From Boston to Seattle: Three Norwegians cycle across the US

Photo: Per Walmsness The cyclists stopped frequently to document their trip.

Photo: Per Walmsness
The cyclists stopped frequently to document their trip.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

“Oh my god!” That was the typical response when Norwegians Roar and Per Walmsness, both in their sixties, told people of their journey: cycling from Boston to Seattle.

Along with their friend Ole Christian, Roar and Per pedaled from coast to coast over the course of two months. In fact, the 45-year-old was the one who originally started planning the trip four years ago and suggested the idea to the brothers. Once Ole Christian finished his studies and Roar and Per had both retired, the trio decided it was the perfect time. Roar had always wanted to do something crazy after retiring, after all.

To train, Per increased his time spent on the bike as well as the amount of weight carried. Roar had already spent several years practicing yoga, which he felt was very helpful in preparation, but he also started bicycling in the summers.

Photo: Per Walmsness The cyclists visited Niagara Falls.

Photo: Per Walmsness
The cyclists visited Niagara Falls.

Leaving Norway on Syttende Mai, they arrived in the U.S. on May 18. With their bikes loaded up and their phones handy, the trio set off for the 3,550 mile journey.

Starting in Boston, the brothers traveled through ten states, as well as Ontario. Ole Christian began the trip with them but later split off in Winona, Minn., so he could reach Seattle sooner and spend time with his girlfriend in Boston before returning home for work.

Understandably, each day’s progress was largely dependent on the weather and the wind. The trip began with chilly weather in Massachusetts, but the cyclists later encountered a heatwave in Montana with temperatures reaching 100 degrees. On the most challenging days, they rode around 40 miles. But when the conditions were nice with cool temperatures and flat terrain, they traveled up to 100 miles in a day.

Photo: Per Walmsness In Missoula, Roar and Per visited the Adventure Cycle Association.

Photo: Per Walmsness
In Missoula, Roar and Per visited the Adventure Cycle Association.

In addition to the challenging weather, a multitude of flat tires added quite a bit of difficulty to the trip—Roar had two in one day and Per had four overall. Luckily they were able to fix their own flats, but it did tack on some time.

The brothers agree that their favorite trail was the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes through Idaho because of its easy-to-ride path, varying landscape, and abundance of wildlife. Other favorites included Chicago, Minnesota, and the Erie Canal trail.

Roar and Per spent about half their nights in hotels and the other half sleeping in tents. To find free accommodation, they used the Warm Showers app, a service that is specifically designed to help cyclists find a place to stay.

Photo: Per Walmsness Throughout the Midwest they saw much evidence of the region’s Scandinavian history.

Photo: Per Walmsness
Throughout the Midwest they saw much evidence of the region’s Scandinavian history.

Roar admits that their iPhones were probably their most important tool, especially for navigation. He could have done without carrying so much weight on his bike, however.
In fact, he ended up shipping some boxes of his belongings ahead to wait for him in Seattle.

On July 18, they completed their journey and arrived in Seattle. Roar had mixed feelings about being finished though; being on the bike was everyday life for quite a while, and it was definitely an adjustment to be done with it.

In Per’s words, their trip was an “American mini-tour;” cycling through the northern part of the country allowed them to experience incredible variations in landscape. Roar refers to their journey as an exploration of “European America” as most inhabitants in these areas have European—if not Norwegian—heritage.

Overall, Roar and Per felt that the cycling experience in the U.S. was much better than at home because of the shoulders for cyclists, whereas one has to ride in the car lanes in Norway. In addition, there are many railway lines that have been transformed into ideal bike trails as well as frequent rest areas with restrooms and a place to sit down.

Photos: Per Walmsness In Red Wing, Minn., the pair stopped at the Uff Da Shop and were grateful to speak a little Norwegian.

Photos: Per Walmsness
In Red Wing, Minn., the pair stopped at the Uff Da Shop and were grateful to speak a little Norwegian.

The cyclists were also pleased—and maybe a bit surprised—with the friendliness and generosity of the people they met throughout the country. Every time they went into a café or restaurant with their bikes, people would come up to them and start asking, “Where are you from?” and “Where are you headed?” They were delighted to meet Americans and share their story, while also noting how much this interaction differed from norms in Norway.

At the Midwest Viking Festival in Fargo, N.D., they had the opportunity to meet many Norwegian Americans and experience Norwegian-American culture. It was interesting to meet all of these people who continue to take such pride in their Norwegian heritage and care about the traditions but no longer speak the language, admitted Roar and Per. The Norwegian food served at the festival was good and almost the same, they said. But they were still looking forward to eating some authentic Norwegian brown bread again once they got home!

Roar and Per Walmsness may be in their sixties, but they are not ready to cease their cycling adventures just yet. Where will they go next? Well, Roar wants to explore France while Per has his eye on Northern Germany.

To learn more about the trip, check out Per and Roar’s blog at perovelodrama.wordpress.com (in Norwegian) and Ole Christian’s blog at velole.com.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 21, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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