Hawaii’s Big Island and a Different Kind of Travel

Visitors come to Hawaii for so many different dream-goals.  Some come for Mai Tai and hula girls, some come for sandy beaches, some for hiking, some for snorkeling and scuba, some come to experience the feel of a live volcano or look at stars, others to swim with dolphins, and wiry little Japanese guys have come wanting to rent a Harley to do the island in Easy Rider fashion.  Most folks leave happy and satisfied that their dreams have been at least close to realized, and a few don’t because their expectations didn’t match what they found.  Or they went to the wrong island.  Everybody’s different.

Especially Jack.  Jack came to our B&B (A Beautiful Edge of the World, in Captain Cook) in mid January.  His plan was to ride a bicycle around the island.  In two days!!  The percentage of nuts who want to stay at our B&B is pretty low, I’d estimate about five percent, but when he told me of his plan, by email a few weeks beforehand, I assumed there was a pretty good chance that he might fit in the nut category.

Sure, we get guests from around the world who participate in the Ironman Triathlon in October and they’re fun to watch and fun to be around, but rather than nuts they’re just super focused and dedicated athletes.  When I got to know Jack a little better I found that he was neither super focused or a nut. He was, in fact, pretty normal.   He just wanted to ride a bike around the Big Island and didn’t have much time to do it.

Spectacular views enroute

Spectacular views enroute

Today’s world of bicycling is a new universe relative to the days of my Schwin when I was ten, joker clothespinned to crackle in the front spokes.  It’s a techno world that I know little about.  Jack taught me some.

He rented his bike in Kailua-Kona at a place called Bike Works.  It was supposed to cost $25 a day but they didn’t have any $25 bikes left so they gave him a $35 model.  I understood that , but here’s where it turns to Greek.  The one he got was a Cannondale SLX.  It’s made of carbon fiber so it was particularly strong and light.  It had a light weight double cog set in front and a 12-25 cog in back.  

I’ve seen professional bikes before.  I can understand how they can go fast, I can’t understand how a human can plop his bottom on the razor seats for more than five minutes, but I know they do.  Jack said the seat on his rental was a little jell filled, so I guess that helps take the edge off.  He wouldn’t say it was comfortable, but he didn’t say is was painful.

The wheels were slightly aerodynamic.  Mavic I believe Jack called them, with a tire pressure between 110 and 125.  Jack brought along four spare tubes and six inflators, some tools, a couple emergency spokes, an emergency derailer, some patches, friction tape and maybe some underwear that fit into a nine inch square, 12 pound bag that hung from his seat post.  He said that at high speed, 35 MPHish, the bag, off to the side, would tend to destabilize the ride.  Apparently he only needed one of the tubes and the tape.  I didn’t ask about the underwear.

So Jack left our place in Captain Cook for the 109 mile ride to Hilo just before sunrise.  He went the southern route through Waiuhinu (where Mark Twain wrote Letters to the Planet Earth), Naalehu, Pahala (where there’s a Tibetan Buddhist temple the Dali Lama has visited a few times), Volcano Village, and then to Hilo.

Jack told me he was least looking forward to the long steady climb to 4,200 feet before Volcano National Park, but he found that if he put the bike in second or third gear rather than first it was an easier proposition.  He also mentioned that he brought 90 ounces of  liquid, half water half Gatoraide, with him but was, rightly, concerned that it wouldn’t be enough for certain legs of the journey.  Lucky he found a countryside coffee shop that gave him the water he needed.  

The only bit of bad luck was a flat tire, but only one of  the four he had prepared for.  He cruised into Hilo just before sunset, staying in a pretty non-descript hotel.

The next morning Jack was on the road headed north at 4.45.  Dark, cool, a little rain that apparently felt pretty good..  59 miles to Waimea and 43 more back to Kailua-Kona.  He was determined to get the bike back to the shop before their 5.00PM closing time.  A tailwind and gradual long decent from beyond Waimea most of the way to Kailua allowed him to average between 25 and 35 MPH.  Jack was back at the shop at 2:11.

Start and End point

Start and End point

I asked Jack if this was the kind of trip he’d recommend for a novice rider, or adventurer if you will.  His eyes widened a bit and he shook his head.  There were a couple of reasons for the headshake.  The first reason had to do with riding in traffic.  There are many places on the Big Island where there’s a beautiful, wide shoulder to ride on.  But there are some places where there‘s nothing but petrified oatmeal off to the side.  According to Jack, on the downhill stretch from Waimea to Kailua he could ride on the road at a speed which would allow him to pretty much keep up with the flow of  traffic.  Uphill obviously not.   If you’re not used to riding in traffic you’ll constantly worry that someone might run over you.  If you are used to it, you know that they probably won’t.    Also, Jack’s an engineer and most of us aren’t., so fixing a flat may be a pretty big deal.  Then there’s the conditioning element.  Jack told me he rides about a hundred miles a week back home in New Hampshire.  I asked him about the state of his body after his two day, two hundred mile sojourn and he shrugged– back just a little stiff, hands just a little raw.

Then I proposed a compromise.  Start in Kona with two or three people, at least one of whom knows what a wrench is.  Plan the first nights stay at Pahala.  Second in Hilo.  Third in Waimea and the fourth back to Kona.  Jack’s eyes got back to normal and he shook his head the other way.

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