The legendary Cycle to the Sun is one of the most difficult bike climbs in the world. The ride climbs 10,000 feet over 36 miles and reaches gradients up to 18%. As a comparison, the famed Mont Ventou in the Tour de France is only a 5,336 foot climb over 13.6 miles. It starts in Pa'ia at sea level and finishes up on top of the Haleakala Volcano at just above 10,000 feet (3048 meters).
Last Tuesday while in Maui I couldn't resist the temptation to tackle this ride. I rented a road bike from a bike shop near where I was staying did a test ride on Monday with Laura and then Tuesday morning started my assault on the volcano as the sun was rising.
This is me by the ocean in Pa'ia; I didn't want to cheat myself out of any climbing so I started the day with a toe in the water...
The day couldn't have been more perfect. Sunny, warm, minimal wind. I had my water bottles and snacks packed everything was ready. In the small parking lot in Pa'ia I met a guy from Belgium who just happened to be attempting the same ride as I was. We decided to ride out together; I was glad to have some company. There really is no warm up to this ride. You start in at sea level and begin climbing immediately.
The above picture is the view looking down from about 5000 feet. My day to this point was amazing. The views were spectacular and the temperature was perfect. My Belgian friend was by this time a little ways back so I was hitting things solo. I really enjoy climbing on a road bike, the smooth rhythm of a steady cadence and a relatively peaceful road sort of hypnotizes your mind and hours simply disappear. Things were going on perfectly until roughly 8000 feet into the climb when suddenly one of the spokes on my rear wheel broke. A broken spoke on a road bike is disastrous as the wheel becomes extremely warped and the bike can be unusable. I thought my day was done. Here I am in the middle of nowhere three quarters the way up this mountain and my bike is toast. I was really angry and disappointed to say the least. After calling the rental company to complain (not much they could do to help me however) and then calling a good friend of mine to whine, I was torn between hitch hiking down or calling Laura for a rescue. While sitting there pouting I thought to myself, "fix the bike as best you can, and keep riding you pu**y." There is really no danger riding on a warped wheel going up a steep slope as you aren't going very fast at all. I removed the rear break to allow the rim to spin through without catching, and then I went on my way. The tire would rub the edge of the frame as I went along, but oh well. The last 2000 feet of the climb was pretty tough as you start to notice the change in the partial pressure of the oxygen (meaning it feels like you are breathing through a straw). After roughly 4.5 hours of riding and 30 minutes of picture taking and bike fixing I made it to the top and was really glad that I gutted it out, what a view. There was a fairly large parking lot at the top so I waited by a couple mini vans and a pick up truck looking to bum a ride down. Climbing with a bad wheel at 10-15 km/h is one thing, but descending up to speeds of 70+ km/h is something else entirely. As much as I wanted to do the downhill hitch hiking was the way to go. A nice Canadian couple from Calgary gave me a lift back to Pa'ia. They were super nice and I'll I had to do was keep giving their 11-week old baby his soother so he wouldn't cry. All in all one of the coolest rides I've ever done.