Ray vs the Volcano

Ray vs the Volcano

by Ray Hill, Chair of Row New York’s Board of Directors

Over the next 2 weeks follow Ray Hill as he takes on what is billed as the toughest bicycle climb on earth – a volcano called Mauna Kea – to raise money for our programs. Ray plans to match the first $20,000 raised on his CrowdRise account! (link to donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/ray-vs-the-volcano)

I have always liked crazy challenges, especially biking challenges. For example, in 2011 I rode across the USA with my two sons, Cameron and Connor. We made it in 45 days. At the end, I was about to throw my bike in the trash! But I quickly got back into it. In 2013, I rode from Miami to Key West and back. Then a few years ago Connor and I rode over the Gotthard pass, from Milan to Zurich. The last 10k was all cobblestones, which made for interesting riding!


Mauna Kea Summit Weather (2-25-17)

So when I was in Hawaii last summer and learned about a volcano called Mauna Kea, I thought, hey, this is something that I would like to do! The trip was to be with my two sons, a recap to riding across the US. Then, a few months before we were to go, Cameron told me he thought he was not quite up for doing the ride. I thought, ok, well at least Connor is in. But then Connor had an offer to go to Bangkok, and suddenly I was on my own for doing the ride. Fortunately, Darla, my SO, was willing to go along with me and provide support.

The Mauna Kea ride is to raise money for Row New York. Row New York began in 2002 with the simple idea that competitive rowing paired with rigorous academic support for underserved youth could change the trajectory of their teen years and beyond. Row New York has since taught thousands of young people the sport of rowing and through it the values of tenacity, focus, teamwork, and confidence. Row New York has a transformative impact on the kids it serves. Ninety percent of the kids we serve graduate with a four-year college degree, that compares to 9% in a comparable population.

My plan is to match the first $20,000 that we raise, so I am hoping the ride will amount to a significant contribution through our collective generosity.

You can access the fundraising site here: https://www.crowdrise.com/ray-vs-the-volcano

Mauna Kea is not just any ride. It’s billed as the toughest bicycle climb on earth. Mauna Kea is 14,400 feet high. Its not the distance that is a challenge, but the altitude. At sea level, the atmosphere is 21% oxygen. By the time you reach the summit of Mauna Kea at 14,400, there is 12% oxygen. So you need two breaths (almost) to every one at sea level to stay even.


Amount of oxygen at different altitudes.

If you are walking that is not too bad, but riding a bike up 15-20% grades, well that is a different matter!

The 42-mile ride starts out easy enough. My plan is to start from Hilo, on the east side of the big island of Hawaii:


42-mile ride starts in Hilo and ends at the volcano summit.

Getting Ready

I have trained, but honestly not as much as a should have. I’m hoping technology will help me – specifically my bike! I had the gearing changed on my bike to optimize my chance to make it up the mountain.

My bike: I’m hoping this gives me a fighting chance!


This bike will be an important ally when taking on the volcano.

Close up of the new gearing:


Ray changed his bike gearing to optimize his chances of making it to the top!

ray and mountain

This will be Ray, making his way to the Mauna Kea, elevation of 14,400 feet.

About the Ray vs. The Volcano:

So what is it about this whole ‘Ray vs. The Volcano’ thing, anyway? And who would be crazy enough to try this? Well, you may have seen a movie called ‘Joe vs. the Volcano.’

movie art

Those of a certain age might remember the 1990 romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Hanks plays a man who, after being told he is dying of a rare disease, accepts a financial offer to travel to a South Pacific island and throw himself into a volcano on behalf of the superstitious natives. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with the woman taking him there.

ray and darla

Ray and Darla.

Well, I don’t have a life-threatening disease, but it is a volcano (yes it’s been a while – last eruption 2460 BC), and I also have my own Meg Ryan look-alike – my SO Darla Sweet (the cute one on the right)! She is also an RN, which might come in handy!

So we figured, hey, why not!

So What are the Details:

Well, the plan is to do this thing in one day. We arrive in Hilo late on the evening of the 5th of March and return on the 11th of March. That gives me five days to try and make the summit. The weather is extremely variable. Today for example while its 78 degrees at sea level, at the summit, is it 28 degrees F, with a 30 mph wind (brrr), so you are not certain what day you will be able to make the ascent.

My plan is to try on Monday the 7th of March. If I fail, I’ll give myself a day or two of rest and try later in the week, up until the last day I can try, March 10th. It’s not unheard of to have snow at the summit this time of year, so maybe I will get lucky and the whole thing will get called off due to weather, and we can just lounge at the beach!