Saying Aloha on Two Wheels for the Third Time

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For the late November/early December week this year I decided to do an encore of Backroads'  6 day/5 night spin (counter clockwise) around the Big Island of Hawaii.  I did a similar tour with Backroads in 1999 and there were a number of improvements since then.

I was looking forward to this adventure until Labor Day weekend when on Shelter Island I fell off my bike.  On a club ride led by Pat Mullen I fractured two small bones in my pelvis.  BTW members Pat, Fred Leffel and Ellen Jaffe were very helpful in getting me home after the accident.

Because I wasn't sure that I could handle this challenging tour so soon after the accident I canceled my participation.  However by late October my physical condition had improved  to the point that I became confident that I was up to it  so I re-enrolled and rebooked my air, etc.  However, unlike my previous Backroads tour on this paradise island, I decided I would take it relatively easy and not attempt to ride every f-----g inch (EFI) of the biking itinerary!

According to Backroads, this tour "tests and challenges your legs over climbs through some of the world's most incredible scenery and refreshing and exhilarating long descents to picture-perfect coastlines". The tour travels across the island, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut, direction.  The archipelago's largest island has the large active Volcanoes National Park, black, white and green sand beaches, wildlife including turtles, seals, exotic birds and humpback whales, farms, plantations and coffee crops.  Ecosystems include rain forests, desert- like lava areas, the nation's largest cattle ranch and a rainy side (Hilo) with waterfalls.

The cycling program includes 2 possible 100 mile days of a total of 378 miles.  Only one of our 17 member group rode all those miles .  I was happy to complete 288 by cycling shorter loops and riding a couple of stretches in the support  vehicle.  

Day 2 included 7,500 upward  feet , 4000 of which was a straight up ascent over 30 miles as we approached  the crater of Kiluea Volcano, one of the most active on earth.  Unlike other classic climbs in various countries I cycled, this one had no switchbacks or spirals around the mountainside.  According to our guide, Gillian, these features make the tour one of  the most difficult in Backgrounds' worldwide repertoire!

We encountered very good weather-not too hot-and a maxmum of one hour total  light drizzle for the 6 days.  In the cool morning coming down from the volcano I wore my arm warmers under my rain jacket.

Our group of 17 cyclists were serviced by three very capable and experienced tour leaders.  Two of them drove minibuses and vans and the third rode with us.  The demographics of the group were as follows:  mostly couples, 2 father/son combinations, an Australian gentleman who like me is married but travelling without his wife and one single woman .The pedalers were mostly from all regions of the U.S. and Canada and their  ages ranged from college student to 70's.

Each of the participants paid about $3600 plus any single room charge, airfare, some minor tips, non included beverages  and meals.  It sounds  like a lot but consider what it would cost a visitor to New York  patronizing the top hotels and restaurants , obtaining services by  professional guides and being provided with high end titanium bikes.

In 2002 I circumnavigated the Big Island in the opposite (clockwise) direction with another company, Washington state-based Bicycle Adventures. They are still running this tour which is one night longer and the current charge is $3400.  They also ran a good trip with the hotels and restaurants on a slightly lower level.

Backroads also rents over-the-top Roubaix/Ruby bikes but I felt that the basic titanium bike provided at no extra cost was as good as mine back home.  The routes Backroads selected were for the most part lightly trafficked.  There were some necessary short stretches with heavier traffic but most had adequate shoulders.  There were some pebbles and even some glass and sharp small lava rocks and I did have 2 flats.  After calling a guide on my cellphone they  came in about 10 minutes and quickly repaired or replaced the tire.

The island's 185,000 residents whether they were driving a car, bicycle, serving us or just walking or hanging out were always friendly, courteous, helpful  and demonstrated the Aloha spirit!

Written by: Jay Jacobson (member since the 1990's)

For more info:
Short Bike Rides Hawaii by William L Walters available from
Fodor's Big Island of Hawaii 2014

AAA maps and tour book info - Contact the author [email protected]

More travel articles: go to then enter Jay Jacobson in the search box.

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