Jeff Hunt returned to Senatobia earlier this month and was greeted by a huge group of friends and family members who congregated in Gabbert Park to welcome him home.
But Hunt, a chemistry instructor at Senatobia High School the last 14 years, wasn’t away enjoying a typical summer vacation like most teachers. He spent a month competing in his first Trans Am Bike Race, covering 4,200 miles in 29 days and 10 hours.
The race follows the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, which spans 10 states coast-to-coast from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. Hunt began his journey Sunday, June 6, in Astoria and finished Monday, July 5.
“I have toured parts of the route but never raced it,” said Hunt, 60, who is the first Mississippian to participate in the annual event that began in 2014.
“In 2019, I did a practice ride from Farmington, Maryland to Yorktown which is the last quarter of the route checking out my race gear I would use in 2020, but COVID hit and the race was canceled. When you go from town to town, it helps to know where the convenience stores are.”
Like other riders, Hunt was monitored using a GPS satellite-based tracker device mounted on his Giant Defy bike that uploaded his position to the Trackleaders website allowing followers to view and post messages of encouragement.
Many participants also updated daily progress on various social media platforms.
Hunt gave his hometown fans plenty of reasons to celebrate by placing 12th out of 42 riders and finishing with the ninth fastest time for a person 60 years or older.
“I would like to thank all of my family and friends for keeping up with my dot on the tracker website,” he said. “I know it was stressful to watch at times.”
Hunt credits the movie “Inspired to Ride”, a documentary detailing the events of the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, for giving him the idea to participate but admits the trip was anything but a sightseeing adventure.
“I did see the Grand Tetons out of the corner of my eye because you are constantly focused on what is in front of you and behind you. It is definitely hypnotic,” Hunt explained. “Riding in freezing rain on the second day and a heat advisory on the fifth day was pretty cool.”
Because it’s a self-supported race, participants in the Trans Am Bike Race are not allowed to receive any help from outside sources on their journey – there are no teams or crews following the racers.
Also, there are no stages, so the clock never stops. The riders must purchase all their food, lodging arrangements (roadside camping or hotels), and repairs from commercial sources along their journey and strategically decide when to rest, ride and refuel.
Hunt said he slept at eight hotels, three hostels, eight city parks, on the side of the road on eight occasions and once caught a few winks at a post office during his excursion.
Kraig Pauli, 54, of Milwaukie, Oregon, won this year’s Trans Am Bike Race by completing the course in 17 days, eight hours.
Hunt said typically 120 riders from across the world participate, but COVID travel restrictions limited the number to 42 and approximately 22 will finish. He said 20 participants were forced to withdraw during the race for medical issues and mechanical problems, or both.
The winner of the 2019 race finished in 16 days, 9 hours and 46 of 74 riders made it all the way to Yorktown. Hunt is contemplating entering the Trans Am Bike Race next year or maybe in 2023 but said he will do things some things differently when he competes again.
“I won’t sit down to eat, make less hotel stops, run tubes in my tires, stretch more and not worry about miles as much as time in the saddle,” he explained.