This season, members of the elite H24 Marc Pro Strava squad will share their highs, lows, victories and stories from the road as they set out in hot pursuit of podiums and adventure. Before the season proper even started, though, Marc Pro Strava rider Justin Rossi was already making big waves in Hawaii. Vacation can mean taking a break. If you have an especially supportive family and spouse, it can mean laying down some base miles, too. For Rossi, his offseason trip to Hawaii provided the launch pad for an adventure that required a shoe change and resulted in one of the most exotic, spectacular and challenging KOMs in the United States.
Summiting Mauna Kea, Justin Rossi’s story:
Usually once a year my wife Tasha and I plan a trip to Hawaii to escape the cold winter of Reno, NV. It’s a perfect time to enjoy the consistent 80 degree temps found on the islands, but it’s also an excuse to train on some of the most epic terrain you can find. We decided to try something different than Maui this year and booked a trip for Kona. Soon after, I started playing with the Strava Segment explore feature to find what the island would have to offer. I quickly realized there is an abundance of epic climbs, with the most jaw dropping being the ascent from Hilo, HI to the summit of Mauna Kea. I noticed that the leaderboard only had 17 finishers on it and soon realized this was no typical climb.
Starting at mile 34 and 9200’ there’s a 4.8-mile section of gravel that averages a 10% gradient. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of bringing my road bike and renting a mountain bike to attempt the climb, so I decided I would give it a go on my Giant TCR with my bomber Ritchey Zeta II’s with tubeless 28’s. Other than that, I installed an 11-32 cassette along with my Standard cranks for the extra help in the steep sections. I also needed a 4WD sag vehicle for water, food and clothing. Thankfully, I had a willing wife to drive it.
After arriving on the island, we soon got word that the road to Mauna Kea had been closed due to snow and ice on the summit. This was a major bummer, but I was confident that the road would clear before we left in eight days. For the next five days I was in a holding pattern. I would get up and call the ranger station to find out the road was still closed, but luckily the Island has the most amazing roads, and I filled each day with a new and challenging ride. On day six, after five days of intense training, I called and got word that the road was open and to proceed with caution as there were still many areas with ice and snow. Tasha and I took the two-hour drive to the beautiful town of Hilo, and I started my adventure. I triple checked the segment and the maps to make sure I was going the right way and set off on my quest.
The first two hours of the ride were great. I climbed out of the town of Hilo on a small road that wound through a lush scenery, and I quickly made it to saddle road. I focused on holding a particular wattage and held back knowing what I was in for near the top. The climb from Hilo to Mauna Kea Access road is roughly 28 miles with 6700’ of climbing. Other than a few narrow spots there is a huge shoulder to ride in and a great view of Mauna Kea to your right side, a constant reminder of how far you have to go. I made quick work of the first section and made the turn up Mauna Kea Access Road just past two hours. The road gives you a chance to enjoy the view towards Hilo, but within a few miles it really starts to kick up. There is a segment called “Pain” and “The Steepest Mile of Mauna Kea (13.2%)” that take you towards the ranger station at 9200’…both are misleading because the real Pain begins just after the ranger station.
I came into the ranger station feeling good and was making great time. I took a quick scone and nutrition break and headed for the gravel. I’m not going to go on and on about it, but it sucked. The gravel is extremely loose and choppy and when the grade kicks up to 15-20% there was no way to keep traction.
I switched to my tennis shoes at one point and hiked the sections that I couldn’t pedal.
After over an hour of struggling I made it to the final 3.8-mile paved section. This was the most difficult part of the entire ride when the climb melts down into one hot mess. Headwinds of over 40 mph, grades averaging over 12% for 2 miles, freezing temperatures, the accumulation of fatigue from the previous 12,000’ of climbing in your legs and worst of all, the thin air that comes with such great heights. I could barely keep the bike upright and my head was spinning. I suffered through that section and hit the final switchbacks to the Summit. I got to the summit, took a fast photo op and jumped in the car. The wind and the sub freezing temps at the top served as a final reminder of just what a challenging, remote spot I’d reached.
With all the warnings of how difficult the ride would be, I still underestimated it. Although I may not attempt Mauna Kea again, I really look forward to another trip to the big island and enjoying all the great roads it has to offer. Before I set out on this trip, I turned to Strava to help me find a new route and a new KOM to chase. I got everything I bargained for and then some on the ride to the top and an adventure that I will never forget.
Check out Justin’s activity and give him some much deserved Kudos: https://www.strava.com/activities/239983378/