Aspen’s famed unicylist Mike Tierney shares most recent Hawaiian adventure
May 17, 2018
About the only thing Mike Tierney could see through the fog were the animal parts, the distinct shape of a hoof one of the few recognizable pieces to the carnage. It was at this point the Aspen unicyclist started to second-guess himself.
"I'm in the clouds in these animal parts thinking, 'What the hell did I get myself into?'" Tierney said. "But I love adventures. I just went with it. I just stayed calm and I'm like, 'I'm going to be OK.'"
Fortunately for Tierney, he never met the creature that created the nightmarish scene on that Hawaiian volcano, and other than a machete-wielding county worker near the bottom, his most recent Maui adventure went off as well as he could have hoped.
Well known for pushing himself and his unicycle to new limits, his October trip to Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is simply another chapter in the fable that is Tierney's legend. He's been to Hawaii with his unicycle many times over the years, but his journey down the 10,000-foot dormant volcano on his 58th birthday last fall was altogether unique.
"It's all about adventure unicycling for me, and this was a new challenge," Tierney said. "There is no other place in the world where you can gain that much vertical in such a short distance, so it's very unique. I think all cyclists that love to climb put that high on their list."
Tierney's goal wasn't to ascend the 36 paved switchbacks to the park's entrance near the summit — been there, done that — but it was to find a new, fun way back to the bottom. Sure enough, he came across Haleakala's famed Skyline Trail, a bucket list ride for any mountain biker. With roughly 7,000 feet of descent over 18 miles and sharp volcanic rocks, it was the perfect sort of tropical adventure for a man who spends much of his winters working ski patrol on Aspen Highlands.
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"It's all about being in the moment," Tierney said. "By 10 o'clock, the ring around Haleakala fills in with clouds. You become this isolated island above the clouds when you get above the marine layer. It's totally surreal."
Like any true Aspenite, Tierney wanted to earn his ride down so he rode his unicycle up the final 4,000 feet of paved switchbacks before riding past the collection of telescopes that populate the top of the volcano before beginning what would be a nearly four-hour ride back to the bottom.
"That was kind of the last sign of humanity," Tierney joked about the "spaceship-looking buildings" that house the telescopes. "It was more like a double-track road to start and then it got so hard I had to walk some of it. It's 18 miles downhill, and I'm like, 'Oh man, I hope I don't have to walk a lot of this.'"
The hard, volcanic rock eventually gave way to some of the best riding in the Pacific. Sure, the dismembered animal was a bit disconcerting, but it was all part of the experience.
"I actually stopped and mediated in this spot for a while just to listen," Tierney said. "I never saw anything more or heard anything. … This is my happy place."
Tierney said he only saw two mountain bikers during the entire ride down. He eventually found his way out via what was a closed road, a handful of camo-wearing, machete-wielding county workers trying to clear the thick vegetation that grows in the area.
"It wasn't real steep, crazy type of riding. It was just beautiful downhill riding, but it was really doable on the unicycle," Tierney said. "That was how I wanted to spend my birthday — to go on an adventure with the unicycle."
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