Bicycling up Mount Haleakala

Michael & bike at the summit of Mount Haleakala
The highest point on Maui

I’m blessed to live on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. If I want to ride a bike, there is not much level ground to ride on. Therefore, I embrace the hill climb! It is great exercise, the scenery is awesome, and it is fun. If I go uphill first, then get tired, the return trip is quick and easy.

Benefits of riding a bicycle include:

  • Great cardiovascular exercise especially on the uphill legs, or when going fast on a level grade.
  • Improved mental health.
  • Improved physical health.
  • Resists and even reverses the effects of aging.
  • Lower impact on joints than running or jogging.
  • It is a great opportunity to appreciate the sights, sounds, and scents of nature.
  • You can capture some great pictures along the way if you like.

Dangers of riding a bicycle include:

  • Risk of serious injury or death due to motor vehicle collision. Some people who drive should not be driving, like the guy who ran his pickup truck into Andrew Janssen last Christmas Eve. Andrew died at the scene. The driver claimed he didn’t see the bicycle in the bike lane. Ride defensively. Even if you do everything right, you can die, but don’t make it worse by riding like an idiot. This isn’t a closed course in a theme park, but a public road. Keep right and be aware of traffic. Wear bright clothing and use lights. Flashing lights in the day time are a good idea, even when it isn’t foggy, because some drivers are foggy.
  • Risk of serious injury or death due to losing control, especially going down hill at high speed. Missing a switchback can be very painful. I once stopped to render first aid to a man who somehow hit his chest on a sharp I-beam holding up a guard rail while flying over it instead of properly negotiating a downhill hairpin curve. I’m not sure what exactly happened before I got there, but from his position, his bike’s position further down the hill, and the bloody wound on his chest, I couldn’t rule out spinal injury. Brake before the curves. Stop to enjoy the scenery and take pictures rather than trying to do it all on the fly. Check your brakes before you go, and don’t be afraid to use them when needed.
  • Hypothermia: being so cold that you are in serious danger of death if corrective action isn’t taken soon. There were two cases of bicyclists with hypothermia that I know of in Haleakala National Park 3 days ago (as I write this). I’m sure more happen. You can ride up to the summit in a jersey and bike shorts, but if you think that is enough to make the trip down, after you stop generating lots of heat going uphill, the retrograde thermocline (about 3 F cooler per 1000 feet elevation), wind chill factor, and cold rain can chill you very effectively in the Summer, and even more so in the Winter. Sometimes it snows on Mount Haleakala. Bring extra layers of clothing, including rain gear.
  • Cardiac arrest. Make sure you work up to the fitness level needed for this climb before you do it. Heart rate monitors and fitness trackers can be useful in making sure you don’t push yourself too hard.
  • Dehydration. Bring enough water. Refill, if desired, at the Kula Marketplace or the Haleakala National Park visitor centers. I always refill both of my water bottles at the park headquarters at 7,000 feet, and sometimes also at the upper visitor center at about 9,740 feet.
  • Low energy. Don’t “bonk”. Bring something to eat, especially if you don’t have a lot of energy reserves stored in your body. I usually bring some protein bars and salted nuts, even though I still have excess fat reserves, as it is hard to maintain peak performance on body fat alone. If you have no excess fat, then try to balance what you eat with your exercise level.
  • Cramps. Keep your electrolytes up with electrolyte mix in your water, salted nuts, or something.
  • Blindness. Wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. Ever hit a wasp in the eye going downhill at high speed? I have had insects hit my sunglasses more than once.
  • Distraction. I once had a bee fly into one of my helmet vent holes while riding downhill. I stopped when it was safe and let the insect out, fortunately without getting stung. I also once was riding with someone who looked down for too long at his gears while shifting and crashed into some a’a. A’a is the sharp kind of lava rock that cuts like glass. I gave him some bandages.
  • Flat tires, blowouts, and other mechanical failures. Be ready to come to a controlled stop with a squishy tire if the flat is sudden. Check your tires for damage and proper inflation before you leave. Check the rest of your bike, too. Carry tools and supplies to fix a flat, unless you have arranged for someone to come with them when you call (or if you don’t arrive on time).
  • Tiredness. Make sure you are rested before this endurance ride, and of course, in reasonably good shape.
  • Getting turned away at the park entrance. The most common cause of this is not having a credit card to pay the fee, or alternatively a valid park pass and ID. They don’t accept cash for the entrance fee. The words “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private” on your U. S. currency don’t really mean that any more. Sorry. Bring a credit card (or a debit card) if you don’t have a park pass + ID. The entry fee for a bicycle is $15 for 3 days, or $80 for an annual pass good at all U. S. National Parks for a whole year. Sometimes they close the park for a Winter storm or people in government not getting along with each other, but then sometimes they have a free day where no entry fee is required.

I just listed 7 benefits and 12 hazards to riding a bike up Mount Haleakala, but that doesn’t at all mean that it isn’t worth it. It just means that, like anything in life, you do what you can to mitigate the hazards, then enjoy the benefits. After all, there are hazards to not riding, too, like obesity and early death due to inactivity. Enjoy your ride!