A cross-country tribute: Senior to bike America in honor of his late father

Senior Matt D’Alessio and his father had dreams of biking 3,000 miles from coast to coast, traveling across Appalachia, over the Mississippi River and through the Rocky Mountains. D’Alessio’s father died on Easter at the age of 52, but the New Hampshire native and soon-to-be graduate pledged to continue as planned.

On June 11, D’Alessio and his friend Dave Adams, also a graduating senior, will set out from Virginia Beach, Va., on a trip that will take two months, send them through eight states and, they hope, land them in Newport, Ore.

“I’m doing it to carry out my father’s dream,” D’Alessio said. “It was supposed to be the three of us. We’re picking up the reins and doing it in honor of him.”

“It’s something I’d never thought of doing,” Adams said. “It’s an adventure to take before moving into the real world.”

Matt’s father, James P. D’Alessio, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the summer of 2003. He said his father’s illness was completely unexpected. The esophagus is a portion of the digestive track that connects the throat and stomach.

“No one in our family had had cancer before this,” D’Alessio said. “Once he was diagnosed, it was only three years until his passing.”

D’Alessio and Adams hope their trip will raise awareness for a fund at Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where his father received most of his treatment. The fund has been established in his father’s name and will benefit research for esophageal cancer. The students have already received more than $6,000 in donations.

“The reason why the fund has been established is that esophageal cancer is relatively un-researched,” D’Alessio said. “Breast cancer and leukemia receive millions of dollars each year for research.”

The students have created a Web site, http://vatoor.blogspot.com, that will allow visitors to check their progress during their journey. The Web site will include pictures and updates on their whereabouts.

“It’s kind of fun to track our progress,” D’Alessio said. The team said they will be phoning their roommate each night to notify him of their progress so that he can make updates.

“Once we hit Missouri, we’re basically following the Oregon trail,” said Adams, who joked that they might hunt buffalo if they become desperate for food.

James D’Alessio’s best friend will bike with the two seniors on the first day, and friends and family will meet up with the riders along the way.

D’Alessio’s mother, luckily, is used to her son’s outdoor interests. The student has already taken a five-day, 400-mile ride from Manchester, N.H., to Waldwick, N.J.

“She likes the idea,” D’Alessio said. “She’s not nervous.”

In preparation for the trip, the students have taken 20-mile bike rides, mostly along Rock Creek Parkway and near the Georgetown Canal.

“It’s not the legs, it’s the butt,” D’Alessio said, explaining the focus of their training. A blister or a sore could force them to take a day off if they are unprepared.

Once the men are on the road, they hope to average 75 miles of riding per day, but they emphasized they are not on a set schedule. Adams said he hopes the bike ride would increase awareness of the effects of cancer on peoples’ lives.

“My grandmother has cancer and my grandfather had cancer,” Adams said. “It affects so many people. Hopefully, people will see this Web site and help us along the way.”

D’Alessio said he hopes that people help in whatever way they can.

“Host us for a night, or ride with us for a day,” D’Allesio said. “The main goal is for people to see the site, track our progress and donate if they can and want to.”

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