SAUK CITY — Starting today, Matt Stoltz will have to pay a little more attention to his diet.
Over the past six months, the Wisconsin Rapids native has been free to consume anything put on his plate and in the process has lost 45 pounds. Of course his regimen has included a bit of cardio work on a bicycle, but not the stationary kind that is parked in front of a television.
Stoltz has ridden his $1,200 Novara Randonee touring bike through some of the most scenic, urbanized and desolate spots in the country in his quest to visit all of Major League Baseball’s 30 stadiums and to watch at least one game in each ballpark.
The epic 180-day, 11,750-mile journey, which included an estimated 5 million pedal strokes and more than 30 flat tires, came to a close Saturday. That’s when Stoltz rolled into the parking lot of Miller Park in Milwaukee, the last stop on his route that started when the Brewers had hopes of the playoffs and pessimistic Cubs fans were resigned to another season of losing.
“It’s kind of surreal just because I’ve been eyeing this up for months and months and months,” Stoltz said. “It’s exciting and gratifying. There will definitely be a bit of adjusting back to the real world after living a nomadic lifestyle and sleeping in a different city every night but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Some people biked 462 miles across Iowa in July for the annual RAGBRAI while others choose a nearly 3,000-mile pedal across the country. Last month, Ray and Jo Resch of Madison completed a 2,901-mile, 72-day bike trip to visit each of Wisconsin’s 72 county courthouses.
All of those rides are impressive but Stoltz’s pedal — equal to biking about halfway around the globe — tops them all. It’s also designed to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Milwaukee and bring attention to Biking for Baseball, a Denver non-profit that promotes youth mentoring programs through cycling, baseball and coaching.
In 2012, four riders from Biking for Baseball did a similar trip and hosted baseball clinics in each city to direct attention and resources to local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The trip proved to be the impetus for Stoltz, who in 2012 did a solo but supported 1,800-mile bike trip from Wisconsin to West Palm Beach, Florida, to raise $13,000 for sports equipment for youth in developing countries.
“I remember finishing that trip thinking that I could keep riding,” Stoltz said. “I wanted to do something really big and I always wanted to check out all 30 ballparks. Doing it by bike is something I couldn’t pass up.”
I caught up with Stoltz on Sept. 23 as he made his way through Sauk and Dane counties while biking from Minneapolis to Chicago for a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. He had started his morning in Reedsburg and made it to the Culver’s in Sauk City by 9:15 a.m.
We sat outside at a table and 45 minutes later, when the restaurant opened, Stoltz didn’t balk when I offered to buy him a mid-morning snack of a ButterBurger and order of French fries.
Stoltz, who has raised more than $12,000 on this trip, started his ride April 6 in Seattle and worked his way south through California and Arizona before heading east to Denver and winding his way through the rest of the country, all while trying to time his arrivals based on the baseball schedule.
From June 26 to July 26 he pedaled 3,120 miles, a stretch that started in St. Louis and went to Miami and Tampa, Florida, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, and then to Pittsburgh.
“It was every day on your bike for 10 to 11 hours just cranking it out,” Stoltz said. “You think of anything and everything to kill the time. Sometimes you’re your own jukebox and sing a few tunes. Sometimes you shout words of encouragement at yourself on a tough hill. Everything goes through your head, from kindergarten memories to what you want to do after the trip to the cute girl you met at that gas station a few miles back.”
Stoltz did the trek unsupported, meaning he carried all of his own gear, including a tent and sleeping bag. He occasionally would sleep in a hotel or stay in a home as part of the Warm Showers program that offers free lodging to bikers, but a good portion of the trip has been under the stars.
It included a nine-day stretch between Denver and Arlington, Texas. When he camped in Florida he spent one night in oppressive heat battling an invasion of ants. Other challenges included biking through a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains, a tornado in Colorado with storm chasers whizzing by, flooding in Texas and a bout with poison ivy in Pennsylvania.
The shredded bits of truck tires that littered the roadways, particularly in the West, wreaked havoc with his thin tires.
On Sept. 22, while biking the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, Stoltz was delayed for a few moments by a cow that had wandered onto the trail.
“There’s a million reasons as to why I couldn’t have done this trip,” Stoltz said. “You can think of the idea and put it off but once you get out there and start pedaling, everything falls into place. You just kind of keep pushing and you adapt to whatever circumstances you’re in. It’s one day at a time.”
Stoltz has a passion for service work and is looking for a job with a non-profit. He graduated in December from UW-Madison, where he studied community and non-profit leadership.
Both of his parents are counselors, his father, Paul, for the Veterans Administration and his mother, Julanne, at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids.
Matt was introduced to Big Brothers Big Sisters in high school when he began mentoring a third-grade boy once a week for 30 minutes after school.
“I honestly didn’t think it would be that big of a deal but I was amazed at how attentive he was in class. His confidence went up just because there was one person coming to see him,” Stoltz said. “It just blew me away and showed me how much of a difference mentors can make in the lives of youth.”
His trip took him to 31 states, the District of Columbia and to Ontario, Canada, to see the Toronto Blue Jays play. His shortest day was 40 miles and his longest a 150-mile pedal from Tampa to Atlanta. His favorite stadiums included Fenway Park in Boston and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Of the 34 games he attended, Stoltz only paid for his own ticket twice. He also threw out first pitches in Houston and St. Louis and has had several people step forward to pay for lodging.
He celebrated the trip’s conclusion Saturday with a tailgate party at Miller Park with family and friends. The trip cost him about $2,700.
“From my tickets to my hosts to my meals, I’ve had countless individuals who have gone out of their way to give me a helping hand,” Stoltz said. “There are nice people wherever you go, whether it’s the back roads of Kentucky or in a rough area of New York. There’s good people everywhere.”