Hawaii - Waipio Valley - Muliwai Trail Mini-Adventure
October 2008
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I managed to sneak back to Hawaii for three weeks this month. Spent most of my time working, but managed a bit of adventure. This route is one I'd heard of from another island rider some years ago. Overall more of a long scenic slog than a "Whoo hoo!" mountain bike ride.

We started out at the Waipio Valley overlook, a popular drive-up spot for viewing the deep green valley on the Big Island of Hawaii's windward side.

Our goal was to travel across the valley and along the coast. The minor series of obstacles being a 1200 foot high wall, ocean cliffs and a mountain covered with thick rainforest and cut through with steep gulches.

My personal adventure began as we were unloading bikes. In gathering my gear and swapping between two borrowed bikes, I'd managed to forget to put my clipless pedals onto my bike for the day. Dang. At least the bike had nice big flat pedals. I pulled the metal cleats off my shoes hoping it would be less slick, and on we went, down the frighteningly fast 25% grade of the rough pavement of the Waipio Valley road. Brakes were burning by the bottom, where we turned onto the beach road.

The beach at the mouth of the valley is a mile wide. Surfers were out in the waves. Scattered sunlight brightened the steep green walls and the farms and wetlands in the valley floor. We waded the river over slick round rocks near the beach and wallowed along the sandy trail to the far cliff.

That's where the "trouble" really started. We began riding upward on the Z Trail. (If you look closely in at the larger version of the photo from the overlook, you can see the trail angling up the face of the valley wall to the edge of the cliff.) But it quickly got too steep and nasty to ride. We pushed, pulled and dragged up the steep, rocky rut of the trail, gaining elevation fast on the stair-like grade.

Before long (If "before long" includes grunting and sweating and resting and snacking and trying to figure out the best way to carry the bike and stopping to take in the view...) we were 1200 feet above the beach. The trail leveled out until it was steep but rideable. We had vainly imagined that once we reached the plateau we'd have easy riding. But the trail dove through 13 smaller gulches, and was only rarely level, always rooty, often steep. There were slick green rocky sections that we chose to walk instead of fall down on.

We rode and dragged something like 5 miles through mixed forest that was usually thick, only occasionally opening up to narrow views of the gulches and the coastal cliffs. Unusually tranquil at times, we were also heavily "thwocked" by helicopter tours earlier in the day until the clouds began to thicken overhead. The gulches were moist only, as this wet side of the island has been experiencing a drought. If it had been raining much recently, we would not have made as much distance, or would have had to turn back at high water.

After we pretended to ride some of the nasty roots along the the way, the trail began to drop steeply again into Waimanu Valley. We left the bikes and hiked part way down to get a view of the valley and some waterfalls. Waimanu was heavily populated and agriculturally cultivated by Hawaiians, but has been left lonely since the 1940s. It's a wild, rugged and remote place today. Hemmed in by steep walls, coastal cliffs, and crashing windward surf. Seeing it made me want to explore further. Perhaps another time.

After more snacks, we headed back, riding, slogging, and laughing toward the Big Downhill of the Z Trail we'd come up.

The Big Downhill was big. And downhill. But not as rideable as one might hope. There may be riders who could ride most or even all of that trail. But we are not those riders. We rode much more than we had on the way up. But there were many long sections that we were quite happy to walk. Roughness, steepness, tightness, looseness, and a very high penalty for failure. A mist of rain that started to fall, greasing up the rocks... Walking was just fine.

Down at the beach, there was more slogging through the sand. Then dragging through the stream. More sand. And one final obstacle: the road out. Photos do no justice here. It's a paved 4WD-only road that's pretty much the perfect capper to a day of bike-dragging. It climbs about 900 feet in just over a half mile. One of our group was able to ride it without stopping. I was doing fine until my heart exploded. With some resting, some pushing, and judicious use of switchbacking back-and-forth across the road, the rest of us made it to the top.

After chocolate shakes and burgers in Honokaa, there was still some disagreement over whether the adventure was worth it or not. I liked it and it was worth it to me. But I had to agree with everyone else, that I probably would never need to do it again. At least not with a bike.


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