BY GREGORY PATROLIA
From one Fitchburg State student to another, what was your experience like attending Fitchburg State University?
My experience was amazing, mostly due to the fact that my father and I attended together. We had a lot of projects together that really worked out well. It was amazing to watch my father excel. He had so much knowledge when he got there from plumbing and building houses that everything just wove together for him at FSU. One project my father and I worked on together was a windmill. When we tested how much power it could generate, we found out that it had 2-3 times more electricity than that of anyone else in our class. At Fitchburg State, my father utilized all of his prior knowledge to gain as much information as he could. He was actually awarded the Puritan Award for exceptional craftsmanship.
As interesting as that is, how did going to FSU benefit you personally?
I was able to gain access to all of my father’s knowledge by taking classes with him. We were always very similar, so I always felt that I could do whatever he could do. My father was actually no smarter than your average Joe. He just had so much experience he could thrive off of. I learned at this school that you don’t need to be a genius to do great things.
What did you do after you graduated FSU? As someone who is going to graduate this year, I am very curious.
When I graduated FSU in 1980, I was 20 years old with a bachelors degree in Industrial Arts. Instead of hopping into a career right away, I decided to take my bicycle from Cohasset, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington with four other friends. A lot of my inspiration for this came from my father as well. When I was a very young boy, he would pack his station wagon with my 9 brothers and sisters and me, and we would drive all the way from Cohasset to Alaska. We actually did this a couple times. I would sit in the back of the car even though there were no seats,with my 5 other brothers next to me. In the middle of the station wagon, were my four sisters. My mother and father always stayed up front. People always thought my father was a little crazy for the way he would put everything he had into whatever he was doing at the time. This was a trait that I had always wanted to replicate.
Whoa, that’s incredible. What did you bring on your trip?
I had a Motobecane bicycle; a regular stock bike, nothing fancy. Along with that I brought a rack on the bike to carry things: a tent, a sleeping bag, a can opener, an ems knife, one pair of sweatpants, a wool sweater, a windbreaker, two or three shirts, a couple pairs of underpants, a map, a toothbrush, and floss. That’s really about it.
How did you shower/clean your clothes? You must have been smelling like a swamp by the end.
We would wash our clothes in a sink with soap and water. Then we’d hang the clothes on our handlebars, which usually took about 45 minutes to dry. We’d try to swim in lakes as we went by. However, you never got sweaty or smelly because all the sweat just evaporated so fast.
Where would you usually end up at night?
Whenever we got done riding, we would go over the next hill, or hide off the road in the woods. We’d just camp out every day. Sleep was no problem. I could basically fall asleep by the time I laid down after being on the road all day.
What and where would you usually eat?
We ate a lot of canned food. We’d stop at Stop and Shop and stock up on a ton of canned food. We’d go into the tent for the night, open up our cans, and eat. A lot of the places were swarmed with mosquitos, so we had to stay in the tent. We would go out to breakfast a lot and get bacon and eggs. We ate a lot of McDonald’s. Out west has fewer food options. Also, out west lets you ride on the interstate right along with the huge 16 wheeler trucks. They’d probably still let you as a matter of fact. My point is however, there aren’t many places off the highway to stop for food, so we ended up packing more out West. We had to eat constantly. We probably ate 8-10,000 calories a day. We’d eat 6 meals a day at least, plus plenty of snacks.
Did you run into any physical pain or fatigue? I can only imagine how sore you’d get.
We got saddle sores. Especially out west, because it was so damp. We got a lot of boils on our butts. I experienced some tendinitis in my Achilles tendon. It felt like something was rubbing in my ankle. My fingers went very numb whenever we’d ride for a long time, especially near the outer edges of my hands like my pinky fingers and thumbs. My wrists got very sore from putting my weight on the handlebars as well. Other than that, nothing too bad.
How many miles a day did you did you ride, and how long did it take you?
It took five weeks to get to Seattle, but my second trip to get home from San Francisco took 27 days. I was a lot stronger at 22 than I was at 20. It was about 100 miles a day for the first trip and about 120 a day on the second.
Wait, you did this twice?
Yes, with different groups of people each time, but the stories are pretty similar so I’ll stick to the first trip for now.
How did you route your track? Did you have any prior knowledge on how to do so?
I drew a line from point “a” to “b” and left. I tried to go the straightest route, but I had no real insight. However, on the first trip to Seattle, we were on Route 20 for basically the entire trip.
What about the other riders? How did they like the trip?
They were fun but weren’t into the riding like I was. They all wanted to do more sight-seeing. I wanted to keep going. I was actually homesick because I was still kind of a boy. I really wanted to get out of there by the end. Everyone else was about 3 or 4 years older than me.
How did the other guys hold up compared to you?
They didn’t like that I was faster at such a young age, but they held up pretty well. We had two guys split off at the end of the trip, but we all made it in separate groups.
How did you train for your trip? I would imagine you trained like crazy!
Basically, I had no other mode of transportation throughout my life. My father was never around, and my mother didn’t even have her license. I started really using my bike to get around at age 6 or 7. I went everywhere on my bicycle. When I started college at Quincy Jr in 1977, I rode there every day. Then when I went to FSU from 1978-1980, I biked back to Cohasset every weekend no matter the weather, which is 80 miles. One time, I biked up to my wife’s college for her 20-year-old birthday which is 170 miles. They wouldn’t let me stay the night at an all girl’s suite, so I ended up leaving at midnight and pedaling home through the night another 170 miles.
What types of things did you see on your trip?
I saw incredible states like Wisconsin which is absolutely beautiful, lots of farms, Niagara Falls, the Badlands of South Dakota, the Grand Canyon, mountains, Yellowstone. You become one with nature when you ride there. It’s different from driving. A lot of roads actually follow rivers, so I ended up following rivers for over 100 miles a day sometimes. It was quite remarkable. Just the incredible beauty out there is very unique.
What type of people did you meet? I imagine most people would be interested when they saw you.
We met a lot of farmers, especially in Wisconsin. They were probably the friendliest. On the road, we would put our water bottles out as cars drove by, and they’d fill it up for us most the time. Some people even housed us and fed us for a night. They would feed us and feed us until we dropped. They would let us shower and clean up as well. I remember staying at an automaker’s place who was pretty young with an average job. He really took care of us despite the fact he probably didn’t have all the money in the world. We actually saw a lot of other people doing the same things as us as well. We were able to meet up with them and swap war stories, sometimes we’d even ride together for a half a day or so. We actually saw a lot of missing girl posters posted for 100’s of miles. That was pretty depressing actually, out west you see a lot more of that.
Why did you do it? What made you want to bike across the United States specifically?
It’s a way to celebrate your youth. I wanted to grab life by the horns and make some memories I would never forget. I wanted to tour the States simply due to the pure beauty. So many people vacation all over the world, but I feel there’s so much beauty in America, there’s really no need. On top of that, I was too poor to book a flight.
Thank you so much for talking with me today, this has truly been a pleasure.
The pleasure is all mine, thank you for having me.