On Dec. 5, 2017, approximately 15 and a half months after he set off from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Ian Andersen completed one of the most epic fundraising efforts for United Spinal Association ever. Andersen cycled over 15,000 miles, from above the arctic circle to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, to help raise more than $22,000 dollars for the organization.
The idea of a long cycle journey had been planted by Ian’s uncle, Bret Andersen, who did the same trip in 1986. When Ian was in college at the University of Southern California, his best friend, Natalie Fung, was hit by a drunk driver while riding in a taxi and sustained a cervical spinal cord injury. Fung and Andersen both learned of United Spinal’s advocacy and support work through a mutual friend. When Andersen began to contemplate retracing his uncle’s journey, dedicating the effort toward fundraising for United Spinal was a natural fit. It let Andersen support a cause he believed in, raising both funds and awareness for the disability community while he was traveling.
“The money aspect was good, I don’t think I changed the course of all spinal cord research […] but I think I did as much as one guy can do,” Andersen says. But the real benefit of his partnership with United Spinal was the dialogue it opened it with people all over the Americas. “It makes the experience even better when you have a reason, or a story, or a cause. It really just opens up the narrative. When people ask you why you’re doing this, it opens up a whole conversation with the people you meet.”
Though Andersen was self-sufficient, carrying all the gear he needed to live and camp on his bicycle, being able to easily connect with people was a huge benefit on a trip where he was often reliant on the kindness of strangers to even have a place to sleep for the night. “Depending on which country I was in I could ask a restaurant, family, firefighters or farmers with land if I could camp on their property and every time they’d say yes,” Andersen said.
He’s only been back in the United States for a few weeks, recovering at his parents’ home in Minnesota, but the 25-year old Andersen already has his sights set on more journeys.
“I’ve cycled across two continents now, from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia, and I kind of feel like I can’t stop at two. I’m in too deep now to stop, I’ve got to cycle across the other four.”
As for the details of his ride, after 15 and a half months, Andersen is well versed at answering the typical questions from the road, as shown by this spot-on Instagram post detailing his stock answers:
“Yes, by bike.”
“To the bottom of Argentina.”
“Yes, all by bike.”
“Yes I saw bears in Alaska.”
“About 16 months.”
“Well one plane, Panama City to Cartegena.”
“About 100 km a day.”
“Maybe five days a week.”
“Sure, sometimes I take long breaks.”
“Its been fun, a great experience.”
“No I’m not carrying a gun.” (Asked in U.S. only.)
“I guess it’s dangerous, just the traffic, people are nice everywhere.”
“Twenty-five-plus flat tires”
“Nope, no accidents.”
“Sometimes camping, sometimes hostels.”
“Yes I have a tent.”
“Pasta, bread, peanut butter, bananas, nuts, oatmeal.”
“Audiobooks and lots of podcasts.”
“Yes I’ve been to the hospital twice.”
“Yes I’m riding solo.”
“Yes I get lonely sometimes.”
“Yes I call my mom.”
“No I didn’t train for this.”
“No I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“No. I’m not biking back up to the U.S.”
To learn more about Andersen’s journey, and keep track of his next adventures, follow his Instagram feed, Ride with Ian