Finally! A Clydesdale’s Ride

Posted by SuperClydesdale on June 16, 2011 under Rides | 4 Comments to Read

Big dudes weigh more.  No running from that — believe me, I’d run from it, but my doctor says its bad for my knees.  Running blows anyway.  That’s why I ride bikes.

I remember the night before the Death Ride in 2009, I was staying the night at a friend’s house in South Lake Tahoe.   My host  – a little guy named Roger – informed me that, indeed, suffering was his friend — suffering being the key to a great ascent.   Roger weighs about 140 pounds, so while he is suffering on a great ascent, I am dying.  Literally.  Roger and I have different views of suffering, I think.  For him, suffering is fighting through the pain and exhaustion.  For me, it’s going a week without a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.   His pace while suffering crushes mine, even if I’m pushing myself to the brink of death.  I simply cannot keep up.  This is primarily because I have Roger by 100 pounds.  Gravity is a cruel bastard.

Two years ago, I wrote that the perfect Clydesdale ride would be one that enables a Clydesdale to leverage his strengths and minimize weaknesses.  In other words, it would be all downhill — pure descent.   Then, the tables turn and gravity becomes my friend.   Then, Roger simply cannot keep up.  It’s opposite day!   On monster descents, the challenge for me is moderating my speed around turns.   If I time my braking well, little guys haven’t got a prayer of keeping up with me.

For the most part, the idea of the all-downhill ride has been pretty much an idealized construct in my mind – a mythical thing, like a unicorn, or a hot chick that would talk to me.   The only downhill rides that I have been aware of are of the mountain bike variety – like they have at Northstar at Tahoe, the ski resort near me that turns into a downhill mountain biking course in the summer.  That’s really not appealed to me.   It doesn’t attract cyclists, it attracts danger junkies, many of which are totally unfit and look like they were dredged from the line at the ice cream stand at State Fair.  Not that I shrink from danger, but I have to go to work on Monday.  And, unlike many of these people, I have most of my teeth want to keep them.

There are some spectacular descents around me, but they are usually preceded by difficult climbs.   While I like to climb, and fancy myself somewhat of a mountain gorilla (see the Clydesdale Glossary), when I do these rides with little guys, they have such a tremendous advantage on the ascent that if I try to keep up with them, I’m damaged goods by the time we get to the top.   I want a ride where I have the advantage for once.  From the start.   There are few opportunities for such a ride:

  • The previously mentioned downhill ride at a ski resort, where you take a lift to the top and bomb down
  • A coordinated ride where you bring two vehicles, and drop one off at the bottom of a hill.  Then you and your lazy-ass, big-boned riding partners ride to the top of a massive hill for a free ride down.

That’s about it.

While downhilling is well established and popular, the second option just reeks of laziness.  I can’t bring myself to do it.  Although, I’ve thought about it many times.  We have some massive descents near me.

Unfortunately, I earn all of my descents.

Luckily, when I was on vacation last week on Maui, I didn’t have to collaborate in secret with some other lazy bastards.  All I had to do was sign up for the “Haleakala ride.”  This is actually a very famous and popular ride on Maui.  There a numerous companies that advertise this, supplying bikes, helmets, and a ride to the top.    The Haleakala ride is just as you might be thinking:  they take you up to nearly the top of the 10,000 foot mountain, and then you ride down.    It’s 10 miles of > 95% downhill.

Of course, I had to do it.

My wife and I ended up going to Haleakala Bike Company, in Haiku.   Why?  We got a screaming deal.  I fancy myself the cheapest man alive, and just because I have wheelsets that cost more than many people’s cars, doesn’t mean I don’t like a deal.

We selected the “sunrise ride,” which brings you to the top of Haleakala well before sunrise so that you can (hopefully) see the sun come up over the rim of the volcano.   It’s supposed to be pretty spectacular.   What “sunrise” really means is that you will have to meet at Haleakala Bike Company at 4:30AM.     That was pretty tough.

Now, had I been rewarded with a spectacular, or as the Haleakala Bike Company web site says, “…the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed,”  (shouldn’t that be “most sublime?”) – it may have been worth getting up at 3:30.  Unfortunately, within minutes of our arrival, clouds moved in an obscured the view, and made it even colder.   I could have been anywhere.  It reminded me of when I was in Scotland one winter.  Cold, damp, and foggy.

When we packed for Hawaii, we packed for balmy temperatures.   No pants, no jackets, no gloves.  No plan to do the Haleakala bike ride.   One key take away, even in the tropical environs of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s freakin cold at 4:30AM at 10,000 feet.  Really, bone-chillingly cold.  Especially when you are coasting at Clydesdale speed (aka “breakneck,” “borderline out of control,” “really fast”).

Haleakala is the centerpiece of Haleakala National Park.  In 2007, the National Park Service banned commercial touring companies from allowing riders to descend from the highest part of the park.  Apparently after numerous deaths over the years, with fools crashing into oncoming cars,  they decided that it was a bad idea, and now companies have to start the rides just outside the park.  Its unfortunate, because the stretch that it eliminates is insanely steep and twisty.  It would be fun to do the entire descent.

Even without the highest portion, the ride still has many miles of great road, with “the 29” – 29 switchbacks.   I’ll post some photos when I get back to the office.

My Clydesdale characteristics, as expected, benefited me greatly.  I kept having to pull over and wait for the others in my riding party to catch up.  Sometimes I’d let them go on ahead, then bomb past.  It was awesome.    Part of it was gravity, part of it was my love of speed.  I’m usually a pretty aggressive descender.  The only thing holding me back was that they do this darn thing on mountain bikes.    Hardtail mountain bikes with knobby  tires.  Not the best vehicle for an aggressive descent.  Maybe they’d had had fewer deaths if they put people on road bikes!   At least they had disk brakes.  Otherwise, I’d probably melt the rim off.   They’d have to have runaway bike ramps for the likes of me.

I liked Haleakala Bike Company because, unlike some, the ride is totally unguided.  You come back when you want.   No “guide” to slow you down.   You go as fast as you want, right into the oncoming traffic if that’s what you’re into.

We took advantage of the lack of a schedule and stopped at Kula Lodge, a neat old restaurant about a third of the way into the ride.   Talk about a Clydesdale ride!!!    Imagine, an all downhill bike ride with pancakes a third of the way into the ride!   I can die now.  Maybe that’s why they had the deaths.  People stopped, had pancakes, and then figured, “hell, it can’t get any better than this,” then go head on into the tour bus.  That’s how I want to go out:   downhill ride, pancakes, tour bus.  Maybe a beer in there somewhere.  And a naked chick.  I’ll figure it out.

  • jamesplanckaert said,

    The 12 hour clydesdale world championship, 12 hours of snowmass, I did it last year, it sucked ass and totally destroyed me. I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to see just how bad you can feel. I’ll be there this year, 9-10-11, easy date to remember and no worries, I’m coming from sea level so if you are too, I’ll die with you. I also did 24 hours of leadville last year and also recommend it as a suffer fest “see what your made of” race. I weigh 260 and haven’t been training, it should be extra horrible this year, see you there!! james

  • jamesplanckaert said,

    The 12 hour clydesdale world championship, 12 hours of snowmass, I did it last year, it sucked ass and totally destroyed me. I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to see just how bad you can feel. I’ll be there this year, 9-10-11, easy date to remember and no worries, I’m coming from sea level so if you are too, I’ll die with you. I also did 24 hours of leadville last year and also recommend it as a suffer fest “see what your made of” race. I weigh 260 and haven’t been training, it should be extra horrible this year, see you there!! james

  • smartalox said,

    I too have done the sunrise ride down Haleakala – in true, Ultra Clyde style, I plummeted down the switchbacks. I didn’t make many attempts to stop, since my wife elected not to ride with me, and rode the tour bus back to the shop. I flew so fast that I actually beat the bus back to the bike shop! For what it’s worth, if you go back, the National Park forbids TOUR operators from starting at the top, but if you’re a private citizen with a rented bike, and a friend who is willing to shuttle, you can ride the whole thing, top to bottom.

    Also, I’m not sure what travel does to you, but the Pacific coast is three hours behind Hawaii, so 4:30am there, is 7:30am Pacific time. I live in Vancouver, so I know what of you speak.

    Great blog, man, I’m glad that I found it!

  • smartalox said,

    I too have done the sunrise ride down Haleakala – in true, Ultra Clyde style, I plummeted down the switchbacks. I didn’t make many attempts to stop, since my wife elected not to ride with me, and rode the tour bus back to the shop. I flew so fast that I actually beat the bus back to the bike shop! For what it’s worth, if you go back, the National Park forbids TOUR operators from starting at the top, but if you’re a private citizen with a rented bike, and a friend who is willing to shuttle, you can ride the whole thing, top to bottom.

    Also, I’m not sure what travel does to you, but the Pacific coast is three hours behind Hawaii, so 4:30am there, is 7:30am Pacific time. I live in Vancouver, so I know what of you speak.

    Great blog, man, I’m glad that I found it!

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