Kurt Seifert and his longtime pal, Rick Dignus, wrapped up their 1,142-mile trek Friday afternoon, wheeling their bicycles into Green Bay, Wis., for the big Packers game that didn’t happen this weekend. Like all buddy trips fraught with the unexpected, this one veered off course last Sunday when the Packers lost to the Giants in the NFC playoffs.
“That was kinda tough for Rick to watch,’’ said the 41-year-old Seifert, a Patriots fan who grew up in Andover. “I didn’t care so much, but Rick - because he actually owns the Packers and everything - you know, not a good day for him.
“We watched at a place called the Brat Stop in Kenosha, Wis., sort of your classic cheese-curd-and-brat joint. And when they lost, it wasn’t pretty. The locals were pretty angry.’’
As an owner of the Packers, Dignus is hardly part of an intimate group. The storied NFL franchise headquartered at Lambeau Field is a publicly traded company with more than 112,000 shareholders.
Dignus grew up on Long Island as a Packer fan, fascinated by behemoth prospect Tony Mandarich in the late 1980s, and early last month he forked over $250 to buy a single share of his favorite team. And soon the wheels-in-winter trip took shape, ultimately pointing the two pals northwest from Virginia on their newly bought bicycles.
“I at least had the sense to take my bike out for a 12-mile test run,’’ said Seifert. “Rick literally picked his up at the store, did two laps around the parking lot, and we were gone.’’
Over the course of 25 days, through snow and rain, sunshine and wind, the odyssey became a quirky brew of friendship, a way to get in shape, and above all, an opportunity to do some pedal-power fund-raising, most of it earmarked for US military veterans, and the donations had grown to some $70,000 as the weekend approached.
“We started out just two idiots on bikes,’’ said Seifert, a lacrosse and hockey player during his days at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, chatting via cell phone Friday afternoon. “I suppose we’re still idiots. But it was a cool trip, even if Rick never got to see his Packers play. We got to meet some great people, and give back to our country. That’s what this really was about.’’
Seifert and Dignus, 44, work together in the caddie management company 4C Limited, which Seifert founded in 1999 and is now headquartered at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va.
For years, they paired up as bouncers at the Boardy Barn, a hot spot in Hampton Bays on Long Island, where they met during Seifert’s student days at Southampton College. When Dignus bought his share of the Packers last month, the two pals soon found themselves daring one another, as in their carefree bouncer days, to hit the road on a whim.
In short order, “what if’’ and “how about’’ turned into “let’s do it!’’ Through their connections in the golf industry, they connected with a pair of a veteran-related charities, ThanksUSA and Wall Street Warfighters, as well as the National Math and Science Initiative.
They cobbled together a website, pedalthepack.com, and spent about $2,500 apiece to purchase a pair of US-manufactured bikes, Surly Long Haul Truckers, and other gear necessary for a winter trip from Virginia golf country to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
“There’s a lot of blogs out there about bike trips like this,’’ said Seifert. “But they aren’t about biking in the middle of winter. You make a wrong turn in central Ohio, with no road signs, no cell phone service, no GPS, and that can be a 20-mile wrong turn. Maybe that’s OK in July, but in January that’s a long, cold detour.’’
It was a bemused and slightly befuddled Mennonite, hopping down from the seat of his horse-drawn buggy, who helped Seifert and Dignus find their way back on track in the middle of Ohio’s Amish country.
In Illinois, where they hit their harshest weather, they had to walk their bikes the 18-20 miles between Chicago and Wilmette during a snowstorm.
Yelping dogs were ever-present, and unimpressed with their noble fund-raising efforts.
“I’d say, overall, dogs are very patriotic,’’ said Seifert. “I’m proud to say, though, not one of them broke skin.’’
Dignus and Seifert rode with video cameras attached to their helmets - the gadgetry that bemuses Mennonites - and each of their six- to seven-hour riding days typically was followed by at least two hours of editing tape in their hotel rooms to feed their website. Long days for a couple of fortysomething golf guys with zero biking experience.
“When we started out, we figured we would ride during the day, then hit taverns at night, have a beer, maybe get people on tape for reactions and stuff,’’ said Seifert. “But on a trip like this, drinking is counterproductive.
“So you ride, you eat, you edit, and you sleep. You feel lucky if you can just make it to the laundromat before you fall asleep.’’
Upon finally arriving Friday, Seifert and Dignus were treated to a tour of Lambeau Field and the Packers locker room. It was 9 degrees Farenheit, the way it’s supposed to be in Green Bay in the dead of winter, when the local team is supposed to be playing in the NFC Championship.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it would have been great to be here and see the Packers play,’’ said Dignus. “To see the game would have been the icing on the cake.
“But early in the trip, in Virginia, we met a Vietnam vet, told him what we were doing, and he thanked us for doing it. After that, football just became a small part of what we were doing. We told him, ‘Don’t thank us. We’re doing this to thank you.’ ’’
Dignus and Seifert packed up early yesterday morning, piling their well-worn bikes into the van that followed them on the journey, driven by good pal and trip pilot Charles Muir of Arlington, Va. When the two bikers lost their way in central Ohio, the 29-year-old Muir frantically tried to reach them via cell phone, only to do what a true friend would do, feast on a 24-ounce slab of homemade fudge at a local restaurant until his buddies resurfaced.
“Actually, he was upset that day, because we got lost and everything,’’ said Seifert. “But like I told him, ‘Look, that’s the stuff that’s supposed to happen on a trip like this. What fun would it be without a little adventure?’ ’’
If you’d like to donate to any of three charities that Seifert and Dignus backed during their journey, visit pedalthepack.com.