House of the Sun: Tierney tackles Haleakala |

House of the Sun: Tierney tackles Haleakala

Mike Tierney
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Mike Tierney Mike Tierney raises his arms as he rounds a switchback near the top of Haleakala in Maui on Aug. 6.

HALEAKALA, Maui ” The day came way too early with the 4:30 a.m. wakeup call.

The sound of the crashing waves outside eased the pain of getting up so early.

I made the first pot of coffee with the best coffee in the world, Kona. Man, that stuff is the kind.

I had prepared my CamelBak the night before, tools, clothes, camera, and nutrition. I loaded into the Toyota pickup with my wife and two friends of my daughters who live on the island.

We headed to Paia, where my adventure would begin.

We waited for Zen’s mom and grandfather to arrive at Paia Bay.

They arrived just as first light was hitting the summit of Haleakala. Alohas were exchanged, pictures were taken, and off I pedaled into Paia.

I knew that I had to start as early as possible to avoid the heat, and the mid-day rains on the summit. I was through Paia quickly; it is the last town on the highway heading east toward Hana. It is close to many internationally known windsurfing spots, such as Ho’okipa, and Sprecksville.

My route would first take me up Baldwin Ave., through Paia, to the upcountry town of Makewao. From there I would continue straight for a mile or so, then turn right onto Hanamu.

The trade winds were strong and gusty, and made for some hard early-ride spinning. This time of year, the trades blow from the east, and that was my direction of travel.

Steady 20 mph winds with gusts to 30 mph had my legs feeling the pain early in what promised to be a long day in the saddle.

The grade was not hard, but steep enough that in combination with the winds, I was wondering when I would complete my first goal of the day, Makewao.

This is a seven-mile section through the sugar cane and pineapple fields. The first rain showers of the day began to sprinkle me with a nice cooling rain, just before reaching Makewao.

Every so often I could catch a good glimpse of Haleakala and its summit. It appeared close to me, but I still had 9,000 feet of climbing to go.


The route I took is the same one that is used for the annual “Cycle to the Sun” event in August. A cool sidebar here: They mark the elevation on the road with paint, every 500 feet. I saw my first elevation markers as I struggled to push against the strong side wind.

This brought me smiles, and my legs started to relax; I was making progress up this major climb.

A passing car slowed down to talk to me.

The driver was a guy named Paul, who lives on Maui, and heard of my epic ride on the Internet. He knew which day I was heading out and my starting point, and was able to find me just before Makewao.

I then pedaled into Makewao, a small town with just a few stores. It was early, and I only saw one local, riding a bike. I asked where a bathroom was; he showed me one and rode off wishing me well with an aloha. He also gave me some fresh mountain apples, which I stowed away for later in the ride.

The ensuing mile was more than an eight percent grade, in the rain, no less.

But, by then, I was getting into the climbing groove. The upcountry became more beautiful with every pedal stroke.

The turn onto Highway 377 ended the first part of my journey. I had gone almost 10 miles and gained approximately 2,000 feet.

It took me almost an hour and 20 minutes to get to this point. I was feeling good, especially when I caught brief glimpses of the summit.

What came into view more often was the ocean and western Maui. Both brought moments of joy to me, because I could see how high I had climbed.

I then pedaled into Kula, an area where ranches are scattered and the Kula Lodge is situated.

Known for its colorful gardens, vibrant flowers of all shades filled the landscape. There were sections of the highway that were doused in purple as a result of the beautiful blossoms falling off of the tree limbs that hang over the road.

The road was becoming steeper, and tight turns made me focus on my balance more.

In addition, car traffic had picked up. Luckily, the shoulder was very wide, and I used every bit of it.

Paul had turned around, got his car again, and was now ahead of me.

I assumed that he would leapfrog with me.

Sure enough, I found him again pulled over at Kula Lodge. I stopped to chat again and he offered me water to top off my CamelBak.

The temperature of the air had cooled in the 3,000 feet that I had climbed. I’d done about 15 miles in nearly two hours.

The 71 degrees I’d started out with in Paia had dropped five degrees.

After the quick rest, I turned up the famous Highway 378.

Known as Haleakala Highway, it has 32 switchbacks and gains 7,000 vertical feet in 21 miles.

That’s right, 32 switchbacks, and 7,000 feet of climbing!

Talk about a climber’s delight.

I was totally pumped up for this next section. I had completed about 42 percent of the mileage and 30 percent of the climb so far. The road would get steeper ahead, with less oxygen available the higher up I went. I love this stuff, and I was really feeling good. The endurance high was kicking in, with the best part still to come.

The first official road signs for Haleakala National Park and Crater came into view. I switched my crank lengths from 145 mm to 170 mm at this point. I was feeling like I could use some more torque in my pedal strokes.

I noticed that locals and tourists were now stopping to cheer me on and take pictures. The tight switchbacks came fast and with ease for me. I was pushing hard up the steep curves, and it felt great.

More elevation paintings on the road came and went, and before I knew it, I was at the 5,000-foot marker.

This was totally awesome: my climb was half complete.

I made one long switchback in a magnificently mammoth eucalyptus forest, and looked up at the canopy. It must have been 200 feet to the top of the canopy.

Then, all of a sudden, I popped out of the forest and crossed over my first cattle guard. I was now into the pasture section of the ride ” above the trees, with grandiose views.

Long, tall yellow grass was blowing freely in the wind as I climbed higher up the mountain.

I could look up and see the summit, and the Star Wars looking buildings that inhabit the summit. As well, looking up, I could see the switchbacks that I still had to ride.

They looked like they were straight up, but as I found out, the road is semi-flat in between the switchbacks.

I couldn’t help but check out the views to the right of the road overlooking western Maui and the surrounding islands.

With every pedal stroke, my confidence surged.

The winds had laid down some, allowing me to enjoy the views longer.

A small truck passed me, then stopped a few hundred meters ahead of me. The male driver got out and pulled out a camera with a huge lens on it.

I thought to myself, this guy is a professional. I slowly passed him with a big smile and said aloha.

A few more steep switchbacks and I passed the 5,500-foot elevation marker.

I yelled out a scream of excitement, knowing that I was now more than half way there. Then I stopped for a moment and thought, I still have that far to go, another Independence Pass of vertical.


I had been riding for three hours and covered 20 miles and there were still 16 miles left.

This climb just seemed to keep going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. I just hoped that I could find enough energy to keep pedaling for the next three hours.

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