Despite an age gap pushing nearly a decade, Drew Harvey and Michael Semkus were buddies.
When not surfing together or running on their Jet Skis, the longtime friends would head to Mashashimuet Park in their shared hometown of Sag Harbor and incorporate the playground equipment into their workout regimen.
That’s why Mr. Harvey and several of his friends from the village thought it would be a good idea to raise money for the eventual installation of an outdoor workout facility at the park so they could dedicate it to their companion, who was only 28 when he fatally overdosed on prescription opioids in March 2016.
“He was big into working out and really into CrossFit-type workouts — lots of pull-ups and dips,” said Mr. Harvey, who was wrapping up his sophomore year at the University of San Diego when Mr. Semkus died. “We wanted to do something similar to Venice Beach [in California] … make a facility that would be a memorial to him.”
As they often do, life and school obligations forced that vision into a holding pattern until another fatal opioid overdose — this one claimed the life of Anthony Grasso, a fellow student at the University of San Diego, in 2017—prompted Mr. Harvey into action.
Shortly after collecting their diplomas, and without any true long-distance training, Mr. Harvey and fellow graduate Payton Dwight hopped on their bicycles and pointed their handlebars east, toward Sag Harbor. In addition to raising awareness about the dangers of opioids, their shared goal over the next six weeks — they plan to pull into Mr. Harvey’s hometown on Sunday, July 8 — is to raise $5,000.
The money, they explained late last month while taking their final back-to-back rest days in Nashville, Tennessee, following nine consecutive days on the road, would be split between two specific causes: helping create a “safe space” on the San Diego campus for troubled students in need of guidance, and making Mr. Semkus’s workout facility a reality.
“This was kind of being spoken about last year … leading up to graduation,” Mr. Harvey said of the cross-country venture that, when completed, will cover roughly 3,350 miles. “The two things kind of aligned together … and I cannot think of a better cause.”
Though he never met him, Mr. Dwight said he has still learned much from Mr. Semkus, an elementary school teacher in Sag Harbor who also served as a lifeguard at Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack, thanks to Mr. Harvey sharing his knowledge.
“I like to think that Mike has had a positive influence in my life, and for that I am grateful,” said Mr. Dwight, who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science.
He was equally motivated by Mr. Grasso’s death, explaining that he was close with many of Mr. Dwight’s friends at San Diego. “I was motivated to do this trip simply because it’s a great challenge with a great friend for a great cause,” he added.
Noting that they’ve only taken four rest days since leaving San Diego, Mr. Harvey said he and his riding partner have been pushing hard in order to complete the trip in less than six weeks, their self-imposed deadline. After averaging 84 miles a day for the first week, the duo hit the 100-mile-a-day marker by the fourth week, according to Mr. Harvey, who earned his degree in international relations.
He explained that they are constantly checking their GPS and detouring as necessary to avoid brutal inclines and major highways whenever possible. They headed straight east out of San Diego, pedaling through Phoenix, Arizona before turning north to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The first week was pretty gnarly,” Mr. Harvey recalled. “We were in Arizona and it was 108 degrees in the desert. We’ve had a few stretches of 30 miles with no water stops. We were literally dumping water all over our bodies when we did stop.”
They next went through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before reaching Tennessee, navigating Memphis before taking off two days in Nashville to visit some sights and rest. The final leg, which they are on now, will take them north to Virginia and then through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and, finally, New York.
In addition to offering advice, those who have crossed paths with the 21-year-olds — a list that includes truckers, bikers, gas station attendants and cowboys — have given them money for snacks and Gatorade. They wear shirts labeling themselves as the “Dawgpatch Bandits,” a name that they say best captures their actions (arriving in motels late at night and leaving before dawn), a favorite area they’ve visited in San Francisco on another journey (Dogpatch) and, as Mr. Dwight describes it, the “savage spirit of the dawg — woof.”
To date, they’ve raised more than $3,600 on their GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/dawgpatchbandits-raising-awareness-bicycle-tour, and still hope to hit their $5,000 mark before arriving in Sag Harbor.
“Sometimes it’s tough, but we’re refusing to take any cheating steps,” Mr. Harvey said. “We’re biking the whole thing.”