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riding around the sun

The directions for this ride were fairly simple. Keep the ocean on your right, until you get to Haleiwa, then go south until you see the ocean again. Keep the ocean on your right until you get back to the hotel. It was simple and straightforward, and whlie the best plans in the world aren't always either of these, many of them do start out with those aspirations, if only because simple gives you a lot of buffer for improvisation and adaptation for moments when life gets interesting.

I had gotten out early, to escape Waikiki before the weekend throngs took over and to get to the eastern shore of Oahu while the sun was still new over the horizon and the day was still cool and quiet. The bike was feeling grumpy as I had set out, clearly irritated at me for leaving it in the case for the last week and twitchy as I steered eastwards to Diamond Head and points beyond. I stopped a couple of times to adjust my seatpost and check the alignment of my stem, but the bike and I still felt a little uneasy with each other. By the time I had cleared the Diamond Head Crater and got slammed with a faceful of east-west tradewinds, I was thinking that maybe I should cut this trip short and come up with some alternate plans.

Still, I kept going, and a few miles later, I felt warmed up and ready to continue with the rest of my plans, to ride the bike around the eastern edge of Oahu, to the fabled North Shore and Waimea Bay, before heading south through pineapple plantations then returning to Honolulu to complete a 116 mile bike ride and a day long tour of surf and sand.

After a week of resort hordes on Waikiki, it was a relief to get out of Honolulu and find a few stretches of open roads. The ride didn't really click for me until I got to Makapu 'u Point, the start of the eastern (or Windward) coast of Oahu. The view from the roadside lookout, of a winding road with white sands and green mountains, was magnificent. The tailwind that I had on my descent to Kaiona Beach was even better. Compared to Waikiki, the beaches along this area were desolate and empty, but still possessed of their own beauty, and their emptiness was a testimony to the draw of Honolulu's resort hotels and how people would prefer to jostle for a bare patch of sand on a beach that's just a block away from their hotel instead of heading ten miles east for shores that they could have all to themselves.

I glided along this stretch, only stopping once or twice at dusty little convenience stores for water and food. I had hoped to find Gatorade or some other electrolyte drink at one of these places, but was stymied at both. The day was getting hotter and I was sweating a lot more. I had a bag of li hing mui, a salted plum that one of the client's VP's had given me when he took us on a tour of Honolulu and made us eat each of them on a dare. He was surprised when I ate mine readily as, he explained, most mainlanders have to nibble the plum because the salt is too strong for their palate. I told him that I used to eat salted tamarind pods as a snack when I lived in the Philippines, and the flavor of li hing mui was pretty close to that old childhood treat. Gratified that he had found a kindred aficionado, he gave me the bag and bought me another variety with a more intense flavor. They certainly were a nice change from the sticky sweetness of Gatorade.

The rest of the ride was this running tapestry of gorgeous beaches, and I was frequently tempted with stopping at one for a dip. However, I still had it in mind to keep going, and cover as much ground as possible before noon. There would be many opportunities to swim in the North Shore in the afternoon, after the midday sun had raised temperatures enough that such swims weren't just a luxury but a survival tactic.

Though, of course, as much as I wanted to keep going, fate seemed to have other ideas for me, as I passed the hamlet of Kahuku and felt my rear tire violently pop and go flat. I cursed my luck as I knew the probable cause. The tire was old, having endured 4000 miles of wear and tear, and was quite nearly bald and worn out. It had developed a puncture about two months ago, and I had just improvised by patching the inner tube, then using a folded up dollar bill to buttress the rip in the tire. Now, as I pulled over, and opened up the rear tire, I pulled out the old dollar bill, now grubby and stained, and found a rip big enough to fit my pinky finger. Ah well, I guess I was pushing my luck with that little hack.

Still, I had no other choice for repairing the tire. I fished out a fresh new dollar from my wallet, folded it to twice the thickness of the old patch, then repatched the tire and got back on the road, except to have it go flat only a few miles later after the patch glue failed. Ok, well, at least I had a spare inner tube, and in the grand scheme of things, I've changed flat tires in worse places and under more dire circumstances. Fixing a flat on a beach in the Pacific, doesn't suck, but destroying your spare in the process certainly does.

I had somehow neglected to pack my full frame air pump, because I was packing the bike at 2 in the morning and by the time that I realized that I left the pump out, I had lost the enthusiasm to reopen and repack the bag just to get the frame pump in. I had opted, instead, to pack a smaller, more compact pump that would fit in my carry-on. That pump, however, sucks and requires some fairly vigorous work to get a tire just to barely rideable condition. It was this vigorous action that got me to tear the valve of the replacement tube and render it useless.

Now, I was stuck, with a flat tire and no more usable spears. I felt disappointed and sorry for myself for a few seconds, but finally figured that such thoughts were useless, and I needed to improvise. The buses in Hawaii are outfitted with bike racks, and I had seen some passing me on my route. So, I did the cyclists walk of shame and rolled my flat-tired bike to a bus stop and waited for a bus to show up. I had no idea where the nearest bike shop was, but figured that since the Kamehameha Highway was the only road that connected the various coastal communities, I'd find a shop eventually.

The bus showed up well before I had started to panic, and on it I met two sun baked and sarong-clad surfer girls who told me that there was a bike rental shop up by Shark's Cove, and that they were heading to that beach themselves and could point it out for me. Thanking them for the tip, we sat back and watched the sea go by. Behind us, a pair of teenagers were chattering:

"Like, my dad's tantrum this morning totally bummed me out. I don't know if I even want to go to the stupid Dole Plantation anymore."

"Oh, I totally know! Let's just go to the Napoleon Bakery and eat a cheesecake."

"Yeah, let's just make ourselves feel better. Fuck this diet."

Life is hard, let's go bingeing.

We made it Shark's Cove easily enough, with the girls pointing out a side street and a sign for Coastal Cycles. The only guy in the shop was a blonde bear of a kid, with a stubbly beard and a loose west coast drawl. I asked him if he had any tubes for a 700x28 wheel. He said he did, and as he came around to hand me a box with the tube, he took a look at my bike and just asked, "is that an Independent Fabrication?"

I was a little surprised at his eye, and explained that it wasn't an IF per se, but a creation of one of the IF guys who'd gone on to do his own thing.

"Yeah, I could tell." he said, "The welds are bad ass, and everything about that frame is totally sweet."

His name was DJ and he explained that he used to race downhill mountain bikes in his youth, before a couple of bad accidents had reminded him of his own mortality, which is a crippling thought in top-tier mountain bike racing. He used to own several custom bikes, one from Independent Fabrication, one from GT, another from Specialized, but wrecked most of them in turn before giving up on racing completely. From Hawaii, originally, he came back to help run a bike shop that rented single-speed cruisers to kids and retirees looking to cruise the bike path between Turtle Bay and Shark's Cove. It's a long way from racing, but it's still something he loves doing, and that's all any of us can ever ask for in life.

He talked as he watched me fix my flat for the third time that morning, and chuckled admiringly when he saw the two dollar bills in my tire. "That's always a neat old trick." Eventually I was on my way, and waved him farewell. By this time, noon had caught up with me and the day had grown hot and oppressive. I rode a bit further on, to Three Tables Beach and parked my bike within sight of the beach before leaving my shirt and shoes behind and walking along the sand in bike shorts before plunging into the cool waves of the ocean.

As I swam out, I'd look back occassionally to check on my bike, and I'd also see crowds of people on opposite sides of the beach, looking and pointing but none of them swimming. That seemed curious, until I took a closer look at my surroundings. There were several dark, slick rocks nearby, and as I peered at them closely, I realized that they were moving and they had heads and flippers and that, oh, I was swimming with sea turtles. The realization alone was a neat moment, but I vaguely felt that this was something that I Was Not Supposed To Do, so I turned around and headed back to shore.

Back on the bike, I caught a nice tailwind down to Waimea Bay, and stopped here to take my turn in climbing up a rocky promontory, then jumping off into clear blue waters churning twenty feet below me. There was a brief moment when I thought that it would be unfortunate to break a leg or other bone at this point in my day.

From there, I rode into Haleiwa, and grabbed lunch at a church parking lot, where a husband and wife couple were grilling split chickens coated with a guava/mango glaze syrup. I had a plate with half a chicken, a skewer of grilled shrimp, a bit of rice and a smoothie of fresh ripe mangoes. There were three girls sharing my picnic table, one of whom chattered on her cellphone for my entire lunch.

"Oh my god, have you checked out Jimmy's myspace?"


"I know! Manslaughter, right?"


"Well, like, he really fucking deserved it."


"I hear that he's getting a moped now because you don't need a driver's license for one of those."

I wondered if they were talking about the same person throughout this exchange or if those sentences referred to different people, but I did not feel compelled to ask.

From Haleiwa, it is possible to continue a circumnavigation of the island, but the northwestern corner of the island is still an unpaved five mile stretch of lava beach, and I felt like I had lost enough time on this ride, and instead opted to head south and bisect Oahu through the saddle that sat between its eastern and western mountain ranges.

The climb up to the saddle was relatively long and tedious, with a crosswind that held my speed down and constant 60 mph traffic that kept my nerves up. Still, the descent that came after that climb was long and refreshing, and the views of mountains, pineapple groves and curious Christmas tree forest of pines nestling in the midst of a tropical landscape were enough to keep me entertained. Soon, I was starting to see signs of urbanization: dense traffic, multi-lane roads, decently paved tarmac. It almost seemed too soon that I saw road signs pointing to Pearl Harbor, notifying me that I had returned to Oahu's urban southern shore.

The simplest way to get from Pearl to Honolulu is along the Kamehameha Highway to the Nimitz Highway, and while in its northern reaches, the Kamehaha is a pretty mild stretch of road (calling it a highway on the North Shore is a sign of pure optimism) near Pearl it turns into a pretty gnarly, speedy stretch of traffic. Still, Hawaiian drivers are far more courteous than their Boston brethren, so it wasn't too terrible, just unpleasant.

I stopped off briefly at a convenience store to use the last of the cash in my wallet to pick up some water and gatorade. The store was owned by a Korean couple and the husband crouched down by my bicycle to ask questions of my generator hub in his pidgin English. He told me that he used to ride his bike from SomeTownInKorea to SomeOtherTownInKorea, and I just nodded and smiled and said that was good for him.

From there it was a rather leisurely cruise from the Nimitz Highway to Ala Moana Boulevard, a seaside promenade that reminded me a lot of Roxas Boulevard, and provoked a sense memory of my mother lamenting how this made her imagine what Manila would've been like if 'times were better'. Though, in truth, she makes that comparison when we were in Barcelona, Singapore or on any wide road that trails an urban harbor. Though, there is something about the Aloha Tower and its 19th century colonial architecture that does evoke shadows of Manila.

Once over the Ala Wai Canal, I had returned to Waikiki, and I swept past the beaches at sunset, crowded like it was a rock concert and thronged with masses of people getting in each other's way. I was glad to be back, but happy all the same to have left.


Sounds like an awesome day. :)
Your business trips are better than my business trips.
I was actually thinking of you the other day when talking to some clinicians and one of them said that a relatively unique enviromental problem in Hawaii is 'vog', which is basically volcanic fog.

The mind boggles at the concept of aersolized lava.
The bus showed up well before I had started to panic, and on it I met two sun baked and sarong-clad surfer girls who told me that there was a bike rental shop up by Shark's Cove, and that they were heading to that beach themselves and could point it out for me.

I have seen more than one film with a similar plot line.

Sounds like a great trip.
I don't suppose one of them was titled "Schwinn-g"?