Unicyclist powered by optimistic spirit

WASHOE VALLEY - Talking to Patrick Thomas, you get the distinct impression his life is a series of fantastic discoveries. Such as the awe he expressed after drinking from a creek he found near the Washoe Valley turnoff to Old Highway 395.

"The water was so cool," he cooed Monday, drawing out the "so," and flashing a brilliant smile atop his unicycle.

Not even the grim prospect of the barren Highway 50 East miles that lay before him leading into Utah could sway the diehard optimist.

"I'll bring a lot of water," he said, again smiling brightly.

On June 11, the elementary school teacher from San Francisco hopped aboard his half-bike to begin a 3,000-mile trek to Manhattan. His effort is a way generate attention and donations for two causes close to him - cancer and hunger.

"It will take me about 65 days to cover the 3,000 miles and my objective is to raise money for two, not-for-profit organizations that do a great deal to improve the plight of human beings throughout our country: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and America's Second Harvest," he wrote on his Web site www.pedalthewaves.org.

The son of a cancer survivor, Thomas, 39, attributes his mother as being "the catalyst that fuels my mission."

He won't collect any money on his journey, but will direct people to the Web sites where they can donate.

During the long, tedious hours he rides, his companionship comes through cell phone calls to his riding partner, Don Loomis, who moves at a much faster pace and is always towns ahead of Thomas on his recumbent bike; or conversations with the people who are fascinated by his vehicle.

"It never ceases to amaze me that it's still such a novelty," he said.

At 8 mph, Thomas can spend a day going only 50 miles. But even this seemingly frustrating gait, doesn't frustrate him. He first learned the "uni" wasn't the fastest thing on the block at age 11.

Thomas isn't exactly sure why some 28 years ago his father brought home such a contraption, but of the four Thomas children, it was the tiny Patrick who mastered it.

Sure he has a bicycle, but it hasn't worked for some time, he said.

The unicycle was made for him. Even when it sat in the garage for a few years, Thomas said getting back on was just like, well, riding a bike.

"You don't forget how to walk. You don't forget how to ride," he said.

After staying the night at a Carson City motel, Thomas will don his blue helmet again, toss his backpack over his shoulders, and hop atop his cycle this morning. He'll point it toward Dayton and head down Highway 50 East, work his way up the Mound House hill, peddle through historic Dayton, experience desolation in the stretch to Silver Springs, and end his 62-mile-day in Fallon for the night. And come Wednesday morning, he'll do the eastbound miles all over again.

Contact F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.


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