DOWNERS GROVE – Across his two fights with cancer, Downers Grove native turned California educator and author Rocco Versaci learned an important, yet simple lesson: He could get through things.
"Sometimes when we're faced with something really bad it can be overwhelming," he said. "I feel like I've been through a number of things where you just know you've got to keep going, do work, keep your head down, endure."
Versaci details his literal and spiritual journey in a new book, "That Hidden Road: A Memoir," writing about his life, his first battle with cancer in 2003 and the cross-country, 3,145-mile solo bike ride he went on after his recovery.
The Downers Grove South High School grad said the idea for a major bike ride took hold as he felt his weakest during his chemotherapy treatment.
While he said he was never an avid biker, usually sticking only to biking to work, he said he remembered pedaling through the suburban streets of Downers Grove as a child to get away from things.
"I couldn't really make it up the stairs because I was so tired, and I just got it in my mind that I wanted to do something big when I felt up to it," he said.
He was cancer-free by the end of 2003. Four years later he was divorced, then decided to go through with his bike ride in the summer of 2010 while he had his fall sabbatical from teaching English at Palomar College in California's San Diego County.
While on the road, Versaci biked an average of 65 miles a day – with a week-long break for a family wedding in the middle – through July. On the way, he met strangers and friends, often staying with people who offered up their homes through a cross-country biking app or in a one-person tent. He kept a journal and blog throughout the ride, learning to step back and throw away his plans.
"On a bike, you're moving very slow, and you're not insulated like you would be in the car," he said. "So when you bike by people they talk to you. People will pull over and ask you what you were doing. ... It's a very unique look at the country and way to travel."
As he settled down to work on the book in 2013, he started another blog that was "taken over" once he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. As people responded to his personal cancer writings, he was allowed to reflect on his bike ride and past struggles anew.
"I feel like the act of writing is very cathartic in a lot of ways," he said. "You go through things and you don't always know what they mean right away. Sometimes people don't choose to go much further than that and just want to put them behind them. But I've always been fascinated by the past ... thinking about the road I was on. It's important to know where you've been and what that means."
Note to readers: Rocco Versaci is the uncle of Suburban Life Editor Mary Beth Versaci. She was not involved in the writing and editing of this story.
If you go
Rocco Versaci will be attending a book reading for his new book, "That Hidden Road: A Memoir," at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove. The free, in-store event is open to the public, and copies of the book will be available for purchase.
To learn more about Versaci, his journey and his writings, visit roccoversaci.com.