Just days after graduating last spring, Matt D’Alessio boarded his father’s 1970 Motobecane Super Mirage bike in Yorktown, Va., and-along with his friend and fellow graduate Dave Adams- started peddling.
Nineteen and a half flat tires (15.5 of them belonged to Adams), 17 broken spokes (all 17 belonged to D’Alessio), 66 days and about 4,300 miles later, they arrived in Florence, Ore., and touched the Pacific Ocean.
It was the end of a long journey, but not the ending that D’Alessio had planned when he and his father decided to take the trip together two years before.
“It’s something that my dad always wanted to do,” D’Alessio said. His father, John P. D’Alessio, died last Easter after battling esophageal cancer. Matt decided to continue with the trip, crossing the United States in his father’s honor and using the trip to raise money for the James P. D’Alessio Esophageal Cancer Fund.
Their summer adventure started off with a setback. Four days into the trip, Adams got an intestinal infection-giardia-after stopping at a Virginia campsite. “The water coming to our campsite was drawn directly from the lake, we think,” D’Alessio said. The boys rested for a few days, but the symptoms-diahrea and vomiting-left Adams dehydrated and seeking help from a local hospital.
“He went through two IV bags to regain normal levels. He was in pretty bad shape,” D’Alessio said. Despite the setback, they were up and peddling within days.
They followed the Trans-American Trail, a cross-country route the Adventure Cycling Association set up in 1976 to commemorate the U. S. bicentennial. Locals in small towns along the trail remember the year well. It brought thousands of bikers past their otherwise quiet homes.
“It sounded like it was a party scene back in 1976,” D’Alessio said, having heard the reminiscings of many friendly people along the way. Now, about 200 bikers make the cross-country journey every year. Naturally, D’Alessio and Adams ran into a few interesting ones.
“We met a guy who was riding by himself from Anchorage, Alaska, to Chile and then flying to Madagascar, kayaking around Madagascar and then biking across Australia,” D’Alessio said. The man’s estimated travel time? He was shooting for about four years.
At a rest stop in Muddy Gap, Wyo., they met Dennis and Lyndsey Morris, a couple traveling the United States on a custom tandem bike that folded into two separate suitcases.
On day 11, they stopped to spend the night at a Virginia hostel and met two bikers from Virginia Beach named Tom and Brian.
“They were in a similar situation as us. They had both just graduated,” D’Alessio said. For the sake of safety and company, the foursome decided to follow the trail together for the rest of the trip. D’Alessio was glad the four decided to team up – “Otherwise, Dave and I would have been sick of each other by the end of Kentucky,” he said.
The graduates kept friends, family and supporters updated on their journey via their blog – www.VAtoOR.blogspot.com – that their friend Robert Millheiser updated daily with reports they phoned in.
The blog is filled with play-by-play anecdotes documenting each day. Like the trials of day 14, when passing motorists spit water out of a straw and flung a condom at them. “Maybe they just want to make sure our boys are hydrated and have the right protection,” Millheiser joked. Or the beauty of day 64, when they rode past volcanic rock, through a tunnel created by giant redwoods and found themselves surrounded with white-capped mountains.
“We weren’t expecting to be harassed on the side of the road as we were riding,” D’Alessio said. In addition to the condom incident, the bikers had a handful of pennies and two lit firecrackers thrown at them from passing cars on different occasions.
“But don’t get me wrong, the good outweighs the bad,” D’Alessio added, recounting times when strangers donated food, money or a safe place to stay along the trail.
In Virginia, the bikers rode up to a small country store just as the owners were closing up for the night. After speaking with the boys, the owners opened the store up again, cooked them dinner and offered their backyard as a safe place to pitch their tent.
In addition to daily reports from the road, the Web site contains a map tracking the boys’ cross-country route, links to press coverage that they received, comments of support from friends and family and the current total of the cancer fund. Since the beginning of the trip, nearly $13,000 in donations have been made to the fund.
“I was very proud that he was doing it and very proud that he completed it,” said Courtney D’Alessio, Matt’s mother and John’s ex-wife, who kept a map of the United States in her kitchen so that she could track her son’s progress.
“He (John P. D’Alessio) would have been absolutely thrilled,” she said. “He would have been proud, happy. He would have loved it.”