On January 15, Hovland resident Robert ‘Tor’ Torkildson traveled down to South Africa to join the visionary Bjorn Heyerdahl and a collection of crew members from around the globe in a series of sea trials for the much-anticipated Midgard Expedition.
With Torkildson’s help, Heyerdahl, grandson of the legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl, has put together an expedition that plans to travel coastal waterways around the globe in a sustainably handcrafted 40-foot Viking longboat named the Midgard Herron. Built with hand-hewn white oak beams, hand-forged nails, and hand-woven rope, the Herron and her crew plan to follow ancient Viking pathways as they strive to highlight both modern and ancient models of intelligent, sustainable and integrated life on earth.
To a peripatetic explorer like Torkildson, adventures like the Midgard Expedition are more than a past time, more than a diversion from work and the demands of ordinary life. For Torkildson, the act of exploration is a reason for being, a need rather than a want, whose calling he heard from a young age and has followed ever since.
Torkildson was raised on his family’s resort in Hovland, where he developed an intimate relationship with Lake Superior and a love for big water. When asked what sparked his decision to pursue the life of an explorer, Torkildson is quick to credit Lake Superior and the ships he used to watch navigate its icy waters as a young child.
“I used to look out across Superior at the ore boats,” says Torkildson, “and from watching them I decided that I wanted to be a sea captain. So, I went off to college, entered the Navy, and was navigating ships all over the place. Then I left the Navy and really wanted to see the world, so that’s what I pursued. I have spent most of my adult life overseas.”
Inspired by Superior, Torkildson’s travels have taken him to places as far reaching as the Himalayan Mountains, as wild as the Amazonian Rainforest, and as spacious as the Saharan Desert. All told he has spent time in 135 different countries and worked as a diver, commercial fisherman, ship navigator, customs and immigration expert, writer, publisher, a fixer in Africa and as a vintner in Sicily.
In May of 2019, Torkildson and his wife Siffy decided to move back to the North Shore and make Hovland their “home-base.” Again, Torkildson cited Lake Superior as a source of inspiration, though this time as the inspiration to return home rather than leave it.
“Lake Superior was a huge draw, I mean, it’s really wild up here and I like that,” says Torkildson. “Now I’m mushing, trekking and living a sustainable lifestyle that I appreciate in a community that inspires me. We call this place our ‘lighthouse’ and Hovland is our ‘main-base.’ It feels good to be home.”
Back in Hovland, Torkildson and Siffy have found the perfect place to continue preparing for the Midgard Expedition. The expedition is set to officially launch from Oslo, Norway in July of 2020, after the crew completes a series of initial sea trials in South Africa.
“South Africa is where Bjorn Heyerdahl lives,” says Torkildson. “It’s where the boat was built, so that’s why we met there in January.”
“The (sea trials) are about the crew getting to know each other, getting to know the boat and getting to know the expedition,” says Torkildson. “Bjorn has created this program for us where we’re going to first visit the model community that he’s developed (in South Africa), than we will get the ship in the water. We will start inland at the Katse Dam, but the hope is to finish by traveling around the Cape of Storms.”
In addition to serving as a rower and navigator aboard the Midgard Herron, Torkildson will also be the expedition’s “scribe.”
“Basically, I am the writer for the expedition,” says Torkildson, “so I’ll be collecting stories from people, seeking out communities and individuals who are doing groundbreaking work, and also interviewing old timers to see how the environment has changed during their lifetimes.”
When asked about the expedition’s mission, Torkildson described it as “finding solutions to society’s current global crisis in the same way that the Vikings had to do so 1,200 years ago.”
“The purpose of this whole thing is the search for intelligent life on earth, but really it’s all about finding solutions and than broadcasting those solutions to the world,” says Torkildson. “Our ship, the Midgard Herron, is a platform to that end, a platform to go out and interact with the global citizens that are trying to do the right thing and save this planet.”
For further information on the Midgard Expedition, its crew, and to follow the Midgard Herron’s progress on each leg of its journey, visit their website: midgardexpedition.com.
In addition to his work on the Midgard Expedition, Torkildson is also working on a book of “fictional essays” entitled The Hovland Chronicles: Stories I have heard, overheard, or misunderstood.