Waimea Canyon Climb x2

Kauai is a pretty small Hawaiian island; you can drive from one end to the other in about 2.5 hours. Although the overall vacation (which involved a whole lot of biking) is written up in (tbd post here), I decided to highlight one particular day just to explain why all my cycling friends should go do this climb if they find themselves on Kauai.

The road out of Polihale #dirt

Waimea Canyon Road up to Kalalau Lookout is about a 5000 ft climb over 18ish miles. Originally, I had planned to do mountain biking/dirt road riding on side roads off the main canyon road. However, plans changed; I switched out for a road bike and had one goal - I wanted to Waimea Canyon ... twice.
Why twice? There are two roads that merge about 6.5 miles in. The bulk of the climbing occurs in this stretch, and I thought it wouldn't be a complete climb unless I did both roads all the way to Kalalau. I also thought that it would be a reasonably hard day - >10000 feet of road climbing in less than 100 miles seemed well within my capabilities based on some of the gravel riding I have done. However, no one on the island seemed to think this was a reasonable plan whatsoever. I got a lot of 'that's not possible' or 'once is really hard... twice probably isn't doable' or 'you're fucking mad'. 

The planned route:

In fact, let's recap a conversation I had leaving the campground at Polihale State Park Beach by two guys who had been smoking pot most of the night and slept in camp chairs:

Guy 1: "Hey are you going to ride on the beach with that bike?"
Me: "No, I'm going to go climb Waimea Canyon"
Guy 1: "Wait, like, on a bike?"
Me: "Yeah, actually I am planning on doing it twice"
Guy 1: "No way"
Me: "Yeah..."
Guy 1: "Wow... you must be crazy strong. Just Wow"
Guy 2 (who I had talked to the night before): "Yeah, and she has a PhD in Space Physics"
Guy 1: "What the fuck?"
Me: "Ha"
Guy 1: "What is wrong with you?"
Me: "That's a great question"
Guy 1: "Where'd you get your PhD from?"
Me: (Points at Jersey, has giant "M" on it with blue and gold colors)
Guy 1: "Jesus fuck. Well, this has been a treat. Go conquer the world, we'll be cheering for you here. You are seriously one impressive lady."
Guy 2: (Claps)

The journey is just starting
And thus, feeling pretty smug about myself, I began the journey. I road about 10 miles out, getting passed by Anthony who was going to go and see if there was a clear view at the top. We didn't really have a plan for him to check on me... and there wasn't really phone service at the top of the canyon... we were just going to hope for the best, on multiple fronts. 

I first ascended using the road that lied closer to Polihale; this ended up being an extremely fortunate decision because (1) it was the easier climb, a steady 6-8% grade most of the way for 2500 feet and (2) it was also the more typical 'canyon' climb and was already baking at 8 AM. By the time I was at 6.5 miles where the roads merge into one rolling-hill road, my water supply was 80% depleted and I was sweating like a madwoman. I kept climbing and climbing and climbing, with beautiful views on both sides, until I reached the first summit (YES!!). The last 11 miles of the climb are rolling hills will a net positive grade. I wish I could say it was a 'break' from the steady canyon climb, but it really isn't. The hills are pretty steep so it's not an efficient momentum transfer. 

View from Kalalau Lookout
High living :D 
The feeling upon summiting was fantastic. It was clear, sunny, and beautiful. It almost felt surreal. My water was totally gone at this point (...!) and the water at the top wasn't potable (...!). I had eaten all 4 of the granola bars that I had packed... things were looking grim and then... my hero Anthony appeared! He finished his hike around the look out and just happened to appear as I emerged from the bathroom. Savior Anthony refilled my 2L camelbak and brought out the jetboil for a gourmet lunch. 

Anthony asked me how I was feeling if I was thinking take 2 was going to happen. At this point, I was still unsure... I told him I would decide at the bottom and let him know. 

Lookout Round 1
From there, I luxuriated in every minute of the descent off the canyon, taking the steep road down. There are some perfect moments in cycling where you just feel like you're part of the bike, and I felt that way going down most of the canyon (after the rollers). Steep, curvy with lots of ocean views and fast rollers to keep things exciting. 

At the bottom, I made my dec
Lookout Round 2
ision pretty quickly. I still had gas in the tank. I had to go big or go home. So I u-turned and started to climb up the 'hard way'. I didn't know at the time that it was the hard way, otherwise I'm not sure I would have done a second lap. It was steep, reaching 18% grade for long stretches. Almost the entire 6.5 mile climb was done out of saddle, with sweat pouring down my face as temperatures reached 90F in the canyon. I was out of water by mile 5. People cheered for me up both roads of the canyon, but I got the hero's welcome on this one because... man, it was brutal. There were so many times I thought that I wouldn't be able to do it, that I was going to have to turn around and call it quits and coast down. But I wanted to make sure I couldn't turn a pedal anymore before I quit, and that never happened. 

After numbly slogging my way through the rest of the rollers, I made it to the top. This time the fog was rolling in, I was pretty beat, and it was getting colder (I did gain 4000 feet from that 90F point...). I made it a quick stop, getting a picture, having a few people tell me I was insane, and then I hopped back on Phillippe the rental bike to enjoy another fantastic descent (was faster than the cars this time). 
Phillippe was exhausted too

I made it back to the beach, passed out in the sand, and Anthony came and brought us burritos (Burrito Count: 1 for Anthony, 3 for Lo). It was a spectacular day. A lot of the feelings and highs that came out of it are impossible to describe - it was the highlight of my trip. Yes, it hurt a lot, but it was completely worth doing, and maybe even worth doing again. I could NOT have done it without Anthony, so thank you Anthony!!! My hero!! 

And if it wasn't obvious... I'm so glad I did this :D 

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