For some alumni, the trip to the 50th Norwood High School reunion last weekend might have only been a five-minute car ride, or maybe a short flight.
But for Hank Peterson, 68, the journey was 6,200 miles by tandem bike with his wife, Carolyn, 67, beginning eight months ago in San Diego.
“The 50th high school reunion seemed like a great destination,” Peterson said after arriving in Norwood. He went to all the scheduled events, including cocktails at the Forum Restaurant and Bar in Boston Friday evening, a tour of the new Norwood High School, and the 50th reunion at the Franklin Country Club in Franklin Saturday, and brunch at the Hampton Inn Sunday.
Peterson said the $68.7 million high school, which just started its third academic year, was “gorgeous, really state-of-the-art.” He said he was impressed with the television studio in the building and how neat and clean the school was. He said the principal explained that the numerous cameras mounted in the school have kept students on their best behavior.
He said he also enjoyed the reunion dinner, attended by 125 of the roughly 250 members of the class of 1963. Peterson said he had been back occasionally to Norwood, where one of his and his wife’s three daughters lived from 2000 until 2005, but does not have family there now, so it was good to return to town and see former classmates. A couple of those classmates said they were amazed by his journey.
“I thought he was crazy, first off, but, hey, go for it,” said Bill O’Neill, a semiretired engineer living in Merrimack, N.H. “That’s a heck of a feat even for someone who is not approaching 70.”
Another classmate, Vic Babel, president of Babel’s Paint and Decorating Stores and a self-described “townie,” said he was shocked to hear that Peterson, who had not been athletic in high school, rode across the country.
“If you had 20 people in a lineup, you would have said he was the last one that would do it,” Babel said. “But it’s encouraging for everyone else who would want to try it.”
Babel said his wife’s sister lives in La Jolla, near San Diego, so they know how far it is from Norwood. “We think it’s a heck of a long plane ride.”
The Petersons left California on Jan. 11, traveling through New Mexico, at one point riding in snow. They stopped in Houston for two weeks to celebrate their grandson’s second birthday and continued on to Florida, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C., visiting with friends and more family along the way.
Not wanting to be in the South during the hottest temperatures, they reached and spent several weeks in upstate New York in the summer before heading to Norwood.
Peterson said he and his wife, married for 46 years, had taken bike tours in Europe and cycled along the Oregon coast, but had never gone across the country on a bike. “She was a little reluctant at first, but she agreed to come along,” he said.
The two met while attending Boston University. After graduating from BU, Peterson got a doctorate from Georgetown University and took a job with Hughes Aircraft Co., which took the couple to California, first to Irvine, then Carlsbad, and ultimately San Diego. Most recently, Peterson worked for Peregrine Semiconductor, retiring in 2012.
Carolyn Peterson, originally from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, worked as an education director in a hospital, retiring in 2006.
The two chronicled their journey in a blog, http://bostonbytandem.blogspot.com/, sharing historical and natural sights along the way.
Their posts tell of crossing the Continental Divide, visiting a 700-year-old Pueblo site, and traveling through Amish country. Photos show Texas longhorn cattle, the Suwannee River, and war memorials in Washington, as well as the couple cooling their feet in the Gulf of Mexico.
The blog also tells of challenges they faced along the way, mechanical and otherwise.
Soon after entering Massachusetts, Peterson writes: “Heading south from Pittsfield we had a 900 ft. climb, which, combined with the temperature and the humidity, was possibly the toughest climb (actually a long walk pushing the bike uphill) of the whole trip.”
On Aug. 23, the blog read: “Unfortunately Hank didn’t check the route carefully before we left. Part of the route turned out to be on the Genesee Valley Greenway, which was little more than an unpaved cow path.”
Peterson said they followed the Adventure Cycling Association’s southern tier route from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. They then took an Atlantic Coast route to Washington, headed northwest along the Great Allegheny Passage Rails-to-Trails route, and eventually went on to Erie, Penn., then New York state, with side trips, including one to Ontario to visit one of his fraternity brothers.
Peterson said they were surprised on their journey by the size of the timber industry in the South, and the poverty, which he thought was worse than anything they had seen in New England.
The end of the journey took them through Hartford, Chepachet, R.I., and Cape Cod before they reached Norwood.
Carolyn Peterson said they were able to make the journey because they were retired and had the time, and were fit enough. She also credited the more than a dozen people who helped them with everything from watering their plants at home to helping them adjust travel plans when the need arose.
She said one of the most amusing parts of the trip was watching people react after being told where their bike ride had begun.
“It happened over and over,’’ she said with a laugh.Jean Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.