Honolulu Century Ride misses its mission

One of my favorite things about riding my bicycle is the long stretch of contemplation it provides. When riding, a slight breeze becomes a big, loud wind. Holding a conversation with my husband requires that I turn my head to hear him, taking the concentration off the road, obviously a potentially disastrous situation. Instead, we are quiet companions. We try to exchange pleasantries or mock the bad drivers or conditions of the road, but after a while, we fall into a comfortable silence that lasts for miles.

For about 24 hours after we finish a ride, we download parts of it as the parade of events replay in our minds. We recall nearly getting hit, the smashed guava on the road, the 30-foot rooster tail of dirty water spraying us from the bicycle in front, which is usually mine. And other things. While in Kaaawa during the Honolulu Century last Sunday, I saw a big plastic float ball get tossed around close to shore in the waves. Had it been glass, I would have jumped into the ocean in my lovely bicycle shoes and retrieved it! Instead it became part of the reel that repeats in my mind as I relive our 100-mile-plus adventure along Oahu’s southern and eastern neighborhoods. I think it’s interesting that as soon as I shut my eyes after a ride, I feel as though I am still riding, I can feel myself riding in a dream.

The map provided for the 2010 Honolulu Century ride was full color, and I noticed just one error on it as I quickly glanced over it. Not having much of an idea of Oahu’s windward side, I didn’t notice the ride would take us up Mokapu Saddle Road and also along Kahekili Highway. When I contemplate these hills, a woman over 50 who burst her Achille’s Tendon seven months prior, my inner groan escaped. According to John, too often I shifted up to ease the struggle on the hills. I knew he was disappointed. Later we talked about the mental psyche-out I experience when I see the next tall hill that rolls before me. It’s as though I were climbing the Alps.

I know I’m not. I also know, that when I’m first making my way up a hill, that I will get over it. I know that 99.99 percent of the time, I’ll get over it without getting off and walking,  that I’ll reach the top, quietly, breathlessly, determined not to fail. Instead of looking at the huge hill that soars before me, I focus instead on the two to three feet of asphalt directly before my front wheel. It’s the only way I know I can do it. And then I’m amazed because I get to the top. I fly down the hills like you wouldn’t believe! I fly down the hills as though I weren’t touching the ground, as though I had wings, as though it weren’t just an inch-wide strip of rubber holding up the front and back of my bicycle as I wonder girl like the little kid I used to be riding down Hooker Street in Riverside, N.J., some 40 years ago.

About 18 months ago my husband started building me a pair of bicycles. I pretended not to notice. He got me Italian bicycle shoes and I ignored them. He got me bicycle shorts and I thought how dreadful it would be to see myself as a sausage. His father talked to me about how when he was a kid, John would take bicycles apart and put them back together again. It wasn’t just a hobby, it was a skill. After a while, I started to appreciate John’s commitment to this ideal he had of me. I allowed his enthusiasm reacquaint me with that little girl who rode her bicycle to the farm to pick strawberries or string beans, to the McDonald’s for a Filet-o-Fish and an orangeade, to the swim club every summer day for swim team practice.

This was our second century. John had the idea that we should ride to and from the actual ride, so we actually rode 115.72 miles that day. We left a little after 5 a.m. and were home by 330 p.m. You can see how we did by checking out my Garmin Stats here.

I think the Honolulu Century is a well-intentioned event. Its mission is to create a spirit of cooperation between bicyclists and drivers. However, most of the riders are tourists from Japan — or so it seems to me. I imagine the ride is promoted as a great package to Oahu, an opportunity to see our Island where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. I do not think their participation does anything to bridge goodwill between Oahu drivers and Oahu cyclsts.

I would assert that those Hawaii bicyclists who do participate are interested in sharing the road. I for one don’t think bicycle paths are the answer to those who want to push themselves as hard as they can when they train. Those who commute any significant distance to work want to be able to use the same roads and traffic amenities as drivers. And bicyclists are actually entitled to a lane, just like cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles.

Would we do the Honolulu Century again? Not unless more love is shown to the local participants. To me it’s become an event designed to draw Japanese tourists with deep pockets. I don’t mind that. We can endure a day of these visitors on their beautiful expensive bicycles, their foldable bikes they packed in a suitcase, or the bicycles the picked up at Sear’s or Wal-Mart.

But let’s start the conversation about integrating Hawaii’s bicyclists into the stream of traffic. Bicycle education in the grammar schools is a great start. But let’s not lead the kids to the side of the road with just that. Bicycle education must include a component of driver education. Until drivers understand that bicyclists are part of the rolling scenery, there will be no cooperation on Hawaii’s roads.