Anders Forselius left his native Sweden in 2008 with a goal of cycling to every Olympic city. Many adventures later, his most lasting impression is of a 12-year-old boy he never met.
Alex Blackburn died in 2001 from a rare virus.
Anders is scattering Alex’s ashes at beautiful spots along his 15,000-mile “Athens to Athens” ride.
The “Biking Viking” met Alex’s mother at a youth hostel in Pescadero, CA, and was moved by her story of the boy’s last days.
“His last wish was to be scattered all over the world,” said Anders, a 42-year-old freelance journalist who plans to write a book about his travels with Alex. The boy’s ashes have been sprinkled over the Everglades and at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, among other places.
Anders, who cites New Jersey as his favorite state, spoke last night at the Morris County Cultural Center in Morris Township, at the invitation of Paramount Adventure and NJ Multisport.
One suspects that Alex Blackburn would have thoroughly enjoyed Anders, whose amiable nature and abundant enthusiasm have won over strangers in both hemispheres, including here in the Garden State where he got the “Biking Viking” nickname.
Thanks to endless free meals, Anders said, he can traverse the USA for about $10 a day. He joked that it would be closer to $3 if he wasn’t addicted to coffee.
Anders had intended to finish his odyssey in October by running an Athens marathon that will commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon.
But a new-found friend, cancer survivor Ken Nerger of Annandale, convinced him to return to New York in November to run the New York Marathon for Fred’s Team, a charity that benefits child cancer research. Anders is selling sponsorships at $10 per tenth of a mile.
During a freewheeling slide show last night, Anders shared tales from the road that included a brush with death near San Diego. An elderly, one-eyed motorist blind-sided him; Anders credits the drinking water bag strapped to his back with softening his fall. Even so, a neck injury sidelined him for three months.
(Anders said he begged the ambulance driver to stop at Starbucks, to no avail.)
One of his more unusual discoveries was Brookings, Oregon, the only place on the U.S. mainland bombed by the Japanese during World War II.
Anders has traveled extensively through Europe, South America and the United States, beginning in the 1980s as a marathoner and continuing in the late ’90s with extended bike tours. He prefers the U.S.
“You’re never alone in the U.S.,” said the resident of Ljusdals, Sweden. “People always talk to you. Even at a red light, they roll down the window and talk to you.”
He likes New Jersey’s varied terrain, the shore, and coffee at a shop in Clinton.
(Anders first pedaled into Clinton in 2008 because then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was in the news, and he fancied the name.)
Anders also has grown fond of Morristown and Greenberry’s, thanks to a fast friendship with Karl Fenske, a local attorney and tri-athlete.
Anders averages about 65 miles per day on his Trek hybrid, though he has spanned 120 miles with a good tailwind. Not bad, considering his bike and gear weigh about 85 pounds. The most essential item is his netbook computer. The least essential is underwear–he doesn’t bother with it.
He also has shed 20 pounds and at least one girlfriend since embarking on this journey. His lodging strategy is simple: Find firehouses and rescue squads. They usually welcome him for the night, and boast well stocked refrigerators. The challenge, he said, is how to carry all the t-shirts and caps they give him.
Other observations from Anders:
Favorite country in Europe: Slovenia. “It’s like New Jersey. They don’t have the biggest mountains, but there are mountains enough for me, and they have the coast.” Albanians also appeal to him; they are more curious than most Europeans, who tend to be shy, he said.
Most beautiful cities: Chicago and Rio de Janeiro.
Best state after New Jersey: South Dakota. The bike trail from the Badlands to Deadwood is the best in the USA, he said.
Most magnificent parks: Buffalo Bill State Park and Shoshone National Forest, both in Wyoming.
Most beautiful road anywhere: Highway 12 in Idaho.
Best Pacific coastline, either hemisphere: Oregon.
Worst traffic: Vancouver. Anders collided with … a Swedish Volvo.
Most-asked question on his first U.S. bike trip: “Do you know the Swedish Bikini Team?”
Most-asked question on this U.S. bike trip: “Did you know (the late crime novelist) Stieg Larsson?”
Answer to both questions: No, but he’s still holding out hope on the first one.