Bonds emerge over 3,700 miles, family reflects 3 years later

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Hard work, determination and perseverance are three personality traits one may need to cross North America on a bicycle. Trust, communication and focus are three traits one may need to reach such an accomplishment, and then continue to grow from it years later.

It all began as an idea a little more than three years ago when Wesley Willand invited his son, Walter, to ride 3,700 miles across North America during the summer of 2011, a triumph that would keep their family growing together for years.

"A lot of people talk about doing something like this, but most never do, and my son and husband did it," said Linda Willand, secretary to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander. "I was very nervous about them going at first, my husband said I gave them my blessing but not my permission."

The Willand family has lived in Cheney, Wash., since Wesley's retirement from the Air Force at Andersen AFB, Guam, in 2010 after 26 years of service. The family was not new to Team Fairchild though, both Linda and Wesley had served on active duty at Fairchild before and came back to the area with their family because it was a place they loved.
The year they moved back, Walter was entering his last year of high school, and his father approached him with an idea for a senior-year trip.

"It was going to be an adventure, and a memorable adventure at that," said Wesley. "At my retirement is when the idea came up and I planned it for right after my son's graduation."

Wesley spent about a year researching and planning using maps, websites, routes and other people's stories. His adventure with his son began in Halafax, Nova Scotia, and end right at home in Cheney.

"We went to the furthest point we could that was beautiful to see and bicycle through, and it sure was," he said.

His son said the trip seemed like a lot of work, but would be a great accomplishment and it could be time to spend with his father. Along with this father-son time, Linda would have the summer to spend with her daughter, Elizabeth, who was 17 years old at the time.

June 13, 2011, Walter and Wesley flew across the country to begin their 83-day bicycling trip, a trip that would have many challenges, but bring their family closer together.
They rode 60 to 100 miles a day, six days a week, each wearing a 35-pound sack. Both packed light but always had plenty of water, and Wesley carried his camera and laptop to record their experience and blog on a nightly basis, also keeping in daily contact with Linda and Elizabeth.

"We would use the day off to sight see, and it was a day also for our muscles to rest and heal," said Wesley. "It gave us a goal, and we planned it that every seventh day we would end up in a spot we want to explore. Walter's main requests were that we stop in Niagara Falls and at the Great Lakes."

The first month of their venture was one of the most challenging because they were going over the Appalachian Mountains. Weather was a constant factor, along with sunburns and dehydration headaches. Every night they would stop at a hotel or inn where they would wash off and rest, and occasionally they were able to stay with family and old friends who lived along the way.

"It seemed like a big obstacle to go over, but after going through it, it wasn't too bad," said Walter reflecting on his journey.

Linda said the experience has been very rewarding for her family because they made it work despite her reluctance and family separation. Now Walter is a student at Eastern Washington University and also works part time at the Fairchild Inn. Wesley recently published a book about their adventure using his nightly blogs and photos. He said it was the experience of a lifetime for their whole family.

"By enduring tough times, my family was brought together," he said. "We weren't the first father and son to do something like this, and hopefully we won't be the last."