Before you make fun of her 40th birthday present to herself, think back on your own life.
Before you giggle and think it a silly notion, before you call out to your spouse at the breakfast table, “You gotta see this,” before any of that, take a quick time out.
Think back. You might be 10, you might be 100, but at some point, you almost certainly had some utterly fabulous ideas about your own birthday celebration. You might not have mentioned it to anyone, but there was that time, at some point, when you had an eccentric, outlandish or wildly extravagant birthday dream of your own.
You wanted to fly to your favorite sports’ team’s home game against their bitter rivals; you wanted to take a couple friends and fly to Vegas where a free room, $500 in spending money and tickets to the show you wanted to see were waiting for you; you wanted to go to that special place on the water with nothing to do but overlook the ocean, listen to the waves lapping at the beach and forgetting there was anything else in the world more important than being there at that moment.
It’s not so far-fetched, what Jennifer Real decided to do as a kind of marker for her 40th birthday. A devoted cyclist, Real got up early Saturday morning, packed her bike in the SUV, drove down to the Hilo Bayfront, and followed the tradition of other cyclists who have done this.
Granted, it isn’t a well-known tradition, you might even think of it as a Big Island cycle cult thing, but she followed the tradition. Jennifer Real dipped the front wheel of her bike in the ocean at the edge of Waianuenue Avenue, turned around, hopped on and rode to the top of Maunakea.
That, at least, was the idea and she did make it to the summit, albeit not in the way she had hoped.
“The wind,” she said, “oh my God, the wind.”
It took her eight hours to ride the roughly 40 miles, all of it uphill, along Saddle Road, then a hard right up to the visitor’s center where her husband was waiting with some knobby tires to replace the sleek road tires for the last 2.5 miles.
She put on leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, a heavy jacket, thick gloves made for freezing temperatures, and with all of that bulk, her torso couldn’t stop the gusting winds.
She kept getting blown over, starting again, getting blown over again.
“The last part I sort of half-walked, half-hiked, half-ran, I don’t know,” she said, “I was just trying to get to the top.”
She made it.
“It’s a pretty great idea and a great accomplishment,” said Sean “Peaman” Padgett, the Kona side runner/cyclist of statewide legend who organizes free running events and has competed in a variety of team events with Real. “We have teamed up in Sea to Stars (a cycling race from the intersection at Puainako and Komohana up to Maunakea), and I know what she can do. She thrives on those hills, she knocks ‘em out.”
Real is far from the only Big Islander to make the ride from the Bayfront to the Maunakea summit, but the point isn’t to be the one and only, the point is to do it.
Sort of like “Peaman’s” plans for 2019, cycling up Mt. Fuji in Japan.
“Why not?” he said, “This is the kind of stuff you do when you’re crazy like some of us. My girlfriend and I visited Mt. Fuji, toured around for about 500 miles, we gotta go back.
“For around here, though, that elevation at Mauna Kea is a killer, it would take someone like Jen to conquer it — she loves those hills.”
Love may not have been at the very front of her thoughts around 5 p.m. Saturday, when she finally trudged those final steps to the summit and was told, that with the wind chill, the temperatures were in the mid-20s.
“I mean, it was freezing,” she said. “The ride was perfect, it was what you would ask for on a ride like that, the temperature was good, there was hardly any wind at all, no mechanical issues, no physical problems, but after the visitor’s center, everything changed.”
The observer feels compelled to ask, after nine hours — the last one covered the distance from the visitor’s center to the summit — after freezing temperatures and knock-you-down winds at the end, how does it feel when it’s finally over and done?
“I’ve been better,” she said, but she was laughing. She didn’t take on the challenge because it was easy, rather, people who like to test themselves in their choice of physical activity, do things like this because of the difficulty, because you might not make it.
“It was definitely worth it,” she said, “I’m really glad I did it and yeah, I think it’s a good thing, I love the idea of once a year, giving yourself a big challenge and going for it on your birthday.”
This was one she won’t forget, and with any luck, next year will generate another memory.
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