Annoying in its persistence and volume, the somewhat musical tone shrieks. The lull of the ocean is drowned beneath the cacophony.
Time: 1:30 a.m. Aren’t we on vacation? Who signs up for such intolerably early wakeups?
We did. In hopes of watching the sun rise from the tallest point on Maui, we paid someone a few hundred dollars and then gave up hours of sleep.
Did someone say crazy?
It will be cold at the top. We were told to dress in layers. I’m on vacation in the tropics and I have no layers. I throw in my sweatshirt. The tourism brochure said wet weather gear would be provided.
Darkness caresses my skin as we make our way to the lobby. A van will pick us up at 2 a.m.
Along with the driver, we’re the only people awake at such an hour of the morning. We collect ten other people at various resorts and then head to the east coast of the island.
While our guide and driver hook up the trailer full of bicycles, we snag a cup of coffee and a granola bar. The coffee isn’t worth drinking, but the caffeine keeps my eyes from succumbing to the urge to close. They know we’re on vacation. Read: sleep in.
A winding trip up the mountain in pitch black ensues. Only the orange glow of the burning sugar cane fields offer indication that something beyond the windows exists.
At the summit, the hive of activity buzzing from every direction revs up our adrenaline. Sunrise is 50 minutes away.
Outside the van, the oversized Columbia Sportswear wind suit provided by the tour company blocks a fraction of the wind chill. It’s 35 degrees at the summit. Did I mention I’m wearing shorts, t-shirt and a long-sleeved t-shirt weight zipped hoodie beneath the wind gear?
Thankfully, they hand out insulated gloves. A gift shop with viewing windows waits on the edge of the crater.
Fifty or more people stuff themselves into the small viewing center where a modicum of heat and the lack of wind offer reprieve from the chilling, non-tropical weather outside. 40 minutes until sunrise.
“You’re blocking a fire lane,” the gruff proprietor announces to some unfortunate souls on the other side of the 20 foot wide room. “You can’t stand in the doorway.” 30 minutes until sunrise.
People mill about, bumping each other: it’s bumper cars without the cars – or the smiles. The viewing window fogs over. Automatic doors admit more people into the sardine can accommodations. A cold wind chases them and discourages me from attempting to gain some elbow room. 20 minutes to sunrise.
Like a petulant child, someone asks, “Will we be able to see the sunrise in here?” Seeing anything through the thickly fogged windows seems unlikely. A wave of uneasiness sweeps through the crowd.
“Don’t worry,” snaps the woman behind the counter. “I do this every day. I won’t let you miss anything.” 10 minutes to sunrise.
I decide to brave the freezing temperatures and leave the cocoon created by the press of bodies. Outside, a thick fog covers the ground. Wind whips around the little building. My husband stands at the railing, camera at the ready, drenched from the press of clouds.
Egress is blocked. I shiver and slap my hands together. I try rubbing the gloved appendages against my upper arms. I stamp my feet. Nothing helps, so I give in to the chattering teeth.
A swell of bodies flows out of the building. A red glow in the distance incites a unanimous inhaled breath. Sunrise.
Or not. It’s the first time ever that I have seen the clouds defeat the sun. Will we live eternally in blackness?
A faint line of gray light announces the onset of day. No spectacular photos of the sun rising out of the Pacific. Phenomenal vistas displayed beneath the shadow of the highest point on Maui remain obscured by the fog bank.
Happily, I return to the van via a stop in the restrooms where I use the hand dryer to thaw my ice encased fingers.
At 6,500 feet, we emerge into a sunny realm high above the island plains. Now the downhill bicycle ride begins, offering expansive views of the neck of the island and both coasts.
In the end, it makes the early wakeup worth the effort. If only the weak links in the front of the line stopped wearing their brakes out, we could sail down the winding road, whooping and hollering. It’s almost as joyous as flying and it doesn’t make the heart stutter like bungee drops.
Eucalyptus and lavender farms line the lower hills, embracing our sense of smell with free doses of aromatherapy. Later, we pedal past the last working ranch on the island. A whole different fragrance greets our unsuspecting noses.
Not the longest day ever, but it seemed like bedtime when we arrived back at our resort around two in the afternoon.
I think this is what sensory overload feels like. Or maybe that’s just sleep deprivation talking.
What have you risen early in the morning to do? Was it worth the effort?