Sewickley man sets out to race 3,070 miles across America on a bike

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 | 12:01 AM


The bike race is 3,070 miles long.

It spans 12 states, crosses deserts with temperatures reaching more than 100 degrees and climbs mountains 11,000 feet tall.

The distance equals 114 marathons or about the same that the average American drives in two and half months. Riders will climb 100,000 feet, the same as scaling Mt. Everest three and half times. Bike pedals will spin about 1 million times.

The Race Across America is a 12-day sprint from under a pier in 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.

It’s a race that is on Sewickley’s Christian Echavarria’s bucket list and one the 60-year-old will start at noon Tuesday.

“I love endurance races,” Echavarria said Monday. “And this race is the epitome. It is kind of the ultimate event for people who like endurance events. This is the grandmother of all endurance bike rides.”

Known as “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” Race Across America has been challenging cyclists from around the globe for 36 years, according to its website. It starts in Oceanside, under one of the longest piers in California, and ends at City Dock in Annapolis, the east coast sailing mecca. It traverses the Sierra, Rocky, and Appalachian mountains, crosses the Colorado, Mississippi and Ohio rivers and rolls across the Great Plains. When it pushes through the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, temperatures could reach 120 degrees. Cyclists will pass through Monument Valley in Utah and the battlefield of Gettysburg.

“You have to be very careful to manage everything from what you eat and drink to how fast you ride,” Echavarria said. “You have to break it down or you will be too stressed to ride. It is very structured, and you have to be very disciplined. There are some steep climbs towards the end which will be challenge after riding 10 days on a bicycle. I am thinking about it like I am eating an elephant, one bite at a time.”

Echavarria won’t go it alone.

He will have a crew with him of his wife, Laurel, and their children, Andrea, Lauren and Alex; his cousins Fernan and Clarita Echavarria, and their son Estevan, and Pastor Seth Zimmerman of Redeemer North Boroughs Church in Bellevue. Friends Tom Mosser and Rick Diemert will also be part of the support team riding in two cars and a recreational vehicle carrying food and water and any other supplies he will need.

His support team will provide daily updates of his progress on Instagram. He said he made the decision to race and then told his wife. If he had asked before, she would have said “No,” Echavarria said.

Laurel Echavarria said she certainly would have tried to talk him out of it. But,after seeing his passion for this race, she is on board. He has been training for this for months and he’s watched everything on YouTube about it and read everything about it, she said. She talked about a meeting on Monday where her husband met Christoph Strasser, an Austrian ultra cyclist who is a five time winner and record holder for the race.

“When I saw Christian’s face when he shook hands with Christoph, he was star struck,” she said. “That would be like me –I love tennis —meeting Roger Federer. “

Laurel Echavarria also knows the dangers, she said. And she added that only half the people who start this race, finish.

“I don’t want him to be disappointed or to collapse,” she said. “There are so many factors to take into consideration. My son and daughters have been great. They have done everything. I am just along for the ride.”

A long one.

“My family thinks I am crazy, but they also understand this is on my bucket list,” Echavarria said. “It’s a dream, and I want to challenge myself. It’s going to be an adventure with my family and friends. I want to finish, but it’s more important to make memories with the people I love.”

Mosser, an artist who teaches Andrea, will join the ride in St. Louis on Monday.

“I’m pumped to be with this great group of people,” Mosser said. “I have no idea what to expect. They will be seven days in at that point. I’m hoping to provide some fresh energy to what should be a pretty tired team and cyclist and do what I can for the final push.”

Mosser described himself as a casual cyclist. He called Echavarria Superman.

Echavarria isn’t riding for a big prize at the end. There aren’t any. He is riding to raise money to plant trees in Bellevue for Zimmerman. They met at St. Stephen’s in Sewickley.

“He is the kind of pastor who is focused on the community, and at one time there were many trees that line the streets of Bellevue,” Echavarria said. “I want to buy 200 trees at a cost of $150 per tree. So far, we’ve raised about $16,000.”

Echavarria will have three bikes with him, two by Cervelo and a third by Felt. He plans to sleep three to four hours a day. He’ll have to consume 300 calories an hour, drinking most of the while riding. He expects to lost five to 10 pounds from California to Maryland.

“I know I will go through an emotional roller coaster,” Echavarria said. “And there will be times I say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I don’t want to make the mistake to go out too fast. I need to pace myself. I know younger people will have more endurance than I have, but I hope I have patience and age and experience and wisdom to my advantage.”