Tuesday 20th October. Ridiculously early start today! Up at 2.15 and out of the door by 3am! This was all in a good cause, however, as. we had a big day planned. With mountain bikes and helmets loaded we set off to drive to the top of the Haleakala Crater. 10,023 feet high and a magnificent place to view sunrise. There were also great treks to be done in the crater and a famous downhill mountain bike trail - the Skyline Trail - from the summit. We were warned that it would be very cold at the top. This was hard to believe as even at 3am we still felt uncomfortably hot in t shirts and shorts. Obediently we packed our trousers and down jackets, hats and gloves, assuming that the American locals were just being ridiculous and over reacting to a slightly cool morning air. We drove up in pitch darkness and a half moon in the sky. The drive took 30 minutes on main roads and another hour on the steep winding road to the summit. We had been advised to arrive st least an hour before sunrise - expected at 06.14. We arrived at 05.15. The car park had plenty of spaces when we arrived but rapidly filled and many late arrivers were turned away to park down hill at the visitor centre. Time for a nap. Luckily Bill woke at twenty to five and noticed a faint glow in the sky. We piled out of the car. It was freezing! Think ski resort in January. We put on every item of clothing we had brought and climbed the last few steps to a ridge overlooking the eastern horizon. It was spectacular! Even 30 minutes before sunrise, the horizon was glowing golden yellow and this colour was reflected back over the sea of clouds in front of us. Some cloud wafted across obscuring the view, but at the same time making it more mystical. We looked around us and saw many people looking very cold. There were ice crystals on Mike's bobble hat. Some tourists were dressed like us, in jackets, boots, hats and gloves; many were wrapped in quilts and duvets from their hotel bedrooms. The less well prepared were wearing shorts and flip flops and had beach towels round their shoulders. They looked very cold! Our clothing meant that we could watch the sunrise from a peaceful spot outside rather than inside the crowded glass observatory. Peaceful apart from Chris practicing his handstands in front of the sun and endless couples with selfie sticks trying to co-ordinate tandem star jumps! When the mist rolled in, many people wandered off and we could see the rear lights descending the switchback road. We waited and were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise spreading out over the sky as the misty clouds wafted away. We returned to the car for another nap and an hour later found ourselves almost alone in the car park and a steady drizzle falling. We drove down to the visitor centre and tried to buy trekking guides. Twice. The ranger insisted that all we needed to know was on his sheet of A4 paper, supplemented by his advice and annotations to the sheet! He also advised us to take plenty of water with us. About 2 or 3 litres per person. Back outside it was still freezing, raining and very windy. Ideal for a trek to the bottom of the crater! We togged up. Thermals, down jackets, waterproof coats and trousers, hats and gloves. And hoods zipped right up to our noses. We set off down the path. Perhaps unsurprisingly there weren't many other people about... We set off into the mist down a black cinder gravel path. Intermittently the mist would clear, leaving a patchy view of the surrounding mountains. Slowly it cleared altogether and after half an hour the sun was beating down onto us as we started peeling off layer after layer, stowing it all in our back packs, and looking for our sunglasses and sun hats. Bill had left his Tilley hat in the car and so had to resort to his fleece beanie, a look that, along with his sunglasses, was rather more reminiscent of Antman than Indiana Jones! We set off initially to follow the 'Sliding Sands Trail' a 4 hour, 4 mile trail to the crater floor and then retracing its steps back up again. The plan was to do this all together and then to drive to the summit to launch the mountain bikers and meet them later at the bottom after a spot of birdwatching. As we walked, the crater appeared more and more spectacular and we reflected on the advice of the ranger about a longer trek across the crater floor and down the trail to the wooded valley below. We could then hitch a lift back up the road up our car. He had been rather vague on details such as times and distances, but it sounded lovely. We decided to walk the first few miles of the trail with Mike and Chris, then they would head back, bike up to the summit and ride down, whilst we did the day hike. Thus at first we walked together down hill. There were several cinder cones in rainbow colours - red, black, green, grey and gold. The boys did a 'there and back' route out to a red cinder cone and Chris ran around its circumference before they walked back up as planned. We applied plenty of sunscreen and hats and set off on the Halemau'u trail. The first part of the route was across the crater floor. Dry and dusty with only occasional desert plants such as the 'Silver Sword' and occasional evening primrose or small tufts of grass. Around us the walls of the crater sides were steep and beautiful, we passed a lava tunnel and took some photographs. Fortunately it was very breezy in the crater so that despite the overhead sun, the heat was bearable. About two miles after the lava tunnel I suddenly realised that I wasn't wearing my sunglasses. Uh-oh. We reviewed our photographs and marched grumpily (to his credit it was me who was grumpy, not Bill) all the way back to the lava tube and up the hill until we found them lying by the path..... So after this 45 minute detour we resumed our trek gown the valley. As we went the surroundings changed. There was less dust and gravel, more lava and greenery. Eventually it became quite lush with grass and small trees and birds and insects started to appear. We saw a beautiful Hawaiian short-eared owl - cream and buff striped - flying and hunting over the grass in front of us - very odd in the middle of the day. We also saw a greenfinch like bird as well as another wheatear like bird that ran along the path in front of us. Eventually we reached the bottom of the valley and started the zig zag path up the cliff face in front of us. Our annotated sketch map suggested two or three zig zags leading to the road just above us about a mile away. Ha! There must have been at least twenty zig zags followed by a two mile uphill path through scrubland to the road. It was hot. We had only one litre of water each and a bag of salted almonds between us. It felt as if the path would never end!! We finally staggered into the road at the top after 15 miles, concerned that the boys were waiting for us at the bottom. We hitched a lift with a lovely German couple in their Jeep and were soon on our way down the switchback road to meet the boys at Kula Lodge. It was 4 pm. Just time to return the bikes to the hire shop and get back home in time for Chris to catch his flight to Vancouver. We stopped and bought a quick and excellent (in its own way) supper at Pinatas. We ordered four 'Kitchen Sink' burritos with cheese topping - in other words they included everything you could possibly put in a burrito. Delicious, even if it was just a small diner on the trading estate round the corner from the bike hire place! Home for Chris to pack his bags and tea on the balcony. Time for a swim and handstand competition in the pool with Chris demonstrating his unique method of blowing doughnut shaped bubbles.... Then off to the airport for the crazy '3 hours before take off' check in. All checked, we said our goodbyes and left Chris sitting happily on a bench outside the airport, with a camera full of photos to edit and a five hour flight to sleep through before resuming his adventures in Vancouver and Squamish.
It felt rather sad to be saying goodbye at the end of our precious family holiday together. After all the excitement of Ironman qualification, race preparation and achievement, Mike's world travels, and our retirement, the past twelve months had been a busy roller coaster to this point and now it was time for the next phase.
Back home in our apartment we started making plans for the next couple of days. Maui tomorrow, LA on Thursday, a national park on Friday and then onwards. After some planning and house keeping we were very glad to flop into our incredibly comfortable beds!