Training in Kauai
by Gordo Byrn
I recently returned from Hawaii and wanted to share tips in case you find yourself cycling or training for triathlon on the island of Kauai. The island is a special place with a different vibe than you’ll find on the more crowded islands.
Other than the ocean, you have two main options for swimming: public pools (Waimea/Kapa’a) and the YMCA pool (Lihue). I tend to swim cold so would have needed a sleeveless wetsuit for any sustained swim session. Monica, my wife, swims warm and the pools were just warm enough for her to last a little over an hour when swimming without stopping. They don’t put lane lines in the public pools (which are free) but the Y has a beautiful pool with lane lines.
For ocean swimming, Anini Beach (North Shore) is sheltered by a reef, which creates a relatively calm pool for open water swim sets. There’s also a flat stretch of road and a short climb up to the main road from the shore. It would be a great place to do an informal aquathon or sprint tri with some buddies.
The cycling was much better than I expected. I rented road and mountain bikes from the guys at Kauai Cycle. They charge per 24-hours so I managed to get up to three rides per each rental “day.” They have a range of sizes but it’s worth calling in advance to discuss sizing.
We were staying in Princeville so the first ride that I did was to the end of highway on the North Coast then backtracking to where we were staying. There are a couple sketchy sections with bridge crossings between Anahola and Kilauea but the rest of the ride was very enjoyable. The section from Hanalei to the end of the highway is spectacular.
There’s talk of extending the East Coast bike path around to the north. If that is done then riding will be outstanding. For a scenic ride, or run, the bike path is a safe option.
The best ride on the island is Waimea Canyon. Depending on the route you select, you get 3,500-5,500 feet of vertical spread over 10-20 miles of riding (one-way). The locals recommend the moderate ascent that you access from Kope’e Road in the town of Kekaha. I was able to big ring (50-tooth) the entire climb using this route, but there was some whimpering near the top!
On your way down, you can descend directly to Waimea and assess the steep option. A couple days later, I sampled the steep route and it didn’t disappoint! Even with compact gearing, there were some “real deal” sections in the first seven miles. When I got to the top for the second time, I was rewarded by a completely clear day, which rarely happens -- so bring a jacket in case you get a long descent in cold drizzle!
After three relatively dry days, the dirt had dried enough for me to sample some of the off-road options. I did Highway 580 to the end of the dirt and Power Line, North side with Hanalei Valley tack on. Both of these rides were excellent but the dirt would be slippery and sticky when wet.
One fat tire ride that I wanted to check out was Wainiha Powerhouse Road accessed from Wainiha Bay on Hwy 560. It starts as pavement and narrows down to four-wheel drive road/path that ends at a dam. If you’ve had a couple of dry days then accessing from Hanalei would make a nice trip. Something for next time, I guess.
Monica did a number of runs around the golf course in Princeville but the main event was the Napali Coast Trail (she’s on that in this week’s photo). If you want to do the entire trail (11 miles one way) then I recommend that you charter a boat ride to the far end and hike back. The trail is technical, strenuous and dangerous. We did the “short option” and hiked five miles in, before turning around. Ten miles total took us five hours. Experienced ultrarunners, moving fast-pack-style would likely take 7-12 hours for the full monty. It can be done in a day but there’s objective danger from falling off the trail if you stumble when tired or rushing. A ranger also mentioned that people are killed by the river crossing and waves at the Mile Two beach. Flash floods can happen at short notice.
For something challenging, with far less objective danger, try the Okolehai Trail accessed from the Hanalei Valley. It will take you 30-75 minutes to get up and the views are fantastic.
Overall, there were plenty of options for the active holidaymaker and I needed to taper the last two days so I didn’t return home exhausted!
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.