Grueling 155-mile Climb to Kaiser in Sierra Nevada returns for 38th year

The Fresno BeeJune 25, 2014 

For cyclists, the annual Climb to Kaiser is one of the most gruesome, pain-infused rides in the country.

Not many rides can match its 15,000-foot elevation gain on the out-and-back 155-mile course, but that's what makes the trek from the Central Valley floor to Kaiser Pass so unique.

With a little more than 300 riders signed up for Saturday's big event, about 200 will attempt to ride the full distance.

The ride starts at 5:30 a.m. at Alta Sierra Intermediate School and gives cyclists 12 hours to finish the full route (courses of 70 and 100 miles are also offered).

With that time frame, it's safe to say the Climb to Kaiser is no easy task to complete.

Just ask 28-year-old Stacy Allen.

Growing up, Allen played basketball, snowboarded and swam. She started cycling and mountain climbing while at Fresno State. But in 2008, during her junior year in college, Allen fell ill and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

So the following year she started cycling daily to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She was part of a cycling team at her job in Madera and volunteers with the China Peak Ski & Mountain Bike Patrol.

In 2010, she finished her first Climb to Kaiser in 12 hours, 47 minutes.

Why did she do it? "Because of the pain you experience," she said.

The ride is front-loaded with an uphill climb that tops out at 9,200 feet above sea level before riders begin descending back to the Valley.

The pain Allen endures cycling up and down the Sierra Nevada surpasses any of the countless finger pricks, headaches and other symptoms she might get from her blood sugar levels being out of balance. She said riding provides a bit of normalcy during the routines of a life dictated by an insulin pump.

In 2011, Allen rode the Climb to Kaiser again but this time chose to take less insulin beforehand in order to prevent her blood sugar from crashing. The plan backfired; her blood sugar spiked, making her fatigued early and forcing her to suffer more than usual for most of the ride.

"It was like being extremely tired and hitting the wall at the same time," Allen said.

She finished in over 15 hours and swore never to do it again.

That was until husband Bradley said he wanted to train for this year's race.

The two train together four days a week and have completed other rides such as the California Classic and the Tour de Cure, a fundraiser race for the American Diabetes Association.

"We're our best riding partners," Allen said. "He's super supportive of my need to exercise."

To which Bradley quickly cut her off: "Exercise is a chore, but riding bicycles is a hobby."

In preparation of the Climb to Kaiser, they've rode the course in sections. Their goal for Saturday is to finish in under 12 hours. It's not just a personal goal, Allen said, but one to give hope to others fighting their own battles, regardless of what health condition they may have.

"You learn a lot from your experiences," Allen said. "Everyone's body is different. The only way you'll learn your body is by doing something you enjoy."

Cool weather, larger turnout

About 100 more cyclists than last year have registered for the ride, and organizer Jennifer Collins gives all the credit to the weather.

Last year, Clovis was baking in triple-digits. This year, the expected high is 95 degrees.

"We're getting a better turnout because of the cooler weather," Collins said, "and we hope that means more enjoyable rides for everyone."

The reporter can be reached at amoreno@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6401 or @anhelllll on Twitter.

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