In the end, injury forces Sewickley bicyclist to stop cross-country journey

Thursday, June 20, 2019 | 12:01 AM


This incredible cross-country bicycle journey is over, a little sooner than expected.

Christian Echavarria of Sewickley had to get off the bike he planned on riding 3,070 miles. He stopped pedaling near the 1,800-mile mark. He was participating in the Race Across America when so-called saddle sores became so bad, he ended up in the emergency room at 6 a.m. Wednesday in Eureka, Kan.

Saddle sores can reach deep into layers of skin and can eventually cause sepsis, a condition that can lead to death.

“You think it will be your legs that would give out, but my butt spoke a clear message to me,” said Echavarria, 60, told the Tribune-Review by phone Thursday. “When you feel like you are sitting on two spears, the body says, ‘I’ve had it.’ I feel like a boxer the day after a fight.”

The Race Across America is a 12-day bicycle ride from Oceanside, Calif. to the end of a dock in Annapolis, Md. Riders have to be in the saddle for 20 to 21 hours a day to complete it. There are no big prizes at the end.

Known as “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” Race Across America has been held for 36 years, according to its website.

Echavarria completed a distance of 66 marathons, according to calculations by his daughter, Lauren Echavarria.

He said it is ironic he ended in Kansas because his wife Laurel is from there. That’s where they met.

She said the doctor told her husband, “’You are crazy, and you are not getting back on that bike because you can end up with a very serious infection,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Thank you so much doctor.’ And he was lucky it is just his bum that he hurt. It will heal. This race is not for sissies.”

Echavarria didn’t go it alone.

His wife and their children, Andrea, Lauren and Alex, and other friends and relatives were part of a support team. They bought shirts that read “This Ain’t No Tour,” referring to the Tour de France. He sustained an earlier injury on a bicycle mission to get a Taco Bell burrito.

“We thought he broke a bone and a burrito was going to take him down,” his daughter, Lauren Echavarria, said. “Can you believe how that story would have sounded?”

Christian Echavarria said he believed his muscles and lungs could sustain him.

He had planned to switch bikes because of a change in terrain from the dessert to the mountains. His bike seat started to cause pain after switching, so he returned back to his original bike.

As he entered Kansas, the wind was in his face, which caused a rougher ride than he had expected. His buttocks began to hurt.

He slept a few hours, and when he woke up Wednesday morning at 3 a.m., the pain increased. He only rode for three hours, trying to stand up for part of the ride.

He told his son Alex they should stop at an emergency room at 6 a.m. so they could “numb my bum, kind of like botox for my bum,” Christian Echavarria said.

The doctors ordered blood work which showed his kidneys weren’t working well and his potassium was low.

“My body was beginning to collapse,” he said. “My wife walked into the room and the doctor said he cannot continue riding. It is way too dangerous. I promised my family that I would be wise and be smart about this.

“It was a great effort, and I had a good time, but God gave me a body for 1,800 miles, not 3,000 miles. I looked in the mirror and my body was swollen. I really wanted to finish. It was an immense objective. I felt we accomplished something with this. But I understand why I couldn’t. This was about more than the race. It was about building memories with my family and friends who were such a dedicated crew.”

He said he was riding to raise money to plant trees in Bellevue. People can still donate.

“I want to clarify that this has been checked off my bucket list,” he said. “I am not going to try it again. I will probably get back on the bike in a month. I should be ready physically and emotionally.”

He said he couldn’t have done it without his crew.

“It was a lot of work, and very tiring but it also was a lot of fun,” said his daughter. “We got to experience the U.S. My dad worked so hard to get ready for this. We just wanted to do what we could to help him. There were times we stood on the side of the road and cheered him on. I am so proud of him.”