By Paige Ewing
Determined to raise money and awareness for cancer research, a Rider alum and his two friends took on the challenge of biking 3,700 miles across the country this past summer.
Scott Phillips, ’11, Josh Johannessen and José Ignacio Alfaro named their journey “Portland to Portland” and vowed to ride from the Pacific Ocean starting in Portland, Oregon, to the Atlantic ending in Portland, Maine, with the motto, “Anyone can be a superhero.”
The three men packed their gear in a U-Haul truck and set out on a three-day drive to Oregon. They would then ride their bikes back to Maine.
Over the six-week trip, they collectively raised $8,000 in memory of Vickie Stickle Hennion, a young girl who passed away from pancreatic cancer, and Jason Vujosevic, who is battling a rare form of testicular cancer — both of whom Johannessen knew from his church.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, statistics show, and because research is underfunded, the group knew it was the cause to donate to.
Last year, Johannessen completed a similar trip to support his friend, Robin, who was battling breast cancer. During the trip from New Jersey to California, he raised $20,000 through a GoFundMe page and cash donations along his journey.
“Since the trip was so successful, I thought I would do a trip for a different cause,” said Johannessen.
This new trip, however, had a deeper, unique meaning.
Along the way, the trio decided they would act as superheroes to those they met, helping out with chores or aiding people they crossed paths with, even going as far as actually dressing up as superheroes on some of their stops. One such act was going out of their way to help a family bring their son to the hospital when he fell off of his bike and injured his finger.
They also made multiple stops to give food and water to the homeless people they passed. By doing good deeds, they were repaid by the kindness of others, Phillips said.
“There were times when we weren’t sure where we would end up at the end of the day,” Phillips said. “But we were able to get in contact with other cyclists who were generous enough to open up their homes to us and provide us with food and a place to stay on most nights. Total strangers just put their faith in us and gave us more generosity than we ever deserved.”
The trip required extensive planning.
“At ‘Portland to Portland,’ it’s about more than just riding a bicycle,” Phillips said in an Instagram video. “It’s about efficiency. It’s about teamwork. There’s a lot of prep that goes into this. We have to take notes and learn from the best.”
During the 45-day trip, 19 of those days were “century days” — when the men rode over 100 miles.
“We carried our supplies, our clothes, and sometimes we carried each other,” Phillips said. “We felt the support of friends and family and met total strangers who helped us on our journey. We learned the world is full of incredible kindness and beauty.”
The experience was something that Johannessen never once regretted.
“Throughout the journey, I kept saying that every day was my new favorite day of the trip,” he said.
Although many would assume the hardest part of the trip was the ride, the men said the heat challenged them the most.
“We rode through deserts at times and through 90- to 100-degree heat on some days,” Phillips said. “It was tough to do because in eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, there’s a large gap between towns and gas stations.”
The bikers used an app on their phones called “Warm Showers”, which is a “network of cyclists that open up their homes to other cyclists for free,” Johannessen said.
“Many people said that we were crazy for riding with people we didn’t know too well,” Phillips said. “I think it worked out better than we imagined. There were certainly times we got under each other’s skin, but that’s to be expected when we’re around each other for 45 days straight.”
The three men finished their journey on Aug. 5, traveling over 3,700 miles, touching down in 16 states and making a lasting impact on those they met.
“We were just three guys who wanted to make a difference,” Phillips said. “And we did.”
To support the cause and make a donation, visit bikingportlandtoportland.com.
Additional reporting by Megan Lupo and Samantha Brandbergh