It’s Time To Pedal To The Meadow

Riders in the May 27 climb to Kokee. Randall Leonard photo

The last time my car made the trek up to Kokee, it needed some coaxing and TLC just to keep the temperature gauge at a dangerous but not lethal level. So after an early morning stop for some additional coolant on May 27, I headed back up the mountain to check out the third annual Pedal to the Meadow bike race.

The sharp turns and quick elevation climbs are pretty severe, even in a four-wheel drive vehicle. So for bike riders to complete the 16-mile ascent, heading almost 4,000 feet up into the sky, is wildly impressive – especially considering they do it in only slightly more time than a car could.

“Every island except Kaua’i had an official hill climb race,” said Mary Williamson, who organized the race with her husband Binney. “We thought, ‘Well, we have a hill.’ So we started the race.”

It took barely more than an hour for the first rider to complete the course this year, as Eric Lau, 23, from the Big Island, crossed the finish line with a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. That was a new course record and got the Tradewind Cycling Team off to a great start as Lau looked like he could go another 16 miles, coasting through the finish line with a pair of shakas for the cheering onlookers.

Tony Lang came in second after claiming third last year, and Kapa’a’s Rick Beach, the inaugural winner in 2010, followed just behind in third place overall.

“This is my first race ever,” says Alex Soza, who rode for the Kaua’i Cycle team and came in with the second wave of finishers. “I did it for my friend who just passed away. I don’t have any energy, that’s all I’ve got. So I’m just thankful.”

After misjudging a few portions and feeling like he had burnt himself out, Soza caught up with his good friend and Kaua’i Cycle teammate Oshi Grady and rode with him to the finish. Grady came through with a big smile to some loud cheers as a well-known face in the local cycling community.

A pair of previously unknown faces made one of the day’s best storylines as Amie and Matthew Smith decided that the Pedal to the Meadow was a perfect way to spend one of their honeymoon mornings. The couple from Austin, Texas, who also were the farthest traveling riders in the race, were married just the previous weekend and headed up to one of the island’s most iconic locations in an atypical manner.

“We were just looking for a ride on Kaua’i, started searching around a little bit and found out there was a race going on,” says Matthew, who noted they don’t see mountains like this very often. “Being from Austin, it’s pretty flat.

It was cruel when I saw four miles and I thought, ‘Crap, really?'”

Still in its early years of existence, Williamson says putting together the race wouldn’t be possible without assistance from the Hawaii departments of parks, transportation, Kaua’i Police Department, the Kekaha Neighborhood Center and Hui O Laka Kokee Museum, which hosts the Banana Poka Round-Up on the same day.