At every part of our visit to Pompeii, it was impossible to escape the impact of the wrath of Mt. Vesuvius. The eruption of this volcano in 79 A.D. buried an entire city. Needless to say, a visit to Pompeii would be incomplete without a visit to Mt. Vesuvius. Our entire family decided to spend an afternoon climbing to the top of its crater, a journey that was filled with laughter, intensity and pain that was rewarded with the most amazing vistas at the end.
Few things in life fulfill me as much as adventure. If all I could do for the rest of my life is cycle and hike through the incredible expanses of this world with a camera around my neck and a pen in hand, I would do it in a heartbeat. Having been fortunate enough to experience so much of the world at such a young age, I’ve gathered an eclectic collection of memories – often consisting of interactions with locals and the places they inhabit- that continue to guide me as a I grow and mature as an individual. But some of the most memorable and defining moments for me have occurred when I have been far away from civilization. On the edge of a building attached to merely a thin bungee cord, on the open door of a plane with a parachute on my back, on a hand glider hundreds of feet in the air…the thrill of existence is what I crave and live for.
And one of the most enduring experiences that nurtured my adrenaline needs was a 30 mile bike ride down Haleakala Volcano in Maui. I was an aloof middle schooler who didn’t know where to channel her energy. But free-fall mountain biking down one of the most picturesque sites in Hawaii gave me a sense of purpose that has helped carved out my identity over the years.
We started the warm summer morning in a stuffy bus loaded with people and bikes. Clad in special wind-protection cycling gear, we made our fairly long ascent up the winding roads of Haleakala National Park, where Maui’s tallest peak rests at towering height of 10,023 feet. I can do this, I thought to myself as we climbed higher and higher up the rocky terrain. The views that surrounded me all 360 degrees were mind-blowing. I could see all of Maui below me. The ocean, the stunning landscape, the smaller peaks that our van had just climbed…it was one of those unforgettable rides where everything I saw looked like a postcard, one of those experiences that make you feel like there is beauty in this world that nothing can surpass.
We were finally at the summit of Haleakala. I saw professional bikers finishing their physically demanding ascent up 30 miles of a tough and twisting mountain. It was amongst their heavy breathing, the bustle of tourists and photographers, and our guide’s series of warnings and precautions that a sudden wave of panic swept over me like no other.
This volcano had no side railings. If I braked a couple seconds too late the momentum of the wind pushing me forward would either throw me off my cycle or off the side of the mountain into an abyss of who knew what. If I didn’t keep my hands on my bike- something that I’m famous for doing to show off to myself that I can ride long distances without handlebars- I would be taking a life-threatening risk. The fear I felt in the moments leading up to my descent that lasted well into the first leg of the ride was unlike anything I had felt before.
And then, I started going down. Down a mountain that seemed to unravel forever into an infinite nature, down rolling hills that twisted endlessly into to presence of drop dead beauty. What was initially fear that had escalated into heart-pounding horror was beginning to transform into this strange sensation of exciting half-control. I was barely pedaling, the wind and gravity were pushing me forward, thrusting me into everything there was to love and appreciate about Maui. Everyone was riding at their respective paces, leaving me alone at several points. Just me and and nature. And once I bottled my fear, nothing stood in the way of my complete enjoyment and appreciation of the ride.
When we had reached the base of Haleakala, we rode back on main streets to the bike shop we began, marking a saddening end to an adventure that had, undoubtedly, instilled in me a deep sense of risk and passion for thrills.
Conquering my fears on Haleakala has led me to hand glide, skydive, bungee jump off buildings, and more. It was the crucial step in building the adrenaline-seeker I am today, and one that I will never forget.
(There are several bike tour companies that offer this experience. Google does wonders)