I’ve wanted this day for a very, very long time. And I can say it has satisfied me in a way that very few things have the power to do. It was a kiss to the most existential of joys.
This day is destined to become a feature for peloton magazine. We’re not sure when it will run, but it will run, absolutely. To get a look at just how hard the day is, or if you’d like to judge just how slow I climb (about 40 minutes for every 1000 feet), you can check out my Strava file here. I’ll admit, while I’m almost never in need of a gear bigger than a 50×12, this was a day where I could easily have put a 50×11 to use … maybe even a 53×11, especially if I’d ridden it with a set of Zipp 404s or Enve 67s. And yes, that means I want to come back and do it yet again.
For many things in this world, there’s a bottom line: This one is simple. If ever you have enjoyed riding a bicycle either up or down a hill, Haleakala is an altar to altitude. It is, in my estimation, as imperative on a cyclist’s bucket list as l’Alpe d’Huez or RAGBRAI.
Put another way: GO.