HUNTINGTON LAKE -- Almost all the food and water was gone.
And the tent that housed some of the Climb to Kaiser volunteers was packed.
To make the loading process easier, a pickup had begun backing up closer to the rest area at the Bear Cove lunch stop in Huntington Lake.
Then, suddenly, a loud horn went off.
"Last rider in!" a volunteer yelled.
It was 3:26 p.m. Saturday and Mike Weiss, 48, of Benicia finally had reached the near-midpoint of Central California's annual 155-mile bike ride through some of the area's most steep and twisting roads. The second-to-last rider to reach that point had crossed 30 minutes earlier.
Sweating profusely and breathing heavily, Weiss still managed a smile after getting off his bike to rest.
"Finally made it here," said Weiss, whose ride was interrupted for 30 minutes to change a tire and tube. "This is the fifth time I've done this and this is the farthest I've ever gotten. It doesn't matter to me if I'm last. I just want to finish it."
When you've been riding since 5:30 a.m., the body is aching and the sun is beating down, that was the goal for many of the 304 registered participants in Saturday's 34th annual Climb to Kaiser.
The course took entrants from the start/finish line at Alta Sierra Middle School in Clovis to the top of 9,200-foot Kaiser Pass in Sierra National Forest and back again.
For Visalia's Joey Galloway, it was about more than just finishing.
He wanted to win.
Having separated from the main pack long ago and ridden the final 100 miles solo, Galloway started to notice, like Weiss, that he was all alone.
Except Galloway's observations didn't kick in until he neared the finish -- about 83 miles from where Weiss was and 90 minutes earlier in the day.
Spectators applauded as Galloway completed the ride in 8 hours, 55 minutes. It was the first time Galloway won in six tries. Saturday also marked his best time by about 35 minutes.
"It means a lot to be the first to cross the finish," said Galloway, who lost 15 pounds in preparation for the event. "I've always tried to go for the win. I felt strong throughout.
"I don't know if this win will lead to anything. But there is a lot of pride that comes from finishing a course like this, whether you're winning it or just finishing it. For me, it shows that my hard work and training has paid off."
Many others also would complete the course.
Rebecca Rising of El Portal was the first female, clocking in at 9:50 and placing 11th overall.
And when the ride was complete, cyclists walked toward the school's cafeteria, where they were greeted with food, drinks and a section reserved for those who wanted a massage.
"It feels great," said Michele Slaton of Big Pine, minutes after crossing the finish line. She was participating in her first Climb to Kaiser. "You get here, and at first, you're just exhausted. But I know, it's the next day, it starts feeling really good. It was worth it."
Slaton admitted she felt exhausted during multiple stretches of the ride -- a feeling shared by many others.
On the back stretch of the course, along the shoulder of Highway 168, cyclists frequently pulled over to rest. A few tried to stretch their quads.
Even Galloway had some troubles and said he felt lightheaded just before the back stretch -- during the gruesome seven-mile stretch to reach the Kaiser Pass rest stop.
There, Galloway said, he started feeling lightheaded so he drank two sodas and ate a bag of potato chips, "for the sodium and caffeine, and then I was fine."
A 12-minute break atop the pass might have prevented Galloway from challenging for the Climb to Kaiser record of 8:04, which was set by Vince Owens of Fresno and Brandon Franklin of Clovis last year.
"Maybe next year," Galloway said.
Back on the back end of the race, Weiss probably said the same thing.
Though he tried to keep riding, Weiss eventually did not reach certain checkpoints at certain times to continue. He was forced to stop and return to town in one of the event vans because of safety precautions.
It was another "Did Not Finish" for the record books of the Climb to Kaiser. That happens to up to 25% of the field in a given year and to 20 cyclists Saturday.
But as Weiss said at the midpoint:
"My word is my honor and I have to follow up what I said I was going to do -- complete all 155 miles.
"It's hard work. But I love the challenge. I'll keep coming back until I get it down."