One rough rider

A triumphant Hugh Gapay crosses the finish line of the 535-mile Race Across Oregon event.
by: Ryan Gardner,

At the end of the road, Hugh Gapay was completely spent.

Almost 42 hours after he and his tricked-out road bike set out on the Race Across Oregon - a tortuous, 535-mile endurance test that starts near Portland International Airport and ends at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood - Gapay crossed the finish line.

Exhausted, the 42-year-old physician's assistant from Cornelius fell into the waiting arms of his wife, Angela. In turn, he embraced his daughter, Alia, and his son, Stephen.

He'd been in the saddle nearly two days straight, from 5 a.m. Saturday, July 22 to 9:55 p.m. Sunday, July 23.

'It was very difficult - extremely challenging,' Gapay said last Friday, five days after he finished fourth in the state's premier ultra-bicycling event and qualified for the famed Race Across America, a 3,000-mile, multi-day tire burner.

'On the second day it was about 112 degrees descending into Warm Springs,' he recalled. 'At the bottom of that hill I really felt like I was in an oven and starting to cook.'

Rolling over to get some respite inside his support van, Gapay sat in front of the vehicle's air conditioning vents for a couple of minutes, trying to get cool.

'It helped,' he said. 'I kept going.'

Gapay, a first-time rider in the Oregon event, finished in 40 hours, 55 minutes.

'The sheer length of it was daunting,' he said, adding that the course involved over 40,000 feet of climbing.

During the final push, Gapay tried to catch three other cyclists as they ground toward Timberline Lodge on a six-mile-long incline.

'He was pushing them for sure,' said Mike Olson, owner of Olson's Bicycles in Forest Grove and a member of Gapay's roadside crew.

Olson and several others made sure Gapay stayed upright and hydrated as an unusually intense heat wave pushed temperatures into the triple digits.

'His longest climbs were during 110-degree heat,' said Olson. 'We bought 20 bags of ice on Sunday alone, and four cases of bottled water.

'Hugh did an amazing job.'

Olson, a friend of Gapay's from church, also crewed for him during the 2005 Seattle to Spokane bike race, a 280-miler. Gapay was second in that event last year.

Out of a field of 70 riders, Gapay was named 'Rookie of the Year' for his performance.

For Gapay, the goal was always about finishing, and finishing well. He trained for seven months to get ready for the race, riding 250 to 300 miles a week.

His typical workout included a 50-mile route between his house and Henry Hagg Lake and 'several laps around it,' Gapay said. Each loop was 11 miles long.

He did most of the training at night after getting home from work at Oregon Health and Sciences University, where he is an instructor assigned to the liver transplant team.

During the winter, Gapay put in more than 3,500 miles on a roller bike in his study, fighting the monotony by watching TV. 'It's pretty tough riding in place,' he observed.

It takes a great deal of dedication to pull off such a feat, and Gapay put in the mileage he needed to do his best.

'I don't think of myself as a competitive person, but I guess maybe I am,' he said. 'My goal for this race was to achieve a qualifying time for the Race Across America.'

The winner of Oregon's event was Saunders Whittlesy of Deerfield, Mass., with a time of 32 hours, 22 minutes. David Holt of Laguna Niguel, Calif., clocked a 34:05 for second place and Wade Baker of Atascadero, Calif., crossed the finish in 36:15 to take third.

Gapay's 'Rookie of the Year' title gives him until 2009 to enter the larger coast-to-coast race, which happens every June.

It's not something he's likely to undertake next year.

'To pull that off would require an incredible amount of time,' said Gapay, whose children are 7 and 3 years old. Angela Gapay is head pastor at Aloha United Methodist Church.

'There's no hurry. I have a three-year window to decide.'