Bikepacking/touring the Big Island

Readers, I present you the greatest lady biker gang to exist

Machiko "the strategist" 

"strong legs" Cathy "the peacekeeper"

Alexa "indomitable workhorse"

Lo "too much energy in the mornings"

Exploration around Captain Cook 

In a time not so long ago, these 4 women decided to band together to bikepack around the big island of Hawaii. The goal was purely to have fun, experience Hawaii, and to use our bikes to get from place to place without renting a car. Spoiler: we achieved all of these goals and then some.

Most of my blog posts start with "and then I showed up and did x,y,z" but this one starts with "and our first challenge was planning". It took quite a bit of coordination between the four of us to bring this trip to fruition, the first hurdle being that I actively try not to plan "adventure" trips whereas Machiko and Alexa (and very flexible Cathy to some degree) thrive on planned trips. After a lot of negotiating and a few Lo-Machiko-cat-fights, we mostly resolved a route and a limited number* of hotels along the way (I just want to say, for the record, Machiko at one point tried to route us over saddle road - a 6,000 ft climb from sea level - at one point!).
In search of beaches around Captain Cook 

Casual group shot overlooking lava fields 
Ok now to the fun part, we started in Kona/Captain Cook at 1500 feet. The first day began with yours truly springing awake to birds chirping and a warm breeze, assembled her bike together before dawn, read outside as the sun rose, and then went and fetched breakfast + coffee for everyone else while they put their bikes together. What a dream travel companion (that was pretty much the best of me on the trip, might as well make a good impression!) We then split up for a bit - I wanted to explore closer to Kona a bit - and then rejoined the others at a (small) beach where Alexa played in the water and the rest of us gave ourselves skin cancer. This first day kind of was a wake up call for all of us about what our tour was going to be like - the big island of Hawaii is one giant hill. In all directions, and always up. Don't deceive yourself - this place actually defies physics at times. Everything is a hill, and usually a steep hill.

Alexa and Machiko did not appreciate the flash used to
take this photo
The next day was the start of the tour! Yippee! We made steady progress, too much progress, so we had our first deviation from the plan and ended up staying at an airbnb in Discovery Harbor instead of camping. Our day was filled with occasional deviations onto backroads in farm land, sunshine, and warm, warm weather. That night, Machiko and I slept outside (first night for me in the Hammock!) and we watched a meteor shower overhead on a clear night (NOPE, I'm not making this up). I did crawl into bed with Alexa at 3 AM when my hammock collapsed a bit and it got windy, but that's a minor detail :)

journey to green sand beach
By pushing a little bit the day before, we bought ourselves enough time to check out Green Sand Beach. We *knew* it was going to be rocky and what not, but what we didn't expect was the 1500 ft descent to the shore, the rocky crags we'd have to ride/hike/carry/drag our bikes across for 4 miles, the ceaseless wind... all to make it to a beach that was maybe 200 feet wide. It was absolutely worth it. This was probably the coolest part of our trip, hauling our bikes and frying our skin across a Martian landscape to a beach that had literal green sand. Freaking sweet.
Love on the cliffs

Green sand! 
View from palace hammock 
From there, we transferred to our next airbnb for the night, still in Discovery Harbor. Alexa had found us a veritable palace to spend the night in. As I nursed one of my first actual sunburns ever (!!!), we ate fresh fruit off trees on the palace's property and watched a perfect sunset from our palace's balcony. The palace even came equipped with a hammock, so I spent another lovely night outside <3.

The next morning, we (mostly me, a little Machiko) rallied the troops early because today was our big climb to Volcano fully loaded. Of course, we just "happened" to delay a bit outside an amazing bakery in Naalehu (Alexa and Cathy were amazingly patient throughout the trip for Machiko and I's obsession with sweet things). After the bakery, we had a steep haul out of town on backroads. But man, once we got to the top, they were incredible. We rode for miles on this tiny paved road up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, talking and laughing. It was probably the most pleasant riding of my life!

Finishing the Volcano climb 
After descending off  the cliffs and a quick stop at a gas station for food, the work began... we had to make it up to 4,000 ft or so to Volcano National Park in the heat of the day, starting at about 800 feet. Fortunately, the wind blew for us and kept us cool and temperatures dropped as we climbed - we hovered at approximately 80 F for most of the climb, which was a blessing  from the > 100F it could have easily been. In Volcano, we puttered around a bit, Machiko whined about how Americans  waste their natural resources ("these could all be amazing hot springs, and instead you all just waste them!!"). Originally we had planned to camp in Volcano, but between altitude, half the park being closed due to Volcanic activity, and questionable legality, we decided to spend the night in another airbnb in Volcano.

"Just imagine all the potential hot springs!" 
Martha and Bridget! 
After a well earned rest, we had a well earned "rest" day as we descended down into Hilo - 26 miles of almost all downhill. Machiko guided us again on to some incredible backroads - another  truly breathtaking part of our trip. We reached Hilo pretty early, and I met up with my high school friend Martha who had just moved to Hilo like 3 days before we arrived. Coincidence?! Martha, her friend Bridget, and I went for a quick hike while the others checked out a bike shop in Hilo and got supplies. We all met up to binge eat at dinner, and an elderly woman at the next table tried to set up Martha and Bridget with her son (who was probably 15 years older than them). Ah, just another day in Hawaii.

Old Mamalahoa Hwy !!! 
The next day was Mauna Kea for me and a rest day for everyone else. So, Alexa played in the water, Cathy relaxed on the beach, and Machiko befriended every person at a brewery in Hilo. Whew, another great day, but my legs were certainly dead at this point.

No rest for the wicked though! The next day we headed to Laupahoehoe only a mere 15 miles or so out of Hilo. I think I whined the whole way. We ambled though, stopping at the Botanical Gardens (worth it) and a small food shack that had some incredible food (remember those smoothies guys? <3).

Orchids grow wild in Hawaii! 
We also started to weave through bits of the Old Mamalahoa Highway, which is an incredible road on the Northside of Hawaii with very few cars and a lot of interesting scenery. Laupahoehoe was our first and only night of camping on that trip (had to justify hauling all the camp gear somehow...) I setup my hammock again  and settled in for an incredible night of sleep next to the beach when... IT STARTED TO RAIN. And not just rain, POUR. May I add there was a 0% chance of rain in the forecast that night? And it rained the entire night? My heart broke a little that night, and I retreated to the tent with Cathy, where we spent a good chunk of the night laughing and talking about men. The usual :)
Cathy and I chilling on our way to Laupahoehoe

We then set our sights on Waipio Valley. It was a pretty significant climb and trek to get there. Holy hell the roads were beautiful (again) but holy hell my legs felt like they were going to explode. We had a mid morning siesta at a Mexican restaurant where the owner really spoiled us - giving us fresh guacamole and cracking open coconuts for us to drink. He said he hurried to put the sign out "Mexican food, here!" when he passed us on the road coming into work.
Rain took away the best night of sleep of my life. 

Black sand of Waipio 
 We missed the turn off for the airbnb past Honokaa and decided, why not, let's just go to Waipio Valley fully loaded. Machiko took a break and guarded our things (and made more friends, of course) while Cathy, Alexa, and I descended down about 1100 feet on the steepest road on the planet. Seriously, to the people who on Strava later asked me "why didn't you ride it?" you're a sadistic bunch. At the bottom though, there was an incredible (like over a mile long) black sand beach there, and the water was warm. Cathy, Alexa, and I all played in the waves for what felt like hours - getting beaten up by the surf and running out to do it again and again. I still have black sand in my hair and ears that I'm pulling out.

Our airbnb that night was... interesting. Although it did have a hammock, I was too scared of antagonizing the owner to use it, and I ended up passing out at like 8 PM (after an awesome dinner in town). We woke up, had a very good breakfast there, and then prepped for our climbed to Waimea (>1500 feet, last big one!). Alexa had finally eaten most of the food and drank the beer she'd been  lugging around the island, so she was feeling sprightly and wanted to climb at tempo. I felt like a dead whale, but trudged on after her with Machiko and Cathy not far behind. The Waimea plateau was pretty incredible, with rolling fields, blue skies, and horses and cows roaming. We all stopped at a brewery/coffee shop in town, ate not as much as you'd expect, and then continued as clouds started to gather over Waimea.

The rest of the day was a descent into a resort north of Kona. Alexa and I decided to practice our road racing skillz with loaded touring bikes on the descent. Man, that was brutal. We sprinted and sprinted and sprinted and only started to "chill" a bit when Alexa got stung by a bee AND these random wild goats kept jumping out of the shade on the highway when we descended (hard to tell who was more scared). We rolled into the resort land laughing and met up soon with Machiko and Cathy, who had taken substantially more pictures than us on the way down.

What actual resort life looks like 
Resort land was also... interesting. We all concluded that we aren't really resort people. I couldn't hang up my hammock outside, for example, because the palm trees had high beams attached to them to keep out the riff raf. We did get to see a beautiful sunset, sea turtles, and some very unfortunately trapped dolphins (we contemplated setting them free...). Oh and some jailed flamingoes, because you know, those are native to Hawaii too :|

Always time for hammocks on beaches 
With relief, we departed from the resort the next day to complete our circumnavigation. The group split for a bit to enjoy some beach time (set up the hammock!) and then rejoined at Kona Brewing Company - which I have to say, had some really amazing food. We checked into our hostel for the night (next two nights for me!) and then did some more exploring (bike shop, another beach, etc) The next day - we had most of a full day before the others left on a red eye flight at 11 PM was more of the same. On an impulse (and with Alexa's guidance) we decided to splurge and take one of those "dolphin swim and snorkel" tours and OMFG it was incredible - we swam with wild spinner dolphins so close that we could touch them, we snorkeled at some pretty incredible reefs, and we had a whale circle our boat and breach/dive about 15 feet away from us. Incredible! I thought Alexa was going to die from pure joy.

Cathy and the whale 
The others left me that night, but I still had one more day. So on the last day, I used whatever was left of my legs to climb Kaloko St - the #11 toughest climb in America. I mean, that was an apt placement in my opinion. Although probably 60% as hard as Mauna Kea, it was still a real butt kicker, alternating between 8% and 16% grades. I finished the climb, descended down, packed up my bike, and finally got a latte and sat on the beach and watched the water (allegedly my favorite thing to do while on the Hawaiian islands...)
Another Hawaiian sunset 

Overall, it was an incredible trip. It took me a while to finish this post from the sheer exhaustion I've had the last week (I think I slept over 30 hours over this long weekend). Another thing people asked me post trip was "was it as fun as it looked?" The answer is yes, yes it was. We certainly had people/group issues come up multiple times and there was tension, but there's a lot to be said for maturity, genuine apologies, laughing things off, and giving people time and space to do their thing that leads to an overall amazing trip for everyone involved. I feel extremely lucky to have found such awesome companions for this trip, and I'm forever grateful that they said "Hawaii? Yeah why not, let's do it" when I asked :)

Overall, it was over 400 miles and 40,000 feet for me. Oof, it might take a bit for my legs to stop hurting!

At the end!

You Might Also Like