Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala 2011

Near the 5000 foot* halfway point on Haleakala.

Flying into Maui, the first thing you see are the tops of the volcanoes on each of the Hawaiian islands. An awesome sight, they appear as massive domes that stretch high above the clouds. Descending, as the plane passes through the cloud layer, one is struck by how far below the ocean and island still are. These are big hills, and as a cyclist psychologically preparing for a ride to the top of Haleakala, it is an acute signal of what kind of ride it is going to be.

The road to the top of Haleakala rises from sea level to the summit at 10,000 feet*, which is more than 1/3 the prominence of Mount Everest and equates roughly to the altitude gained by mountaineers ascending from Camp I (the fist camp above the Ice Fall and Base Camp) to the summit of the world’s highest peak.

The day of the climb dawned with near-ideal conditions on Saturday. Bike Number 1 spent the night in our apartment on the lovely Rose Compound (where we were guests of unbelievably gracious hosts) and as I ate breakfast, Gianni set about preparing the bike and rider for what lay before us: air in the tires for the bike, estate-grown and roasted espresso for the rider. (Gianni, his VMH, and the Roses have life figured out, by the way.) Final preparations were made, and we headed to the coast where I was to start my warmup by riding into Paia, where the climb officially starts.

I was blissfully unaware of the difficulty that lay before me, and more than a little too optimistic. Altitude has never bothered me and, having done big, long climbs all over Europe and the United States, I understand my limitations well enough to know that gradient is a more serious obstacle for my large frame than is length. When it came to gauging my effort, I figured that since I can comfortably sustain 20 or more kilometers per hour up a 6% grade, I figured that, based on Haleakala’s reported 5.5% average, I could easily do the whole climb at 15kmph, meaning I should have a sub-4 hour ride in my legs. The only unknown, in my naive mind, was what effects a 60 km climb to 10,000 feet would have as the air thinned on my way up. That particular unknown has been answered beyond a shadow of a doubt.

My strategy for the climb was to set at a solid pace at the bottom, fast enough to give myself a cushion for my inevitable slowdown near the top, but not so fast I would fire of the Guns of Navarrone too soon. I set off like a puppy being taken to The Farm, full of confidence and optimism, and with absolutely no idea of how hard Pele was about to bitchslap me. The first quarter of the climb is steady and did nothing but bolster my confidence, with a pace higher than I expected. Things were off to a good start.

In retrospect, I have established the theory that after Hansel and Gretel escaped the Gingerbread House, they made a trip up the volcano, but rather than leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, here they left a trail of wasps along the route, left there to be inhaled by the poor sods who attempt to ride up. The wasps are few and far between at the base, and steadily increase in density as one nears the top. The last 200m of the ride is almost entirely made of Yellow Jackets.

With the completion of the first quarter of the climb comes the turn onto Crater Road, the switchback-laden road that rises all the way to the summit. Most climbs are passes – meaning they approach a saddle or low-point on a ridge in order to cross into an adjacent valley. Crater Road is a sinister beast that goes right for the jugular, leading to the very summit of the mountain. Not terribly steep but very exposed, the wind whips around the side of the mountain from all sides, giving the rider a headwind in almost every direction and steadily sapping any strength from the legs.

By 5,000 feet, after 30 km of climbing and with the ride almost half over, I was completely wasted and the climb became a death march with me staring mostly at my rear axle and being saved only by The Rules emblazoned upon my right thigh. I lost count of my elevation somewhere after 6,000 feet and I retreated into a dark, dark place where unholy thoughts of hatred frolicked, pain tasted bitter on my tongue, and time moved inperceptably. I bargained with Merckx. I bargained with myself. I vowed never to ever do this climb again, if only I could reach the top.

I was rocked back to reality at 8,000 feet when the guns cramped so badly I had to lay on the side of the road for a few minutes to massage some life back into them. The ride from 8,000 to 9,000 feet took a year off my life. At a certain point, I noticed I was making all manner of strange noises that I would prefer I never make again. The last 1,000 feet to the summit, though mentally the easiest, was spent communing with butterflies and cursing everyone’s name I could think of. Cruelly, the last stretch to the very tippy-top is viciously steep and most unwelcome. I came terrifyingly close to falling off for a lack of speed and strength.

Can’t wait to do it again. I’ll go sub-4 hours for sure. Enjoy the film and photos of the ride.

Video: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala

Photos: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala

[dmalbum path=”/ Galleries/[email protected]/Haleakala/”]

*The elevations in this article will generally be referred to in feet as this is how the roadsigns along the road are measured and, while it breaks with the convention set forth in Rule #24, these measurements have been forever burned into my brain. 10,000 feet is 3048 meters.

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166 Replies to “Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala 2011”

  1. Goed gedaan jongen, good job Frank!

    You guys should bring out a decal sheet with little V’s to use when having reached major goals or other heroic achievements, like they do on war planes. 
    Better than scratching a V in one’s carbon frame…

  2. I am stunned, awed and shocked! That was just the best dammed thing to come home from work on a snowy cold night.

    What a great ride… really when you said you might be doing this (and Gianni had done it last year) I had no fucking idea, none at all. Thank you for letting me goad you into making this such a public display of V. I owe you big time and perhaps this means I am the one on the mountain next year?

    As for Gianni and Michelle – genius, pure fucking genius on the level of Kurosawa!

  3. “I retreated into a dark, dark place where unholy thoughts of hatred frolicked, pain tasted bitter on my tongue, and time moved inperceptably”

    Chapeau, Frank. Great riding, great writing. Thanks for sharing.

    C’mon, though… that descent: fun or what?

  4. YEAH! That was awesome!!!

    Ok, since narcissism as my only true talent, I’ll make this all about me–I WANT TO DO THIS RIDE.

    Obstacles: I am a flatlander. I don’t think I climb well for my weight, but I don’t know because I have nothing to climb. I have the wrong bike and need a significant upgrade. I have absolutely no money for said upgrade, airline tickets, beer money, cigarettes for the DS, and thank you gifts for Gianni’s VMH. Nevermind that I don’t know Gianni and he hasn’t invited me.

    I’ll figure something out.

    The volcano just went on my Bucket List.

    Frank kicks ass!!!!!! A-Merckx.

  5. Frank: above and beyond. Whenever it hurts, I’ll think of that picture of you on the summit.

    @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Having the same thought, I did a search (I google well for my weight) and found this site, comparing various climbs in the US, including a measure of difficulty, using the Feits index.
    Frank can translate.
    Looks like Pike’s Peak is comparable and closer. Not to suggest anything.

  6. Great article frank. Well written & the emotional & physcological descriptives making the reading more telling of the experience. I bow to & envy your status as a true velominatus.

    Jeff in PetroMetro :
    YEAH! That was awesome!!!
    Ok, since narcissism as my only true talent, I’ll make this all about me-I WANT TO DO THIS RIDE.
    Obstacles: I am a flatlander. I don’t think I Climb Well For My Weight, but I don’t know because I have nothing to climb. I have the wrong bike and need a significant upgrade. I have absolutely no money for said upgrade, airline tickets, beer money, cigarettes for the DS, and thank you gifts for Gianni’s VMH. Nevermind that I don’t know Gianni and he hasn’t invited me.
    I’ll figure something out.
    The volcano just went on my Bucket List.
    Frank kicks ass!!!!!! A-Merckx.

    I like your train of thought here

  7. Pedale.Forchetta :
    Ah! Rétro poussette!

    You know Frank, my french isn’t what it used to be but I think he is calling you an old pussy, French no less. :)

  8. Just wondering….

    What happened to the ‘hairy legged guy’ and did he comply with the second half of Rule #33?

  9. @Buck Rogers
    I think you’re right! Hey, @Pedale.Forchetta! Yeah, you! I demand a rematch! I’ll take your spaghetti-eatin’ ass on any day!

    Actually, that would be a riot. Maybe a January 2012 Velominati summit at the summit of one of the (if not THE) longest paved roads in the world?

  10. @Harminator
    Hairly-legged guy was actually really nice. He was a bit ahead of me and I apparently passed him, but I don’t remember that. Then he caught me and hung with me for a bit and we chatted until he realized how much hurt I was in. Every pedal stroke meant less strength for the next. I was doomed to try ever-harder to go ever-slower. It was a bad dream that didn’t let up for 4 hours.

    HLG was super nice. VMH even gave him a banana. We chatted a while, turns out he lives on the mountain and he trains by riding different sections of the climb daily. Pretty rad. He knew every bit and was nice enough to warn me of the tough bits and I was sadly tired enough to ignore it all. I wish I knew how to get in touch with him. He had started at 1000 feet where he lives and was riding to 7000 feet. In a daze, I saw him descend from the top as I hit the last ramps, so he must have found Merckx and went for the top. Good on him. Rule #33 (and the five and dime) was observed by him for sure.

    As the elastic snapped, I did ask him if he would please shave that thicket out of respect for The Fallen. He didn’t respond.

  11. @Harminator
    The hairy legged guy told Frank he was only going to 7000′ but Frank intimidated him into going up to the summit. He was sweating like I do so I was sure he was going to crack but no he didn’t, maybe it was his compact crank that kept him spinning. This guy has only been riding for 1.5 years and he did a nice job. He does live here so he can train on Haleakala year round. And yes, I would say he complied rather well to Rule #33.

    The Director Sportif did advise young Frank to not burn it up down low as one can lose a lot of time at 8000′ but the kids…they just don’t listen.

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I don’t think I Climb Well For My Weight, but I don’t know because I have nothing to climb. I have the wrong bike and need a significant upgrade.

    Don’t let any of that stop you, it never stopped the rest of us.

  12. Please god tell me you rode back down that beast!!!! You can’t have passed up that downhill after working that hard to get to the top…

  13. The closest I’ve gotten is Zoo Hill two days ago. Only 3k across, 300m up but it took me 30 minutes. I only stopped hurting a few hours ago.

    If I could keep up that rate, I could do Haleakala in only 9 hours.

  14. Right. Set a date in 2013. I know a way to make this worthwhile for all involved – make it a fundraiser in addition to being a bastard climb. I’ll let you pick the charity.

    (for the record, I’m thinking something like what the guys at Inspired Adventures run… but since I’m going on an Inspired Adventure in May and have travel commitments in 2012, it’ll have to be 2013 – about the same time as I can afford a new bike).

    Who’s in?

  15. @frank
    Yay! Climbing the Haleaka would be a dream that comes true, and in a very good company!

    My Italian Orecchiette eatin’ ass would be happy to have a try on it.

    (Happy to see the Milano->Sanremo jersey there)

  16. As impressive as the climb is (sensational effort Frank), the cigarette hanging out of the mouth of the DS whilst urging his charger upwards is pure V.

  17. Finally able to watch the video (as work censors these things for some reason?). Very impressed frank. You still did amazingly well.
    Great support team; syringes, ciggies, food, plenty of good natured vocal support, bidons, laughter & love from the VMH, what more could one want?
    Hawaii is only a 9hr or so flight from Sydney (have to check that one), may be one day…..

  18. Well done Frank. I used to loathe climbing but because of “The Rules” I have made it my mission in life to become a better climber. But bitd before I was a Velominatus I tried my hand at the Teton Pass near Jackson Hole. 8k of 10% grade – and speaking of butterflies – as I was grinding away (actually it was more like being ground) a butterfly fluttered through my front wheel completely unscathed. Little bastard. My color matching Avocet 35 kept toggling between 0 and 2mph (I didn’t know what kph was back then). I made it over the top only to be greeted by terrifying 90kph speed wobbles.

    Once again, well done.

  19. @GluteCramp
    2013 fits my schedule. I’ll either have a great excuse for not coming ’cause I’ll be dead, or I’ll have time to upgrade my bike, save money for tickets and cigarettes and beer and PEDs and gifts for the VMH and proper Velominati kit, and I like the idea of raising money.

    Gianni, is there a local charity you can think of (besides yourself) that would take the spare change from my couch? If so, Velominati vs. The Volcano 2013 sounds spot on and I’m all in, full gas.

    By the way, GluteCramp may be the best web moniker I’ve seen. I’d call myself MiddleAgedTwatwaffle, but that hits too close to home. And I’d have to start all over as a Cat. 4 on

  20. The video was great fun. Once the kiddos are a bit older I might be able to get away with bringing my bike to Maui.

    For photo 29, suggest you change the caption to “His 23t cog was as clean as a whistle.”

  21. @GluteCramp
    Great idea but why not have everyone meet and ride L’Etape together in 2012 or 2013 and then watch the tour and have some cafe’s?

    Either way, I’d love to get together somewhere in the world for a bit of an epic ride with the “V” Train!

  22. Well done, Frank! I’m humbled. Just back from a week of sitting on Cuban beaches and the first thing I see on the interwebs when I get home is Frank inhaling, swallowing, and digesting a whole, friggin’ hornets’ nest. I feel so inadequate. I’ll need to log some heavy kms before I can feel worthy of donning the V-kit again…

  23. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    I have begun saving for a trip to France for April 2012. I have some friends who are currently living in Lille and leaving in June 2012 and I have talked my wife and kids into making a three week trip to France to, in part, visit them. We will spend the second weekend of April in Lille (can you say Paris-Roubiax anyone??!?!?!) and then travel throughout France for the next two weeks. I have a family that I lived with in Paris for one month back in 1989 that we will see for a week and then my old French Launguage teacher is living in the south of France and we will go there for a week. Should be an AMAZING (but expensive!) trip! I am hopoing that there will be a P-R cyclosportive on the Saturday prior to the race as they sometimes do that. Not sure if it is happeneing in 2012, but that could be another “V” meeting place as well!

  24. @Steampunk
    Oh Great Prognosticator, whose gifts of foresight leave your fellow Velominati prostrate and weeping with with unconditional admiration, please share with us if your Merckxian talents of prediction extend beyond our grandest sport.

    If so,do you foresee the winning numbers for tonight’s lottery drawing? I beseech thee. Share them. Share your visions. I dare not beg, for it is unseemly of a Velominatus. But if one does not ask, one does not receive.

    Daddy wants a few million dollars.

    Thank you in advance.

    Yours in The V.

  25. @Buck, I would love to but the way the Inspired Adventures work, the actual trip is only part of the cost. The trek we’re doing in Nepal in May only costs about $3,000 to go on, but we each have to raise another $3,000 for Plan Australia (the nominated charity) before we can go.

    So, Hawaii with bikes isn’t crazy expensive, but when you double the cost for fundraising purposes it starts to look kinda scary. L’etape is (I’m guessing) a little more expensive to start with, so doubling that would make it difficult to achieve for lots of people (me included!)

    That said, I’m sure Inspired Adventures wouldn’t say no to getting L’etape off the ground – they are doing events like the New York Marathon so L’etape wouldn’t be too different… Maybe get in touch with them and see what they say?

  26. @Frank
    “This video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment. It is not available in your country”

    So well done on your ride anyway. Epic trip.

    I’ll just sit quietly in Stuttgart and read a book or something.

  27. Absolute awesomeness Frankie boy, even getting a dig in at me! (Must’ve been the altitude making you say such things.) You really do have a magnificent stroke (for the first 1000 feet at least, then it looks like you’re having a stroke.)

    Gianni, you smoke? This could mean trouble on the Keepers Tour 2012… I’m partial to a puff when drinking. And speaking of all the V-rides you guys are mentioning, I’m thinking of organising a Cogal in Wellington on the weekend of Paris-Roubaix, we’ll run the Welly-Roubaix again, and have a weekend of debauchery culminating on Monday morning with a viewing of the real race. Any of our Aussie community keen to pop over? The Welly contingent is pretty strong in numbers, would be great to get a bit of Trans-Tasman banter and drinking challenges going…

  28. Damn! And I was off by less than 30 seconds! I may not have my own, but I can feel the V coursing through Frank’s veins.

  29. OUTSTANDING! A marvelous display, Mate – ably assisted by your supportive DS and caring soigneur. Great article, great video, and great effort on The Beast. Duly added to my list of Things To Do. Would be great to do it as part of a V-cogal for a worthy charity – particularly if there were a few others who definitely did not climb well for their weight and could be relied upon to be more than two months from peaking.

  30. @Lee

    That is pretty good. The little girl at the end makes it. Hey, are Skoda’s any good?

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