For me, it was the sight of Mauna Kea swirling in and out of the clouds. I started wondering if a fit (or stupid) person could ride up there.
Fast forward to Kona 2007, my buddy and I with kids and wives in tow came to Kona to do the ride and finish line catch at the big show.
The Gear - we decided to ride modified cyclocross bikes with mountain bike gearing of 22/30/40 on front and 12/27 cassettes with off-road tires. Despite being strong riders (5:15IM split), we needed the ratios because of Mauna Kea’s crazy grades.
We dipped our wheels in the Pacific near Kawaihae at 6am riding from there up to Waimea (on Hwy 27) at about 3000’ elevation.
By about 615am, we were already being blasted by headwinds which slowed us to a crawl.
We refuelled in Waimea then headed along the belt road (Hwy 190)
to the turn up the saddle road (Hwy 200) which winds up to about 7000’. Peter Reid (yes that one - he stayed up there to train) had suggested to me it’s a bit of a crazy road but we found drivers were friendly and the views were awesome.
But the monster head winds persisted and we were starting to get tired from the gusts and elevation gain.
We reached the Bradshaw Army Airfield (6500’) at about noon having riden only about 40 miles. We filled up there with water then continued to the final turn off from the saddle road to the Mauna Kea summit road.
At that point, it was clear we wouldn’t have time to summit and descend so we backtracked to Kawaihae calling it a day.
Next morning, we returned to our turnaround spot in the car to complete the final climb.
Beautiful winding but steep (up to 20% grade) pavement greeted us for the first 5 miles up to the 9000’ visitor center. And no wind to boot at all!
At the visitor center, we loaded up each of our bikes with 6 bottles of Gatorade (no aid stations!) figuring we’d need it with four hours of tough climbing.
From there, the real ride started (just like the final 13 miles of an IM). The mountain road turns to lava rock and flower (very dusty) and the grades undulate between 10% and 20%+.
We rode in the ever thinning air on the gravel until reaching the final stretch of pavement at about the 12000’ mark.
There were actually some sections that were too steep to ride; we just couldn’t get traction in the dirt.
The final couple of miles were smooth as butter on the pavement up to the 13,700 mark.
The enormity of the telescopes is incredible up there. I don’t remember noticing the shortness of breath but we were too stoked to have made it.
We hiked our bikes over to the summit for the official pics at 13,796 ft.
Apparently, this is one of the few rides in the world with that much altitude gain from sea level.
I highly recommend this to anyone looking for something different and October is a great time since there’s little likelihood of snow at the summit.
In February this year, I was back in Kona training and remember catching a view of Mauna Kea through the clouds as I passed by Waikaloa on the Queen K. I just smiled and knew.
Swim - ( x ) All good ( ) In the shop
Bike - ( x ) All good ( ) In the shop
Run - ( ) All good ( x ) In the shop