The only time that the Navy sent me to the Pacific for duty was 1977-1981, first on board the USS Reeves (CG-24), then as the Logistics Plans Officer for Commander-in-Chief US Pacific Fleet. Reeves was in overhaul for my entire two-year tour, so in effect we lived in Honolulu for four years. This was my first shore tour, and my wife and I dived into the local scene as if we were going to live there forever. A bicycle was probably the most intelligent and easiest mode of transportation on the island of Oahu. I rode mine everywhere, in uniform and in civilian clothes.
The Hawaii Bicycling League gave a certificate for completing a one-day ride around the island of Oahu. It was officially 184 km around the island, and the ride took place in September, which was National Bicycling Month (It is now May). The route did not actually go all the way around the island, because the roads on the northwest corner were interrupted by military reservations.The terrain and the weather was very different from the French Riviera, but I had been riding in Hawaii for two years, so I decided to give it a try.
Early in the morning, I set out on the central highway (Route 99) towards Mililani Town, which is about the geographic center of the island. From Pearl Harbor where we lived, the road meandered through vast pineapple fields, climbing steadily, and never quite leveling out. The temperature does not vary much during the day, thanks to the steady northeast trade winds. However, those cooling winds were in my face all morning.
As I rode, pineapples stretched away on both sides of the road as far as I could see, with enormous irrigation machines spraying water into the air. I learned later that less than 40% of that water actually made it into the pineapples. I was not surprised that Oahu was on water rationing in the late 1970’s, and that the island almost lost its freshwater lens the year before we arrived. Today, Dole irrigates its pineapples with drip tubes, not sprayers, and pineapple plantations have scaled way back.
After Mililani, Highway 99 leveled out. The pedaling became easier, but the wind also increased. The combination of topography and wind direction are what make the North Shore of Oahu one of the most popular surfing destinations in the world. About the middle of the day, I could hear the surf as a distant roar long before I arrived at Haleiwa.
I was planning to stop at Haliewa, perhaps to look at the surfers, and certainly to rest. But I had to keep riding: the sound of the surf was not the only thing blowing downwind from the great rollers coming into the beach. The air was heavy with salt spray, and the salt was so thick that it burned my lungs and eyes. I forced myself to take shallow breaths and pedal as gently but as steadily as I could. I turned onto Highway 83, the Kamehameha Highway, and rode north until I rounded the northeast edge of the Bay. There, I had the northeast trades directly in my face. I rested briefly to eat a banana and let my lungs recover. Then I began the rolling, twisting ride around the coast to the Laie-Hawaii Mormon Temple on the northeast side of the island. I stopped there, both to rest and to admire the blinding white building in the midst of all the dark green.
The Kamehameha Highway continued to the Southeast to Kaneohe. At that point, what little car traffic there was turned off to Interstate Highway H-3, either to return to Honolulu or to go to Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Air Station. I continued to the very end of Highway 83 on the other side of Kaneohe. Then I made my way past Bellows Air Force Base, Koko Head, and Diamond Head. Once I passed the lighthouse at Diamond Head, I was on familiar ground, because the road turned downhill toward Fort DeRussy and Waikiki Beach. I lived on the other side of Honolulu, so I stopped to rest and get a drink at the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
I was home in time for dinner. Counting the distance to Highway 99 and returning home, the day turned into a double century (200 km).
The Hawaii Bicycling League sent me a simple certificate, which I treasured, because I have only received two such mementos in my life.
When I rode around Oahu, there were many things that I did not know about long-distance riding. Although I was already wearing a helmet regularly, I did not know about warming up, stretching, and resting at regular intervals. I am sure that I did not carry enough water and food. Only the fact that I was already spending several hours each day in the saddle kept me from being saddle sore after completing the full circuit of the island. On the other hand, riding daily in hot weather for two years had reduced my weight and increased my fitness to its best level ever. I am still trying to get back to that point, or at least something comparable to it for my age.
Next week, the Freewheeling Freelancer will continue up the Po Rive from Cremona to Piacenza, and the week after that, I’ll be back here with a sea story from the Indian Ocean.