The Saga of the Climb to Kaiser
6/28/2008


 This was the hardest thing I have ever done, by far. 

I feel ok, but what a hard day. 

Stats for the ride….

  • 155 miles,
  • 14,759 feet of climbing,
  • 13,660 calories burned! 

On top of that, the smoke was so bad from all the fires in California that the public health department declared it was a day they recommended people not exercise outside as the air was unhealthy!

I had slept only 2.5 hours, then we drove down from our Huntington Lake condo 1.5 hrs to Clovis High School, only 2 miles from my house growing up.  We started out at 0530, and the riding was easy....going with a pack, or a paceline, up to the first hill, which was a good 20 to 30 miles into the climb.  The first climb was not supposed to be so tough, but both Larry and I, at the rest stop at the top of it, thought, "That was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be.....man, what are these REAL climbs going to be like?  After that, we had some beautiful rollers and a sweet downhill through countryside full of foothills, oak trees, running streams, and farms with cows and what looked to be free running horses as the properties were so large.  The sun was coming up through the smokey haze, making the scenery look rather surreal.  It was nice and cool, as the suns rays were partially blocked by the smoke from all of the fires.

We then had a nice rest stop at Sierra Elementary School.  After that, the real ride began with TOLLHOUSE GRADE.  This climb was 7 miles long, and continuous 8 to 15 percent......Larry and I both felt good.....we were chatting and joking the whole way.  I was pulling Larry up the hill, and another rider that we caught rode our wheels until it got flatter....did not help at all, then rode past us when the road got flatter...jerk.  The last half mile of Tollhouse was KILLER.  It was 16-19 percent the whole way up to highway 168.

We were then riding on 168 to Shaver.  It was not that steep, but our legs were feeling it.....particularly mine.  I started to cramp.....a bad sign, and we had to stop for a few minutes.  Larry then pulled me most of the way up to shaver as I was hurting from Tollhouse.  Finally, at Shaver, a sweet rest stop.  We were there for a good 30 minutes, pounding down fluid, electrolytes, and food.  I could tell that my tank needed filling, or I would never make it up Big Creek, THE MOTHER OF ALL CLIMBS!

We rode the rest of the way through Shaver.....then up a mile long hill that made us realize this ride is big time....then down a steep descent then....what!, some more uphill to Big Creek.  We stopped at Big Creek for a good half hour to load up on Calories, electrolytes, diet pepsi, and cookies!  We then got on our bikes to enter what both of us feel is THE HARDEST THING WE HAVE EVER DONE ON A BIKE.

We start Big Creek Grade.

It is only 3.7 miles long....no big deal, right?  The problem is that it is STEEP and UNRELENTING.  There are a couple of short 100 yard breaks in the first mile or so....but then it is continually UP.....14 percent plus the entire way.......just exhausting.  It is getting hot.  there is a breeze....but it does not matter.....we are pedaling hard and slow with our easiest gears, and we have to stop a couple of times.  Dave Freeto told us it is like 4 miles of Oak Grade.  We drove the route a couple of days before and thought, "that does not look so bad!"  WRONG!  Lactic acid builds up in the legs.  We have to stop a couple of times.  During one of the stops it is so steep that it is impossible for me to get back in the pedals.  Larry hold my bike while I strap in.....then, in a scary moment where I think I will fall over, he pushes me and launches me forward......we climb slowly, PAINFULLY, for about another mile, then stop at a driveway in the shade that is thankfully flat.....still 2 more miles to go!  Ugh!

After a nice rest, we push forward......the hill is still unrelenting.  My legs are burning, as are Larry's.....it is steep forever...we both agree we need to stop again....1 mile left...I think.  It is too steep for me to get back on.....so, like two others ahead of me, I simply walk the bike.  That feels good.  I am now using different muscles than on the bike...feels refreshing, actually.  I am going about 2.4  miles/hr.  Larry continues to ride.....he is pedalling SLOW with his 34 mountain bike cassette.....and moving just a little faster than me.  I watch him as he goes by....pedalling so slow and with a huge amount of effort....making me tired.  I walk about a half a mile...Larry says it was less, then I get back on when it is not so steep.......maybe .5 miles left....we then stop again as we are so tired.  After that, just the last part....which was not quite as bad and WHAM we see beautiful Huntington Lake, my favorite place in the world....where I grew up in a cabin in the summertime sailing every day.....time for a nice, flat, beautiful ride to the rest stop.  Larry and I are both in shock with how difficult that climb was.

We stop at the rest stop, on the lake, and get some food, drink, and collapse in chairs, staring at the water.......absolutely delirious at this point.  After I eat and drink a bit, I start to feel ok.  Larry is clearly not feeling well.  He starts telling me he may not make it up to Kaiser.  I tell him, let's just try.....it would be a shame to come this far and not make it.

After a good 45 minutes, maybe an hour, we leave the rest stop just 15 minutes before the time limit allows.  We start the 6 mile climb to Kaiser.  The first 4 miles is just 6-8 percent, but steady.  Seems easy, but after 70 miles and two major climbs, our legs are tired and we are riding our easiest gears.  Larry is clearly hurting.....I hold back in order to pull him up the hill.  After a couple of miles, he catches his 13th wind and pulls me up for a bit......we start to realize, once we hit the single lane, winding, steep hill that takes you two miles to the top.....we just might make it!

Those last two miles are tough.  Continuous uphill....not as steep as Big Creek....but unrelenting.....and our legs are burning.  We slowly make our way up.....1 mile left, 0.5 miles left, then it gets steeper....we go slower....powered on by the fact that we are almost there.  We get to the last quarter mile or so....I am ahead, standing up, pumping with all my might....so close.....a bee lands in my ear....I take one hand off the handlebars to shake it off....my left foot pulls out of my pedal, my leg straightens out and, "AHHHHHHHHH!"  a massive cramp overtakes my entire quad in that leg....absolute agony...the worst I have ever felt....I had to stop and crunch over in pain.....it was absolutely horrible!  Larry stops and waits...bless his heart!  I start walking, and larry rides behind me.  I feel good walking, and am to scared to start pedalling again....do not want to feel that pain again.   We make a right turn.....I can see the top, a couple of hundred yards ahead!  We walk (me) and ride (Larry) to the top....we made it!  Such a price to pay, though.  We have only 15 minutes to rest.....otherwise we will be disqualified for time.  We each have a coke, some calories, electrolytes, then head down the hill.

Finally, some downhill!  Very bumpy the first couple of miles, then "Wheeeeeee!", four miles of just coasting.  We get to the bottom at Huntington, and Larry tells me his arms are killing him and that he will likely catch a sag wagon.  I feel bad.  I got my 20th wind at this point....and would like to try to finish.  We start the climb to Tamarack ridge.  This climb is 9 miles long, but it is not steep, mostly 3-6 percent, but a couple of sections are a couple of miles long, interspersed with downhill. 

Larry is hurting, bad.  He keeps telling me that he will likely catch a sag wagon soon.  I think that, once we get up this climb....we can make it....it is all downhill after that.  However, I am pulling Larry up the hill at a slow pace and he is not himself.  He starts saying he will go to the top of Tamarack Ridge...then catch a ride down.  He tells me his arms are so tired he does not feel he can brake well enough. Near the top he tells me he is getting dizzy and feeling delirious.  I tell him he better catch a sag.....they are following us at this point as we are in the back of the likely finishing group....just one rider behind us at this point....but I am going to push on.  Now, having fallen back a bit and needing to be at the Shaver rest stop by 7 pm in order to finish.....I push on the last bit of the climb and fly down the hill.  Larry goes by on the downhill in a sag wagon and waves.

A wave of emotion overtakes me as I realize I need to do the rest of the ride alone...and it is still another 55 miles or so of solo riding.  I start crying uncontrollably as this is such a difficult physical test, pushing our limits of endurance.  Now I have to do the rest alone.  I am comforted that a sag wagon has me tagged and is following me the whole way.  The downhill to shaver is a blast.....long straightaways where real bike riders will go 50 mph, but I am cautious and want to live....so I go 25 to 35 mph....feel like I am flying...ten miles down to Shaver.  I pass one rider during a slow uphill at Shaver, then make the rest stop with just 5 minutes to spare!!

I am feeling good at this point.  I eat a little, drink, take electrolytes, then head down the hill solo, still being followed by a sag wagon.  The 6 mile ride down to the highway is a blast, the road is newly paved, sweet banked turns.....I fly down it.  I then get to Auberry Road.... then hit a section about a mile long of....WHAT!  UPHILL!?  Ugh. I start to wonder if I can make it.  Doubt creeps into my head.  I start crying again.

However, the road then points downhill....and I am coasting through banked turns to the last rest stop......I get encouragement from the crew....who are AWESOME by the way.  LIke Larry said, this is the best supported ride of any he has been on.  The volunteers are all so helpful...they take your bikes for you, load up your bottles with whatever you want, fill your camelback, get you whatever you want foodwise......a real pleasant experience that really makes a difference on a ride like this.

I then head down Auberry Road....still another 2500 feet descent to Auberry at 2000 feet.  The road here is AWESOME.  Nice downhill with banked turns.....I fly down it with a big smile on my face, sag wagon following me.  I am sad to be riding alone, wonder how Larry is doing, but feel good.  I then hit Auberry, then it is a gentle downhill another ten miles to the last rest stop at Millerton store.  I am flying at 25-30 mph, feeling good.  Have to put my lights and head lamp on as it is getting dark....now after 8 pm!!!  I get to the last rest stop, where three other, older riders scream at me...you made it!  We have ice cream, a cold towel on our heads, then all take off together.....a car will follow us as it is dark.  They are riding at 15 mph.....and I am feeling good....want to go faster as I am wondering about Larry.  I tell them I need to go ahead to catch up with him.

I ride at 20 mph or so, on pure adrenaline, through rolling hills then into the outskirts of Clovis.  I am in the dark, by myself.  I know these roads, as I grew up here.  I ride down the long straight roads onto Fowler avenue....another five miles down this road I know so well...always rode on as a teenager, right past my house growing up...feeling good....18-20 mph with a slight headwind.....ride into Clovis High School...the finish!  it is 945 pm!  16 hrs, 15 minutes!  What a hard ride.  The nice volunteers there yell and scream at me, congratulating me on making it.  I am so exhausted and worn that I just think, “At what price?”

I check in at the finish....the crew tells me Larry was taken to a hospital.  He wanted to go as he was feeling dizzy and threw up.  I could not believe it.  I felt so bad.  I call Larry, then he calls me back and says he is feeling better, they are just running some tests.  I eat a bit...the crew grabs us a ton of food and drink, helps me transport my and Larry's stuff to my car, and sends me off.  I head to the hotel, unload our bikes, shower, and feel absolutely exhausted.  Larry calls me back, tells me they are keeping him overnight as he is hyponatremic.  He feels well, however.

I pass out, wake up after a few hours, and feel I must document this whole incredible saga.  This ride is not for the birds.  It is difficult.  It is a killer.  During the big creek grade, I tell Larry that I never, ever, want to do this again.  It is just too absolutely painful.  He tells me, "Why would you?  I agree!  I am not doing it again, either!"  I am amazed that David Freeto did it and still wants to do it again....although he backed out this year....hmmm.

Now I sit in our hotel, waiting to hear from Larry....my whole body is sore, I have blisters where they should not be...but I feel good I did the most challenging thing I have ever sought to do.  I really doubted whether I would make it.  I barely made it in the time limit.  Only four riders were behind me when I finished.  But, I made it.  I will ride the jersey we get for finishing with pride, for sure.  It is bittersweet, however, as Larry had such a hard time.  He was behind on electrolytes and drank more water than energy drink.  It is amazing how not keeping up with salt, potassium, etc. that you lose in sweat can really mess up your physiology.  I am sure he would have made it if he played his electrolytes right.

Well, there it is.  Sorry to make it so long, but I lay it out there while it is fresh in my mind.

Jim


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