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I have been to the Big Island exactly once but quickly observed that almost everything starts in Kona, on the far western side.
Arriving by Carnival Cruise, or Hawaiian Airlines or if you’re doing 40-year-old Ironman World Championships, Kona is step helu ‘ekahi.
[Kailuna Bay in Kona ]
Thus, it’s crowded and touristy. But hey, it’s all basked in golden sunsets, warm bay waters and pacific views. No complaining while in paradise, right?
[Canoe Club Restaurant after dinner]
So here I am in Kona, ready to start my ring-around-Hawaii bike tour. I've been puttering around for a day & 1/2 and growing tired of pushing heavy Rosalita in and out of the Holiday Inn.
[She is ready to go. So am I.]
When the group finally departs, heading south, I am elated.
I could care less about all the items shifted out of place and strap leads flapping. Those things get worked out along the way.
I am pushing a good pace, aware that I’m blasting through pent-up energy and will eventually have to dial it back to a mellow cruise.
Finally, I get settled into the riding, the route, the scorching sun. Everything’s feeling good.
What unfolded that day and the next (and for much of the trip) was a magical routine that I still think about every day during this cold and dry winter here at home.
In the intense hot and wet air, I was surprised at how comfortable I was while ticking off the long days in the saddle. Chalk it up to all the riding in triple-digit summer heat at home.
Full body sweat be damned, I made sure to keep myself topped off with plenty of liquids.
Most days ended with an extended downhill coast to the beach (yes!), arriving in time to stow the bike and wade into the warm clear surf.
Often, I would jog back to my tent to break out my mask and fins to get a better look at the sea life.
[A blurry photo of a group of Yellow Tang. Still getting used to the settings on my underwater camera.]
I had been craving some ocean time over the summer and now it was a part of my daily routine. My end-of-day swim was more spectacular after a vigorous day of biking.
[This sea-turtle swam up to me while making my way to deeper water.]
In my little tent, each night's sleep was deep and came quickly.
In the morning, I didn’t have any aches or creaky knee joints. The warm night air seemed to keep me limber and I was ready to rock another day of long miles.
Sometimes I started the day with another short swim. Wow, life is good right now. Prying myself off the island could be a very ugly moment.
Yes, the biking was along the heavy trafficked belt road. This was a bummer, but the sights never disappointed.
And each day’s destination was always another gorgeous place to spend the night:
The miles turn into days on the road, then nights at camp.
Some of my compadre’s had been traveling by bike for decades longer than myself. I was a careful observer and was graced with their wisdom about how to make life easier on the road.
Meet the group:
Todd and Henry
Phil and JoAnn
John and Stu
Jeff and Erik
Scott and Doug
Last but not least, the amazing Dan
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As for myself, it seemed like I was the most skilled mechanic, and took on anyone’s bike problems if I was around. I fixed two rear derailleurs (one was my own), several flats (some where my own), adjusted & repaired several brakes and offered technical advice.
[Major surgery on Rosalita’s rear end.]
The days rolled on. The beauty of the island floods our riding with bliss. We started becoming a tight group, easily steam rolling problems that came our way with a healthy dose of inside jokes and teamwork.
[We’re having a miserable time camping on the beaches of the island 😊. Photo by Phil Cook]
As we approach the southern part of the island, the road leaves the shore and ascends into volcano country, climbing to 4000 ft elevation.
Welcome to Volcano National Park, the village of Volcano, frozen lava everywhere, a huge sulphur cloud parked over the Kilauea Caldera and random steam vents all over.
[Never been to this National Park. The first one by bike.]
[Steam vents and sulpher smell. If you put your hand in the steam, you’ll get burned. Don’t ask me how I know.]
[At night some of us biked the trail to the Kilauea Caldera overlook. I didn’t know what to expect, but indeed, thar-she-blows a lava fountain lighting up the night sky. It's about two miles from where I am standing.]
There is often confusion with all the volcanoes on the Big Island, so here’s a refresher:
Mauna Kea: 13,796 feet, dormant, on the northern side of the island.
Mauna Loa: 13,678 feet, active, on the southern side of the island. This is the one that had earthquakes and other pre-eruption activity over the summer. It erupted (for 15 days) a month after I left the island. In geologic terms: Just missed it by a hair.
Kilauea Caldera: 4091 ft. Active. Also on the southern side of the island, adjacent to Manua Loa.
[Frozen lava from a previous eruption in the town of Pahoa. Looks like chain-link fence has the magic to stop lava.]
We’re getting close to Hilo, the half-way point of the tour, and will have a two-day layover at a small adventure-lodge near Richardson Beach.
[A wet ride all day. I caught up to Phil and his newly found side-of-the-road floozy.]
Meanwhile the ride to town is a full-on rain ride the entire day. At 88 degrees, the rain is hardly cold, the only problem is seeing through road-spray collecting on my glasses.
While riding, I’ve been in contact with Lyz who lives in Hilo. We made plans to ride her favorite bike route up-slope from town on my day off.
The same slopes that lead to the 13,800 ft. summit of Mauna Kea which I would find myself perched in two days.
More on that later, but for tomorrow, I'll be biking with a friend I've not seen for a long while.
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If you have questions about my trip, or stories from Hawaii, use the comment form below. The comment password is life is good