Wright On: New race is good test to measure Hilo’s cycling interest

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jennifer Real Real is the race director for the Hilo Climbing Trial, which is Saturday at starts at the Puainako extension, in the parking area at the end of Saddle Road, then it’s up the hill to an area near the 13-mile marker.

This isn’t exactly “build it and they will come,” for Jennifer Real, but in the big picture, the Hilo Climbing Trial would probably be located somewhere in a nearby mythical neighborhood.

Real is the race director for something new on the eastside, a cycling timing trial for the scattered cyclists on this side of the Big Island who normally find themselves headed to Kona for any sort of genuine competition.

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This one replaces the Mauna Loa Time Trial, a grueling, to the point of being cruel, 17-mile climb up toward the observatories that attracted only the hardest of the hard core cyclists. It would usually attract around a dozen intrepid souls who would take on the daunting challenge while most cyclists, including virtually all on this side of the island, found other things to do with their time.

Real has been one of the more dedicated cyclist on the Hilo side and recently took over as race director for the Mauna Loa grinder.

“I think we will find there are more cyclists on this side than we normally see,” Real said, “that’s my hope, to get more people out.”

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character sought a magical meeting with Shoeless Joe Jackson, and, while in a corn field, a voice told him to “build it and he will come.”

W.P Kinsella, author of the book, must have been inspired by magical thinking of his own. He lived in Vancouver, B.C., hardly a baseball-centric location, and the team he saw most often in person was the Seattle Mariners, perennial tail-enders back in those days. A lyrical ball field, cut out of a farm under blue Iowa skies was about as far away as one can get from the experience of watching the M’s in the Kingdome under a gray, concrete ceiling on a bad artificial field with weekend crowds of 15,000.

But he made it work, and Real is confident that cyclists from Honokaa to Pahoa, up to Volcano and everyplace in between, will begin to show up for this event.

The larger point is that sometimes people just need an opportunity to jump in and get involved. Make it local, accessible and reasonable and it just might work.

It surely will for Kelly Muragin, who, for the last 28 years has been a flight attendant working the weekly Hilo-to-Tokyo route, which is long on airtime — at least 10 hours going and at least 9 on the return — and heavy on sleep deprivation, with redeye flights the only flights going, both ways.

“The jet lag doesn’t go away,” Muragin said Friday minutes after getting off her weekly flight home. “As long as I’ve done this, it doesn’t get any better and you don’t get used to it. It is just a fact of life to deal with.”

She has been attacking jet lag with exercise, mostly the running variety, which has been her go-to stress reliever for years. Cycling was always the backup plan, but she used it and enjoyed it up until 2012 when she suffered a running injury and had to spend more time on the bike.

“I didn’t have a choice at that time,” Muragin said, “but I’ve been cycling a lot more and enjoying it more.

“Around here, you need lots of time because there are so many hills, you know it’s going to be a workout, so I end up going farther to balance out the hills.”

Muragin was one of a handful of Hilo cyclists who used to go to Kona for big competitions, “but it’s just hard to do all the time,” she said, “it’s a two-hour drive with all your stuff, or if it’s an early start, you might go the night before and have hotel expense.

“It’s really good to see this new climb happening.”

Muragin said she forces herself out of bed every Saturday — her schedule brings her back to Hilo every Friday afternoon following an all-nighter from Tokyo — and ritualistically jumps on her bike for a 50-mile ride.

“It helps,” she said of fighting the jet lag, “it’s a physical thing and your head has to pay attention to what you’re doing.”

Then each Sunday, Muragin involves herself in a long run, 15-18 miles. A dedicated runner, she is helping Keely and Adam McGhee organize the inaugural Ohi’a Lehua half marathon in Volcano on July 27.

Back and forth to Tokyo each week, then a deep dive into local running and cycling on the weekend manages to create a semblance of balance in her life.

“I try to get with the group at Mid-Pac (Mid-Pacific Wheels, a Hilo company), when I can,” she said, “but the schedule is kind of rough.”

Most people don’t have the extreme schedule of Muragin, two red eye flights each week, recovery in Japan and recovery on the Big Island, but her devotion to exercise includes sensible advice for anyone.

“The cycling, the running, the hydration, it all helps,” she said. “It gets rid of that sleepy, do-nothing feeling for the jet lag.”

Real has had a fine focus on making the first Hilo Climbing Trial come off smoothly in hopes it will energize locals and possibly generate more events.

“I’m hoping to prove that Hilo-side cyclists will come out and get involved,” Real said, “it’s just that we haven’t had anything over here.”

This competition is doable for most cyclists who get out a few days a week. It starts at the Puainako extension, in the parking area at the end of Saddle Road, then it’s up the hill to an area near the 13-mile marker. Real said it should require 60-90 minutes for most contestants.

Since it’s a time trial, cyclists will start one at a time, 30 seconds apart. There will be professional timing working the event, an aid station and refreshments at the end.

Compared to the former Mauna Loa grind that would take an hour, 45 minutes or as long as two and-a-half hours, this will be more conducive to a larger turnout.

“I just thought (Mauna Loa) was maybe just too intimidating for people,” Real said. “This will be no pressure, just show up and we’ll get it going.”

If it works, if Real can get 25 or more cyclists, she will think more seriously about more Hilo-side events, maybe even a criterium, defined as “A mass-start road-cycle race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit, the length of each lap or circuit ranging from about 1 km to 2 km (1/2 mile to just over 1 mile).”

Something like that might work through downtown Hilo and the bayfront, or possibly at Liliʻuokalani Park?

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That’s for consideration later, first comes the Hilo Climbing Trial, which looks to be an examination of Hilo cycling interest, and then some.

[italics] Send column thoughts and suggestions to barttribuneherald@gmail.com [end ital]

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