Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ride Report - Kohala Mountains

This was the most pleasant ride of my stay in Hawaii. I did it early in the trip but only just now got around to writing a lot of this stuff down.

I started in Waikoloa, went up the Queen K to Kawaihae and then on to Hawi, on the north side of the island and the turnaround point for the Ironman. It is about 2 hours of mostly flat terrain to Hawi.

In Hawi I turned right on Hwy 250 and started riding up the Kohala Mountains towards Waimea. It turns out that I turned a bit earlier than I should have, and did a couple miles of 10% gradient that I could have avoided if I had turned right later on Kinnersley. After that, though, the climbing is moderate, and the day I rode, the views were outstanding. Once you get some altitude, it becomes very green. Basically the "green line" is about 1500 feet, where the rain becomes consistent as the clouds move up over the mountains. You are now in ranch country. Waimea is the center of the ranching industry on the Big Island, and home to the Parker Ranch, which is the second largest ranch in the US after the King Ranch in Texas.

The road surface is good and traffic is light. The climb tops out around 3700ft after 13 miles, for an average gradient of 4.4%.....very pleasant. From the top there is a nice descent to Waimea, and then the ripping descent from Waimea back to the coast.

There is no water between Hawi and Waimea, so fill your bottles in Hawi (there is a market behind the post office at Hwy 250). Fill them again in Waimea (turn left and go 2 miles to the town proper where the shops are), because you are still about an hour from home, and by now it is probably ass hot.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ride Report - Old Mamalahoa Highway

This is another awesome ride, from Waikoloa, up through Waimea, and then on to Honokaa via the Old Mamalahoa Hwy. You have to ride about 3 miles from Waimea on the main highway, which is slightly uncomfortable.

The climb from the Queen K up to Waimea is a nice one. 10 miles at about 5% gradient. It is about 50 mins of climbing from the volcanic wastelands of the beach area to the green ranchlands of Waimea. After a brief stint on the main highway, you turn off onto the old road, which winds it way through ranches and beautiful vistas. Once in Honokaa you can ride out to the Waipio Valley overlook, but I did not have time.

I was originally intending to go do Kaloko Drive again, but I ran into Lance and spun around to ride with him. When he turned off, I decided to go to Honokaa because Brad had recommended the old highway, and I know that Lance rides it as well. I was relieved, because Kaloko Drive scares me, whereas the climb to Waimea is tolerable.

The best part of the ride was the descent back down to Kawaihae from Waimea. After a couple of gradual miles, you get into an 8 mile motorpacing session. The average gradient is 5%, and it is pretty consistent, so you can motor. The shoulder is a bit narrow, so you need to motor unless you like traffic passing close by.

I spent 14 mins going down this section in the 53x11 and 12, at threshold the whole time. It was really fun to work hard for so long going downhill.

Hangin' with the Lancinator

Ok, not exactly hanging with, more like near. Today I ran across Mr. Armstrong on the road, and spun around to ride with him for a bit. In ancient Hawaii it was Kapu (forbidden) to stand in the King's shadow, and the punishment was death. Lance was on his TT bike and looked focused, and I did not want to be a nuisance or piss him off. So, after a brief chat, I dropped back a bit to ride along and see if I could keep up.

It turns out he was on an easy day (according to a later tweet). I surmised as much since I kept up for 15 miles until he turned off. I was at threshold, he was cruising.....seems about right. When I saw him coming and turned, I was so excited that I was riding at a 175 heart rate, and he was not catching up. I had to chill out for a bit and slow down.

Here is a pic I took after I dropped back. The guy on the left is a CTS coach that was with him. He also had a follow car, which is how I knew it was him coming.

I felt a definite buzz during and afterwards. Silly? Perhaps. But I feel like I had a nosebleed seat to the early days of a Tour victory. I was hoping he was going to offer me a stagiare contract based purely on my pro tan, but apparently it takes more than that.

People either love or hate Lance, it seems. For me, he is a hero. I choose to believe that he wins clean for the same reason children believe in Santa makes my world a happier place. Since it seems that most of his competitors have been caught doping, it really does not matter whether he did or just adjusts the magnitude of his accomplishments a bit. Either way, he is the greatest Tour champion of all time.

Sure, he is no Eddy Merckx, but the Tour is a lot more important now than it was in Eddy's day. Lance knows that it is the only race that matters to his sponsors, and he makes sure he wins. How important is the Tour to Lance? Did you know that he won the World Championship in 1993? Former world champions are entitled to wear the signature rainbow stripes on their sleeves. All of them do....except for Lance. He dropped the rainbow stripes around 2003 in favor of a yellow band, for Livestrong and the maillot jaune.

Over the course of the trip, I saw Lance 4 times. The day after our little chat, I passed him going the other way on the Queen K. I sat up and gave him 8 fingers. He came up out of his time trial position to wave to me and give me a thumbs up....I thought that was pretty cool. 3 of the 4 times he was on the TT bike. Hmmm....I wonder where he thinks he is going to win the tour. I hope he does not neglect Kaloko Dr...he needs to keep up with Contador on the mountains before sticking it to him in the time trials.

On a geeky equipment note, I looked to me like he was wearing Bont shoes. Of course, they will have a swoosh on them if he wears them during races. I really like the design of the Bonts, but don't feel like parting with the cash for a third pair of road shoes just yet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Puttin' on the miles

I have been getting some good rides in. The Big Island offers outstanding terrain. The Queen K highway has the widest shoulder I have ridden on, because it was built for the Ironman. You get 20 feet of room in most places, which is a nice buffer against the big trucks. You need to hit the road early, because once it gets hot you struggle to stay hydrated. I have been drinking a large bottle every 45-60 minutes depending on the terrain.

Speaking of terrain, there is everything you could ask for within easy reach of where I am staying in Waikoloa Beach. Want to keep it problem, stay on the Queen K. Want a Grand Tour HC climb, yeah, we've got those as well. I will do separate ride reports to give a better description of the more epic routes. Brad Sauber of Bicycle Adventures send me some suggested rides that were awesome.

There is a weird effect in Hawaii where your perspective gets skewed somewhat. The pic on the right looks like I am going downhill, and that is what my eyes were telling me. In fact, that section was dead flat, which is what the Garmin and my legs were telling me. I ran into this phenomenon in several places. Of course, on Kaloko Drive, after slogging up the steep pitches, the 4% sections seem flat, but that is "oh my god that hurt, I am glad that is over" effect, combined with the "hey man, this is your brain here, I am totally out of oxygen and shutting down, later" effect.

Ride Report - The Saddle

Feel like climbing for frickin' ever.....this is your ride. 35 miles outbound, climbing almost the whole way. There is a 3.5 mile flat section on the Belt Road, and then a couple of short downhills as you approach the summit. Other than that, you are grinding uphill. The average gradient works out to about 3.5%, but as usual in Hawaii, there are some double digit sections to make you cry. To the right is a pic of my Garmin from most of the way up the mountain. Yeah....5500 ft of climbing in 28 miles and still more to go.

The Saddle Road is also the worst maintained asphalt road I have ever ridden. There is a 3 mile section where it feels like you are riding on gravel strewn with potholes. A few years ago someone put one lane of newer tarmac down the middle of the road, so when there are no cars, you can ride on that. Traffic is not too heavy, but when you have to pull to the edge of the road, it is a bumpy ride. When you get up top, you are greeted with a spanking new section of highway with a big shoulder and smooth asphalt. The views up here are great.

Up top you get out of the vog, which is a mixture of moisture and sulfuric dioxide that you get on the Big Island because of the volcanic activity. Right now, the volcano's emissions are 10x normal, so there is a lot of vog. It just looks like haze. Apparently near Kilauea you can taste it, and it is probably not great for your lungs, but on the Kona side it never bothered me.

The unpleasant part of this ride is coming back down. Once off the summit, you have to contend with the 3 miles of bomb cratered road surface again, but this time at speed. Also, the rest of the Saddle Rd down to the Belt Rd is pretty bumpy. Riding it on the Ritchey was a nervous experience, thinking about how the fork is likely to turn inside out or frame break in half at any moment. From the Belt Rd it is smooth sailing back to Waikoloa Beach.

You need to come prepared for this ride. From Waikoloa Village, which is about 6 miles up the hill from Waikoloa Beach, there is nothing......I mean the way of services. There was supposed to be water at the girl scout camp near the top, but the gate was locked. Drink a lot on the way up to Waikoloa Village, and then refill your bottles and buy a couple of extra bottles for your pockets. I bought one extra bottle and I was totally dry at the top. Bring tools and 2 spare tubes. Worst case, you can probably get a ride back down if you have a mechanical. The road is moderately traveled.

I packed my Rapha Stowaway jacket to use on the way down. By the time I got up top, around 1030, it was not cold at 6,000 feet (~65º), and I probably could have gotten away without it. But, you are descending for a long time--35 mins down to the Belt Rd, and it kept me from cooling off too quickly. I left it behind on all my other rides. Since it is flat on top you at least have an opportunity for the sweat to dry off before you go back downhill, unlike Kaloko. I would rather have had another bottle of water in that pocket and a bit of newspaper to stuff down my jersey, old school style. I was holding on to the bars so hard over the rough road that my arms stayed warm from effort.

The queen stage would be to ride over the saddle to Hilo and back, which would be 140 miles and 14k feet of climbing. I did a half queen and feel pretty damn good about myself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kaloko Drive--Terror at 5,000 feet.

Do you remember the classic Twilight Zone episode with the monster that is trying to tear the plane apart in mid-flight while William Shatner freaks out? Kaloko Drive is that monster, and your legs are the plane. And you will freak out. Madame Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, will beat your Haole ass.

How bad is Kaloko? It is hands down the toughest climb I have ever done. Lance rides it multiple times when he is here.

The legendary Alp D'Huez is about 8 miles long with an average gradient of 7.7%. Kaloko Drive itself is 6.5 miles at 8.5%, with 6 monstrous switchbacks where the road takes a lazy turn straight up the side of Hualalai volcano. You can spend minutes on the switchbacks, because they kick up into the teens (I saw 19% briefly on the Garmin) and slow you to a crawl. Kaloko alone would be HC by Tour standards at the end of a long stage (perhaps only 1st Category if it were early?). But at the top of Kaloko you take a left turn on HueHue St and you have another 0.75 miles at a ridiculous 15% average gradient, shown in the picture on the right. I have seen the video (here) of Lance climbing this section and he looks to be in severe pain. He is standing the whole way up HueHue. It literally broke me....I had to stop halfway up it. Lance did it in 46:44....I did it in about 70 mins [update: I cut 5 mins off Kaloko proper on 1/1, but did not do the last section].

But wait, there's more! Kaloko starts around 1400ft and climbs up to 5,000 at the top. I chose to get to it via Pia Lani St, which is 3.5 miles at 6.5% before flattening a bit (4%) on the Belt Rd and connecting to Kaloko.

To put this all in perspective, the climb from Alpine Dam to the top of Bofax, which I consider to be quite unpleasant, is 2.3 miles at 7.1% from the first switchback.

Taken as a whole, from when you point the bike uphill to when you stop climbing, it is 11 miles with an average gradient near 8%......that is Trés Hors Categorie. Ah, but the problem is that average. There are sections where it is only 4%. And you despise those sections. Because for every foot under 8%, there is a foot over. Enjoy the 4-6%, Haole, because Madame Pele's monster is waiting for you at the next turn to rip your legs off.

Look closely at my Garmin readout at right. I am turning over the pedals at 52rpm to make a bit over 5mph. I am at lactate threshold, and have been climbing for 76 mins and 10 miles, so the worst is still to come at the top. At this point I remember thinking I am in Hell, but really, I am just on the front porch. HueHue St awaits.

The trip up Kaloko took me 100 mins of ride time from when I turned off the Queen K and started climbing. That does not include breakdown time (physical, not mechanical).

The next day, my legs just hurt. My knee tendons and ligaments were sore from the low rpm grinding. My arms were sore from stabilizing my body to put power down. On the top section, my cadence was in the 30s. I missed my 34 tooth chainring....the Ritchey has a standard 39x53. Of course, having a 53x11 proved handy for the way down. Kaloko is pretty smooth, and you should be prepared to deploy your parachute if you really want to slow down, because brakes alone may not do the job. 45mph is a lot more exciting on a bike that was in 2 pieces not long ago.

I highly recommend doing Kaloko if you get the opportunity. Make sure you start the climb with 2 bottles. I did not really ride Kaloko so much as survive it, like when a green skier slowly stumbles down a black run. Nevertheless, it was a great test of will to keep going, and I feel like I am mentally stronger for having done it.

On an equipment note, my ridiculously expensive Assos FI13 kit really shined, as did my Time summer gloves. Getting up Kaloko is hot, sweaty work. The ridicujersey (my pet name for it because it costs so much) really did wick better than any other jersey I have, and the shorts are super comfy with good compression. Who cares that I could buy a whole bike for what the set costs. You need gloves in Hawaii. Normally I don't wear them, but your hands get really sweaty here, and you need to clean off your tires periodically to avoid flats.

More pics here...
Kolako Drive

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hawaii Training Camp

I am spending 2 weeks in Hawaii for Christmas with my family, and I am bringing my bike along so I can get some riding in. Now that I have young kids, the Hawaii trips are not as adventurous as they used to be. I did get in some kitesurfing last year on Maui, but in general, our activities are pretty limited by having to keep an eye on the kids. I am able to escape in the mornings for a ride while everyone else goes to breakfast.

I brought my Ritchey Breakaway. The Ritchey is a piece of crap, but it has one outstanding feature--the frame breaks in half so that you can fit it into a suitcase that complies (mostly) with airline regulations. This means I only pay for a normal suitcase, or $15-$25 each way, rather than $150. Previously I would just rent bikes, but the fit is never right, and I have paid a lot of money to rent junk. The compact travel setup also means it fits into the rental car, so my wife permits me to bring it.

Other than that very nice feature, it is all bad. The Ritchey manages to be heavy, yet not stiff, nor comfortable. The front fork is a travesty....I can hit the front brake hard at low speed and watch the dropout move a centimeter backwards.

But, the wheels go 'round, and I plan to get a lot of miles in the warm sunshine. Lance will probably show up after Christmas on his way to the Tour Down Under.