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Riders overcome bad weather to complete The Alpine Challenge

Article published 04/19/15 on
by Diana Saenger

On April 25, 2015, 280 early birds started arriving at 5 a.m. at Summer's Past Farms (SPF), the event location for the Kiwanis' 15th Annual Alpine Challenge in East San Diego County. Riders were excited to pick up their maps and get on the road. There's no time limit for the ride and no competition.

The Alpine Challenge began in 2001 as a way for the Kiwanis Club of Alpine to provide a means of mentoring and scholarships to encourage high school students in Alpine to complete school and continue their education. Kiwanian Ed Paul and a few others Kiwanis members took the lead in what has become a worldwide event.

"It's a ride for fun, physical activity and to participate in a fundraiser for Rady Children's Hospital and the Alpine Challenge Scholarship Fund to give two scholarships to deserving students," said Alpine Kiwanian Dick Brown, who has been overseeing the Challenge for nearly eight years.

This year Brown put in approximately 500-600 hours, lining up the large number of Kiwanians to put up tents at the sign-in venue, oversee volunteers along the bike course and workers of the SAGs (Support and Gear stations) with food, drinks, porta potties and tools, and work with many sponsors including Suffolk Construction, The Challenge Presenting Sponsor since 2003.

With rain, wind, bitter cold and fog in the upper areas near Mt. Laguna, the weather was not gracious on this day, but these tough riders have ridden in snow and worse conditions. Riders could choose to do the 25, 50, 62 or 100 mile ride. By the 7th or 8th hour after the riders started, a number of them were ferried by Kiwanis volunteers out roving for help, safety and photos back to SPF. Conditions had become dicey on Mount Laguna, and most of the way up was very wet. Some riders couldn't brake safely because their hands were so cold, and visibility due to fog was poor.

Avid bike rider Arjan Heeves from Leiden, Netherlands, was in town for a Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals. The 28-year old PhD student at Delft University of Technology did some research and signed up for The Challenge.

"I though what a nice opportunity to check out the surrounding area of San Diego," said Heeves, who was a rower for three years at Delft University before starting bike riding.

Upon return from his ride, Heeves said, "I loved the challenge of the climb; the only part that was not that nice was the descent of Mt. Laguna. The cold and rain I am used to from the Netherlands, but at speeds over 40 mph your hands get very cold. Luckily I warmed up quickly in Pine Valley."

"I have done many rides in Europe so was well prepared for the conditions," he said. "I thought the SAG stops were great, especially the one on Japatul Rd. (with a fire pit) and also the one that everyone always raves about at Brian Stewart's home in Pine Valley (also with a fire pit)."

Peter from Mission Valley is a personal finance manager for the military. He has been road riding for about 14 years to stay healthy and have fun. He rides on his own about 100 miles a week.

Javi arrived with some of his Ride with Javi team. It has nearly 300 male and female members. "It's really grown, and we have about five levels of riders," he said. "It started because one day someone called me a 'big turtle' meaning I was slow. So I started this group to prove I wasn't."

Claudia is one of Javi's team mates who entered The Challenge, and has been riding for 10 years. "I was a runner but injured my knees so then I started bike riding," she said. "This is my sixth time to do this course."

Kim Baker from Escondido, CA, wheeled into a SAG stop with a big smile, on her first Alpine Challenge. "It's very exciting," she said.

Michael Arwood was a little out of breath as he pulled back into SPF in the afternoon with his friend Larry Savage, both from Temecula, CA. "This is my first time, and I was talked into it by my friend," Arwood said. "But the Kiwanis and everyone are so friendly; that's the way it should be."

"I do this because they put it on," Savage said. "The Challenge is well-organized and well run."

Pete from Rancho Peñasquitos made his debut for The Challenge. "I'm looking forward to riding some of the roads that are fabled for riding in San Diego County," he said. "I know it's hard because you start at the bottom and ride all the way to the top. The weather was bad, so I did 63 miles."

Riders came in small packs or alone. Many had planned to ride further but the weather forced them to choose one of the shorter routes.

Dustin Kor grew up locally and was completing his third Challenge. "I live in Santa Barbara now but come back every year for this ride," he said. "It's one of the best rides and best organized I've attended. I like all the support and also that it's a fundraiser for children. I think cyclists in general have that mentality. I've done more challenging rides, but today's was probably the most challenging because of the weather. Still it was fun to ride back through my home town again.

Rob Bradley from San Marcos, CA, did the 100 mile ride, and found his second time doing The Challenge better than last year when it was extremely cold. "My hands were cold coming down from Laguna, but everything else was good. I've always been a bike rider and I like the challenges because they are fun, often challenging and to stay in shape," he said.

George Parker came into the park from completing the 100 ride by himself the entire ride, and said it was the most vertical climb of any ride he'd done. "The roving support was amazing," he said. "Especially up on Mount Laguna where a number of people were ferried back to Summers Past because their cold hands couldn't grip the brakes. The signage was very good over the entire route."

The 2015 Alpine Challenge was his favorite ride of all time. George pushed himself harder than ever before. He was so overwhelmed by his accomplishment at the finish that he cried as he entered the park. He had nothing but praise for the event coordinators, support staff, SAG stop workers and everyone back at SPF that helped make his day EPIC.

Diana Saenger is an award-winning freelance writer, film & theater critic for eight newspapers and four onlines, as well as author of several books about Vietnam POWs, 911, and the history of Veterans on the Alpine Wall of Honor.