The Race Up ‘A Really Pretty Hill’

That’s Lois Lutz on her pink bike

Cyclists from around Hawaii will come to Waimea for the premier hill-climb cycling event on Kaua’i

Mary Williamson considers herself a bicycling widow. That’s because her husband, Dr. Binney Williamson, is an avid cyclist. But instead of remaining in mourning, she’s opted to be the brains behind this Sunday’s Pedal to the Meadow cycling race, a 15.75 mile, 3,835-foot climb up the Waimea Canyon rim to the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow in Koke’e State Park. (Last year’s winner, Rick Beach, finished in 1:05).

Williamson co-created the event with her husband last year.

“This is a way to be part of his world,” Mary Williamson said, adding she’s enjoyed contributing to the creative process of the event, which included coming up with its clever name. “I get to know the people he rides with and learn more about his sport, and it’s become something we can do together.”

Williamson, whose day job is managing health initiatives for the American Cancer Society, also serves on the Koke’e Museum board and plays violin in the Kauai Community Orchestra. She said though she and her husband’s interests are widely different, they’ve come together in unique ways over their past 30 years together. The duo partnered up with Oahu’s Tradewind Cycling Team to put on the inaugural Pedal to the Meadow ride up to Koke’e State Park last year, which was no easy task – especially as the geography of the route covers multiple jurisdictions.

“We had to secure permits from five different entities,” Williamson said, noting her gratitude to the Kaua’i Police Department, state highway division and the Koke’e Museum, whose help and cooperation made it go off without a hitch. (KPD Police Explorers club help with traffic control and safety).

Audrey Valenciano was loving the ride

The race is an official U.S. Cycling event, with a timing official from Oahu making the trek over to Kaua’i to participate. For those serious, island-hopping road cyclists out there, Williamson said the race is substantial, though shorter in distance and smaller in mountain size compared to Maui’s Cycle to the Sun and the Big Island’s Sea to Stars, so it’s good training for the other two. The race, which starts at 8 a.m. this Sunday (May 29) begins in Kekaha, near the old Kekaha sugar mill at the old stoplight. (Walk-in registration is between 6:30 and 7:15 a.m. at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center.)

Those familiar with Kaua’i know the “old stoplight” refers to the first stoplight ever built on-island, which used to be for sugar cane trucks in the area. It’s a somewhat poetic point of reference for the Williamsons, as Dr. Williamson, a family physician at Kaua’ßi Medical Clinic in Eleele, has historical family ties to Kekaha Sugar. Though Binney Williamson was born on Oahu, (he returned to Kauai with his wife in 1994), his great grandfather, William Danford, was the second manager of Kekaha Sugar, and his grandmother and father lived on the West side. “West Kaua’i is home,”

Williamson said of why the couple wanted to put together a Westside cycling race. “Every island in Hawaii had an official, hill-climb type of bicycle race, except us.. “So we sort of said, ‘We have a hill – a really pretty hill.'”

As for the timing of it, which coincides with the island’s ever-popular Koke’e Banana Poka Festival, Williamson said she did that on purpose.

“Because I’m not a cyclist, I was thinking more tangentially,” she said. “This way, spouses and friends of racers have something else to do, and it gives a richer experience to the racers when they reach the finish line – they get live music, exhibits, food and fun craft classes for their family to do.”

Plus, if having both events occur on the same day increases participation for the Banana Poka Festival then that’s a good thing, too, Williamson said.

“We’re bringing up all our volunteers and riders and hopefully it grows the festival.”

Troy Keipper and Joe Funk lead a group of cyclists up the hill in 2010. Colin Cross photos

So far, about 50 cyclists are registered, and coordinators are expecting at least the same turnout as last year, 80 riders. That figure doesn’t include a new group of cyclists called the PIHI, or Philippine Islands Hawaiian Islands group, which make up about 30 cyclists, she said. This year’s event sponsors are Oahu’s The Bike Shop, Kaua’i Cycle & Tour and Kalaheo Café – plus, renowned “scratchboard” artist Michelle Dick designed the T-shirts.

Racers are required to check-in and receive a race number prior to racing: May 27, 3 to 5 p.m. , and May 28, 1 to 3 p.m. at Kaua`i Cycle in Kapaa, 821-2115.

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