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Cyclist aims for finish line -- on the other coast

Medford cyclist Tony Lopez hardly bats an eye as he talks of plans to conquer this year’s 4,300-mile Trans Am Bike Race when it kicks off June 2.

Forced to leave last year’s race after experiencing knee pain around the 1,300-mile mark, and just before his first ride through Yellowstone, he’s been planning his comeback since the moment he stepped down.

Feeling confident he’ll see it through to the end this year — and enjoy his first glimpse of wild buffalo and shooting geysers — he can hardly wait to begin. A 10-state, coast-to-coast trek from Astoria to Yorktown, Virginia, the Trans Am race is in its fifth year.

A Crater graduate and trainer for the Harry & David call center, Lopez entered last year’s race on a whim.

“I attempted it last year, so I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I bailed at about a third of the way due to some knee swelling and due to my bike fit. I didn’t really plan. I just kind of eyeballed it and went for it,” he said.

“This time, I got professional help with bike fitting. I got a new saddle. I’ve made some pretty significant changes that I think will help me get over those mountains.”

One of 135 participants from around the world on this year’s roster, Lopez has improved his equipment, cut down on the weight of his gear and trained for rigorous climbing.

The first third of the race packs the biggest punch in terms of steep terrain. Per day, cyclists climb about 10,000 feet, which Lopez has been logging each day in the Coleman Creek and Pioneer Road area between Phoenix and Medford.

When the race begins, cyclists will wear trackers so followers can see where each participant is, how fast they’re going and what place they’re in.

Lopez, 28, said he began cycling in a quest to simplify his life.

“I sold my car because I just wanted less stuff in my life. I was biking to work, getting groceries on my bike. I’m very competitive, so when I saw a documentary about this race, it really inspired me to try it out,” he said.

The inaugural Trans Am race was in 2014 with 25 participants. Last year’s race winner, Portland’s Evan Deutsch, set a record after finishing in 17 days, nine hours and 8 minutes.

The race treks across Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia.

“The fast group will be done within 20 days. I’m really hoping to be in that group. That’s my goal,” said Lopez, noting that most cyclists complete the race within 30 days.

As for accommodations during the race, cyclists plan their own stops, usually sleeping three to six hours per night.

“Most people have their camping gear. It’s easier than planning for hotels, because you never know where you’re going to end up when you’re tired and it’s dark,” Lopez said.

“There’s so much strategy involved. And when you stop to sleep, you want to unload and quickly fall asleep and get up as soon as possible.”

One stretch of the race covering 150 miles through Idaho is entirely without services.

“Last year, on that part of the race, I had to use filtration tablets and find a water source on the side of the road to help me get over,” he said.

“It’s a bit tricky making sure you’ll have a water supply, figuring out where you’re going to sleep. You might have to pull over on the side of the road.”

The event requires cyclists to be self-supporting and follow a backpacking method of travel. Friends and family can visit along the route but not provide any assistance. According to the official website, “Cyclists must restock and recover from commercial resources along the trail.”

Lopez said kind gestures from “trail angels,” such as water or snacks, are OK, but route integrity must be respected.

“If your bike breaks and you can’t ride it, you can hitch a ride to the bike shop, but once your bike is fixed, you have to get a ride back or bike back to where you (broke down) and continue the route,” he said.

Lopez has two main goals: to cycle through Yellowstone and to finish the race.

“I learned so much ... last year that I feel really confident about this year,” he said.

“I remember I really wanted to make it through Yellowstone and I bailed out right before then, so I was pretty disappointed. ... This year, I feel pretty confident that I’m in it for the long haul.”

For more information, see https://transambikerace.com. To follow the riders, see http://trackleaders.com.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Tony Lopez of Medford, 28, trains on Carpenter Hill Road near Medford on Tuesday. Lopez is one of just over 130 cyclists worldwide who will participate in the 2018 Trans Am race from Astoria to Yorktown, Virginia.