In December of 2012 Jon made two attempts at climbing Haleakala. The first was cut short because Megan (sister-in-law) and myself (wrongly) stationed ourselves at the “summit”; a parking lot a mere 400 meters short of the actual summit. Irritated by the lack of actual summit on a bicycle, Jon went at it again, this time riding to the official top: the 10,000 feet sign.
I never thought that winter I’d ever want to try summiting Haleakala on two wheels. I was still a disaster from the great mountain bike accident of 2012; I was dealing with chronic headaches, emotional ramifications from the concussion, and I was weak. Mentally. I was also incredibly out of shape after months of convalescing. I didn’t know if I’d ever have the desire to give the climb a try.
Returning to Maui two years after Jon’s successful summit I decided I’d bring my bike and simply try to do my best. I knew I was carrying decent fitness from a long season of mountain biking, and my overall desire to be on a bike was high. I was buoyed by solid rides on West Maui Loop (although haven’t yet completed the loop- hope to soon enough) and riding from Waliea to Lahaina, I figured I may as well do some research on the ride up the volcano and dive right in.
My research from Maui’s annual Cycle to the Sun race revealed most women win the race in approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes. I decided to add an hour for good measure and aim for approximately 4:30.
What was I facing? 36 mile bike ride and 10,023 feet of elevation gain from sea level. I knew that training in Calgary would benefit me, although I imaged the air feeling thin and less breathable somewhere past the 8,000 feet marker. More than anything, I simply didn’t know what it might take to suffer on the bike hour after hour while dealing with an unrelenting climb. I’d completed Mount Ventoux in France in late 2008; suffering alongside my Backroads friends for 6,200 feet over 22km, learning for the first time the magical power of a bottle of coca-cola. This summit took me about two hours and a half, this one I would undertake would -unknowingly- take me closer to five hours.
I begun, I endured. I endured steady (albeit warm) rain from Paia to Makawao, I endured the hot, unrelenting sun from the rice arena to the ranger station, I endured the trade winds from 8,500-10,000 feet. I biked and I churned my pedals, thinking of everything and nothing, reminding myself that I have felt worse. This is a mind game I play: reminding myself that no matter what I am doing, no matter how physically painful it might be, I have endured worse.
I counted minutes, I counted miles. I counted pedal strokes between elevation signs. I sang myself the entire Into The Woods soundtrack to myself and then switched over to my top 25 songs on iTunes. I looked at my clock, I ignored my clock. My confidence at the ranger station steadily diminished with each switchback. I doubted myself. I celebrated myself. I berated myself. I dreamt. I smiled. I cried. But onward I pedalled.
I saw Jon and Doug, my father-in-law, at steady intervals after 8,000 feet. Every time I saw them I considered quitting, at least for a moment. I kept my head down, reading the small signs in paint on the shoulder as I went. These small words, painted just for cyclists. “BREATHE.” “FEED YOURSELF.” “KEEP ON.” My favourite? “UP MONSTER”.
I crept to the finish line – the 10,000 foot sign- weeping openly, using all my air on my gasping sobs. What was I? Proud. I might have been 28 minutes longer than I imagined, but I’d endured more over those five hours than I’d imagined.