Day Fifty: Men with a dream, Woodchippers, and my own 50/50.

Today was an inspiring day. Last night, I was FB chatting with my friend Kat Brooks. She asked me if I was going in the direction of Fargo today (I was) and told me a story she knew was right up my alley.

We’ve seen so much on this trip, it’s going to take months to digest it all. Two oceans, a gulf and five Great Lakes; at least a dozen National Parks, 30 states, and more monuments and memorials than I can count. But, what sticks with me are the stories. Stories about people.

Arches National Park was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen, but it’s getting a better understanding of what transpired and why at Harper’s Ferry that echoes in my mind. The Florida Keys were among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but somehow meeting and getting to know JFK and his World’s Largest Ball of Twine sticks with me.

Today, I learned of the story of Robert Asp, and Dawn and I both can’t help but wonder, “How is this not more famous?” As desperate as Hollywood apparently is for movie ideas (I am basing that on the rash of failed sequels and remakes that have littered the box office scenery this summer) I don’t understand how someone hasn’t gotten the bright idea to turn it into a movie. Probably just as well. They would probably cast Jessica Simpson in the lead and make it all about her.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Robert Asp’s story. In the early ’70s, Mr. Asp worked as a guidance counselor, shaping young minds and providing career advice. In the summer of ’71, he was helping a fellow teacher work on his house when an accident occurred. He was injured badly enough that he spent the rest of the summer in the hospital. While there, his brother brought him a pile of books on Viking history. Laid up like that, a dream was born: to build a perfect replica of a Viking ship, and sail it to Norway.

He intended to build the ship all himself, and to do it in two years. A ridiculous goal, of course. In the end, he definitely didn’t do things on his own – he had many helping hands, including his supportive family and the local community. A town not far from where he lived bought an empty potato warehouse and leased it to him for $10 per year. Local school kids did bake sales to raise money. Everyone collected cans so they could be melted down and turned into the metal parts the boat needed.

Even with all the help, the two years stretched out. A lot. The same year he started construction of the ship, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He elected to continue to build the boat, saying, “I’d rather work on it than sit around waiting to die.” By 1980, it was complete (mostly) and Mr. Asp was able to captain the ship out onto Lake Michigan. That was as far as he got, though, as he finally lost his battle with leukemia on December 27th, 1980.

Before he died, his family told him, “You take it as far as you can, we’ll take it the rest of the way.” And you know what? They did.

In June of 1982, members of his family and other volunteers sailed the ship through the Great Lakes, across a series of locks and canals, out into the Atlantic Ocean and toward Norway. The trip wasn’t perfect. They hit a storm that nearly did them in (are you listening, Hollywood? All your drama is built right in) but they made it to Norway in their father’s hand built, seventy-six foot Viking sailing vessel.

That’s the power of a dream. It starts in one person, but even if they fall, it can be picked up and carried by others.

Today, that ship, the Hjemkomst (Homecoming, in Norwegian) sits as the star attraction at the Heritage-Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, in Moorhead, Minnesota. It looks to me like they built the whole building around her. She’s so large that, being inside, it’s impossible to get a shot of the whole ship. But, here are a few I took of the Hjemkomst:img_2348



All from the power of a single man’s dream. Elsewhere in the center, there’s another example of the same principle, if somewhat less dramatic. In 1997, a man named Gary Paulson got the idea to carve/build a stave church, a perfect copy of the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway. Again, a pretty big project that begins in the mind of a single man.

Along with our tour of the Viking ship, we got a guided tour of the inside of the church, which was like taking a trip back in time, about a thousand years or so. Here are some shots of the church:


Slightly ominous and foreboding, right? I think of it as the Donny and Marie (She’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock ‘n roll) church – it’s a little bit Viking, and a little bit Roman Catholic. 


On our tour, we learned that when the King of Norway converted to Catholicism, so the rest of the country, at least on the surface, also immediately became Catholics. Later, when another King converted to Lutheranism, so did all his subjects. It’s good to be king.

Although the church is a little scary looking on the outside, it is gorgeous on the inside:


All that pine smells very good, too. 🙂

As soon as we left the Heritage Center, we crossed the North River and, just like that, on the fiftieth day of our tour, I entered my fiftieth state. I’m pretty sure I was at forty-four states visited before this trip, missing the upper NE corner of the US and, yes, North Dakota.

To show just how cultured and high-class we are, our first stop in this new state was to see the woodchipper from Fargo.


Dawn even got into the spirit of things by wearing an authentic Fargo hat. 🙂 I did not get quite that into the spirit of things.


In case you’re curious, yes, that is the honest-to-goodness, real authentic woodchipper from the movie. It was like meeting a movie star, but one that smelled slightly of oil and gasoline. Maybe most of them do. I don’t have enough experience to know.

As we were leaving the Welcome Center that has the woodchipper in it (I give them credit for knowing why many of us come to Fargo) I saw a sign that said, “Is North Dakota your fiftieth state? You saved the best for last.”

I turned, told the girl behind the counter that ND was indeed, my fiftieth state and a little celebration broke out. Okay, maybe that was all in my head, but it definitely happened in my mind. She broke out a certificate suitable for framing that gives you credit for having visited all 50 states, (as long as ND is the final one) and then took my picture to put up on their website. Apparently, tucked-way-out-of-the-way North Dakota is the final state a lot of us completists visit. Who knew? Oh, yeah, they even gave me a free t-shirt commemorating the occasion.

If you’re going to hit all 50 states, I recommend making North Dakota your last one, and do it in Fargo. There will be a party, even if it is only in your own mind.

Cheers, and safe travels.







  1. LOVE! So glad you made it there and got to see the ship. Wonderful storytelling, too! Love the idea of a movie about it. And how cool about the party and the tee-shirt in Fargo? So glad you guys are having a wonderful time. The pics of you guys with the woodchipper are just awesome! ❤


  2. I loved your ship story today. It amazes me how some people are motivated to do incredible things while others can’t even motivate themselves to get a job. Congratulations on your 50th! Alaska was mine. I love Dawn in the hat! Safe travels for tomorrow’s adventures.


  3. What a great story about the ship and the man behind it. I am so glad he made it out to water with it. How cool that his family took it all the way. So enjoying this journey. Cannot wait to read it in book form as well. Have saved all the days in the archive so can go back and relive the journey. Take care, Safe travels


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