Saturday, May 3, 2014

Volcano biking down Haleakala Crater in Maui at sunrise

By: Janine

It was 2am. We scrambled to get dressed, grabbed our bag, and ran out the door... No, there wasn't a fire... We voluntarily woke up this early to see the sun rise over Haleakala Crater in Maui, then subsequently mountain bike 28 miles down the side of the volcano.

It was still pitch black outside, but the sky was completely covered in stars, shining brighter than we had ever seen before. Our tour was with a company called mountain riders( , and they had warned us to dress warm even though the high in Maui that day was expected to be 85, as it would be cold at the top of the crater.

They were right. As the van carrying about 15 of us drove up the windy road, a chill started to fill the air. When we began approaching the top, the guide started to warn us that we were nearing 10,000 feet elevation (the summit is 10,023 feet) and altitude sickness was possible. He recited the signs of the illness and told anyone experiencing any of these to come see him immediately. This was slightly unnerving , but luckily no one in the group felt ill.

Once we finally arrived at the top, we had a few minutes to dress in our additional layers and we were also provided with wind breaker pants and jacket. It was about 40 degrees up top, but with high winds and no sun, we were all feeling cold.

It was another hour before the sun started to rise. Our group had been one of the first to arrive to secure a great viewing spot , and it paid off. The crater was a spectacular sight , but there were some clouds in the way that blocked parts of the sunrise from being seen. What we did see was still beautiful, and our guides told us we had a good viewing as there were some days that clouds blocked the entire sunrise, leading to many a disappointment.

sun rising over Haleakala Crater in Maui
The sunrise looks beautiful, even through the clouds
Once the sun was fully risen, we piled back in the van and drove a little ways back down to start the main event, volcano biking!

Mountain riders provided us with helmets and mountain bikes specifically designed for the volcano we were about to speed down. The bikes were heavier than usual, and there were no gears to change, leaving nothing but the brakes on the handle bars. Many of the other members of the group looked nervous, but we were excited. We ride bike trails in our neighborhood regularly, but have never done a high speed downhill ride such as this before. The ride began on the shoulder of the windy road and cars sped past us more than a few times. There was one guide riding in front of the pack for us to follow, and there were 2 more people in the van following us, which essentially was our protection from the auto traffic behind us. The guide had given us instructions on different hand signals he would make in front of the pack that motioned us to move deeper into the shoulder, slow down, or stop. The road was a steep downhill and we basically had to ride the brakes the whole way down as to not go too fast around a turn and wipe out. 

The volcano was surprisingly more residential than we would have expected. Besides being entirely paved, there were houses and what appeared to be entire neighborhoods and farms that we passed along the way. Haleakala has been dormant for many years, last erupting in 1790, so there isn't a real threat of losing everything, but with the way Mother Nature operates, that could always change one day. We made a few stops for pictures along the way, and before we knew it, we had successfully made it to the bottom of the volcano and were now biking through the town below. We ended at a beautiful beach (what else would you expect from Maui?) which brought us to the conclusion of the tour. 

volcano biking views on Haleakala crater
Much of the view on the volcano looked like this

mountain bikes for volcano biking
The provided mountain bikes

volcano biking Haleakala crater
In town, after our 28 mile descent down the volcano

beach in Maui
This beach was waiting for us at the bottom of the volcano
If you ever find yourself in Maui with a day to spare, I highly recommend this activity! 
Check out the tour we did through Mountain Riders, which is $120pp if you buy in advance online, a deal compared with rates of other companies. 

Since it is all downhill, it is more of an adrenaline rush than a workout, but still an amazing experience.

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