Saturday, December 26, 2009

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 (~65ยบ), 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.

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