From the mountain to the sea – twice

As I was climbing the eight miles out of Waimea yesterday, the wind was my constant companion up the mountain. The howling sound was steady in my ears as I fought to stay on my bike with gusts of over 30 mph pushing me into the center of the road. I was reminded of the day into El Paso with my Southern Tier friends, of blowing into North Dakota on the Northern Tier and the ride out to the point in Prince Edward Island. This time, though, I was riding alone and the views were unlike any others I have seen. The sea was a brilliant blue as I looked back and the surrounding hills were an intense emerald green. Occasionally, I’d come across a herd of cattle, staring at me with their big brown eyes, probably wondering what kind of crazy person would be riding uphill in such a wind.

Ah, that would be me. I loved it all (except that one gust that almost took me down).

Since we left the volcano three days ago, we’ve had three awesome rides. On the rest day, I swapped seats on my bike and since then, I’ve been very comfortable and back in the groove. The weather has cooperated as well. The elevation made a huge difference as we started out from the cottages near Volcano National Park. A few of us rode into the park first thing in the morning to see the plume of steam rising from a caldera, an active version of the one we hiked the day before. We had been out there in the dark in the evening to see the glow of the warm magma, not visible in the daylight. It was an eerie orange glow, faint in the steam and darkness. In the daylight, we rode through an area with small plumes of steam rising in the landscape.

Leaving the park, it was almost all downhill for the rest of 50 miles of riding. The temperatures rose as we descended and the sun was a welcome sight after a couple of days in the drizzle of the rainforest. I stopped at an orchid nursery, enjoying the eye-popping colors and the strong scents. The next stop was the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. I had stopped to ask a woman gathering nuts beneath the trees on an earlier ride about the process. At the factory, I enjoyed a macadamia-nut encrusted chocolate bar as I watched a movie. There I learned that the nuts are gathered from the ground (a tedious process from what I could see). At the farm, they used trucks but I saw several Asian women picking them up by hand. We tasted some samples (who knew there are garlic and onion flavored nuts?), peeked through the factory windows and rode back uphill to the main road into Hilo. I’m not sure we earned our dinner that night from the riding so I left our 6th floor view over the bay for a walk around the area.

There was a beautiful Japanese garden nearby where I sat and watched some people doing their slow motion Tai Chi moves. It was very calming. I also explored a little island park where I saw kids jumping off a wall into the sea and families enjoying picnic dinners. There was an earthquake in the city earlier this week (although we were too far away to feel it) and a tsunami not too many years ago.

On the ride out of town, an optional stop was a descent to an aqua bay where a tsunami had wiped out an entire village in 1946. Many children were lost to the sea when their school was swamped by the waves. A few of us crazy climbers (all Vermonters included), rode the steep, winding descent to see the memorial and watch the waves crash into the lava rocks. On the ride back up the mile and a half, it was easy to be distracted by the views out over the water. It was also a good warm up as the rest of the ride that day was all uphill.

The ride from Hilo was my favorite of the trip. We could see surfers on the water as we rode over one of many bridges out of town. We took the scenic route which took us through a jungle of vegetation riding up and down past waterfalls and banana plants and huge green leaves. Once past the point, it was a steady climb on a major road to our lunch stop at Tex’s. I tried a mahi loco which turned out to be rice with a piece of mahi fish and a scrambled egg on top. The whole thing was covered with gravy. With a mango smoothie, it made surprisingly good fuel for the afternoon ride. Fuel, I needed, as the next 15 miles were all more climbing.

This time, we were riding on a mostly shaded road, past some residential areas. I had a moment of panic when I stopped for a break part way up and my right foot wouldn’t unclip from my pedal. I figured out that I had lost a screw in my cleat. That kept me from stopping too often so I just kept spinning up the road. The surprise came at about mile 10 when suddenly the vista opened up. There were miles of green close-cropped fields rolling in every direction. It felt like we had climbed to New Zealand or Ireland, somewhere known for their fields of green. Better yet, the van was there with the women who had opted out of the climb and they cheered me in like I was a rider on the Tour de France. Linda called ahead to a bike shop in town where they assured her I could get a new screw for my cleat and I rode on into town, enjoying the views and feeling grateful to be able to enjoy such a great ride in Hawaii. It was a long way from the tourist shops of Kona, the lava fields of the volcanoes and the jungle of the morning to be riding through fields with cattle and horses.

The last ride of the tour began yesterday with that 8 mile climb but the descent was just as thrilling. The wind was a constant, usually from the side, but occasionally with a nice push from behind. I was glad to be at the bottom at mile 22, my hands a bit cramped from all the braking and holding my own against the wind. In Hawi, there were a few cute shops for the shoppers in the group and a good coffee shop for a hot drink and some conversation.

From Hawi to Hapuna, we rode along the ocean. The winds followed us here as well and seemed to turn directions at times. I could see the spouts of whales off in the distance, a nice distraction from the climbs. Later, I found out that we were riding the same road that the Ironman cyclists use. In a way, we had our own Big Island triathlon. We did our 50 miles of cycling, a nice walk along the award-winning beach and a swim in the resort pool. I think I like our version better.

Judy and I are enjoying our last morning on the Big Island in our fancy room. (Surprisingly, a giant tom turkey just showed up on our patio!) After our banquet last night, we reluctantly said goodbye to our new friends. We are re-packing our suitcases for our short flight to Honolulu with Sue and Denise. Our Southern Tier friend Penny will be waiting for us there. What a great tour this has been with its wide variety of rides through such different areas of the island. My legs are stronger than when we arrived and I have my cyclist tan from wearing my bike shorts in the sun all week. I guess that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

(Today, I’m adding some photos in the end. I was writing in the dark while Judy slept and couldn’t manage the logistics without some light.)












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  1. Sandra Timko

     /  January 29, 2012

    Your descriptive writing style made me feel like I was there. Say “Aloha” to Penny for me.

  2. Barbara

     /  January 29, 2012

    I think your calling was truly as a writer! thanks for wonderful descriptions and the pictures. It looks fantastic……even the climbs!

  3. Jane Skorina

     /  January 29, 2012

    Another fantastic ride. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Marty Mueller

     /  January 29, 2012

    Suffering a cold and drizzly day here, your tale warmed me up, Ellen.
    The reports of your adventures do the same.
    Big love from Idaho!
    Marty, Barb, and Hobbes

  5. Laura Hahn

     /  January 29, 2012

    Ellen –

    Don’t you love those windy rides?! You do bring back memories of that blustery day on the Northern Tier when we rode down to the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and thought we might be blown over.


  6. Candice Stein

     /  January 30, 2012

    Ellen, you write so well I felt like I was there. Wonderful, wonderful! Hi from all in San Jose, and sending hugs to all those terrific WT women.

  7. Jan Bee

     /  January 30, 2012

    I’m loving your blog. Your great descriptions and photos make me feel like I’m riding alongside you. What a marvelous adventure………. Safe travels.

  8. Phyllis Biegun

     /  January 30, 2012

    Enjoying the journey!

  9. Mary Blake

     /  January 30, 2012

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. I could almost hear the puffing as you ascended the mountains. ( I puff a lot, I’m not sure if your do.) I look at your itinerary and don’t know how your time ahead will be spent, and where, but I’m anxious to find out. I’m staying tuned. Aloha to all of you guys.

  10. Janie

     /  January 30, 2012

    Just gorgeous, Ellen. I have decided to pass on my Ironman Triathlon shirt to you as you deserve it!

  11. pam perkins

     /  January 30, 2012

    Ellen, By now you are having continuing the adventure and having fun with Penny. Loved your description of this ride. Brought back memories of my 2004 trip except I did not have a cleat problem, thankfully. Loved the pictures.


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