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Under the Volcano, Part 2


In Hawaii, a touring cyclist is not regarded as a tourist but as a spandex-clad oddity. Few understand why someone would cycle from point a to point b over distances so far and so long that many people would not attempt to cover that distance by car. For this reason locals are as interested in us as we are in them. They welcome us with questions, and readily answer when we inquire about what lies on our journey ahead. Hawaiians are overwhelmingly generous with offers of food, bottles of water or accommodation. Even the homeless have adopted this Hawaiian spirit of hospitality.

Hilo, with its banyon tree-lined drives and waterfront parks, offered us rain. We headed for the farmer’s market where all manner of tropical fruit beckoned a try. Even bananas, a rather mundane fruit by my taste, were available in at least a dozen exotic flavors and types. The rain beat down on the tarps that sheltered the market. Life progressed as normal, interrupted by the occasional dump of pools of water trapped by the tarps. A man walked by with a colorful parrot on his shoulder.

The beautiful bay city of Hilo is a city of water. It is the rainiest city in the United States. In testament to this a few of the road intersections were in full flood. Traffic was diverted and only a few locals attempted to wade across. Hilo’s aquatic history does not stop with rain. On several occasions tsunamis have destroyed the waterfront. Locals have the tsunami to thank for the lush green parks that were created to slow the next great wave. The informative Tsunami Museum stands as a memorial to this destructive force that could strike again at any moment.

As we rode out of Hilo, we crossed bridges over lush gulches. Flooded rivers roared down as waterfalls to meet the crashing ocean surf far below. The best botanical garden on Hawaii lies in this area. Delightful gardens of tropical plants cascade gently down to the roaring surf 100 feet below. Monkey-pod trees provide a dense canopy, while orchids and flowers shaped like strings of lobster claws grow like weeds.

The road leaving Hilo. © Micha Pringle.The garden is a maze of paths leading down to the beating surf. Ironwood trees cling to the eroded coast as mist swirls up and onto myriad garden paths. The most interesting plants from around the world are represented here. It is a true delight, even for a non-plant lover.

Honoma was our next stop. Originally a booming sugar company town, it is now a quiet stop on the way to Akaka Falls. We stopped in for Hawaiian shaved ice flavored by exotic fruit syrup. We watched in amazement as a Hawaiian proprietor pulled out a circled block of ice and proceeded to grind it down on an old-fashioned ice grinder. The ice block rotated round and round on a grater as a mound of shaved ice grew in a dish below. Coconut ice cream was placed in a bowl while the ice and tropical fruit flavoring was heaped high around it. What a delight! It was here that we met one of the local helicopter pilots.

Although a newcomer to this tropical land, he had already adopted the Hawaiian spirit. A short way into the conversation he invited us to his house for the night. Grateful for shelter on such a rainy evening, we accepted immediately. Minutes later we were shown to a room of our own. His furniture still hadn’t arrived, but he had a beautiful waterfall in his backyard and abundant fruit trees in the front. A former Vietnam vet, he now flies helicopters loaded with tourists over active volcanic flows. We dried our gear and did our laundry as he briefed us on the road ahead.

The lush ranchland of the high country. © Micha Pringle. Morning soon arrived and we set out along the tropical coast. The gulches got deeper and wider and before long they were too large for a bridge to span. We would speed down into the gullies, cross a bridge over a swollen river and slog our way back up, only to be confronted with another gully. Once the gullies became too deep and too wide, the road cut away from the coast and up over the oldest volcano of the island. The forest gave way to macadamia nut orchards, and the orchards gave way to ranchland. Pickup trucks and horse trailers ruled the road and the Hawaiian cowboys went about their business on some of the greenest ranchland in the world. The Parker Ranch is the largest in the area and also the largest private ranch in the United States.

We were determined to make it to the top of the oldest volcano so on we rode up the windiest, steepest road on the island. Prickly pear cactus stuck out of the deep green, spongy grass. The grass became browner and browner as we gazed down at the Kona Coast. Massive hotels lined the coast, complete with green, serpent-like golf courses that snaked along the sparkling blue ocean. It appeared as if these serpents of greed had sucked the emerald lushness out of the lower slopes of Hawaii.

A coffee shop in the town of Hawi** © Micha Pringle. We hit the summit and made a quick steep descent into Hawi where my companion cleaned up a rather nasty road wound from a careless self-induced fall. He was unable to release his shoes from his clipless pedals. As he slowed he and his bike fell sideways off the road and into a ditch. He was still attached to his heavily loaded bike.

A little Mexican diner caught our eye so we decided to have an early dinner. The lone waitress/cook was a Californian woman past her prime. She was talkative and we inquired about her life as she served us dinner. Halfway through the meal an intrusion from a friend set her off. She began to pace the floor. Her speech quickened as she talked about a fight with her boyfriend. Soon she was able to carry on the conversation without our input. She asked herself questions and laughed like a maniac. As her pace accelerated, our comprehension diminished. We thought it was a good time to leave so we asked for the bill. She snapped back to her normal self. We gave her a good tip; she needed it.

Our route back to Kailua followed the bike portion of the Kona Iron Man course. We laughed as the wind drove us forward, our gear acting as a sail.

The Iron Man route along the Kona Coast. © Micha Pringle. This was too easy. We were coasting down an almost flat grade at 40 kilometers an hour. Huh, they call themselves Iron Men? They should be ashamed of this course.

The sun set as we set up tent in a safe, normal looking campground. A Portuguese woman approached us and invited us for conversation in the communal area. We happily obliged and I sat and fixed a flat tire under the naked light bulb as she talked. A black man watching television sat on a bench next to the Portuguese woman as she confessed to a history of what she dismissed as petty theft. It didn’t sound petty to us.

She began to admire our possessions. Her companion piped into the conversation to offer us part of his dinner. His eyes remained glued to the television screen. We had just eaten and politely refused his offer. He insisted, and we again refused the rather inedible looking meal. The woman interrupted to ask about my companion’s shoes. He asked us how we could be full if we were so thin. He became angry; his voice rose louder and louder. She stated that if she ever saw a pair of shoes like that again they would soon be hers. He appeared to be insulted that we did not share his unappetizing food. We left the agitated black man to his blaring TV. As we took a final glance back, the woman was trying to calm her companion.

Even our shoes, ripe with four days of tropical moisture, spent the night in our tent. My companion was worried about his valuable shoes. I was paranoid about our gear. Who knows with her long history of theft, what the light-fingered woman might take?

As we left the campsite at sunrise, the wind was in our face. We could not break 8 kilometers an hour up or down the rolling hills. The heat was unbearable as we rode through the black lava where fans had spelled out messages with white rocks to their favorite Iron Man. We rode into Kailua without the fanfare, cheers and congratulations that were showered on the Iron Man competitors. We had completed a 650-kilometer loop with two 4000-foot climbs in a week. Our memories and sense of achievement were enough of a reward for our toil.

For more information on trip logistics and cycling in Hawaii pick up a copy of Hawaii by Bike: Twenty Tours Geared for Discovery
by Nadine Slavinski (ISBN 0898864321).

We were determined to make it to the top of the oldest volcano so on we rode up the windiest, steepest road on the island. Prickly pear cactus stuck out of the deep green, spongy grass. The grass became browner and browner as we gazed down at the Kona Coast. Massive hotels lined the coast, complete with green, serpent-like golf courses that snaked along the sparkling blue ocean. It appeared as if these serpents of greed had sucked the emerald lushness out of the lower slopes of Hawaii.

A coffee shop in the town of Hawi** © Micha Pringle. We hit the summit and made a quick steep descent into Hawi where my companion cleaned up a rather nasty road wound from a careless self-induced fall. He was unable to release his shoes from his clipless pedals. As he slowed he and his bike fell sideways off the road and into a ditch. He was still attached to his heavily loaded bike.

A little Mexican diner caught our eye so we decided to have an early dinner. The lone waitress/cook was a Californian woman past her prime. She was talkative and we inquired about her life as she served us dinner. Halfway through the meal an intrusion from a friend set her off. She began to pace the floor. Her speech quickened as she talked about a fight with her boyfriend. Soon she was able to carry on the conversation without our input. She asked herself questions and laughed like a maniac. As her pace accelerated, our comprehension diminished. We thought it was a good time to leave so we asked for the bill. She snapped back to her normal self. We gave her a good tip; she needed it.

Our route back to Kailua followed the bike portion of the Kona Iron Man course. We laughed as the wind drove us forward, our gear acting as a sail.

The Iron Man route along the Kona Coast. © Micha Pringle. This was too easy. We were coasting down an almost flat grade at 40 kilometers an hour. Huh, they call themselves Iron Men? They should be ashamed of this course.

The sun set as we set up tent in a safe, normal looking campground. A Portuguese woman approached us and invited us for conversation in the communal area. We happily obliged and I sat and fixed a flat tire under the naked light bulb as she talked. A black man watching television sat on a bench next to the Portuguese woman as she confessed to a history of what she dismissed as petty theft. It didnít sound petty to us.

She began to admire our possessions. Her companion piped into the conversation to offer us part of his dinner. His eyes remained glued to the television screen. We had just eaten and politely refused his offer. He insisted, and we again refused the rather inedible looking meal. The woman interrupted to ask about my companionís shoes. He asked us how we could be full if we were so thin. He became angry; his voice rose louder and louder. She stated that if she ever saw a pair of shoes like that again they would soon be hers. He appeared to be insulted that we did not share his unappetizing food. We left the agitated black man to his blaring TV. As we took a final glance back, the woman was trying to calm her companion.

Even our shoes, ripe with four days of tropical moisture, spent the night in our tent. My companion was worried about his valuable shoes. I was paranoid about our gear. Who knows with her long history of theft, what the light-fingered woman might take?

As we left the campsite at sunrise, the wind was in our face. We could not break 8 kilometers an hour up or down the rolling hills. The heat was unbearable as we rode through the black lava where fans had spelled out messages with white rocks to their favorite Iron Man. We rode into Kailua without the fanfare, cheers and congratulations that were showered on the Iron Man competitors. We had completed a 650-kilometer loop with two 4000-foot climbs in a week. Our memories and sense of achievement were enough of a reward for our toil.

For more information on trip logistics and cycling in Hawaii pick up a copy of Hawaii by Bike: Twenty Tours Geared for Discovery
by Nadine Slavinski (ISBN 0898864321).