the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Hawaii Part Eleven

Liz finally broke me today on our downhill bike tour.

Grandma would have wanted us to go out and face our respective days with vigor, so we went ahead with our tours.

The tour bus took us up to the summit of Haleakala, the 10,000 foot tall volcano that dominates Maui. I was squished into the back of the van, still feeling my sea legs, and as we wound our way up, up, up the mountain in a series of never-ending switchbacks, I felt my stomach feeling worse and worse. We passed through a thick layer of clouds about halfway up, and I began to despair. We emerged out of the clouds and still had a few thousand vertical feet to go, along the rocky and increasingly steep terrain. Finally, we arrived at the summit, where the combination of bright sun, sudden altitude change, car sickness, and my wobbly legs really started to get to me. It was all I could do just to walk around slowly, while the mountain washed gently up and down.

It did not help that we were four or five thousand feet above the clouds, which is a rather disorienting thing when you're already not feeling swell. From atop Haleakala, you can even see Mauna Kea, about a hundred miles away on the Big Island.

But like a brave little soldier, I donned my yellow Devo suit, got a bike, and got in line to start coasting down the mountain. They ordered us by size, since that makes some determination about one's speed going down the mountain, and a proper order helps to keep the group together. This meant that Liz rode way at the other end of the line from me, so my last little bit of support was gone. Regardless, I took a deep breath, and followed the line down the mountain, trying to convince myself that I was going to be okay.

That didn't last long.

When you're riding down the side of a huge-ass volcano, you pick up speed pretty quickly, and sure enough, I did. Before long we were all humming along at about 20 or 25 miles per hour, and that was about the point that, senses reaching overload, I started to hyperventilate.

I had a couple of wobbly moments going through some of the first switchbacks, which really got my heart going. At the upper altitudes, the road doesn't have any guard rails (not that they would really help a cyclist), so one's choice is to either make the curve or go sailing off into oblivion.

>Now, I've just recently managed to secure a fairly positive outlook on my life, and I'm doing my best to hold onto it. Oblivion is not in my plans, all evidence at the moment to the contrary. So it was that, gasping for breath, legs like Jell-o, hands trembling, and terrified out of my mind by the prospect of hurtling down into the clouds on a bike that didn't seem to like me very much, I excused myself from the ride once we'd reached our first stop about two miles down the hill.

I ended up riding shotgun in the van, where the open window gave me enough fresh air for my stomach to feel better, and the four wheels and comfortable seat abated my sense of impending doom. I chatted with the van driver, an affable guy who was a lot of fun to hang with, despite the fact that he kept asking me about how to fix his computer. At least he did a good job of keeping me from feeling too emasculated by my discretion, and for that I was thankful.

As we passed through the thick mists, I was definitely certain I'd made the right decision; the visibility was pretty awful.

We got down to the base of the volcano as the sun was starting to set. We had a few minutes for pictures while the tour guys loaded up the bikes, then they took us back to the ship. We passed through the wide, rolling ranch lands, and in the fading golden light I couldn't help but be reminded of the Shire. Guess I've been reading too much Tolkien this year.

Liz tells me she's proud of me for at least giving the bike ride a chance. I know I should listen to her, but I still feel pretty diminished by the entire day. Oh well. Hopefully I will be feeling better about myself in the morning.

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