2001 Hawaii bicycle tour, submitted by Bud and PJ Elbrecht.
bikers, stranded on an island, their leader felled before the adventure
had begun, find themselves having to forage for their own food. Some,
like Steve, fresh from Egypt, are having to choose between starvation
and placing something akin to wallpaper paste against their palates
(and PURPLE, too). Water, or the lack of it, has not been a problem.
It's everywhere: falling from the heavens, cascading over cliffs,
soaking the riders to the very marrow of their biker bones with the
exception of those that have "bailed out and poured in" the van. Rain,
glorious rain, assists some in their quest to fend off the insufferable
tropical heat (what did you expect this close to the equator??) as
they search for palatable and familiar food. They journey on not-so-trusty
steeds of steel (and aluminum and carbon fiber). Ah, yes; beware of
Aussies bearing bikes.
By way of explanation, fifteen Knickerbikers (Bud and PJ Elbrecht, John and Martha Scott, Doug Paulson and Mary Ann Hautman, Rhonwyn Curtis, Nick Nicholson, Steve Goldstrom, Rita Cohen, Stogs, Susie, Tish and Tim Stogsdill and Ken King) embarked in early August for the big island of Hawaii, but Ken had emergency surgery the day before the trip started. Here is the story of the remaining fourteen riders and their rented bikes.
DAY 1: Begins with the daunting task of a 4,000 ft. gain. Some seek caloric fortification at Ken's House of Pancakes (hmmm, that name sounds familiar). Others, in their desire to beat the heat, set out early, having stumbled downstairs at Uncle Billy's to reap the rewards of coffee beans sown the night before. The crescent of Hilo Bay blazes gold at sunrise (well, it would have had it not been raining), the myna birds greet the rising bikers with a symphony of ear splitting screeches as bikes are wheeled onto streets lined with Banyan trees shoulder to shoulder, nature's salute to the parade of pedalers unfolding before them. Short mileage, but a steady climb coupled with an unrelenting tropical sun introduce the riders to a straight, uphill but scrupulously maintained ribbon of asphalt. As we ascend, the heady aroma of fruits and flowering trees waft on the caressing wings of the trade winds. But as the day unfolds, all that is forgotten as the heat and humidity takes its toll. One by one, the arduous climb claims its victims as they humbly dismount and struggle into the van. Several though, have seen their way clear to Volcano House, their okoles glued to their saddles, determined to conquer the home of Pele. As they arrive the fog rolls in, obscuring distant views but bestowing an otherworldly charm upon a landscape so verdant and vibrant it appears surreal. Prior to the fog's grand entry, the riders are treated to a vista dominated by the Kilauea Caldera and belching pockets of steam originating from deep vertical and tortured fault lines seemingly descending to the bowels of the earth. Once settled, the tales of the day unravel around a Koa wood coffee table sprinkled with an array of pupus and libations, whose sole purpose is to loosen the tongues of the babbling bikers as they "talk story."
DAY 2: Time to become acclimated with new surroundings, and explore the Haleema'uma'u Crater, home of the Fire Goddess Pele. As Mark Twain quipped during a visit in the 1860's, "The smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner." Or one can go underground at Thurston Lava Tube, a magnificent natural tunnel 'leid' by vibrant fern grottos at the entrance and exit. The more cerebral can visit the Jagger Museum, where one can learn about the volcanology of the park. For those willing to dismount, the Devastation Trail probes across a desolate cinder field where gray lifeless trunks of a suffocated forest lean like drunken sentinels, the stillness broken only by the winds whistling through their leafless limbs. Omnipresent in the distance is Moana Loa; "Long Mountain" whose size can only be related to the familiar; it being equal to 100 Mt. Rainiers. Californians, note that it weighs as much as the ENTIRE Sierra Nevada mountain range.
DAY 3: Those seeking nourishment prior to today's ride were in for major disappointments at the Lava Rock Cafe where the help moves as slow as the advancing edge of a lava flow (and are about as dumb). Those waiting until arriving at the bottom of the grade were treated to local culinary delights (Spam?). All, however, were served a heaping dose of a tropical downpour during their descent. Starting in a fog-shrouded mist, the ride was a coasting odyssey. But none could relax due to the slippery and potentially dangerous conditions. Minute particles of road cinder stuck to their saturated legs like pollen to a bee, transforming snow-white socks into blackened mudpacks. Some soaked riders sought refuge at an orchid nursery, intending to feign interest for the luxury of a few raindrop-free moments. But it's hard to ignore the beauty of an orchid with its pouting lower lip of a petal. Resigned to the fact that the rain was not abating any time soon, the thrill seekers slowly made their way down to an antherium farm, where shade cloth draped over several acres sheltered magnificent specimens of the usually red flower, as well as plenty of white, green and pink ones. The benevolent owners donated a collection of various sizes and colors in an attempt to appease the intestinal gods that had befallen our leader. (It was rumored that upon awakening from surgery, our leader was slightly puzzled by the ti leaves, kukui nuts and taro paste encrusting his lower abdomen. The headless chickens wrapped in taro leaves can best be attributed to a "morphine moment.") The day ended peacefully enough with a procession of solemn cyclists paying homage to the disabled deity, whose sole source of happiness stems from a tube. "Better living thru chemistry" becomes his mantra.
DAY 4: All starts well for the gallant gang of spandex-shrouded cyclers. Some, brimming with energy, head off in the opposite direction in search of the caloric laden but nutritionally devoid malasada. Finding none, they opt for the old Knickerbiker standby, the pancake. Now fortified, they happily careen north, seeking their fellow adventurers as they explore all the scenic loops, drinking in the natural wonder: delicate strands of water free falling over cliffs, bubbling streams harmonizing with the morning warble of songbirds, and lush greenery of plants that would be window pots anywhere else, but here are giant, almost trees. Ginger, heliconia, orchids, fern and bamboo abound as does the rain, but today it is welcomed as it tempers the heat. Ah! Nature's mister...wet is good!! As the hours pass, those surly steeds of steel betray their riders. One goes down, offering up layers of skin to the goddess of pavement, "Asphaltele." Yet another, in a desperate attempt to become a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, snaps off his seat post. Neither, however, are quite as animated as the one who is languishing (albeit in a setting of natural beauty fit for royalty), foodless, her energy sapped, with no ride out. Failing to acknowledge the nature's bounty surrounding her, she stalks uphill in a seemingly endless journey. With ire raised, she knows the three things she requires, yea DEMANDS, will not be waiting. Meanwhile, as the miles pass beneath their wheels and their eyes gobble up the endless nuggets of nature, 2 of our pedaling peregrinators have their sights set on Tex's in Honoka'a. Here they will satisfy the endless rumbling that has held their undivided attention for all these many miles...the hunger for malasadas, that Portuguese donut. 15,000 of these tasty treats are sold monthly from this oasis of ambrosia. As the rains increase in intensity, hungry hands envelop a platter of sugary mounds, as well as saimin, kalua pig, and curry stew. Reality is slowly setting in that there are still 15 miles to go. A hot shower looms on the horizon: the carrot on the end of the stick. Unable to procrastinate any longer, bikes are hesitantly mounted and now-stiffened legs begrudgingly turn, slowly at first, then, resigned to at least another hour in the stirrups, the spinning becomes more rhythmic, as does the rain. Little do they realize that of those remaining 15 miles, 11 are uphill-2,000 feet of uphill. A sag wagon would be a welcome sight, albeit an admission of defeat at the hands of gravity and nature. But the mind is now toying with the body, coyly creating phantom summits, endearing little crests that exist only in the mind's eye. Trucks slip into the velvety drapes of fog that enshroud all but the next 100 feet of reality. No visual distraction, just the endless pull of gravity upon our wheels. "Country road, take me home, to da place, where I'll be warm, North Kohala, mountain Mama, take me home, I'm so cold," and wet and dirty. (Well, at least there's a tailwind. . . ) Passing through Parker Ranch, populated by so many cattle that they sell 10 million pounds of beef a year, the pastures so lush that the cows can't eat it faster than it grows. "It's 5:30 now", the mind mildly states. "Time for happy hour. All the others warm, dry, drinking, eating, laughing" (the black cloud moves ever closer over my head). "Yup, only 7 more miles to go-shame it's all uphill. . ."
DAY 5: Re-energized, dry, ready to ride the beams of sunlight piercing through the frothy clouds riding herd on the mountain tops, this intrepid band of naysayers fervently set upon the day. Some decide to head directly for the coast, opting for the easier ride. Others, lured by even higher vistas, take on the Kohala Mountain Road. Rumored to be the most scenic part of the journey, it doesn't disappoint. Passing through an area that once was covered with sandalwood forest, we see land grazed barren by cattle introduced by George Vancouver in the early 1800's. Vistas open to the west: expansive panoramas of rolling hills tumbling to the sea. Behind us Mauna Kea's observatories pepper its summit in the distance, resembling a mushroom grove on a treeless cinder cone. After 8 miles of euphoric climbing and 1,100 more feet of elevation, the road caresses the hillside with joyful loop-de-loops as the band of bikers gleefully make their way to Hawi. Only a handful of cars and a smattering of residences remind us that we are earth bound, all our other senses tell us we've struck the mother-lode of touring. For a while we are free, no time constraints, no worry, free from the cares that weigh on the hearts of the rest of humanity. What about those that chose the "easy day" by heading straight for the coast? They were punished for their misjudgment by 25 miles of unrelenting headwinds. Hawi, once a bustling sugar town but now relying on tourist dollars to awaken a slumbering economy, is pure Hawaiiana. "Flumin' da ditch" beckons. Tomorrow we flume, but today we eat, ride, and eat some more. North of Hawi, our tenacious ten-speeders head towards the end of the road: Pololu Overlook. This is old Hawaii: jungle trees with crocheted shawls of hanging vines shadowing flowers, banana trees and avocados the size of nerf footballs hanging just beyond the outstretched grasp of the ever-ravenous riders. Dreams of tubs of guacamole are thwarted by rotting limbs on the ground that become our only hope for claiming the out-of-reach prizes. As they whistle through the air, end over end, they emit a sharp, crackling sound as they break into pieces inches short of our valiant but fruitless attempts to separate fruit from tree. Having nearly speared a fellow cyclist with a wayward toss of our primitive fruit-pickers, we dejectedly move on. Pololu Valley is another serving of eye candy. Misty green convolutions dropping directly into the roiling waters that never abate, always trying to reclaim the area displaced by hardened magma. The volcanic rock that rises hundreds of feet above the ocean provides a backdrop for the strands of water draping over Pele's time-creased neck like so many strands of glistening pearls.
DAY 6: Water Day. Today's challenge presents an obstacle for the remaining survivors who are totally out of their element. They will be tested and challenged with careening down a portion of "da ditch," a 22.5-mile flume built by Japanese laborers who had to bore through solid rock, not once, not twice, but 60 times so that the Haoles could transport their precious sugar cane to the mills and their ancestors could marvel at how hard these poor people worked for $1.00/day. As the pedalin' paddlers enter their first tunnel, darkness encircles them, the abyss broken only by the tiny beacons of light perched on the foreheads of the fore and aft paddlers. Minutes go by without any sign of light at the end of the tunnel, when suddenly a small voice out of the darkness squeaks "it's a time for toys, it's a time for cheer. . ." Suddenly the entire tunnel erupts into peels of "It's a Small World After All." Is nothing SACRED??? Upon our return to the quaintness that is our Hawi abode, our leader, with his faithful sidekick, stands tall in the lobby, having risen from the ashes like the Phoenix. Like Jonah from the whale, into and out of the fishes belly and ultimately, returning transformed, seeking the pleasures of our company that have been denied him. His first lieutenant Rita, has risen above all obstacles to present him his little band of merriment intact. Is it possible that there is indeed a port of wisdom beyond the conflicts of truth and illusion by which our lives can be put back together again? Here stands proof, the new K2, the poster child for "intestinal fortitude."
DAY 7: As the band of overfed survivors (thanks to the Bamboo Inn) straggle south in small groups on the final leg of their circumnavigation of the island, their ranks reduced by one (Nick having opted for the opportunity to match his svelteness against those of his aging classmates in lieu of a luau), a fine mist acknowledges their departure. Coffee and muffins are safely tucked inside-poor energy reserves for what lies ahead. Barely out of town, the jaws go slack at the sight of a Hawaiian rainbow bidding us adieu. Behind us we leave the impenetrable forest of green, ahead of us the lava fields beckon, mile upon mile of heat-absorbing volcanic rock. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide from the omnipotent rays of the sun, bearing down in a determined effort to wither us like so many raisins in the field. Wind is also on everyone's mind, the group having heard stories of the heinous headwind from day 5, whose velvety glove of resistance prevented any forward momentum. A flat section with a full-on tailwind, cyclists coasting at 30 mph, allows us for a few moments to savor the "sweet-spot" of cycling. Wind whistling through our spokes, the roadside grasses lying flat against the ground as if listening for movement, the wind a void around our ears as if we're riding in a vacuum-surreal, sweet, and short-lived. Without any warning, the wind has shifted 180 degrees as it gains speed on the sides of Hualalai, the dormant volcano by Kona. By the time the cool mountain breezes reach us they have been transformed into furnace blasts. Water bottles become strangely inadequate for providing enough moisture to quench parched throats. Muffin calories are quickly evaporated by the gusts. Energy wanes. The views are ever-present, overpowering in their contrast between azure blue and lava black. But they're ignored as the eyes narrow to microscopic slits in an effort to retain what little fluid is left as we lock our orbs onto the shimmering ribbon of road traversing the coast. Low on fluid, low on stamina, what else can prevent us from escaping these cycling shackles of Satan's playground? PSSSS. Shit, a flat. So that proves what we were told on DAY 1: "Do not patch a tube because the heat of the pavement will melt the glue." Good advice Dave. Sorry I didn't listen. Eventually, thanks to the sag wagon making a courtesy stop to replenish much needed fluids, Kona looms on the horizon. Two Kona Beach Houses become the epicenter of all Knicker-life as we partake in a lavish luau in a setting befitting the appreciative spirits we are. Our own private lagoon, complete with sea turtles, gentle trade winds and a sleep-inducing surf lapping on the shore complete the setting, but not quite. Hawaii has one more jewel to add to our memory crown: a green flash! Aloha and Mahalo!
DAY 8: The challenge is near an end. Only time left to absorb as much of Kona, its history and beauty as one has room for. But the galvanic group of gourmandizers takes one more gastro-volley at a local Chinese restaurant. Having the inside track to the chef's undivided attention, thanks to Suss's old friend from Mililani, we set upon his offerings with muffled mouthfuls of praise as a seemingly endless parade of gourmet dishes tempt our taste buds and stretch our waistband to the "CAUTION: HIGH STRESS AREA" mark. Only one thing left to do...vote the entire group off the island!!!
DAY 9: Say goodbye to the other survivors and Uncle Billy as we cut another notch in our belt of Knickerbiker good times.