Big Island of Hawaii - Volcano Hike and Bike

The moment I stepped foot on the Big Island I felt something special, something powerful. I instantly felt rejuvenated, energized, and more alive. The evening we pulled into Hilo Harbour a friend I knew from Tofino happened to be coming into town for dinner. We met at a place near to where we had anchored and feasted as he and his girlfriend were amused by my newfound land energy. 

A couple days after arriving the unfortunate dream that I had experienced came true. Dave informed that he wanted to continue on solo from that point. He comforted me by saying that I was a great crewmember and that it wasn’t me, it was him. Haha. Classic breakup moves. His main reason was that he didn’t want to feel stuck to a plan to get me to Asia. He was keen to go exploring in the Pacific and get lost on the islands for awhile. All of which I would have been happy to do but I knew there was no point in bringing it up because I could tell that he simply wanted space. He was kind enough to offer to get me to Oahu from the Big Island where I would have a better chance of finding another boat to crew on. I was officially marooned on the most remote island chain on the planet. 

There’s more to that story but it will have to wait for the book. I was hurt, but I understood where Dave was coming from. It’s a small boat, I’m not an excellent cook, or a beautiful young woman. I think I took it pretty well considering my predicament. Dave timed it well also. I was just about to leave the boat and bike across the island to stay with a friend. I had purchased a beater bike soon after arriving but it proved to be unworthy of any significant riding. Silly me. I then purchased a marginally better and new bike. I cruised about 50 km across the island to my friend Amanda’s house. It was great to see a familiar face!

I immediately started searching online crew seeking sites and spreading the word that I was in search of a ride to anywhere south or west. From the start it wasn’t looking very promising. I did get in touch with one guy who was offering up accommodation in return for some help with his boat for half a year until he set sail for Tahiti. I would have to overstay my visa but for other reasons it didn’t seem ideal. He was an interesting character who had some firm beliefs as to when it is safe to leave the Hawaiian Islands. I would later discover that there are many people in the yachting community who have researched a lot about specific routes or yachts but whose knowledge about broader weather patterns or what is actually safe is very limited. It goes the same with getting directions anywhere, it’s always worth getting a second or third opinion. I’d never have left my front door if I listened to all the sound advice from people who think they know what is the right way to do something. 

There is certainly worse places to be stuck in the world than Hawaii. I had an immediate desire to go up one of the volcanoes. I got on my crappy cruiser and started from sea level with a goal to reach the top of the largest one in the world (by mass). I biked 40km uphill to Volcanoes National Park and slept on the edge of a crater where you could see the lava lighting up the night sky. The next morning I continued biking 20 km uphill through rapidly changing ecosystems until the road ended. I locked up my bike in the bush beside a tree and continued on foot. As I climbed higher the vegetation became thinner and thinner until there was nothing but a Mars-like landscape of bizarrely shaped and colored lava rock. That night I took shelter 12 km up the trail at the Pu’u’Ula’ula cabin at an elevation of 10,035 feet. I had all of the thin air up there to myself. 

The next morning I hiked up the remaining 19.5 km to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677ft (4169m). I was travelling very light with minimalist running shoes on so I needed to be careful on all of the sharp volcanic rock. The colours up there were like none I had ever seen in the natural world, shiny silvers, glittering golds, and many shimmering greens and purples. It took me a few hours to get to the summit which is right on the edge of a massive crater. It was an epic sight.

I didn’t see anyone else on the trail until I started back down the mountain and came across what looked like a 70 yr old struggling up the mountain by himself. We briefly chatted and he informed me that he had driven up much closer to the summit where there is an observatory. He had been hiking for 5 km in the thin air and I questioned (in my mind) whether he would survive. I hope he did…

I returned the same way I came as I had left some things at the hut and my bike was still at the trail head. The entire 40km hike was completely exposed to the sun and it reflected off the shiny lava rock to nicely roast me from all sides. I was feeling a bit of heat exhaustion by the time I made it back to the cabin. Thankfully some friendly german ladies shared some food with me.  

The next day I had a wonderful ride all the way back down to the sea. I ended up trading my crappy cruiser for a more suitable mountain bike which would serve me well for many adventures in the Pacific. I rode over to see my friend Waylon who had been volunteering at Kalani, Hawaii’s largest retreat center. He treated me as his guest and I was able to enjoy some delicious meals and great yoga classes.

I was then invited by a warm hearted lady to stay nearby at her vacant and beautiful glamping setup. A large canvas tent with a queen bed in it surrounded by palms and fruit trees. It was great to have some space to myself. I’d wake up and cycle 25 minutes along Mango covered roads to a nearby surf break almost every day for the next week. The search for a boat continued with no luck but the search for a local non-profit to support was met with success when I was introduced to the folks at Go Kuleana. They are a very small organization that runs programs for youth, teaching them the concepts of sustainability and personal responsibility. I visited their permaculture farm for a day and helped them dig some dirt. Good folks doing good things. 

Just down the road from where I was glamping was a famous place called Uncles. They host a great farmer’s market and many events as well as being at the heart of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Many people are unaware of the very recent history that saw the Queen of Hawaii overthrown in a coup by a small group of American sugar plantation owners. It’s a fascinating and unfortunate history that I recommend you read up on. On another note, this area of the Big Island still has relatively cheap land due to the fact that there is a very high risk of a lava flow taking out your house.

 I had been planning on touring around the entire island by bicycle but Dave decided he was ready to leave as soon as I returned to Hilo. I biked back across the island and we lifted anchor the next morning. As we went to raise the sail the main winch jammed and Dave immediately decided to return to anchor. He searched for a new winch online and discovered it would take a week for it to arrive. I was happy because it would give me time to bike the island and also see one of my favorite musicians who happened to be touring Hawaii and playing a concert at a small venue at the north end of the island. 

It was a stunning ride along cliffs and past waterfalls. I passed many tree plantations that were likely once sugar plantations, and before that taro, banana, breadfruit, and mango would have dominated the landscape. I met some new friends at the Xavier Rudd concert and it was a great time. The next morning at breakfast I had a brief chat with him as he was staying at the same hostel as me. He was stoked on my journey and happy to let me use some of his music for videos. 

Not far from the location of the concert was the beautiful Wapi’o valley. A nice hike started from here and went along the coast. I mentioned to my new friends that I was planning on doing it and one of them also happened to have it in their plans for the next day. I had a 16km bike the next morning to meet Kate at the top of the valley. There was a steep hill dropping into the valley so I offered to carry her backpack down the road on my bike. It was so steep that I had to do my best to lean back ward or I would have flipped right over my front wheel.

At the bottom we stopped to eat some Papaya and a wild horse came over to join us. It was pleasing at first to have the company of a horse but it started going after our food and wouldn’t be deterred. It was nearly biting it out of my hand when I yelled at it and Kate stepped in front of it to block it and push its head away. The horse didn’t like this and quickly bit her on the chest! She was in shock and pain and started to cry as I got angry at the horse and scared him away with a big stick. Thankfully the horse hadn’t broken her skin but it did immediately start to bruise. Not the best way to start a camping trip, but start it we did!

We waded across a waist deep river of slippery rocks and walked along an empty sandy beach to get to where the trail began to climb steeply out of the other side of the valley. As we climbed up we had a clear view of a dramatic 100m+ waterfall dropping into the lush jungle below. It was hot on the exposed parts of the switchback trail so any time trees provided canopy we welcomed a shady rest. 

As we reached the top we appeared to enter an entirely different ecosystem with species of plants and trees that were all new to me. The forest was drier and less dense but it didn’t provide views to the nearby ocean below. The trail went up and down ravines and past waterfalls that would soon find their way into the Pacific. Agggghhhooo I looked back to see Kate awkwardly falling in slow motion and twisting her ankle. It seemed bad. She wasn’t going to be able to walk this one off. I scouted up the trail a little bit and found a decent clearing to camp at. I returned to piggyback her the few hundred meters to where she could rest for as long she needed. I wish I had the opportunity to help people out like this every day. It sure makes me feel useful.

After a good restful night Kate was keen to attempt to hike out of there. I taped her ankle up and insisted to carry all of the weight while she limped her way down the trail. She managed to hike all the way out without my assistance. When we returned to where there was cell service Dave had left me a message saying the winch had arrived sooner than expected and he was ready to go. 

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I was bummed I didn’t get to explore more of the island but I guess it’s good to have an excuse to return. I biked back to Hilo and we set sail the next morning. It was nice to be back sailing and the views to the North Shore of Molokai were straight out of Jurassic Park, literally. It took us about 30 hours to sail over to Honolulu. We arrived at midnight, the lights of the tourist wonderland seemed very out of place in the middle of the Pacific. I got off Dolce and paddled the final few hundred meters into the harbour while guiding Dave into the narrow pass with breaking waves on either side of it. We made it to the dock without a scratch. Phewfff. We were about to see a very different side of Hawaii.