Two FAU students with $50,000 to raise and over 2,700 miles to bike. Their journey began at the mile zero marker in Key West and ended at Niagara Falls.
Michael Buonaiuto Jr. and Nathaniel Frankoski wanted to raise $50,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps veterans with physical and psychological injuries by funding events and programs for them. Buonaiuto and Frankoski started their trip June 25 and ended it Saturday, Aug. 18, in time to fly home and speak at church the next morning — and start classes the next day.
Buonaiuto gained notoriety in late 2010 for dressing up in a green Morphsuit, making random appearances, dancing with students around the Boca campus and calling himself Green Mann. He also claims he gave students a dozen tours of the storm tunnels under FAU’s Boca campus, which is against university policy. Buonaiuto’s brush with FAU police about the tours was his first time getting in trouble as Green Mann.
“Green Mann kind of energized the campus,” Ashwin Pachori, a senior biology major said. “Is he really coming back? Don’t play with my emotions.”
Now he’s done dancing in the suit and is using it to raise money and give back to veterans.
The plan was to bike 50 miles a day for 50 days to raise $50,000 for the project. It took the duo 55 days, and Buonaiuto and Frankoski raised $7,800 for the project, but Buonaiuto is donating another $4,900 of his own money to make roughly $12,700 raised as of publication time.
To raise the money, Buonaiuto and Frankoski wore eight spandex Morphsuits with different logos from 24 sponsors that Buonaiuto acquired through his Green Mann Advertising company. Green Mann Advertising LLC raised $9,000 on the trip, with Buonaiuto donating 37 percent of the advertising revenue directly to the Wounded Warrior Project.
“Our best sponsors were the ones that sought us out,” Buonaiuto said. “We didn’t have to sell them, they wanted to team up.”
The other 63 percent of advertising revenue covered the costs of their trip, according to Buonaiuto. Because his company is a limited liability corporation (LLC), Buonaiuto is not obligated to donate any of the money given directly to Green Mann Advertising. However, his website allowed donations to be made directly to both the Wounded Warrior Project and Buonaiuto’s company.
“I haven’t made one penny on this trip,” Buonaito said.
Buonaiuto and Frankoski swam with manatees in Florida, shot guns in New York, navigated the rapids of Niagara River and stood 100 feet above New York City in a fire engine ladder.
On day 41 of the trip, Buonaiuto and Frankoski both wore white Morphsuits as they toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They stopped in the Greek and Roman art section of the museum, put on the hoods of their Morphsuits, and posed among the rest of the statues. Visitors stopped, laughed and took pictures.
Frankoski didn’t wear his hood or a helmet for the first two days of the ride — he got one in Boca on the fourth day of their trip — and then it broke soon after that. Along the way, Frankoski also sported a headband and a replica tricorn hat from the Revolutionary War.
The two were never injured on the bikes, but they did make a trip to the emergency room after Buonaiuto needed a tetanus shot for a cut to his foot. And both bikers had a close call while riding on U.S. Route 17. The route starts in Punta Gorda, Fla. and merges with U.S. Route 50 in Virginia.
Buonaiuto and Frankoski were riding on Route 17 when they saw a truck approaching — with a boat attached to its trailer — without wheels on the trailer.
“Pieces of hub and trailer flew off the boat,” Buonaiuto said. Frankoski remembered seeing “rooster sparks” shooting out from under the dragged boat. Eventually the truck drove past them, scratching only the road.
The duo started planning their trip in January, and finished mapping the route by April, according to their blog, MikeandNate. wordpress.com. To keep traveling costs low, Buonaiuto and Frankoski used sites like couchsurfing.org and warmshowers.org to contact strangers in the cities they stopped at, who let them stay in their houses for free.
“It’s like Facebook for travelers,” Frankoski said about couchwarmers.org. “Warmshowers.org is couch surfing strictly for bicyclists.”
Some strangers were asleep when Frankoski and Buonaiuto arrived at their daily destinations; others would leave for work before the duo woke up in the morning.
“We resorted on God to be our ultimate provider,” Buonaiuto said. Buonaiuto and Frankoski both attend Victory Christian Center on Sundays, just off Spanish River Boulevard and Boca Raton Boulevard.
Some of their eight Morphsuits quoted scriptures from the bible, such as Mark 9:23 and Psalms 25:4-5, which Frankoski called “traveler’s scriptures.” Three suits were white, two neon green, two orange and one yellow.
And although Buonaiuto and Frankoski said they relied on God for provisions, they weren’t always certain when they would eat or where they would sleep.
On the first night of their trip, after biking from Key West to Marathon, Buonaiuto and Frankoski stayed in a homeless shelter. And for at least four other stops, the duo had to call a fire station in advance to make sleeping arrangements for the night: North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jacksonville, N.C., West Point, N.Y., and Newark, N.Y.
The station chief at West Point picked the duo up for that night of their trip.
In their 55 day voyage, the duo spent less than $250 total, they say, staying in a hotel one night, and paying for one full meal while other restaurants and hosts donated meals. But it wasn’t easy to get back on their bikes after eating.
“It’s like a washing machine of food in your stomach,” Frankoski said. The duo expanded their taste on the trip, eating any free meal offered to them. “The meals that sat the worst were vegan,” Frankoski added.
And the duo weren’t always amused by each other either.
“Every time Nate [Frankoski] burps, he does two tarzan bumps and says excuse me,” Buonaiuto said.
“Mike [Buonaiuto] has this psychotic obsession with the number 37,” Frankoski said. “It was funny arguing on the whole trip about the number not being everywhere.” Buonaiuto claims his obsession with the number goes back to an inside joke he shared with friends in high school and explains why Buonaiuto donated 37 percent of the revenue made by his advertising company to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Buonaiuto and Frankoski met in a college youth group four years ago. The idea to put company logos on Morphsuits belonged to Buonaiuto, who is a senior public communications major at FAU. Frankoski has not declared his major yet, but plans on studying international business.
Back when Buonaiuto dressed up as Green Mann, he used the suit to perform a social experiment: gain 3,700 friends and promote environmentalism without saying a word. After making 3,546 friends on Facebook, Buonaiuto was unmasked by the UP.
“Green Mann was something everyone looked forward to watching,” Devin Zucker, a junior sociology major, said.
When Buonaiuto walked into music professor Rebecca Lautar’s classroom around 8 p.m. on Nov. 17, Lautar called FAU police. She felt threatened when Buonaiuto interrupted her lecture by dancing in his green suit with a hood on, according to the police report.
Before breaking his silence, however, Buonaiuto told The Owl Times about his plan to advertise on his suit. “I would love to have a giant FAU emblem on my chest, or Publix, Tide or FOX … whoever wants to sponsor me.”
Before mounting their bikes and championing the Wounded Warrior cause, Buonaiuto and Frankoski both ran into trouble.
One month prior to Buonaiuto being unmasked and receiving a student referral, Frankoski was arrested. It was 11:36 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2011, when Frankoski was watching the U.S. soccer team beat Honduras at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. The game ended with the U.S. beating Honduras 1-0, and Frankoski was blowing a vuvuzela in celebration when a woman in the exiting crowd demanded he stop.
Frankoski then approached two police officers with the woman to resolve the matter and go home.
“I was wrongly accused,” Frankoski said. “I had to help [the arresting officer] write his own report.”
The incident ended in Frankoski being charged with resisting an officer without violence, disorderly intoxication and battery. His bond was $3,000, and he spent the rest of the night in the Dade County Correctional Facility.
But there’s more to Frankoski on second glance. He is currently letting a homeless man named Jean Victor live with him until he gets back on his feet. Victor met Frankoski at church after the duo spoke about their trip.
“I’ve had a hard time re-integrating myself into life here,” Frankoski said. He wants to open a bicycle co-op with support from the Boca City Council, but currently makes granite countertops.
Buonaiuto and Frankoski may have reached Niagara Falls, but their trip ended in Toronto, Canada the Saturday before the fall semester began. The duo caught a plane back to Florida, and almost lost their bikes at the hands of Delta Airlines. But the airline found their bikes the next day.
Now Buonaiuto is taking the final class he needs to graduate: communication, democracy and civic engagement. And this semester he plans on bringing Green Mann back to FAU’s Boca campus — the right way.
“I realized this is not where I want to be,” Buonaiuto said. “I have to figure out how to mix school and my philanthropy.”
Buonaiuto is meeting with Joanna Ellwood, an associate dean of students, to make it possible for any student to wear a Morphsuit on campus while following university policies.
“I gave FAU so much exposure with this, if administration doesn’t let me wear the suit on campus this semester,” Buonaiuto warned, “hell will break loose and pigs will fly out of it.”
Buonaiuto and Frankoski still want to raise the remaining $38,300 for the Wounded Warrior Project. To do this, Buonaiuto has another trick up his sleeve. He plans on writing an e-book with Frankoski about their journey and releasing it, then donating the profits to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Buonaiuto is hopeful the duo can reach their fundraising goal, and take another bike ride sometime in the near future.
“Everyone on this campus has the ability to do something that’s great,” he said, “and taking that first step is the hardest.”