Pedaling home


Brothers dust off bikes to retrace 600-mile trek they cycled as teenagers 30 years ago

MONMOUTH – Lycra shorts and space-age bike frames are for other cyclists. For the Fyler brothers – Charles, 47, and Robert, 45 – a 600-mile journey across seven states needs only a short stack of T-shirts and two old Schwinns.

They dug out their bikes, replaced the tires and rusty cables and even unearthed the saddlebags they used when they first made the trip 30 years ago as teenagers.

“I plan to take two T-shirts and two pairs of shorts,” said Robert. His wife told him to buy some pricey bike pants, but he resisted.

“They’d get tossed after I got around the first corner,” he said.

For both brothers, the plan is to hit the road as freely and easily as possible.

Think of it as a simple bike ride, Robert said. Only, rather than stopping at the end of the street, you keep going. And going.

Their journey – which they figure to begin today – will take them through parts of eight states.

From Robert’s home in Wayne, the brothers plan to ride across southern Maine, over the tip of New Hampshire and across Massachusetts. Then they’ll bike south, through Connecticut, a bit of New York and New Jersey, across the Pennsylvania countryside and down into Maryland, to their hometown of Woodbine.

It’s the same path they rode twice before as teenagers, though it was in the opposite direction.

Help from ‘good’ people

Robert and Charles were only 15 and 17, respectively, when they pedaled to Maine the first time.

And they did it by themselves. No adults went along.

“I think Dad thought it was a learning experience,” Robert said.

The pair had been passengers in their parents’ vehicles for years on annual trips to Maine, to visit a family-owned camp in Phippsburg near Fort Popham.

In those days before seat-belt laws, they rode much of the way in the bed of their dad’s pickup.

When they groused about it, their dad suggested they ride their bikes.

“We lived on our bikes,” Charles said. “We rode them everywhere.”

Why not?

Their mom worked out their route, stopping at a mix of relatives’ homes and campgrounds along the way. She also alerted police that they’d be coming through, just in case they ran into trouble.

They pulled on “Maine or Bust” T-shirts and headed north. Within hours, they ran into trouble.

The gears in Robert’s 10-speed crumpled.

“I thought it was over,” he said. They walked their bikes for six miles before arriving at a bike shop. The generous shop owner fixed the bike, charging them only for a $5 part. Those first bikes – which were replaced by the Schwinns the next year – broke down every day.

“We learned about people,” said Charles. “I thought people would be mean, but I learned on that trip that most are good.”

People gave the boys meals. They gave them a dry place when it rained.

Apples Jacks and cold Beefaroni

Both boys kept journals of the trip, scribbled into spiral-bound pads. Robert carefully followed his spending: 30 cents each for two cokes, 89 cents for Apple Jacks cereal.

Charles noted the cans of cold Beefaroni they ate, the good swimming at some camps and the “perrrty girls” they came across.

“In that whole trip, I think all I got was a hug,” recalled the 47-year-old carpenter.

They did get noticed, though.

Drivers at some camps marveled at the distance the two young men – tall and lean – managed to cross on their bikes.

A local Maryland newspaper even ran a photo of the boys.

It’s a level of fuss they didn’t understand then, during that first trip or a second they took the following year. They still wonder whether they deserve the attention as they ready for a third trip three decades later.

“People say this is a big deal,” said Robert. “It’s not.”

This time they won’t be alone. Robert’s son, Collin, and a nephew, Greg Gatti, will make the trek, too.

“They couldn’t go by themselves like we did,” Robert said. “Their mothers wouldn’t have it.”

Both Robert and Charles, who lives in Monmouth, say they are confident they’ll make it to Maryland with little hassle. This time, they’ll have cell phones and helmets. They’ll have the money to stop at a motel if it rains too much.

And the pair – both of whom work as carpenters – are still in good shape. They both look lean and fit.

“We’re up and down ladders all day.”

To make sure they could handle it they took two test rides, each more than 50 miles. There were no problems.

“Anyone can do this,” Robert said. “Maybe they won’t go as far. They just need to get up from the couch and the tube.”