Submitted by Alwin Akuna, just after completing his first Climb to Kaiser on June 24, 2017
(Much of this also appears in the July 2017 Rough Draft)
Climb to Kaiser had been in my bucket list 3 years ago before I got injured. I've heard so many nice things about it, so I wanted to check it out. This year, a boss at work gave me a road bike on one condition: that I ride Climb to Kaiser, and finish! He later changed his own registration to the Tollhouse Century (he finished 5th place at TC this year), but I stuck with CTK! I’ve had the bike for 3 months, & planned on training but got busy.
I was only able to ride my bike last Friday for a mile, thanks to Alex on his recommendation that I at least figure out how to shift gears & clip in:) so race day came…woke up at 4am…had a cup of rice & pork sinigang (my favorite Filipino dish) and a cup of coffee for breakfast, & headed to Alta Sierra Middle School - race started 5:30 am in Clovis. I always start slow, so I was at the end of the pack. I forgot what time I got to the Wildcat aid station but it was just a quick stop, had some fruit, refilled 1 water bottle then headed out. I enjoyed this downhill part all the way to the bridge then some climbing all the way to the Sierra Elementary Rest Stop. I consumed my 2 full bottles since leaving Wildcat so had to refill both & mix it with energy & electrolyte powder. It was quite entertaining to have that green mascot at that point. Thanks for letting us not miss that stop! After this, I didn’t know that one of the hard parts of the route was coming up – the Tollhouse Climb. This was the point that I had to turn on the music on my phone to pump me up. I had asked friends for their playlists & this was what kept me going. Some riders passed me on Tollhouse & complimented my music! Anyway, I finally reached the Tollhouse Water Stop – I’m so glad about this stop because I already finished my 2 bottles & the next stop is not until Shaver which is another 7 miles. Thanks to the owner of this house because they let me use their bathroom.
Off I went to the Shaver Lake stop/station (mile 50-ish) & got there around noon...the cramps & aches from not training were trying to make me quit at this point, but good thing I had a good music playlist on my phone that took my mind off the pain…so thankful of the ice cold towels!...So I went ahead & stopped at Big Creek to check the canyon flow (it is raging!)...that section of the race from Big Creek powerhouse to Huntington Lake is what I consider the hardest part of the race (non-stop steep climbing!)...I had to stop at times and I’m so grateful for the SAG crew who constantly checked on us, to make sure we were alright. One SAG in particular driving a white mini cooper was talking thru his megaphone & saying “Rider #152, are you ok?” I got that from him a couple of times! So, finally reached the Big Creek rest stop & that was a big relief! Especially when they offered me pickle juice because I was cramping so bad at this point. I think I had to stay at this rest stop for about 15 minutes which is the longest stop I had all day.
After this stop, there was more climbing all the way to the Bear Cove rest stop which I reached around 3 pm. The volunteers at this stop told me about the looming bad weather up in Kaiser Pass so I decided to skip lunch at this stop & just continue on. The lady volunteers at this stop 'chided' me for not wearing gloves & offered me 'motherly advice' to wear them next time. So I got to Kaiser Pass Road & guess what, there was a hailstorm for about 15 minutes followed by heavy rains & winds for another 45 minutes. I didn't think of bringing any gear because it was 100 degree weather in Fresno. This was the turning point for a lot of riders because of the cold & wet conditions. I was getting cold so I pressed on even with heavy rains to reach the Kaiser Pass stop & I barely made it for the 5 pm cutoff time. Thanks a lot for making me a 'rain vest' made of black trash bag. It made the downhill ride on Kaiser pass road bearable being wet & cold. They also made a pink one for the lady rider ahead of me:) They let me rest for a bit but I was advised to leave soon because I had to make it to Shaver Lake for the 7 pm cutoff time & I still had Tamarack Ridge to climb. I was the last rider at this point so SAG was tailing me from here on. Nancy, the SAG in Kaiser Pass stop, followed me all the way & made sure that I was all right. The Tamarack Ridge climb(s) made me cramp up again so the other SAG with Nancy (sorry I forgot your name sir but I remember Nancy saying that you are registered nurse & thanks for the electrolyte tabs!)
Then came my favorite part of the race: the 7-mile screamer downhill at 50 mph from Tamarack Ridge to Shaver Lake! That was quite an adrenaline rush! Along the way, right past Stevenson Creek, my chain came off & Nancy was there again to push me up that hill to get going again! So, I made it to Shaver Lake! & there were concern if I could still continue on...I told them that I want & will finish this race. Thanks to Diana & all the SAG in Shaver (another gentleman slipped 3 chocolate chip cookies in my back pocket & the other SAG guy who drove with Bill – both names I forgot..sorry) So sometime around past 7 pm, I left the Shaver Lake rest stop with Bill as my SAG in tow (Thanks a lot Bill!!! I would have not made it without you!) I reached the Pine Ridge School stop shortly thereafter for my final refill & check. Thanks to the nice lady at this stop (whose name I wasn’t able to get) for reminding me of the potholes coming up on the downhill as it get dark, & the hot weather back in Fresno. Just before reaching the corner of Auberry road & 168, it got dark so I had to put on my lights. Thanks again to Bill for lending my 2 batteries for my headlamp (I really owe you big time Bill!) I then made it to the Millerton Store rest stop & I can hear those cowbells even from afar! That really provided me the boost for this last leg of the ride. Soooooo, I finally (YES!) made it to the finish line around 10 pm with Jen & everybody waiting. WOOHOO! & what a way to end the ride with Pork Adobo & rice, dinner courtesy of the Filipino riding group (thanks for the to-go box too!)
Mad props to the Fresno Cycling Club & all the volunteers who made this event possible. Thanks to all of you! You treated me, from packet pick-up all the way to the finish, as FAMILY! I appreciate (SO MUCH!) the warmth, enthusiasm & assistance you have extended to all the riders. As I’m a little embarrassed to be the last finisher, I’m soooo proud to be part of this event. It’s truly an epic & amazing experience. Congrats to FCC for putting on such a world-class event! I love you all! I’ll be back next year (hopefully better & faster) to see my Climb to Kaiser family again! You all treated me (and every rider) as family & I’m happy to be part of it! So that's my story folks...155 miles...15,000 ft of climbing...16.5 hours of road biking...another bucket list item checked off!