ROTOR IN THE WORLD
POST-KONA BIG ISLAND TOUR
Words from Adam, November 2019
Joel and I went to Hawaii to do three things: Provide ROTOR support for the World Championship race, ride up Mauna Kea, and tour around the island on adventure bikes. Turns out, Mauna Kea was closed due to protests, but we made up for by topping out at Volcano.
Day 1 - Kona to Kukuihaele (52 miles, 4k ft of climbing)
We headed north from Kona on the Queen Q Highway section of the race course. Plenty of folks were still out riding on TT bikes, and we were generally out of place on our pannier-laden gravel bikes, but we did pass another duo on fully loaded touring bikes! They were the only other bike tourists we saw the whole time. This section of Queen K Highway snakes between the coastline and the old lava fields, exposed and beautiful the whole way. We felt safe and comfortable, cruising at a steady clip on the wide shoulder with visibility for miles. Then we turned onto Kawaihae Road. After that right turn, it was a fairly grueling climb into gusting headwinds all the way up to Waimea. We stopped for some gas station nutrition in Waimea, took a wrong turn, then headed east of town in search of Mud Lane, which would take us straight down into Kukuihaele. That was when we got our first rain. Mud Lane lived up to its name. It was rowdy.
The winding tree-lined road quickly gave way to chunky doubletrack, which then turned to rocky, rooty singletrack. We descended 3,000 feet in about 4 miles of dirt, all on heavily packed gravel bikes. It was remote, it was scary, it was rad. That night, we were told that the nearest restaurant or grocery store was 15 miles up the road. We were toast. For dinner, we ate the largest avocados I’ve ever seen, which fell like deadly coconuts from the tree just outside our outdoor kitchen.
Dinner Recipe: Harvest an avocado. You’ll know it’s ripe when it weighs about as much as a newborn giraffe. Cut it in half. Discard the pit. Drizzle with sriracha and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Eat like the ravenous pig you are. Best served with avocado pudding from the hostel owners for dessert.
Day 2 - Kukuihaele to Pahoa (68 miles, 3500 ft of climbing)*
We started with a mile spin towards the Waimea Valley overlook to check out the black sand beach. Road grades of 25% convinced us to stay at the overlook and appreciate the view rather than swim down to tempt fate in the notorious rip currents.
Heading south is where things got a little funky. The road from Kukuihaele to Hilo was gorgeous, twisting through jungles and bridging over waterfalls. We rode through a light rain most of the way, snacking on electrolyte gummies and Cheetos. In Hilo, we stopped off at Hilo Bike Hub, which was a good classic bike shop with some knowledgeable staff. They politely informed us that the road we needed was under several feet of lava flow, and we would have to get creative on the route. That’s when we decided to make it a big day and push through to Volcano. Already 50 miles and 2600 ft of climbing into the day, we were facing another 28 miles with 4100 ft of elevation gain. We rode through the scenic side road that passes through the Waiakea forest preserve. Many miles and several buckets of sweat later, we were saved by a snack stop at the Hirano general store just before the last big climb. That night, we feasted on Thai food and recovered in a hot tub set in the middle of a rainforest.
*Final route - Kukuihaele to Volcano (82 miles, 6900 ft of climbing)
Day 3 - Volcano to Ocean View (60 miles, 3200 ft of climbing [and 5900 ft of descending!])
This was the easy day that we earned with our bonus climbing on Day 2. We descended down to the black sand beaches at Punalu’u for a mid-morning snorkel session, surfing each other’s drafts the whole way from 4500 ft to sea level. The snorkeling was sublime. Black sands and lava rocks, all kinds of fish I’d never seen, and dedicated nesting grounds for sea turtles. After the beach, we hit rolling hills across the southernmost stretch of road in the US. We got to Ocean View and ducked into the local Haole bar for a happy hour burger and beer as the rain started to fall outside. From there, we had a 1200 ft descent to our hostel, straight downhill through piercing rain and fading light. We slept well that night.
Day 4 - Ocean View to Kona
We woke to golden light over a Mars-like landscape of lava flows cascading down to the ocean. After cooking up a pancake breakfast and chatting with the other hostel guests we cinched down our packs and looked at the climb back out to the Hawaii belt road. Confession: We hitched a ride up that 1200 ft climb from our hostel to the main road. They were already going up the road, and we were tired. I’d do it again. After that, we rode the sketchiest roads we’d seen all trip. When there was a shoulder, it was narrow. When the road was straight, the speed limit was high, and when the road got twisty, people ignored the speed limit and went fast anyway. We basically time trialed this section, trading pulls all the way to Captain Cook. Once there, we paid a visit to our good friend Big Rob (of Big Rob’s Bakery), where we were treated like kings. The place is a gem, and the man is a world-class baker. He’s also a hoot and a half, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
The final stretch from Big Rob’s to Kona was supposed to be easy peasy lemon squeezy, but instead it was stressy depressy lemon zesty. The rain came in hard and the drivers took some aggressive passes as we got closer to town. Still, we made it back safely, ate a massive dinner, and packed the bikes to make time for our final snorkel trip to Kahalu’u Beach Park the next day.
All told, it was the trip of a lifetime. Joel saw a sea turtle, I inhaled a bunch of seawater, and we both got in some unbelievably scenic riding. I really love my job, as evidenced by the fact that I boarded the plane back to the mainland rather than disappearing in the jungle and living out my remaining days as an avocado picker. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be back for another round next year!
Got a route suggestion for the next round? Hit me in the web chat!
BIKEPACKING BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA
Words from Lori, October 2019
I didn't know exactly what to expect when I arranged to spend a few days riding the Ciro Trail across Bosnia–Herzegovina and Croatia following Eurobike this year. I figured it would be a good reset after a week in meeting rooms and in the Messe, as we all call the Zeppelin hangar that serves as the Eurobike show home.
The Ciro is a rail-to-trail, a former railroad line converted into a bike route, that travels a quick 160km on and off road through the rolling countryside of BiH along the Neretva River. I'm comfortable navigating the world solo, but the thought of sharing the road with cars as I pilot my fifty-pound touring rig simply felt ill-advised so I was excited to find this mini-tour to sate my desire for adventure. It was absolutely everything I could have hoped for: approximately 40% off road, I pedaled over hill and dale, refurbished railroad trestles and through an astonishing eleven tunnels, pitch black and filled with fluttering bats.
My borrowed bike had Q ring oval chainrings on it, which definitely helped as I plodded up the steady grades across the broken slate trail. Still, the 50/34 gearing was pretty stout given the weight of the bike, the surface I was riding, and the various mild but ongoing climbs. I finished the day clocking 63 miles and 4200 feet of climbing about 50/50 off-road that day. It was with some relief that I pulled into my small hotel, a refurbished former train station in Ravno, Bosnia–Herzegovina, that evening for a soft bed and hot shower.
The second day of riding started with more energy-draining crushed slate climbing, but after only about 10km resolved into a narrow ribbon of pavement unspooling across the countryside. I crossed into the Republik of Srpska early in the day, where all the road signs turned into Cyrillic and I crossed paths with a stereotypically eastern European man: army fatigues and boots, bare chest with gold chain, cigarette dangling from his lips with the accessory of two dogs on chain leashes. I deployed my well-practiced Croat "Hello" (Bok, in case you're wondering, or practicing chicken noises,) and continued on my way.
I passed through a handful of burned-out former train stations, reminders that a war had been here in my lifetime. I stopped and poked around these remnants, now housing no more than cattle as the towns around them slowly drifted toward closer routes of commerce.
I was excited as I approached the border to Croatia. I wondered if my passport stamp would be a bicycle in the top right corner, instead of the usual plane or car, indicating my mode of arrival. I got in line joined by two fellow bikepackers, a pair of Serbian twins riding from Serbia to Montenegro, and passed my folio through the small window. Sadly, it was still a car stamp, but it barely dimmed my enthusiasm as I pressed on to ride to the fortress up above Dubrovnik.
The Serbs were my companions for a while until the climb above the city reached a shocking 18% grade sustained. Admittedly, even my oval rings couldn't keep me upright given the duration and pitch of the climb, and there was a short bout of bike pushing alongside the train of Game of Thrones-themed tourist vans until it leveled out slightly.
Once back aboard my steed, I crested the top and took in the remarkable view of Dubrovnik perched on the Adriatic Sea below. Snapping a final picture, I waved goodbye to my erstwhile traveling companions and began the long descent into the Old City to merge with the tourist hordes, myself.