Say hello to Bike Man

  • 5584779_web1_Bike-Man_0023.jpg
  • 5584779_web1_Bike-Man_0008.jpg
  • 5584779_web1_Bike-Man_0015.jpg
  • 5584779_web1_Bike-Man_0018.jpg

KAILUA-KONA — The plan is to leave Kailua Pier at 4 a.m. and pedal the Walmart bike up one of the connectors, like Hina Lani Street, to Mamalahoa Highway.

ADVERTISING

KAILUA-KONA — The plan is to leave Kailua Pier at 4 a.m. and pedal the Walmart bike up one of the connectors, like Hina Lani Street, to Mamalahoa Highway.

Once connected, Brian Fulghum will keep churning until he turns right on to Saddle Road, the modern highway in the shadow of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

There, he’ll stop and put on his cape.

He might hold off on the rest of his yellow and red costume because it’s like a sauna in there, and he’ll still have a mountain to wheel up.

“The costume is beastly,” said Fulghum, known around Kailua-Kona as Bike Man. “It’s so hot.”

But such is his cross to carry. He chose the persona, after all, 18 months ago. He created it as a symbol of the pilgrimage he’s on to get to the top of a 13,796-foot peak. But it’s more than that.

Fulghum, who is partially blind and teaches children with disabilities to read and write, created the suit as a larger-than-life, visual reminder that anything can be achieved.

“It’s better to play and come in last than sit out,” Fulghum puts it.

It’s the mantra by which he lives his life, from trying to write a book, to biking, to playing pickup volleyball games at Coconut Grove off Alii Drive.

“I stink,” he said of the latter sport.

But sit out, he won’t. Try, he always will. Before he became Bike Man, he tried to follow life like it was taught to be followed: work hard, graduate college, land a job and everything will workout for the better. But a decade after earning an environmental biology degree from Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, nothing in the working world would stick.

His blindness is such that all his peripheral vision was lost from birth. He was a still-born whose umbilical cord wrapped around his head and cut off his supply of oxygen. Reading and writing are laborious activities for Fulgham. In fact, he’s only finished one book leisurely in his entire life. He has a difficult time recognizing faces. It’s all put him in a purgatory where he can’t drive well enough for a blue collar job and his reading trouble inhibits his ability to work in white collar positions.

“We really like you, but it’s just not working,” he said boss after boss has told him.

“I was under the impression that one day everything was going to come together,” Fulghum said. “And it never quite did.”

That was when Fulghum’s college friend, Steve Opp, told Fulghum to join him in Kailua-Kona, where he could clear his head and write a really good book.

Before the costume, Bike Man could actually bike. In 2011, he rode and camped the length of the Mississippi River. He set off from Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Three months and 2,000 miles later, he rolled into Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.

Along the way, he met his father for only the second time in his life — a father who drove alongside Fulghum and camped with his son as the two became acquainted.

He met wild characters along the way — funny, quirky characters, including one who offered Fulghum a lift when he was hitch-hiking.

“You know, I’ve killed men in four countries,” were the man’s first words as Fulghum rode in the cab.

“He’s a great storyteller,” said Opp, who helped Fulghum sketch the outline to his book about the trip on the Mississippi, the opening chapter detailing one of those bosses during one of those firings that preceded the birth of Bike Man. “At this point in his life, he’s discovering that about himself.”

And the killer in the cab? He was retired military. But the way he introduced the subject panicked Fulghum, who for a moment considered bailing out of a moving car.

He has stories like Mark Twain, Opp said.

So it was in Kailua-Kona where Fulghum decided he would put it all into words, conquering his struggle with reading and writing to craft his story.

Fulghum said he frequently learns something new when teaching special education in Alaska because he wasn’t taught the basics himself as he shuffled between classes as a child. Here, in Hawaii, he’d do it.

But when Fulghum saw Mauna Kea shortly after arriving, he knew he had to climb it, and one endeavor became two.

Two monumental tasks, but that’s what Fulghum was looking for. He wanted to accomplish something that was bigger than himself. He wanted to symbolize encouragement for the disadvantaged.

What better way than to adopt a superhero persona? Thus, the Bike Man was born.

“We fell in love with that,” said Jonny Stimac, owner of Big Island Studios, who made three videos for free to promote Bike Man’s message — videos that show him on snorkel days with local children with disabilities. “We wanted to know what we could do to help.”

The videos helped spread the word, and the costume became an identity as the story became better known by the day.

“I really figured out I’m an introvert,” Fulghum said about the costume. “The first time I put it on, I was pretty nervous.”

He’s used the suit to learn about his own message, too. He’s learned not to look too far down the road, to put one red boot in front of the other, to meet and interact with people, to view life as a journey where each small interaction should be relished.

“I give you a smile, you give me a smile and things get bigger and just work,” he said. “Wearing a stupid suit, you know?”

But it’s a suit worn so well. It’s what he wore when he snuck into the King Kamehameha Day Parade in June.

“And there goes some sort of, uh, superhero,” the emcee said.

It’s the one he’s wore into Laverne’s Tavern late in the evening for a nightcap, after a long day of meeting people. It made one inebriated tough guy nearly tear-up outside Bongo Ben’s praising Fulghum for the courage to wear it.

It’s the one he wears outside of Daylight Mind on Waterfront Row in Kailua-Village where he spends most mornings.

“He’s having awesome fun promoting a great cause,” Francine Irwin, a retired school nurse who worked with disabled children, said last week after meeting Fulghum outside the village.

“Honey Girl,” a fixture on Alii Drive, hugged Fulghum after meeting him that same morning. She wanted to pass out his flyers promoting his ride.

“He’s just awesome,” the homeless woman said, “and I want to help him.”

ADVERTISING

Whether or not he wears the costume Saturday as he pumps up Saddle Road, then the access road, past the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center and beyond, all the way to the summit — the suit has helped bring him this far.

Even without it, he’ll still have his cape, fluttering behind him full of wind as it always does when he rides, as though he were flying.