One year ago, Andrew Nathan set out on the first leg of a 370-mile, three-day bicycle ride across North Dakota.
One week from now, he’ll return to do the whole thing again – in two days.
But Nathan says his superhuman effort is dwarfed by the work Patriot Assistance Dogs (PAD), the organization he’s pedaling for, does for the region’s servicemembers.
“I just want to have a good ride so we can help veterans and dogs,” Nathan said Wednesday. “I don’t know what could be better.”
A year ago, Nathan raised nearly $35,000 for PAD and received national recognition for his fundraising efforts.
Now, the Hillsboro man is setting his sights higher and pushing himself harder for the organization he believes so much in.
Nathan will set out from the Montana border near Beach, N.D. Aug. 13 and bike to Steele, N.D. – a distance of more than 200 miles – that Friday.
He’ll follow that up with nearly 165 miles Saturday, taking back roads across the state to the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Fargo that evening.
Nathan said he hopes to meet up with fellow cyclists for the final leg of the journey – a 22-mile jaunt from Gordy’s Travel Plaza in Casselton, N.D. to Fargo – to raise awareness for the average of 22 veterans lost each day to suicide.
Ray Pizarro, a board member for PAD and a National Guardsman from Fargo who served a pair of deployments in the early 2000s, said Nathan’s support of PAD is working to bring that number down.
Based out of Detroit Lakes, Minn., PAD has rescued, trained and paired more than 230 therapeutic dogs with veterans – many of whom are readjusting to civilian life – across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Each dog costs roughly $16,000 to train to mitigate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in veterans.
As of 2020, PAD had not lost a single veteran to suicide once they received a service dog.
Pizarro attributed Nathan’s ride last year to helping the organization continue its efforts during a difficult financial year due to COVID-19.
“Drew’s a very humble man,” Pizarro said over the phone Wednesday. “I don’t think enough people outside of the community appreciate the effort that’s being made to raise awareness and funds.”
Nathan is hoping to raise even more money for PAD this year, and hopes pushing himself harder will inspire more to donate.
A 22-year serviceman and instructor with the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, Nathan has taken his warrior mentality to his training over the past year.
He said he barely made it through last year’s ride, which featured hot temperatures, headwinds and a downpour over the final 50 miles of his ride.
To add insult to injury, he had to repair his bike 25 miles away from Fargo.
“It was raining so hard that cars were pulling over underneath the overpasses, and then all of a sudden I blew a tire,” Nathan said.
“My son wanted to end the ride with me, but we had to cannibalize his bike and put his wheel on my bike,” he added. “Then the moment I get into Fargo and I finish, no rain.”
Over the past year, Nathan has upped his training and preparation for next week’s ride.
He’s invested in better biking shoes, better clothing and he says his mind and his body are ready for this challenge.
“I rode 370-some miles in tennis shoes last year,” Nathan said. “I’m in much better physical condition and much more mentally prepared.
“I’m really laying it on the line this year.”
Pizarro will follow Nathan in a support vehicle once again and serve as a manager for the event.
The Fargo man, who will be posting routine Facebook updates and live video from the ride, said Nathan has served as an inspiration for many – especially those veterans who have been helped by PAD.
“They saw a guy who’s not a traditional cyclist – a guy who served his country like anyone else,” Pizarro said. “They’re inspired that one person would want to put himself through so much pain and endurance for an organization he believes in already.”
Nathan doesn’t see himself as special for what he’s doing. In fact, he wants more to join in the experience and support PAD.
He is encouraging others to join in for segments of the journey and hopes for multiple riders to meet him in Casselton for the final leg of the ride.
“If there are people who want to ride along, everyone’s welcome,” he said. “It just helps out with the morale.
“I’m just one little thing, and when my ride is done, it’s done, but PAD is remembered,” Nathan added. “PAD is what needs to be remembered.”
People can follow Nathan’s journey on Facebook by searching for Patriot Assistance Dogs and donate by visiting https://bit.ly/3AiZ937.