Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kona, Hawaii

On December 30th I got a chance to go cycling on the Big Island of Hawaii. I didn't reach my goal, but I had a great time not getting there.

We planned a week-long trip to Hawaii, staying on the Big Island, and it looked like I might be able to get in a couple of days of riding. Then the plans changed a little, and it turned out the bike shop was closed on New Year's Day, so my time was becoming constrained. Nonetheless, I packed some bike gear along with my swim trunks.

There are lots of pretty roads around Kona, but there's one unusual feature: a road that goes up to 13,800 feet, starting at sea level. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, and there's a road to an observatory at the top. After a little investigation, I realized that the observatory was not going to be possible for me, but the visitor's center, at 9,200 feet, might just be possible. So that was the goal.

The starting point in Kona
One of my constraints was that I didn't have a full day; I had to pick up the bike after the bike shop opened, then return it the next day before it closed. Therefore, best case, I only had about 8 hours of riding available. That wouldn't be enough to get me up and back, so the plan was for my wife to meet me somewhere up the mountain as dusk fell.

I was at Bike Works Kona before it opened, and was on the bike by 9:30. I rode down to the water, mostly to zero the elevation on my Garmin to zero. As it turns out, I started right at the swim and run start of the Ironman triathlon.

The Garmin was already reading 90+ degrees, so I bought an extra bottle of water and strapped it precariously under my seat. I had read that there was no water on my chosen path, so I was hoping this would be enough.

The road out of Kona is immediately a climb, reaching about 1600 feet before becoming more gradual. At that point the temperature also dropped into the high 70s, and I began to hope that my plan might be feasible after all. Unfortunately the temperature quickly rose back into the 90s, and I was consuming water at unsupportable rates.

Looking down toward Waikoloa
There are few roads on the Big Island, so those few roads tend to be pretty busy. The Mamalahoa Highway that I was on had a serviceable shoulder and only moderate traffic. Eventually I turned onto a highway that led across the island -- two lanes in the uphill direction, and one on the downhill. The climb became a little more pronounced, there was much more truck traffic, all signs of trees or other potential shade disappeared, and the vast expanse of asphalt amplified the heat noticeably.

Needless to say I was beginning to struggle a bit. I also realized that I had entirely forgotten to put on sunscreen, so I was going to have a price to pay for this climb. Eventually I realized that it just wasn't to be, and turned around. The visitor's center could be a goal for another day.

Elevation profile
My ride ended up at just about 60 miles, with 4700 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was that last one, on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, but the grade there was only about 7.3%.

If I were to make an attempt at this ride in the future, I would either need a cloudy, cooler day, or more support -- there's no way for me to carry enough water otherwise. Bike shops in the area recommend a number of climbs, but not this one. I suspect that's just because this ride isn't particularly pretty or otherwise rewarding, except in altitude. Next time I might be tempted to follow their advice.

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