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Locals second in 'World's Toughest Bicycle Race'

Race Across America's 'Team Oceanside' has strong Fallbrook connection


Last updated 8/24/2019 at 3:26pm

Rick Monroe

Maybe you've noticed a group of bicyclists riding the hills of Fallbrook – or sometimes they would shift to the coast for flat-ground training. Mostly in their 50s, they wear "Team Oceanside" jerseys, but half of the 8-man team have a major Fallbrook connection.

Their training paid off. Team Oceanside placed second to a team from Great Britain in the 8-person division of Race Across America, a grueling "tag team" ride from the Oceanside Pier to Annapolis, Maryland. They finished ahead of seven other teams in their category.

It took the team 6 days, 6 hours and 2 minutes to ride – non-stop – the 3069 miles. That's an average of more than 20 miles an hour – one of the reasons the event is known as "The World's Toughest Bicycle Race."

For 36 years, Race Across America has been challenging ultra-cyclists from around the globe to push their physical and mental limits to the farthest reaches. The marathon climbs 175,000 feet and crosses 12 states through America's heartland.

The route traverses three major mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian), crosses four of America's longest rivers (Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio) and the Great Plains. It also passes through such iconic American landmarks as the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, Monument Valley, Great Plains and Gettysburg.

Three of the eight men on the team are Fallbrook residents, Steve Peppard, 50, Kelan Poorman, 58, and Jose Lopez, 52. Bill Richardson, 53, lives in Oceanside but is a teacher at Fallbrook High School, as well as its swimming and water polo coach.

Peppard, captain of the group, said the Team Oceanside name is because each has ties to the Oceanside Police Department or served the city as lifeguards. Poorman is retired OPD and both Peppard and Lopez are on the force now.

Poorman has lived in Fallbrook for 32 years, while it's been 10 years for Peppard and Lopez.

The others on the team are Ryan Johnson, 34, Carlsbad; Turvey Mason, 31, Oceanside; Manuel Armijo, 48, Oceanside; and Nathan Ridlon, 38, Tustin. Five are current or former OPD and three are current or former lifeguards.

Team Oceanside has entered the race every other year since 2013, with Peppard and Poorman doing it all four times. Lopez was on the team in 2013, but took a break before coming back this year.

The riders began the race on Saturday afternoon, June 15, and finished Friday evening on June 21.

The eight riders were joined by a support team of 10 people, who served as navigators, drivers, photographer and other duties.

"Without them, we wouldn't have made it," said Peppard. "It was really a whole team effort."

The team decided to split the 8 bicyclists into two groups of four. Those four riders would alternate riding for 15 minutes each. That way, after one finishes his shift, he gets a 45-minute break before going back on the bicycle. That's repeated time after time.

Meanwhile, the second group of four has leapfrogged ahead and is getting their 8-10 hours of rest. When the first group reaches the rendezvous point, the second group takes over, on the same 15-minute splits, and the first group is driven ahead to the next meeting place.

The same cycle repeats over and over, so someone is always moving on the course. That's the rule, to keep moving, and monitors keep track of the bicyclists at 52 checkpoints to make sure.

This year Team Oceanside experienced temperatures of 105 degrees in Borrego Springs, two hours in a thunderstorm and tornado watch in Kansas, flooding in the South, and nine hours of nighttime rain in West Virginia.

Four vans were provided for Team Oceanside by Mossy Nissan in Oceanside, one of their major sponsors.

An event like this is expensive, with a $15,000 registration fee. That cost and much of the operating budget was supplied by Pier Construction of Henderson, Nevada. "The owner is a great supporter of law enforcement," Poorman said. "He's also my father-in-law."

There are many other supporters – local businesses – that permit Team Oceanside to make this an important vehicle for community fundraising. Each year, the team selects a charity to support. In 2013, it was the MS Society, in 2015 the Los Angeles Children's Hospital and its brain research program, in 2017 Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, and for this year, the OPD Canine support group.

Race Across America collects more than $2 million each year for charities, and this year a group from Austria brought in $1 million by itself.

About half of all the teams are international, including 4-man teams, 2-man teams, and solo riders.

At the conclusion there's a banquet where participants can laugh and tell stories.

Personal comments from Fallbrook bicyclists:

Steve Peppard

"I do this because I've competed my whole life and this is another opportunity, but there's more to it. It lets you give back by being able to sponsor a deserving cause. It's a bucket list race for many, but I try to get each team member see it's a catalyst for helping others."

Kelan Poorman

"People ask if it's a hobby, sport or exercise. It's definitely a sport because you feel the competitive juices. It's grueling, but you're motivated to do your best for the team.

"My wife understands. My two daughters think I'm crazy."

"My experience makes it easier in a sense, but I'm 59 now and have to work harder at training."

Does he have enough in him to do it again? "Oh, yea!" he replied with enthusiasm.

"The climbing is 170,000 vertical feet, but the flat states present their own challenges. That's when you pray for a tailwind."

"I do it for the challenge. There's a great sense of accomplishment. I also think the more active you are, the longer you get to play on the earth. You've got to make the best of life."

Jose Lopez

"I did this in 2013 as an original member. It was the hardest thing I every did physically. That first time we had no experience as a team and we did 12-hour shifts. That didn't work and we didn't have the support team. It was a great learning experience."

"After a break, I came back this year because of the challenge. It's an amazing experience. I think of it like childbirth. You say you'll never endure it again, but you do. There are more benefits than the bad. Going through Gettysburg was awe-inspiring. Same with the pastures, roads you would pay to ride. And the friendships."

"I still feel the aches, especially from being in the saddle so long."


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