...this is the kind of stuff I'd post on it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Biking a Hawaiian volcano

Grace and I recently returned from a trip to Hawai'i.  We had conspired to make the trip last summer, knowing that winter would find us bearing down against the cold and rain and endless overcast skies for months on end.  Taking a week to visit a place where the days were warmer, longer, and filled with sunshine was probably one of the best vacation planning moves we've ever made.

And did I mention they have volcanoes there?  Everyone in these parts knows about Washington's volcanoes, and my love for them is well documented.  However, the Hawaiian volcano experience is radically different, due mainly to the fact that each island IS ACTUALLY A VOLCANO.  You can't go anywhere in Hawaii without technically being on a volcano, and it's pretty easy to see signs of just exactly how young and active (geologically speaking) the Hawaiian volcanoes really are.

Since part of our time was going to be spent on The Big Island, I wanted to plan a trip to the Volcanoes National Park while we were there, to do some hiking and biking and whatnot.

We rented some mountain bikes from a shop in Kailua, and hauled them up to the volcano, to check out a trail I'd heard about that sounded pretty fun: The Escape Road.  Just as it's name implies, the Escape Road is a "road" (really more of a doubletrack trail) that serves as an escape off of Mt. Kiluea should the main road ever get covered by a lava flow.  It's also the only trail I've ever ridden that comes with instructions to "close all gates behind you to keep invasive feral pigs from entering the rain forest".

The trail starts off near the Thurston Lava Tube (which is pretty cool to see in it's own right), and heads downhill for miles, first through dense rainforest:

then eventually across a gigantic lava flow that Mt. Kiluea spewed out in 1973:

The transition is startling.  One minute you're surrounded by ferns, palm trees, grasses, and lush forest canopy, and within a few feet, you're in the glaring sunlight, surrounded by rocks, bigger rocks, and even more rock.  In the photo above, you can almost see the transition from forest to lava flow, trees to no trees.

If you keep riding past the end of the official Escape Road trail (which is easy to do, since it's all downhill), you can connect to another trail that winds around for another few miles before ending near the Hilina Pali overlook, where you can view the ocean from a 2000-foot cliff.  Unfortunately, we didn't have enough daylight to ride all the way to Hilina Pali and still make the climb all the way back up to the car, so we found a nice spot to post up and have a little lunch before the big climb back up.

All in all, it was a great day of mountain biking, and the trails were never so technical that we couldn't enjoy the incredible scenery all around us.  The doubletrack of most of the trail meant that Grace and I rode most of it side-by-side, and as it turns out, Grace is a pretty fearless descender. Who knew?

The National Park Service actually puts out a trail map of the park that's specific to biking that you can pick up for free at the visitor's center.  I found an outdated copy online here, but several of the trails mentioned in it are different than what I saw on my map.  The great thing was, despite the popularity of the park with tourists, we didn't see another soul the entire time we were on the trails.  Maybe it's the fact that all the trails require a climb back up to the top that keeps the tourists at bay.

Mt. Kiluea was one of the most amazing places we've ever visited, and offered so many things to see in one area, that I have to throw in a few more photos, even though they have nothing to do with biking in any way:

We spent 2 full days in the park, exploring the nooks, crannies, forests, deserts, steam vents, and craters of this amazing place, and it wasn't nearly enough.  

1 comment:

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