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Aloha Hawaii! Around the ‘Big Island’ by bike

In the midst of this pandemic, the world is quiet. The aeroplanes are grounded. Dreams of visiting new places must wait. Virtual travel is the new norm. Below are reflections of a cycling trip on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Oh, how we loved Hawaii! We enjoyed its warm sunny days, beautiful golden-red sunsets, gentle fragrant breezes and rhythmic flowing language. And that most precious commodity of all … slow-moving Hawaiian time.

Some years ago we signed up for a van-supported cycle trip of Hawaii’s Big Island. Well planned daily routes enabled us to enjoy all that the island had to offer as we spun our way along some of its most scenic and least travelled roads. Each morning two guides provided us with route instructions and highlights of the day’s rides. More importantly, they ensured that our bikes were in excellent condition, our water bottles were full and our sunscreen had been liberally applied. The only requirement was that we come supplied with a bundle of energy and lots of enthusiasm. This we unfailingly did.

Bicycles at the ready and helmets in place, that first day’s journey mirrored part of the Ironman route which borders the north-west shore of the Big Island. Our legs pumped hard as our little army of bikes conquered the “gently rolling hills” en route to Hawi. In this small town a huge statue marks the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great, the ruler who first united the Hawaiian chain of islands. Our reserves of energy replenished by some tasty snacks, we continued onward to the picturesque Pololu Valley Lookout. Leaving our two-wheeled steeds at the top of the cliffs, we hiked down a steep and stony path to the almost-deserted black sand beach several hundred feet below.

Another day we pedaled along the Old Mamalahoa Highway through Hawaiian cowboy country. This rural road is practically devoid of traffic and winds through rolling pastureland, home to horses and beef cattle, and past small communities. At lunch time, we learned of Hawaii’s fixation with “Spam” which dates back to World War II. Right at the top of the menu was “musabi” (rice, spam and black seaweed), a favorite local dish. To the Hawaiian people “Spam no ka oi” (Spam’s the best)!

One of the many stops on our five-day free-wheeling trip was a visit to the historic Star of the Sea Painted Catholic Church dating from around 1929. Over 80 years ago, its Belgian-born founder painted the many vibrant and colorful religious scenes on the interior by candlelight. That day’s ride ended with a welcome dip in the natural hot springs at Ahalanui on the Puna Coast.

Another memorable event was a four-mile trek along the Kilauea Iki Rim Trail in Volcano National Park, 4,000 ft. above sea level. The Kilauea Caldera, at the park’s heart, is steeped in legend and lore. It is home to Pele, goddess of volcanoes and fire. She is one of the most revered and feared figures in Hawaiian mythology. On our 300 ft. descent into the crater, the charcoal grey lava was rough and craggy and the distinctive smell of sulfur hung in the air. Once a boiling lava lake resembling the fiery pits of hell, today the solidified lava resembles a jumble of up-ended paved slabs. At intervals, young ferns poked their way up through the lava floor and several Ohi’a lehua saplings with brilliant red spiky flowers had taken root. The air was hazy as vaporous wisps of smoke were constantly released from the numerous steam vents.

Our cycling style now much improved, we pedaled easily along the undulating Kona Heritage Corridor. From our vantage point on the sun-warmed south-facing slopes, we looked toward the rugged Kona coastline and its many coffee plantations. A guided tour provided some fascinating facts about the labor intensive business of coffee production. We learned that coffee trees flower eight times per year and the small delicate starry white blossoms (“Kona snow”) of each flowering last for only three days. These blooms eventually produce small round red coffee cherries, each containing one or two seeds. The seeds are sun-dried on huge trays. Seven pounds of hand-picked coffee cherries are needed to produce just one pound of coffee beans. With all of this new knowledge percolating through our systems, it was time for a tasting. Should it be the dark or medium roast, the private reserve or one of the flavored varieties? Um, they’re all delicious. No wonder, Kona coffee is considered to be the best in the world.

Grinding slowly up long hills propelled only by pedal-power and successfully cresting the summit provided an amazing sense of achievement. To whizz down the other side with the wind whistling in our ears was a just reward.

For us this cycling odyssey on the Big Island of Hawaii received a “10” rating. It was an unforgettable way to experience the many diverse sights and sounds of a tropical paradise in the true spirit of aloha.

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