Code And Cocktails

Viking Boston Bike Ride: The Trip to Norumbega

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Norumbega is a mythical place, a sort of place holder name for unknown locations in the New England area[1]. Today I biked there, battling thunderstorms, mobs of Steampunk cosplayers[2], and mechanical failures[3], to the dark, abandoned, closed tower which is the lonely outpost of the area’s long lost Viking past.

Eben Norton Horsford[4] held the Rumford Chair of the Application of Science to the Useful Arts at Harvard in the late 1840’s[5]. He later founded the Rumford Chemical Works and produced an improved recipe for baking powder. This baking powder is still being produced as Rumford Baking Powder. He also held the controversial[6] idea that Lief Erikson[7] sailed up the Charles River, as far as Waltham (near present day Brandeis University) and ultimately building a house in Cambridge.

I decided that I would trace Leif’s trip up Charles River, Gale would be my longship and we’d brave all trials and tribulations we might find along the way.

The expedition started as all good expeditions do with a good breakfast (in this case supplied by my lovely wife Wendy who cooked some delicious pancakes[8]), and the laying in of supplies (16oz of Clover™ brewed New Guinea coffee put into my thermos from the local Starbucks). With these preliminaries completed I started my fateful trip.

Stopping first to contemplate the location of Lief Erikson’s house.

Location of Lief Erikson's House

It lay just outside the back of Mt. Auburn Hospital, I wondered just what this spot must have looked like in the year 1000 BCE; probably less traffic.

From there I started the long ride up the river to my next destination. I had not before ridden so far up the river (usually just stopping at Watertown dam). I took several wrong turns because I didn’t know how the “Blue Heron”[9] path ran so I missed it in a few places; and worse turned in the wrong direction entirely when part of it turned out to be closed in Waltham. The clouds were rolling in and so was the thunder, I was worried that I was going to be caught in the rain and I had not yet found the tower. Riding through Mt. Feake Cemetery the rain caught up with me. Through the cemetery quickly and then ducking into the Brandeis-Roberts train stop I hoped to wait out the rain. I sipped some coffee and waited. The rain continued but it looked like it was brightening. Checking my map I knew I was close to the tower. I decided that the rain was lightening up so I recounted for the final stretch.

Mother Nature, that fickle woman, was up to her usual tricks and mere moments later I was soaked as the rain quickly got worse. I pressed on to the tower and was pleasantly surprised to find it much easier to find than expected.

The tower marks the location where there had been a Norse fort/city[10] according to Horsford.


At one point it seemed that the public could climb the inside of the tower to enjoy the view from the top, but now it was all blocked off with welded in gates. Some of them had been broken/pulled off but the holes were not big enough for me to enter but I could still contemplate the dark mysteries that might have been hidden within.


The rain was fluctuating in intensity and since I was already wet I decided to just start heading back. For the first five or so miles I held out the hope that the rain would stop and the sun would come back out. After that I gave up that hope. I was so wet that stopping to get out of the rain would be useless. I probably would be drying if I had jumped /into/ the Charles River. I even decided to ride /past/ home to finish this expedition.

My final stop before turning to home was the Lief Erikson statue at the beginning of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

Lief Erikson

Having attained pictures of the statue, I hoped back into my longship and rode it over the Harvard Bridge[11] into Cambridge and finally home.

The expedition, though wet, was a success. Total ride length: 31.21 miles. Total ride time: 3:00:22[12].

All pictures, in full size, of my ride are available on my flick account in their own set.

[1] It appears on a map dating from 1570

[2] I didn’t know that it was the Steampunk Festival in Waltham. Quite surprised to turn onto Moody street and see lots of be-goggled folk. And Morris dancers! Who let the Morris dancers in?!

[3] Gale’s chain needs replacing, it is at that stage where it will jump off the rear cog if I am pedaling over hard bumps. Furthermore she has taken to shifting randomly from 1st into 2nd.


[5] He was appointed to the chair in 1847.

[6] And, frankly, silly.


[8] Thanks Wendy!



[11] The name of “Mass Ave. Bridge” is “The Harvard Bridge”. Of course no one calls it that since it is no were near Harvard.

[12] My cyclocomputer only counts time that the wheels are spinning. So times I took a break or waited in traffic are not counted in this time.