Phil Knoll is pedaling for dollars. The Orange senior citizen, who will soon turn 79, is bicycling the Columbia River Gorge, from Bridal Veil to Ontario, Oregon, to raise funds for the Cerro Villa Middle School and Villa Park High School instrumental music programs.
He plans to complete the 400-mile adventure in five days, traveling up to 107 miles in one day. A friend had planned to ride with him, but dropped out. He’s not worried, though, “I always meet lots of nice people,” he says. “It’s the dogs that I have trouble with.” He once was forced to pour water on a troublesome Doberman.
This will be Knoll’s seventh trip on behalf of the VPHS band. He began riding bicycles in 1950 as a Boy Scout, and later became a cycling merit badge counselor. But it wasn’t until he was 42 that he began riding long distances in earnest. He had contracted a lung infection, and the drugs caused a weight gain; he began riding his bike to work each day for the aerobic benefits. On a whim, he decided to ride to Yosemite to meet his family vacationing there. A year later, he pedaled round-trip between Orange and Yosemite. Then, in 1981, he began combining pedaling and fundraising.
A penny earned
He was a teacher and band director with Orange Unified School District for 38 years, the only teacher to both open and close Peralta Junior High. A violinist from the age of six, he studied instrumental and vocal music in college, adding Spanish to the mix in grad school at Chapman. As a band director, he grew tired of trying to fundraise by selling light bulbs and candy bars, so, when his students needed band uniforms, he pedaled from Orange to Myrtle Beach, asking one penny per mile. A year later, he rode from California to the World’s Fair in Knoxville, before continuing on to Atlanta.
As “Mr. Knoll’s Opus” grew to include an orchestra, he continued to ride hundreds of miles each year for the music department. After Peralta closed, Knoll moved to Cerro Villa Middle School, where he taught Spanish and history before seguing to choir, a girls drill team, band and orchestra. “The last 10 years,” he said, “were the most fun.” His strings group placed first in the county 10 times in a row, and won six superior ratings at regional competitions. He taught (VPHS band director) Major Chuck Jay’s kids, and taught John Johnson (a VPHS music teacher) to play the trombone. His two children attended VPHS, and his grandsons were in the band.
Miles for music
He has continued to pedal, churning out 6,000 to 7,000 miles per year. In 1995, he switched to a recumbent bike, citing comfort and speed. He is now on his fourth recumbent bike, a lighter aluminum model. He likes to ride early in the morning, before his wife is up, and averages 112 miles a day, traveling at an average speed of 12 to 18 mph. As recently as last year, he set a record in his division at the Huntsman World Senior Games, despite a broken leg earlier in the year. He no longer camps when he’s on the road, but books motels. He travels light. His bike weighs only 24 pounds, plus the fairing and windbreaker. He carries a change of clothes, tire tubes and a trash bag, for protection in the rain. Knoll misses working with students and performing, but appreciates the opportunity to have fun, pedaling for music money.
Donations may be sent to Villa Park High School, 18042 Taft St., Villa Park, CA 92867, c/o Chuck Jay. And if you need a band, Phil would like you to know he plays keyboard in a fun trio.