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  • Alli Forsythe

LONGEST CYCLING CLIMB IN THE WORLD

In 2017, I had accrued enough points to cover a roundtrip flight to Maui and a hotel room for 5 nights thanks to a Delta skymiles redemption. I'd always wanted to be spontaneous and just book a trip and go. I didn't tell anyone I was going anywhere, I just booked the trip and on April 17, I got on a flight.


Stepping off the plane and having absolutely nowhere to be, no timeline, just 6 days and 5 nights on a Hawaiian island was a pretty cool feeling. The details of that trip is a story for another time. However, the one detail I do want to talk about is my experience on the Haleakala volcano. I remember seeing a video of the Haleakala national park sunrise and thought HOW FREAKING EPIC. I had to do it. When I was researching how to get up there, I learned that you could only go with a Haleakala sunrise tour unless you had made reservations months in advance. In addition to seeing the sunrise, many companies offered the opportunity for a Haleakala downhill bike ride afterward.


Of course, I opted for the tour with the additional option of biking down. As we were biking down, I periodically saw a professional cyclist biking up. With each additional cyclist I passed, I became increasingly envious. I know that biking down the volcano is a major adrenaline rush for many, but I was bored. I just kept thinking holy smokes, those guys are biking the most epic bike hill climb that I've ever seen.


I had just completed my 3rd Olympic distance triathlon the day before I left for Hawaii and set a major record for myself. I was ready for the next challenge. I remember thinking as I rolled down without a single pedal stroke, one day I will be back and I will bike up this monster.


My mom has always wanted to go to Hawaii. For Christmas 2019, I booked a trip for the two of us to Maui. This was my chance. The only problem, my fear of elevation and the anxiety of taking on something like this by myself was very real. The ride started in the beach parking lot and the summit was at 10,023ft. This is the longest paved climb in the world at 36 miles from start to finish with one flat section for 1/4 of a mile. The rest is uphill. How does one's body respond to an increase in elevation like this while putting out a continuous effort to get to the top?


It wasn't like I was climbing Mt. Everest, but I've never climbed for that long in my life on a bike. I also never carried myself from sea level to 10,023 ft. with my own two legs. WTF? This was my own version of Mt. Everest right now.


I had planned to start the ride at 7:30am, but I was so nervous that I subconsciously procrastinated and took my sweet time getting ready that I didn't hit the road until 9:00am.


At sea level, the temperatures were in the mid 80's. At the summit it was in the low 30's. I had packed enough layers to get me through all four seasons in Colorado. Thank goodness I had a support vehicle (aka the videographers) to carry all of my gear.


Trying to produce this video and give creative direction while also trying to be in the moment of the ride was really interesting. My videographers were amazing. Caleb and Sharon are locals who run their own production company, Hum the Harmony. I gave them a list of questions to ask me along the way and at specific points of elevation as well as cues to spark comments and sound bites to tell the story of the ride so I didn't have to think about production or story development while I was riding.


As I began editing the video, I just laughed at most of my sound bites and interviews. I couldn't help but think "damn, I was tripping!" Looking back it's easy to laugh, but I realize watching those clips how real my fear of elevation and the anxiety of not being able to make it to the top was. Yet there was still something unexplainable inside of me driving me to the top. "I just have to keep going" was said every single time the camera was recording. I sounded like a broken record.



It wasn't until I reached 9,000ft. that I thought to myself "I got this." The last half mile was a true test of determination. If you watch the bit of my climb, I was so exhausted and the grade was so steep I could barely control my bike. Because of my prep work, I knew what I was in for...but you can never prepare for how difficult it will be. You just have to do it. It was the hardest part of the entire ride (as far as the steep incline goes) and at that point, you are exhausted and have the least amount of oxygen at 10,000ft.


I was so beat by the time that I got to the top I didn't jump for joy, there was no screaming or cheering...just a smile and a deep feeling of accomplishment inside. The views were insane. It looks like another planet up there.



I believe if you want to learn anything about yourself, you have to take risks. It's only then where you learn where your limits truly are and 9/10, they're a lot further than we believe them to be. You don't have to do one of the hardest bike climbs in the world to test your limits - just figure out what scares you, and commit to making a plan to take it on.








If you're crazy enough to want to ride up this monster, here are some tips I have put together from my experience.


TIPS FOR CYCLING UP HALEAKALA:


THE ROUTE:

There is only one way to climb Haleakala and that is from Paia to the Summit.

Here is the route.


WHAT TO BRING:

It was extremely hot when I started but began raining at 6,000ft and was in the 40's at the top. I wore a pair of leggings with bibs over top and a short sleeve jersey with cycling socks and wind-resistant, goretex shoe covers. I put the rain jacket on at 6500ft and once I reached the summit, warm gloves, and a down jacket were necessary. I had a handkerchief around my wrist to keep the sweat out of my eyes at the beginning. I was still sweating and hot when I reached the top but it got cool very quickly. If you're from somewhere where you're used to the cold, don't be deceived by the Maui climate and 40 degree temps. Many get hypothermia on the ride down. Here is a list of what I recommend to bring with you and that I was glad to have.

  • A kit that has ample padding in the bibs. You will be in the saddle for 5-6hours (4 if you're a speed demon)

  • LAYERS. I recommend leg warmers, arm warmers, rain (it doubles as a wind shield for the ride down), warm jacket, warm socks and if your shoes don't cover your foot all the way then shoe covers

  • 4 bottles of water unless you have a support vehicle. The only place to get water is at 6500.

  • Fuel. I brought 4 CLIF Bars and 6 Powders of NUUN Endurance formula.


OTHER TIPS:

  • Make sure that you've spent time training in the saddle for up to 5-6 hours. You might think you can sit for that long, but if you're not conditioned for it, you'll be hurting.

  • It's easy to want to go fast in the beginning, but the hardest part of the ride are the last 2000ft with the last 1/2 mile being about a 12% grade. Keep it steady.



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