Backroads & Byways – Kailua Kona Hawaii – by Neil Shirley
It’s become an annual tradition when heading to the Big Island for the Ironman World Championships that we spend a day on our bikes doing something big, challenging, and amazing. This year would be no exception. After the ascent of Mauna Kea, the 14,000+ foot volcano that climbs 55 miles from Waikoloa Beach to the barren moonscape summit last year, we wanted to mix things up this time with new sights and unknown roads.
While the triathletes filled the streets around Kona in their last-minute preparation, our escape would be one where we’d have contact with few other cyclists, or anyone for that matter. After spending some time on Google Earth we had a route that would take us to the northernmost point of the island and the town of Hawi that serves as the turnaround for the Ironman bike course. From there, the adventure would begin; what we might find on the backroads and byways was anyone’s guess.
After leaving the lava fields behind on the gradual climb toward Hawi, the vegetation lining the Queen K was a good indication of an area with heavier rainfall and cooler temperatures that offered a reprieve from Kona’s heat and humidity. Never ones to miss an opportunity to enjoy an espresso and snack at a local coffee shop, Hawi served as our last chance to enjoy such things before ducking off the pavement in search of a unique riding experience. An hour later and we had found what we were looking for–a rugged dirt road filled with rocks and ruts taking us toward the water’s edge. Riding across the top of twenty-foot cliffs with breaking waves below was beyond what we ever imagined this ride would deliver, not to mention it allowed the ideal opportunity to prove the versatility of the SES 3.4 AR wheels we were all riding.
Once we pulled ourselves away from the clifftop dirt roads, it was back to business as we still had a 3,000-foot ascent to Kahola summit that had to be reckoned with. Each part of the stair-step climb took us deeper into lush terrain until finally reaching the peak that opened up to views of what seemed to be the entire West side of the island, and Maui. A 15-mile descent back down to the Queen K allowed us to finish the day in total bliss and let settle in what we had just experienced. The ride high remained for the rest of the week and helped complete what would be the best Kona Ironman yet for ENVE.
What will next year’s Kona ride be? It’s anyone’s guess.