By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kip Cline grew up in Michigan, home to the 10-cent bottle deposit, the largest of its kind in the nation.
So whenever he had a chance, Cline, a boy on his bike, would scurry from place to place looking to bag cans to make a quick buck and buy snacks.
But the biggest payoff didn’t come until recently.
When Cline, a man on his bike, rode down to Hilo Bayfront, he looked up and saw a good sign. It’s not every day that the telescopes atop Mauna Kea are clearly visible.
“My goal was in sight,” he said. “But the goal was still a long ways away.”
It’s also not every day that someone travels from Hilo to the top of Mauna Kea on a bicycle, but for Cline it came naturally. The 25-year-old is used to dealing with rugged terrain as a surveyor at Pohakulua Training Area. And while he’s not interested in biking competitions, spur-of-the moment adventures are just his speed.
“I had an idea that I’d be training a lot, but it never actually happened,” he said. “A month leading up to the ride, I only rode my bike three times.
“I just like to get on my bike and go.”
Ascending roughly 13,800 feet for a trek of about 43 miles, the website climbbybike.com lists the ride from Hilo to the summit of Mauna Kea as the most difficult climb in the world. The ride from Spencer Park in Kohala to Mauna Kea is No. 4.
To make it official, Cline started with a dip in the Pacific near Waianuenue Avenue, and then he got on his road bike as the sun was rising. About 11 hours later he got off his mountain bike and was greeted by a dusting of snow on the peak just in time to enjoy a sunset.
He biked around the island last year on a four-day venture, but he said going over the island was a different matter altogether.
“This was the most strenuous ride I’ve ever done,” he said.
Getting to Saddle Road was easy enough, though the new section of the highway where it widens was steeper than he’d expected. This being a solo venture and all, the day before Cline had strategically placed bags of snacks along his route, so he stopped periodically at his makeshift stations.
He switched bikes where he’d parked his car the day before at the Mauna Kea visitor’s center, and then the real hard work began. Mile markers and curious passers-by in cars became his inspiration.
“Cars were honking, ” Cline said. “A lot of people were leaning out the window taking pictures of me.
“I just had to make it to the next mile marker.”
He donned hats, gloves and windbreaker at 10,000 feet for the grueling final 4 1/2 miles. What he wouldn’t do, he thought, to be on a paved to road near sea level. By way of comparison, the second leg of the Ironman World Championship consists of an 112-mile highway ride from Kailua-Kona to Hawi and back.
“A nice cruise,” joked Cline, who had to deal with uneven terrain and a steep grade.
“Dirt gravel and your tires spin out and if you stop you can’t get started again,” he said. “There are points you have to walk your bike until you find a firm spot on the road.”
When he got to the top, Cline met four tourists from Germany who were amused by his journey and more than happy to give him a ride down.
“They thought I was crazy,” he said.
It’s unknown how many bikers have completed the trip from Hilo to the summit of Mauna Kea, but a few, including Cline, share their experiences at climbbybike.com.
Always one for adventure, Cline is debating tackling Mauna Loa next. That’s ranked as No. 14 on the difficulty list, and he’d even consider going with someone else.
“The more the merrier, but I don’t now too many people who would be up for that,” he said.