Irrationality is a lovely little devil that never seems to leave my blood. The first time I climbed on a tandem bike, I rode over 40 miles on a rackety cycle whose tires kept squeaking signs of impending death. Somehow, my sister and I covered over 40 miles of rather hilly terraine across all of the island of Manhattan with no directions, water, or food in our stomachs. Even after being chased by a shady figure for miles of abandoned side streets somewhere in Harlem, all we could do was grin that we had pulled off another “typical” adventure, at least the way we saw it in our family dictionary. Fast-forward about ten months and my sister and I found ourselves on a tandem bike yet again. But instead of the Hudson and New York City skyline for scenery, we had the highways of Honolulu. Our ride was only about half the distance as our Great Apple journey. So the adventure? We were riding up a gear-crippling mountain on a bus-only lane.
This was take two of our bike ride from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu to Hanauma Bay, a significant natural park and preserve that devotes itself relentlessly to the protection of one of the most precious coral reefs and underwater wildlife hubs on the island of Oahu. On our first attempt earlier in the week, I was riding solo. After an incredibly scenic ascent, I realized that Hanauma Bay was closed on Tuesdays, and so I met my family ten miles down at the base of the highway and we rode back to Waikiki, promising that we’d do the ride again. On our second try, my sister and I decided to relive our city tandem experience and power up to Hanauma together. And just like our ride in New York, the decision proved to be an indelible bonding experience.
After a trail of breathtaking, close up views of the Diamondhead Lighthouse which we could only see in a silhouetted form when we actually climbed the crater to layers of cozy mountain houses that more than tickled our temptations to burn those return tickets and permanently call this paradise home, the backdrop of our ride changed rather abruptly when we hit H1-72. Cars, mopeds, motorcycles, and monster 18 wheel pineapple trucks sped so close to the designated “bike route” that every moment on the highway was a hairline encounter with serious danger. Then, somehow, the bike route signs vanished (and I know I didn’t miss anything because I did the ride twice) and the markings outlining the cycle lane had merged into a “BUS ONLY” lane. It was exhilarating beyond belief, and we had some very close incidents with trucks. The risks aside, I don’t think there was any way for us to get a better gauge of the street of Oahu. Every mile of progress became an increasing admiration for the Hawaiian willingness to embrace and live life instead of waiting to live it, something so characteristic of where I’m from in the east coast.
Our thighs and calves were pumping with lactic acid buildup as we finally unmounted the bike and wheeled it over to a marked “Scenic Point” overlook, which gave us a stunning view of not the typical Honolulu shoreline postcard, but a snapshot consisting of many stratas of hilly urban life. A sign ahead signaled that Hanauma Bay was just a couple minutes away. The closeness of our destination was enough to make our final few pedals some of our most enthusiastic.
Cycling from Waikiki Beach to Hanauma Bay seems easy if you look at it from a purely distance based scale. The round trip ride is about 23 miles. But couple that distance with an almost entirely uphill endeavor one way and cycles that most definitely aren’t designed for mountain biking (which is what you’ll get at most local rental shops unless you’re going to a specialist), and the adventure is one heck of a workout. By the end, we wanted nothing more than to run into the cool waters of Hanauma and laze, and that’s exactly what we did.
If you find yourself in Honolulu and want to explore Oahu while getting a good workout, consider the pedals and ride from Waikiki to Haunauma. In all my years of adventuring it’s one of the most serious travel highlights.