Saturday, February 28, 2015

Riding the Kohala - Kona Konundrum 201km Perm!

In December, 2014, my wife Pat and I enjoyed a week exploring the island of Hawai'i, a new locale for us.  It was rewarding on and off the bike!

The Kohala Kona Konundrum 201k Permanent is based out of Kamuela Waimea, which sits at 2,500 ft. on the ridge between the wet (windward) and dry (leeward) sides of the island.  So you get a sampling of verdant, sprinkly conditions and dry, sunny climates, and everything from big climbs to fairly flat terrain.

Waimea is a good base for exploring the north end of the island, neither too rainy nor too desert-like.  There are places to stay but no big tourist resorts, and it's easy to get to Mauna Kea, Pololu Lookout and other places worth seeing.

A more detailed view:

Starting in Waimea shortens the climb to the Kohala Mountain Road highpoint, but makes for a stiff climb at the end of the ride.  

One could also start from Kailua Kona, where many tourists stay, with the big climb all in one go.

At 6:30am, it's a pleasant, tradewinds-fueled climb at dawn on the Kohala Mountain Road, the sun rising over the Mauna Kea volcano.  Surfaces wet from overnight and morning showers.

Looking southwest, you can see the drier Kona coast of the island.

Topping out at 3,564 ft., you get to enjoy the altitude and vistas for a while before the Kohala Mountain Road descends.  These tall ironwood trees were planted in the 20th century, and provide great shelter from the blustery winds and showers.

This is ranching country, one of the early big industries on Hawai'i, and home of the largest ranch in the US at one time, the historic Parker Ranch, which is still huge.  I had to slow down for Parker Ranch staff where cattle were being herded across the road to another pasture.

Here you can see the dividing line between wet and dry sides, with showers slopping over to the west flank to nourish verdant meadows.  (This looking south, so rightward is west.)

Looking west down to the bay, it's a sunnier but more arid terrain!

In case you hadn't guessed, I found the Kohala Mountain Road one of the most beautiful and scenic on the island.

The north end of the road dives down into Hawi, a small, traditional Hawaiian village with storefronts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As usual on rides like this, there are many pictures I wish I'd taken.  So imagine a photo of the Hawi main street, with coffee, tourist, and other small shops.  Hawi is also the turnaround point for the Hawaii Ironman bike segment.  

You can also imagine a dramatic photo of Haleakala on Maui, the next island up in the chain, looming to the north as I descended into Kawi. At first I thought it was a somehow unaccounted-for peak on Hawai'i.

The first intermediate checkpoint is an info control at the northernmost point of the island, at the Upolo airport.  There's a wind farm here, as the channel between Hawai'i and Maui is a windy spot.  The other wind farm is at South Point, at the southern end of the island (and southernmost point in the US).  The island and its volcanoes divide the winds to those north and south points.

I loved the one-lane road, where I had to make room for the occasional local car or jogger.  It was, of course, uphill on the way back.

Heading southwestward on the quiet highway to the Kona coast, I have now peeled off the layers donned in preparation for the early morning showery jaunt up to 3,600 ft., and am now down to shorts and shortsleeved jersey.

The prevailing tailwinds are great, but I wonder how much I'll have to pay on the way back.

Over the course of half a dozen miles, we leave the lush meadows for the arid prairie grassland of the leeward side.  This view looks southward towards Kailua Kona.

The Kona coastal highway (Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway) is lightly rolling with a huge shoulder.  This is the southern end of the Ironman route.  It has moderate traffic, increasing as you near Kailua Kona, which was a checkpoint.  (I used the MacDonald's at the north end of town.)

Insert photo of triathletes biking up and down the highway, and tourists who are staying at the Kona-side resorts. 

While not as inherently scenic as some other roads on Hawai'i, it is a good road to bike on (unless the winds come up, which is not unusual), and the limited vegetation means you can see some distance.

Of the many non-native species on Hawaii, the donkeys are probably of limited impact.  (I didn't see any but it was not dawn or dusk at the time.)

The highway is built right through lava fields, which surround you on much of this coast.  This is also true on parts of the windward side, but the dense vegetation on that side makes this less apparent.

The Kona coast has little pockets of green where resorts have been built, such as this one where I chose to place a control.  (I stopped at a Starbucks.)

The final jaunt is the stiff climb from the coast near Kawaihae Harbor back up to Waimea.  We are reminded that the island is served by container ships, whose containers are then trucked to destinations throughout the island in a constant stream.  This one could be heading to Waimea or continuing on to the east coast.

So now we're back in the cool, moist terrain of the Waimea district.  (It's about 10ºF cooler up here, at 2,500 ft., than on the coast - 50's to 70's rather than 60's to low 80's down there.)

And on to the old-style (but nicely appointed) inn where we were staying.  The strings of lights and stars festooning this entry reflect that, just as in the rest of the country, Christmas is a big deal here.  The annual Waimea Christmas parade was only a couple days away.

I really enjoyed this 200k, scenic variety and a real workout!

Hawai'i is one of the better of the islands for biking (perhaps the best) - because it is more expansive (all the other islands combined aren't as large as Hawai'i), and has more roads with shoulders.  That, and some districts are more sparsely populated.  Those who live there will tell you it is qualitatively different from the other islands, which seemed to be true.  (But the others are nice, too!)

We explored much of the island - including the entire coast except for the coastal part of the Puna district in the SE - and enjoyed the now deluxe highway straddling the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  There are quite a few possibilities for other perm and perm populaire routes, and just biking fun.  Here are two:

The Pololu Lookout Longspear (100km) from Waimea over the Kohala Mountain Road to dramatic Pololu Lookout, on the windward coast.

Cliffs from Pololu Lookout

The Mauna Kea Meander (120km) from Waimea up an old, picturesque section of the Saddle Road, topped off by the strenuous seven-mile climb to the Mauna Kea visitors' center (at 9,100 ft.).

Above the clouds, near Mauna Kea visitor's center - looking across the saddle towards Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain on Earth.

Here's hoping you will get a chance to explore Hawai'i and its sibling islands!