After leaving last year’s race due to injury in the first third of the 4,300-mile Trans Am Bike Race, Medford cyclist Tony Lopez flew home to the Rogue Valley last week, this time victorious after completing the 10-state, coast-to-coast trek. He placed 17th out of 114 riders from around the world.
A Crater High School graduate and trainer for the Harry & David call center, Lopez, 28, attempted last year’s race but was forced to stop just a few days in due to injury. Training almost nonstop, and making changes in his gear and planning, gave him a brighter outlook this year when he started pedaling toward the East Coast June 2.
While a handful of racers are still making their way toward the finish line, Lopez flew home this past weekend with his sleep schedule and appetite getting back on track since his 22-day journey from Astoria to Yorktown, Virginia.
He finished the race in 22 days, 18 hours and 13 minutes, then promptly ran into a storm and airline cancellations that caused him to miss two flights and sleep in the airport.
“Pretty much all I wanted to do (was) sleep. I was so exhausted, I was just like, ‘Get me home!’”
Scenic highlights included Virginia City, Nevada, and Yellowstone in the western half of the U.S., said Lopez, and fireflies as he got closer to the East Coast. A bucket list item for the race was Yellowstone, where he pedaled past countless bison and geysers.
“Yellowstone was awesome. I did it during morning time so I got to see the whole thing,” he said.
“Missouri was beautiful. At night, the roads are just filled with fireflies, which was so cool. That was probably the best moment on the eastern part, riding when it was getting dark and being surrounded by fireflies.”
Support along the route was a welcome reprieve.
“We took a few ferries along the route to cross rivers, so we got to relax for a minute. The people on the route who were watching the race or the people, they call them trail angels, were awesome. Every day, I was hearing my name, people shouting, ‘Antonio’ or ‘Medford!’” he said.
“A lot of people stopped us and wanted photos, and people would have Gatorade and snacks for us. It was fun to keep up with the Facebook group and see what everyone was posting about the race.”
If the trip had any downfalls, Lopez said, shoddy cell reception and the flat terrain of eastern Colorado and western Kansas were more tiring than mountainous terrain.
“Probably 75 percent of the time I had no service, so that wasn’t fun,” he said. “I had to rely on Wi-Fi to check on the race and keep in touch.”
Nighttime stops, Lopez said, were unofficial camp spots behind churches for the most part, though he sometimes had to improvise.
“There were some fire stations that were open that allowed cyclists to camp inside and a few cycling hostels. In a pinch, if you needed, you could camp in a post office,” he said.
“I averaged probably six hours a night, but maybe five would have been ideal. Some nights I would sleep two hours and felt really good, so I’d just go ahead. A couple nights I slept 10 hours, so it averaged out. I will say, you’re so tired by the time you lay down your head that you’re instantly out.”
In a brief moment of déjà vu, one of his knees flared up as he headed out of Colorado.
“I did end up injuring my right knee from pushing too hard,” he said. “I slept 10 hours that night and had a doctor check it out. It was just a strained quad tendon from using my quads too much. He wrapped it up and told me to rest. I told him, ‘I can’t rest. I’m in a race.’ He settled for me icing it when I could and taking some Advil.”
With the finish line virtually in sight, he faced one last challenge.
“I actually got a flat tire five miles from the finish line. It was dark, and I didn’t have any more tubes so all I could do was find the hole and I had to put a patch on,” he recalled.
“I was like, ‘What is going on? Please let me finish this race.’ My rear tire had a hole but, before the patch, I did the entire race on the same two tires. I just barely made it but I made it.”
The seventh American cyclist to finish, Lopez said checking the race off his to-do list was exciting. According to the race website, https://transambikerace.com, Lopez averaged 181 miles per day
“I’m glad to be done but still in shock it’s already done because it went by so fast. I’ve had no friends for the last six months before the race because I was constantly training — on my bike or at the gym,” he said.
But now it all seems worth it.
“There’s no way to describe what an experience this was. To ride from one coast to the other. It was pretty great.”
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.