My wife and I booked the sunrise bike tour through Original Sunrise Summit Bike Tours, $200 per rider. I’ll refer to them as the Summit Bike Tours. About 8 weeks before the event, we selected the self-guided tour. This tour cruises down the slopes and switchbacks of Haleakala. It can take a few hours to accomplish the descent to Haiku (our destination) although some may take additional time. We left our hotel at 1:30 am and arrived in Haiku around 3ish am.
Once we arrived, we heard the weather report, wind gusts to 40 mph, rain, and sleet reported at the summit of Haleakala. I can’t wait; sounds like winter to me in Hawaii. A thought that I did not verbalize at the time: Was this going to be a waste of money and time?
The trip up to the Haleakala National Park was interesting. The driver, Marlin, introduced himself as having the same first name as Marlon Brando, the famous actor. Marlon also provided some valuable Hawaiian culture and he wasn’t shy about attempting to be witty during such early morning hours.
Regarding the travelers, some slept and some were motionless as they stared out the dark and foggy windows mesmerized by the brutal weather forecasted on the mountain. For the entire descent, there appeared to be three decision-making intersections so we needed to know the correct direction when one of these intersections appear. It's still COVID season so everyone on the bus is also wearing a mask. Considering we're in Hawaii, I'm also wearing raingear and a winter jacket with gloves. It's a little crazy but my wife and I are interested in seeing the sun on the mountain and overall a little adventure.
While still traveling up the mountain, conditions are certainly not ideal so our plan changed. This was self-guided but with the inclement weather, we needed a larger team approach. Whether a group or a duo, our best interest was to use the paper map too -- especially at critical junction points. Most travelers also listened for announcements from Marlon --- except that many could not see outside through the foggy windows. Our fate was being sealed.
We arrived at the Haleakala National Park with zero visibility. We walked around the vistas trying to see any semblance of a rising sun but Mother Nature had other ideas. After 45 minutes of waiting for the sun to appear, the van was taken down several thousand feet to a dry patch. I thought for a moment that our luck had changed.
A group of us left right away – those hydraulic brakes were used constantly down this mountain. One of the tour guys suggested that constant descent braking is essentially the Gravitational Mitigation Exercise. For the first 20 minutes of steering, the weather cooperated but soon the damp clouds came rolling in. The rain wasn’t cold, but it made me get to know my handlebars more intimately. The rain cloud appeared to follow our path of switchbacks and sometimes straight roads, we performed the last 30 minutes on our bikes in a downpour. Through these conditions, we lost the rest of our group. With or without eyewear, you’re not seeing well and neither are the others. With so much rain, rapids of water crossed our paths on the paved road, we gripped some more, knowing the trip was soon complete. Unfortunately, my paper map fell into about 8 rectangular pieces, at this point, unusable. At critical decision points on the road, without a map and no markings, at several times, we shrugged our shoulders. I know this ride may have been an exception and typically these pocket-sized maps are useful, but why not create a backup plan? For the critical decision points down the mountain, paint a blue or green circle on things such as telephone poles or tree trunks. That’s a small favor to ask and may help others in a similar situation.
So Summit Bike Tours knew about the conditions on the summit that day – a strong chance of no sunrise. Were they sure visibility would improve in the next few hours? They also knew there was a strong chance the weather that will confront a descending cyclist would be a mixture of light and heavier rain. And what was their response? Nothing. At that parking lot at 4 am and staring at the bike demo, part of that demo could have provided an opt-out based on the poor conditions.
What do I mean? The shop wants your business and wants you to attempt this, however, in good conscience; under these conditions, guests should have been allowed to opt-out with a 50% refund. Isn’t that what ethical companies would have done? Why didn’t Summit Bike Tours provide this option? I don’t know and I’m not in the business to speculate. All I know is the riders were inconvenienced big time with this experience. From the stress of not knowing where exactly to turn to zero visibility on Mount Haleakala, the overall trip was a major disappointment to us – the only takeaway was an interesting story to tell based on quite challenging conditions.
One more thing, I ponder that the availability of clean restrooms in good working order is a fair expectation. Summit Bike Tours is one of many businesses located in a large, former fruit factory. Unfortunately, all of these businesses shared the same bathrooms. One stall was out of order in the men’s room, overall condition was poor and unsanitary. Regarding the women’s, they also had one stall not functioning. It took all of 5 minutes to realize those employees and guests have few options but to use this filthy bathroom. Moving forward, clean and well-functioning restrooms should be more the rule and not the exception.