Imagine driving for hundreds of miles each day, going for an ElliptiGO bike ride, and then curling up with your bike to sleep. That’s what long-haul truck driver and military veteran Ehrin Anderson does. If you’re a member of the ElliptiGO Facebook group, you’ve likely seen his pictures of his ElliptiGO bike in spectacular places around the United States. We talked to Ehrin about the critical role that exercise plays in his physical and mental health, how he found ElliptiGO bikes, and how a cat inspired him to come forward and speak his truth.
Please note that this article discusses suicide and sexual assault, which some readers may find upsetting or triggering.
Ehrin was born in the tiny town of Toulon, Illinois. Even at a very young age he was racking up the mileage on his bike. He even participated in his first 100-mile race at the age of 10. “My dad had to sign a waiver so that I was allowed to race,” recalls Ehrin.
The legendary Dr. Bob Breedlove heard about the youngster who completed a century and wanted to meet him. Breedlove was an orthopedic surgeon and endurance cyclist who is the only person ever to complete the Race Across America (RAAM) … and then turn around and ride right back across the country. When Ehrin heard him describe the RAAM, a more than 3,000-mile multiday race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, known as one of the most grueling endurance competitions in the world, he immediately made the race one of his goals. Ehrin estimates that he rode thousands of miles each year as he grew up.
He had thoughts of becoming a professional cyclist, but Ehrin’s uncle was a Vietnam veteran, and his family encouraged him to join the military. At age 18, he joined the Army Reserves. A picture of himself as a child in a sailor suit stuck with him, and Ehrin ultimately wanted to be on a ship. At 21, he joined the Navy. While deployed to the Persian Gulf on the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier in 2002, a horrific accident occurred: A 600-pound steel door fell on top of Ehrin, fracturing his skull, compressing his lower back, fracturing his sacrum and impacting his neck, shoulders and hips. Somehow, Ehrin survived. Though the crushing force of the accident left him two inches shorter and experiencing permanent pain, Ehrin was able to continue his military service for another four years.
In 2006, Ehrin left the Navy. Shortly after he returned home, his wife left him. “I was in a rut. I was depressed,” says Ehrin. In addition to the accident with the steel door, other things had happened while he was in the Navy. Things he didn’t want to think about. “If you don’t think about it, it’s like it never happened,” Ehrin explains.
Ehrin had always loved cats, and as he dealt with physical and emotional pain, he was comforted by his kitties, Scooby Doo and Pumpkin. Every day, 16 or more U.S. veterans take their own lives. Ehrin shares that during his darkest times, Pumpkin put his little paws on Ehrin’s knee. That simple act of feline love kept Ehrin from becoming a statistic.
But Ehrin had to leave his cats for long periods of time while working in his new role as a government contractor in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Of course they were well cared for while he was away. But when Ehrin came home from his work overseas, he found that Pumpkin had been so distraught over his absence that the cat had lost a dramatic amount of weight. Ehrin thought about how Pumpkin had been there for him. He knew that he now needed to be home for Pumpkin. So he quit his lucrative contracting job.
Ehrin searched for a new job that would allow him to bring Pumpkin and Scooby Doo to work. He found work as a driver, and life on the road suited him. “I love to drive,” he says. “The road gives me some peace. And I get to have my kitties with me.” His cats accompany him for the long miles on the road.
Ehrin says that exercise also brings him peace. He chuckles as he says, “I used to wonder where the closest movie theater and Chinese buffet were. Now I want to know where the gym is. I need to be able to exercise.”
In 2017, Ehrin, who is 6’ 5”, weighed over 400 pounds. He missed bicycling, but due to his injuries, sitting on a bike seat was too painful to bear, so he started using the stair stepper at Planet Fitness. He would drive hundreds of miles and then head into a Planet Fitness to exercise and shower. The endorphins from his sweat session would help him drive a couple more hours before he stopped to rest. Ehrin lost a staggering 190 pounds in a year. “When I put my mind to something, I can’t stop,” he explains. He also thinks big. He set his sights on attempting a Guinness World Record: climbing the equivalent of 7,800 floors in a 24-hour stair-stepping event.
Driving a truck is a notoriously sedentary job. Ehrin says that other truck drivers tell him they can’t work out, that they don’t have time. “But I show them my pictures and I tell them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’” says Ehrin. “It all comes down to: How bad do you want it? And what are you willing to do to get it?”
He had been driving a Sprinter van, but when Ehrin started driving a semi truck, he couldn’t park such a large vehicle in most Planet Fitness parking lots for the mandatory Department of Transportation rest periods. Since he was working and living with his cats in the truck’s cab, he had extremely limited space, so he searched for a foldable bike. He knew it would be painful to ride, but a foldable bike could get him from wherever he parked his truck to Planet Fitness. He was searching for options using Google, and something called ElliptiGO popped up. Ehrin remembers thinking, “Hold on! This is what I need. And I can be outside!”
Ehrin took a test ride in Memphis, Tennessee. He recalls, “It took me about 15 seconds to get the hang of it and I knew I needed to get one. Sitting on a bike is painful. Standing up isn’t.” Two months later, he bought a used ElliptiGO 8S. A friend picked up the bike for him and another friend met him on the road to deliver it to him. “Without the foldable column, I wouldn’t be able to bring it with me in the truck,” he notes. Even with the column folded, Ehrin has to put a pillow on his bike or he’ll get chain grease on his arm when he sleeps.
Riding the ElliptiGO bike helped Ehrin rediscover the love for cycling that he had as a child. He enjoys exercising outdoors and looks for places to rest and ride when he’s on the road. As he’s traversed the country, Ehrin has ridden in picturesque places and snapped photos with his GO alongside such sites as Mount Rushmore, the St. Louis Arch and the Grand Canyon. To power up steep routes, he added three more gears to his bike, and he also upgraded the wheels and rims.
When the weather is poor, Ehrin rides from his truck to Planet Fitness to use the stair stepper, and then he rides his ElliptiGO bike back to his truck. He notes that people are fascinated by the bike, and he happily extols the benefits of ElliptiGO cycling.
During Memorial Day weekend in 2019, Ehrin suffered a terrible loss. He was parked at Planet Fitness in Pinkerington, Ohio, taking a nap in the cab of his truck. As Ehrin slept, Pumpkin managed to step on the button to roll down the window. Pumpkin jumped out of the cab … and disappeared. Ehrin was devastated. He spent two full days searching for Pumpkin before work forced him to get back on the road. But he has never stopped searching for Pumpkin, activating a network of volunteers via social media and offering a $5,000 reward for Pumpkin’s safe return.
“When people say things like, ‘It’s just a cat,’ they just don’t understand,” says Ehrin. “The truth is, I’m still standing because of that cat.”
The gut-wrenching loss of Pumpkin pushed Ehrin to take action. He wanted official recognition that he didn’t just want his cats, he needed them. While there are service dogs, there is no such status for felines. Ehrin decided to contact the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to request an emotional support letter that would provide official recognition of Pumpkin’s key role in Ehrin’s mental health.
To take this step, Ehrin had to share something he’d kept secret for 21 years. For the first time, he reported that he’d been the victim of military sexual trauma (MST), which left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ehrin says that when the VA agrees that his PTSD was caused by the trauma he endured in the military and that Pumpkin provided Ehrin with much-needed emotional support, Pumpkin will have the legal recognition he well deserves.
According to a Department of Defense survey, out of all of the branches of service, sexual assault is the most prevalent in the Navy. In fiscal year 2021 alone, there were 1,883 incidents of sexual assault in the Navy reported by both male and female sailors.
The VA can move slowly, and at his monthly appointments, Ehrin checks in to find out what progress has been made. Though the organization has not yet recognized his PTSD, they have declared him 90% disabled due to the injuries he suffered in the Navy. Ehrin says that he’s continuing his quest not just for Pumpkin, but now for other veterans. “If I can help even one person,” says Ehrin, “my job is done.”
Memories that were long suppressed continue to resurface. Seeing Top Gun: Maverick brought to mind details of what happened in the Navy. The MST itself triggered a memory that had been buried for many years: Ehrin recalled that he had been sexually assaulted by a counselor when he was 10 or 11. “I use exercise as a way to deal with trauma,” Ehrin says he’s realized. All of those miles he rode as a kid had a purpose. “You can’t always control emotional pain, but you can control physical pain. I used to ride until I hurt physically, so I wouldn’t hurt mentally.”
Jarvis and Pebbles are now Ehrin’s companions on the road; Scooby Doo had to be put to sleep. Pumpkin, though still missing, continues to bring joy into Ehrin’s life. After years of living on the road, isolating himself, Ehrin met his fiancée, Lindsay Wood and her children thanks to a Facebook group dedicated to finding Pumpkin. Lindsay lives in Pinkerington, so Ehrin’s home is now with her, in the town where Pumpkin was last seen. Ehrin says, “Even if I never find him, he got me the help I needed.”
Ehrin says Pumpkin has inspired him not only to share his story but to pursue his dreams. Ehrin is still working toward the stair-stepping world record—perhaps in Times Square, on New Year’s Eve, during the annual countdown at midnight that just happens to be sponsored by Planet Fitness. He also wants to ride his 8S in the RAAM, like he talked about all those years ago with Breedlove. Ehrin has always wanted to do IRONMAN, and he believes he can get permission to ride his ElliptiGO bike in the race if he gets his disability certification from the VA.
He shared an inspirational IRONMAN video. The opening voiceover says: “To accomplish something extraordinary, one must have an extraordinary dream. A goal so high, a journey so demanding, that its achievement, to most, seems impossible.”
The video ends with these words on screen: Anything is possible.
Ehrin, your honesty and bravery are remarkable. Thank you for sharing your story. We know that you can accomplish your goals because, indeed, anything is possible.
For safe, confidential support from a trained staff member, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800.656.4673. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Anyone who needs support for suicidal thoughts, a mental health crisis or a substance use crisis should call 988 to reach a trained crisis counselor, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Veterans in crisis can call 988 or can connect to the VA crisis line by phone, text or online:
- Call 988 and press 1
- Text 838255
- Visit the VA Crisis Line website
Veterans and civilians alike: Learn more about the American Legion’s Be the One campaign to reduce the rate of veteran suicide.
You can contact ElliptiGO with nominations to Rider of the Month or share your own story. It may just be the next feature!