Andy Fersch has the attention of his eighth-grade students. One, he rocks a Mohawk. Two, he’ll ride a road bike an average of 83 miles a day this summer. Three, he’s cool enough to make YouTube videos.
Fersch, an eighth-grade English teacher, is riding 3,300 miles across the country with a group of 24 people to raise awareness and money for the American Lung Association. Usually, Fersch would be teaching summer school in Epping, N.H. Rather than let him abandon his students, the school chose to incorporate his trip into their summer curriculum. In each place he stops, he collects stories and facts for his students by filming YouTube videos.
“A lot of middle-schoolers don’t know how big the world is and how different other places are,” Fersch said.
The group started in Seattle on Monday. So far, they’ve stopped in Easton, Vantage and Odessa.
The group “rested” in Spokane on Friday, the day before Hoopfest. Fersch has a friend who lives in Spokane who took him to run some errands and show him some of the city. He was amazed by the amount of local effort that goes into the weekend event.
“I haven’t seen people volunteer like that. The city putting on a huge event where everyone is involved is unique so far,” he said.
Fersch also swam in the Spokane River, and walked through Riverfront Park. He noted that the Clocktower chimed a Beatles tune. He acquired one video clip describing the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
The Epping Middle School students can call Fersch and some of his fellow riders to ask more questions. The summer school teachers back in New Hampshire use the information from the videos for a multidisciplinary study, with math, geography and writing.
Fersch is passionate about the ALA because his mother is a longtime smoker. She owns a small bakery in Concord, Mass. And she helped him fundraise for the trip. Although she has quit and restarted several times, currently she is not smoking.
Most of the people on the ride had a loved one die from lung disease or cancer, Fersch said. The riders each had to raise $6,000 to go on the trip. Fersch raised $7,200 to date with a goal of $10,000. They’re continuing to accept donations on the road. The money funds research and advocacy through the Northwest Lung Association.
A fellow rider from the Seattle area commended Fersch’s efforts in what is his first long-distance ride.
“He’s working hard on the ride. It’s a big deal to him,” said Mark Abernathy. Abernathy lost his father to lung disease, and carries his WWII dog tags with him on the ride.
On their 48-day journey, they will stop for eight “rest” days. They camp every night except for the “rest days,” where they will usually stay on a college campus. Their next stop will be in Missoula.
After Fersch reaches Washington, D.C., on Aug. 7, he needs to figure out how to get home, he said. But he will return to his students, who will have about three weeks of summer school to complete. They will edit the video clips together.
“Stories from people who live in these places are way more interesting than what the chamber of commerce tells you,” Fersch said.