Hilo cycling gets back on map with Saddle Road climb

  • Men’s winner Alan Erickson.

  • Bree Brown takes off Saturday at the inaugural Hilo Climbing Trial. Brown finished second among five women riders.

  • Jenn Real, the organizer of the Hilo Climbing Trial, counts down the seconds Saturday until John Barnett can start his ascent on Saddle Road. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald, photos)

HILO — Had it been the opening of a Broadway play, the reviews would have called it a “smash hit,” or maybe it would have been referred to as “boffo,” in the tabloids.

We are a long way from New York City, but Jenn Real, organizer of the inaugural Hilo Climbing Trial, still basked in the widespread expressions of thanks from the 18 cyclists that took part in the mile uphill test Saturday morning.

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“This is so good,” Real said as the finishers came through on Saddle Road, “we have already have more (contestants), than in the Mauna Loa, and it’s just the first time, I’m really happy about this.”

That reflected reactions from all of those who took off from the parking lot at the Puainako Extension at the end of Saddle Road in 30-second intervals, and on up the hill.

The event was the first in a long while on the eastside of the Big Island, replacing the former Mauna Loa Trial that was contested over 17 grueling miles that were so difficult it was rare that more than 10-12 competitors entered.

For the winner, Alan Erickson, 33, who made the climb in 53 minutes, 52 seconds, it was sort of an inside job. A veteran competitive cyclist, Erickson lives close to the Puainako Extension and has made this excursion, “more times than I can count.

“It was fun out there,” Erickson said, “if (Real) keeps doing these, I’ll probably get caught by somebody.”

Erickson grew up in Northern California in a family of seven kids, five of whom were cyclists, like their father.

“Two of my older brothers got me going,” he said, “but dad got them going, and (dad) he’s still competing all the time.”

Real’s ultimate goal is to bring out as many cyclists as possible on the eastside in hopes of those people encouraging more to get involved, creating more events on an annual basis.

It just might work.

“This was great,” said Dave Collier, who finished in 1:03.30 and described himself as a “part-time” cyclist. “I wasn’t really focused on this at all, but I saw a story about it in the paper and that encouraged me to give it a shot.

“I just wanted to come out and ride and not necessarily try to kill myself or anything trying to win, but it’s a beautiful day for it and it was a blast. To have something like this on the eastside, so we don’t have to drive two hours (to Kona) to do something like this? That’s a great thing, I’m sure more people will start coming out.”

Tina Eakin, 48, said, “Oh, of course,” she will be back next year after she won the women’s side of the event with a time of 1:00.16, besting four others who entered the first-time event.

“I’m a triathlete, basically,” said Eakin, who started cycling in 1999 while serving in the Navy on Oahu. “I had done some running, then I added the cycling and I’m always looking for things like this because it’s always easier to just go run. The swimming part? That’s my weakest link.”

But the Hilo Climbing Trial was more than just a competitive event for Eakin, it was a milepost in recovery after a cycling accident 366 days earlier resulted in s pelvic fracture and put her on the sidelines for five months.

A month ago, she competed in her first big race since the injury, and this one had her feeling more competitive and a little less tentative.

“It’s like I’m good to go now,” she said. “This was a blast.”

The future for Hilo area cyclists seems bent on expansion and involvement. Onward and upward, as it were.

12.1 miles

1. Alan Erickson 53:52

2. Todd Marohnic 58:48

3. Tina Eakin F 1:00:16

4. Jeff Lassle 1:00:28

5. Bree Brown F 1:02:37

6. David Collier 1:03:30

7. Rich Bell 1:12:11

8. Melissa Schad F 1:14:46

9. Wil Freisen 1:26:40

10. Johnnie Kaihewalu 1:31:11

11. Mark Hansen 1:31:19

12. Peter Bresciani 1:31:39

13. Lori Montgomery F 1:37:51

14. Christopher Harper 1:39:41

15. Bill Culhane 1:46:57

16. Simon Radford 1:49:17

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17. John Barnett 1:50:27

18. Toni Romp-Freisen F 2:49:53

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