Andrew Mortensen, center, meets with locals in Khadda, Uttar Pradesh, India, in December 2023. | Courtesy of Andrew Mortensen

During my two-phase, 27,500-mile bike journey “around the world” I encountered incredible kindness and hospitality, even in places where I had to hide being gay.

I never had trouble finding a place to sleep, eat or take shelter. I spent nearly 60 nights in total strangers’ homes across my 360 days of the trip. When you’re cold, wet and tired, people are keen to help. The rest of the days, I slept in my tent, in cheap hostels and even in some unexpected places, like on boats or sharing space with two guards armed with AK-47s.

My trip started in 2020 because I got cooped up during COVID and did not have a lot going on in my life. Cycling was a good coping mechanism. I decided to ride as a way to raise money for the Trevor Project, where I was a volunteer counselor, motivated by two friends who died by suicide.

Andrew Mortensen in Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China, in November 2023.
Andrew Mortensen in Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China, in November 2023. | Courtesy of Andrew Mortensen

A short trip became by 2021 a 17,000-mile ride from the U.S. to Chile along the Pan American Highway. I started small and before I knew it, I was crossing states, countries, and then, even, continents.

It’s remarkable throughout the whole journey and particularly North America, the expectation versus reality. I talked to folks I met on the road in cafes, restaurants, hotels and told them about my story and my endeavor. And everybody had a story about someone they knew — sometimes even their own family member, son, daughter, brother or sister who struggled with suicidal thoughts or died by suicide.

I think riding and meeting people made me understand the magnitude of this issue, because it affects all of us. In fact, from Florida to Texas, I wore my orange Trevor Project shirt every day and that was the best two-week period. It sparked so many valuable conversations and a lot of common ground.

This experience went so well that last year I decided to bike from Spain to Singapore, completing what is generally considered an around-the-world bike ride.

It’s hard to say if I’m officially the first gay man to do this, but there’s a very small cohort of cyclists who have ridden around the globe — some claim it’s less than the number who have gone to outer space — and I think it’s important for our community to know what’s possible. But even more important is the message I was able to share about the mission of the Trevor Project while raising nearly $20,000, all without a sponsor.

Along the way, there were a few hair-raising encounters, from being hit by a truck in South America to getting robbed at knifepoint in Central America, alongside bed bugs, stomach ills and all sorts of cuts, scrapes and aches as I pushed my body to the max, averaging over 92 miles and 7.5 hours pedaling each day.

But the good far outweighed the bad and I met incredible people. I was invited in by complete strangers for some of life’s most memorable moments: birthday parties, weddings, family reunions and more. It’s these moments that will stick with me forever.

‘It was impossible to hide’

In the Middle East and Asia phase of my trip, I did not advertise that I was gay for safety reasons.

But by virtue of my past, it was impossible to hide: When you search my name on Google or Instagram, my LGBTQ+ advocacy was front and center. So it was unnerving, especially at border crossings, police checkpoints and hotels where I had to present my passport. People were very curious in these small towns, always looking me up on social media.

A few times I was “outed” as a result. But interestingly the people who found out said “just don’t tell my neighbors or parents” or simply said nothing but still invited me in for tea or to stay the night. Some even confided in me that they, too, were gay.

My fears eased as I rode, but it still left me with many questions — and acknowledgements about privilege (white, cisgender, masculine-presenting).

Some people ask why it matters that I’m gay and cycled around the world. “Why didn’t you just not say anything?” “Why does your sexuality matter in doing something like this?”

But it matters for representation. It matters because a trip like this for an openly gay person is an analog to the fear, uncertainty and pressure LGBTQ+ folks endure all around the world. And sometimes even extending into the cycling community: I met a few other cyclists along the way, but still found it tough to share my full self.

Most importantly, maybe there needed to be a first publicly gay person going around the world to prove it’s possible. That despite my reservations, the world was welcoming and loving. Maybe we need that narrative now; one of hope and optimism. The world I saw was beautiful.

Andrew Mortensen, 32, works as a business advisor. He can be reached on Instagram @andrew_mort. And you can still contribute to the Trevor Project.

If you are LGBTQ and considering suicide, contact The Trevor Project hotline at 866-488-7386. It is a FREE hotline, and someone is there to help.