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#Maunakea, the World’s hardest climb.

Maunakea, the worlds hardest climb. I used to think that it was called Mauna Kea, until I was taught by the locals that it was Maunakea. Yeah, all one word.

This is the third time I’ve tried to ride up Maunakea. The first time, back in 2017 I just didn’t have the right gearing. The second time I had to cancel at late notice. And now the third time I screwed my wrist racing around Pukekohe raceway in a points race.

View from Maunakea to Maunaloa

I’d been off the bike for 6 weeks before attempting to ride up there this time. The decision to drive up to the Mauna Kea access road was an easy one. I simply hadn’t done any training, nor lost any weight to tackle the 100km ride from Kona.

It was on the Friday night whilst watching the news that I noticed that there was a protest going on at the entrance to Mauna Kea. The protest was about the construction of a 30 metre telescope. I had to try and climb it before Monday morning when the construction trucks were due to arrive.

So on Sunday morning, I got up early to drive the 80km. I arrived at the access road. Parked the car. And that’s where I met some of the locals. People so passionate about the mountain, that I almost decided not to try and ride up. I sympathised with the protestors. New Zealand was going through a similar protest at Ihumātao, in Auckland.

The barren landscape of Mauna Kea

The protestors wished me luck and told me that they’d look after my car. They also told me about the history of the mountain, their heritage and that of Hawai’i and Hawaiians. So much to learn, and it distracted me from the task at hand.

I remembered the climb up towards the visitor centre as if I had ridden it yesterday. I remembered the pain and suffering. Although last time I’d already ridden 50km and 2000 metres of climbing to get to this point, from Hilo.

The early part of Mauna Kea access road is gentle. It leads you into a false sense of achievability. How wrong you can be. Even with better gears, I truly believed that I may have a shot. Wrong! I was even singing to myself, it was all so easy. Then the real challenge starts. The road ramps up to 13% for 3km. Brutal.

My strategy was to simply ride as far as I could with 28mm tyres and no fitness, a sore wrist, but with good gearing. I’d opted for a 38/26 chainset, and an 11/42 cassette. Normally this would get me up anything. Heck, I could even Mt Everest on these gears, when fit! Today was not that day though.

The sun shone, the winds didn’t blow, and it was nice and warm. I started riding without a care in the world, other than my wrist. I was scared that it’d be more painful coming down than going up. How wrong I was. I simply couldn’t stand up to ride. I also couldn’t put my hands on the top of the bars. This was making things tricky.

The first 5 Ks went without a hitch. Sure it’s steep, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I even felt tricking good by the time I got to the visitor centre. I had enough food and water. Heck, the ride was only 20km up, and I’d already done 12km.

Then you hit the sand. Sand is being generous. It’s a mixture of ash, stone, sand, and rocks. It’s bloody difficult to ride on. It’s also easier to ride going up, than down. I know some riders get up there with 25mm tyres, I’m not one of them. I know people go up on mountain bikes. Some even ride a road bike until the gravel section. They then swap and continue up with a mountain bike. Everyone has their own strategy. Mine was just to see how far I could get.

I didn’t get very far. I was off the bike and walking. It soon became apparent that I was walking more than riding. I’d remembered from last time that I needed MTB shoes, just in case I did have to walk. Of course I was going to have to walk. Who am I kidding. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I quit not long after embarking on my walk.

I turned around. I was beaten yet again. But here’s the but, and it’s a big but, I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that I’ll be back to conquer once and for all. New Zealand isn’t too far from Hawai’i. And the airfares these days make it more affordable.

So I plan to ride Maunakea next year. Maybe en route to the UK or Canada, but I will be back. Of that I have no doubt. So if you’re keen on an Hawaiian adventure, just hit me up.



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