BARRE — Robert Ferrari’s ride with “a purpose” is over and while the Barre native will tell you it didn’t quite go according to script, he made it from one coast to the other pedaling all the way.
So says the man with the surname that conjures up images of luxury sports cars and the touring bike that just logged nearly 4,000 miles powered by a cancer survivor who tooled through 15 states from Washington to Maine.
Vermont was one of them, though a pit stop in Barre, where Ferrari was born, raised and graduated from Spaulding High School in 1980, wasn’t technically part of the fundraising ride inspired by his bout with prostate cancer.
That was one of the few audibles Ferrari called on a trek that began just north of Seattle on June 4 and ended Aug. 25 at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. It was supposed to be Bar Harbor, but Ferrari decided to shave a couple of hours off the “Northern Tier” route mapped in painstaking detail by the Adventure Cycling Association after receiving word he tested positive for COVID-19 during his brief stay in Barre.
Fully vaccinated, the pharmacist who once worked for 10 years at Vincent’s Drug & Variety in Waterbury and now lives with his wife in Virginia, didn’t see that diagnosis coming.
Sure he was tired following a grueling cross-country trek that brought him to the Lunde Lane home his dad, Ed, built in 1972, and has been living in ever since.
“I figured it was just let down from the tour,” said Ferrari, who is now back at his dad’s home having crossed the coast-to-coast ride off his bucket list.
Still, Ferrari was tested as a precaution on the Barre-Montpelier Road two days before leaving central Vermont on the last leg of his journey. He received the results by email while pedaling through New Hampshire the next day and was able to quarantine for 10 days at the unoccupied home of a friend in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
If it was a race, the pandemic-related wrinkle would have been a setback. Instead, the “breakthrough case” was a mild surprise to the pharmacist who spent the months leading up to his cross-country tour helping vaccinate Virginia residents against coronavirus.
“It’s my generation’s call to duty,” he explained while seated on a bench in his dad’s backyard.
That was personal for Ferrari. His grandfather, Renato, once a barber in Barre, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. So was his father, who delivered mail in the Granite City before retiring. The same, he said, was true of one brother and at least one uncle.
All, including Ferrari, who is now 59, were diagnosed before they were 60.
It’s why when the results of his biopsy came back “inconclusive, but highly probable” in December 2017, Intimately familiar with his family history, Ferrari pressed for a second opinion, which confirmed he had prostate cancer three months later.
That set the stage for a surgery that was successful and a recovery that was spent thinking about a bike trip that had been a “long-standing goal” of the avid cyclist who typically rode “a couple thousand miles a year” close to home.
Though Ferrari had toyed with the idea of a much longer trip he was never able to justify it until, suddenly, he could.
“If you’re going to take three months out of your life and your family’s life it has to be worth something,” he said. “There has to be a purpose.”
Raising money and awareness to battle prostate cancer fit the bill and when doctors told Ferrari he was cancer-free in 2019 he went out and bought a bike.
“I remember thinking: ‘I’m not going to have a better day,’” he said of the impulse purchase.
Then came COVID, travel restrictions and lockdowns that, at least briefly, pushed plans for Ferrari’s tour into 2022. That changed when things started opening back up and the prospect of pedaling across country was again possible this year.
Ferrari is living proof that it was, and he doesn’t regret a trip that featured some jaw-dropping views, plenty of hospitality and more than a few new friends made along the way.
“It seemed like everybody had the same idea I did,” he said. “This was the year to get out.”
Ferrari planned the first three days of his journey and then played it by ear — sometimes camping, sometimes staying in motels, and sometimes relying on a network of cyclists who open their homes to travelers as they cross the country.
Ferrari recounted roads bracketed by never-ending cornfields, a 20-mile climb in low gear up a steep pass in Idaho, 114-degree temperatures in North Dakota and brutal humidity in Ohio. He also was struck by the not-much-wider-than-the-Winooski-River headwaters of the Mississippi River.
“I remember thinking I could walk across it, and it wouldn’t get higher than my waist,” he said.
However, it was the people who brought him pizza, water and Gatorade and, in some cases opened the doors of their homes to host him that generated the most enduring memories.
“I met some incredible people along the way,” he said.
One of them was his wife, who met Ferrari a day ahead of schedule at Lock 30 of the Erie Canal, and lightened his load as he headed toward upstate New York. She drove and he rode and when a severe weather forecast forced them to change plans to camp at Fort Ticonderoga and scramble to find last minute accommodations, he hitched a ride home.
“I remember saying: ‘I know where there are accommodations — 21 Lunde Lane in Barre, Vermont,” he said.
Ferrari said he plans to double back and cover at least some of the 70 missed miles, but is satisfied he fulfilled the goal of riding from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
Ferrari’s only disappointment is that he fell short in his bid to raise $50,000 for the organization Zero and its goal of eventually ending prostate cancer.
Though he handed out a lot of cards directing people to the web site where they could make donations — bit.ly/3tlpECL — Ferrari has thus far raised just less than $12,000.
“It’s less than I hoped, but there’s still time,” he said.
The ride itself was occasionally overwhelming and while there were plenty of “low points” along the way, it was oddly comforting to know he’d overcome comparable obstacles earlier in the trip.
It was an experience Ferrari said should resonate with some in the cancer community because it would have with him.
“When you’re going through cancer there are a lot of ‘low points,’ but it isn’t always the end,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just “Chapter 13’ in a 25-chapter book.”
Ferrari said he and his wife aren’t in a rush to get back to Virginia, and they will likely linger in the community where he grew up, his dad delivered the mail, and his grandfather once cut hair.
“I haven’t had a fall in Vermont for 25 years, so I might stick around for awhile,” he said, predicting he’ll log more miles on the bike now parked in the Ferrari family garage before he leaves.