Tony Damiano considers the decision to bike across the country this summer something of a quarter-life crisis. After all, the master’s student studying accountancy had barely ridden a bike in 10 years. But the prospect of doing something that would make a difference in his life—and for other people—was intriguing.
A cross-country trek to raise money for an organization seemed like the perfect way to do just that. He picked the Bike the U.S. for MS (multiple sclerosis) organization based on how it allocates funds raised.
That was last fall, the start of his senior year at Case Western Reserve University. He was determined to do the trip soon after graduation.
But Damiano decided that he’d only do it if Eric Eldred, a friend and teammate on the CWRU baseball team, joined him.
While most of their friends thought it was unrealistic, Eldred, now a fifth-year studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, was on board.
So, they bought bikes that fall.
Even though they admit they did little training prior to the trip (Eldred estimated he biked only 150 to 200 miles beforehand), they began their tip in May. Eldred started in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Damiano joined him in Syracuse, New York.
Next, they traveled to Buffalo, New York, and then Cleveland, looped around Chicago, moved through Iowa, continued up the Mississippi River to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and headed west all the way to Seattle. In all, the trip lasted 69 days from late May to early August.
“Every day was a new adventure,” Eldred said.
Their daily mileage totaled anywhere between 40 and 100, which could take three to nine hours—stopping whenever they wanted to take in the scenery.
Their favorite spot? They both agree that Glacier National Park in Montana was the best sight they encountered.
“It’s just so naturally impressive and awe-inspiring,” Eldred said. “If you haven’t been there, it’s like a place that you see in movie sets and pictures that you think doesn’t exist.”
As for the biggest challenges of the trip: weather and long days when there wasn’t much scenery.
Over the more than two-month ride, they primarily camped and stayed in donated spaces, such as community centers and churches, with just a few nights in hostels and a motel and hotel.
“You got on your bike, and knew the only thing that was for sure going to happen was you were going to ride your bike that day,” Damiano said.
Though they rode with about 30 strangers (some for the entire route and others in segments), they developed a sense of camaraderie over the course of the trip. And throughout the trek, they met plenty of others along the way. On some occasions, they said, people would stop their vehicles and give them money for the cause.
In all, Damiano raised $5,298 and Eldred raised $4,695. Their team as a whole amassed more than $125,000.
Now that they’re back in Cleveland, Damiano and Eldred will continue their studies.
Though he’s uncertain of exactly what he wants to do after completing the master’s in accountancy program, Damiano works as an auditor with Deloitte and Touche, where he hopes to gain enough experience to have a better picture of his future plans.
Eldred expects to complete his undergraduate career at the end of this semester and pursue a higher degree. He hopes to work in the defense industry and eventually open his own business.
Get to know both Damiano and Eldred a little better with this week’s five questions.
1. What’s your favorite spot on the Case Western Reserve campus?
Damiano: Nobby’s Ballpark.
Eldred: Nobby’s Ballpark too. I played baseball here and had a lot of good times with some great guys. I spent a lot of time out there.
2. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you pick?
Damiano: New Zealand. This summer has made me appreciate nature a lot more and also made me want to ride my bike a lot of cool places. I want to ride through where Lord of the Rings was filmed and explore the different beautiful parts of New Zealand. It has such a wide range of ecosystems and landscapes. I just want to explore it all.
Eldred: Alaska. The raw nature appeals to me, and also the remoteness.
3. What new skill would you like to learn?
Damiano: I want to start rock climbing.
Eldred: I would like to learn how to fly airplanes, but also wingsuiting really appeals to me.
4. If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have three movies with you, what would you choose?
Damiano: Elf, The Dark Knight and Moonrise Kingdom. I need one lighthearted movie to lift my spirits, one action movie to get me going, and one Wes Anderson Movie just because he’s my favorite director.
Eldred: Castaway, The Revenant and Toy Story. Two movies are going to get me in the mood to survive and one of them is going to lighten the mood.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
Damiano: The opportunities. You get the opportunity to meet amazing people and to advance yourself professionally and socially. You get the opportunity to be in a really cool part of Cleveland that’s experiencing a lot of growth and is opening up to a lot of young professionals. There’s a lot of opportunity here that goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
Eldred: I would say University Circle. I’ve enjoyed going to school in this area. There are a lot of things to do for college kids especially—a lot of good food and all the museums right here in the area.