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Anderson poses in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. Submitted photo.

Two Harbors grad making Coastal Connections

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Nils Anderson graduated from Two Harbors High School in 2008 and then packed his bags for Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. During the spring semester of his junior year at Gustavus, he decided to venture even farther from home by signing up for a study abroad program in Brazil.

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He landed in Belém do Pará, Brazil in March of 2011, lived with a host family and took occasional classroom courses. But more often he said he took advantage of opportunities to explore the area and learn from his experiences. When the program ended, Anderson decided to stay in Brazil for a couple extra weeks, as did a few of his fellow students. During this extended stay, Anderson said he spent a lot of time with Julian Levy, another program participant.

"We got to know each other really well," Anderson said.

That bond was the basis for the two friends' next adventure--a cross-country road trip. At first, they just wanted to see the other 22 American students who had studied in Brazil with them.

"Originally, it was like, 'oh, let's just go visit everyone,' but it turned into something much bigger," Anderson said.

Once they started mapping out their trip, they realized there were many more people they wanted to visit along the route and there were a lot of detours they wanted to take along the way. Eventually, they had more than 60 destinations plotted and the pair decided to use the two-month trip as a learning experience and share their discoveries with friends and family via social media.

"Social media has revolutionized this whole trip," Anderson said.

Anderson said the Brazil program was based on experiential learning--learning by doing. Though they took Portuguese classes, the majority of their learning was done through immersion in the day to day lives of their host families. Additionally, they learned about resource management and human ecology by taking trips to neighboring communities and Amazon rainforest.

"That introduction to experiential learning really gave us the tools to plan something like this," Anderson said.

Their goal is to purposefully learn about the places they are visiting by doing: visiting museums, meeting locals, trekking through national and state parks, taking photos and asking lots and lots of questions.

Anderson flew out to Vermont on Feb. 21 to meet Levy and they departed soon after. As of Monday, they were in Washington, D.C. Their next stop is Virginia Beach, Va., followed by a foray into Florida.

Anderson graduated from Gustavus in June of 2012, but hasn't yet tied himself down to a fulltime job. He works as a Boundary Waters guide during the summer and spent the winter months tutoring and substitute teaching in the Lake Superior School District. Levy just graduated from the University of Vermont in December. The two say that the timing seemed perfect for a two-month road trip.

"This is something a lot of people wouldn't consider after graduation...but your life is more flexible than you think," Anderson said.

The biggest obstacle Anderson and Levy faced was raising the money for their adventure. Both worked as much as possible in the first two months of 2013, saving their paychecks. Levy also had a working relationship with RailRiders, a Vermont-based outdoor clothing company, that offered to sponsor their trip by giving them some durable clothing to take along and some cash to get them started.

RailRiders sponsors a number of adventurers, like anthropologist/explorer Julian Monroe Fisher and hiker Chase Lewine. Anderson and Levy's trek, however, is the first road trip they've sponsored.

"It spoke out to me on a personal level. (Typically), you graduate (college) and then you work...they wanted to go out and see the world right after school. That's something special," said Chandler Moisen, who works in sales at RailRiders and knows both Anderson and Levy.

Anderson and Levy are also asking for donations through Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website where people can donate to a cause and get a small gift in exchange, like a letter or a homemade gift. The pair says they will use contributions to pay for national and state park passes, oil changes and camera add-ons. They say they also hope to add about $1,000 to their coffers for unforeseen expenses like car repairs.

Just one day into their trip, they ran into one of those unforeseen expenses. After parking in a friend's driveway in Boston, their first stop, they exited the car--only to discover they had a flat tire. Despite this small bump in the road, so far the boys say they are in good spirits.

"You have to be flexible and take things as they come. Challenges are inevitable," Anderson said.

In contrast to their trial by tire, they say they've also had some good fortune, and Anderson is enthused by all the advice and hospitality they've received, including a loaner Canon Rebel camera to document their trip and free lodging in all of the cities they've visited so far.

"I feel like you just give people the opportunity and they will help you out," Anderson said by phone Sunday from Washington D.C.

Already over 700 miles into their trip, the boys still have about 13,000 left to cover. They expect to spend over 200 hours in the car and when they don't have a place to stay with friends or acquaintances, they say they'll camp. See the box to find out how to follow Anderson and Levy's progress or to donate to their adventure.

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