GRS’ Peter Wiswell looks back at highlights of bike ride across nation

Peter Wiswell’s more than 3,800-mile journey came to end July 10, after a little over two months crossing the United States on back roads and lonely highways from San Francisco to Newark, Delaware. The executive general adjuster and manager of marine claims in Global Risk Solutions’ Environmental Risk Management Solutions (ERMS) division shared some of the highlights of his Wheels for Wings bike ride to raise funds for Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research Inc.’s Oiled Wildlife Response Team.


Wind. “The wind was a constant almost the entire way: headwinds, tailwinds, crosswinds. A strong tailwind on one day would make me feel like I was 20 years old again, going 25-30 mph, while on another day, I was in my lowest gear on the flatlands struggling to maintain 7 mph for three hours, the headwind was that strong. Then there were the crosswinds I’d encounter on a descent. It kept me on my toes.”


Drought. “It’s terrifying the see how dry it is in much of the western United States. Lake Powell, one of the largest reservoirs in the country, has very little water.” The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported Lake Powell’s water level was at 33% of full pool as of July 11. “We saw a good bit of snow on Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park at 10,000 feet, but there should have been far more. The drought is also evident in a lot of empty streams and a lot of dry gulches. One of the downsides to cycling through drought conditions was the dust. It was so thick, even with sunglasses it took forever to get it out of my eyes.”


Wildfires. “The footage on television doesn’t show enough to see the scale of the wildfires. It was sad to see almost every national park we visited had burn damage. That’s partly due to the pervasive drought, but it’s a serious problem.”


People. “We met so many wonderful people. This country may be divided politically, but the people across this country are spectacular. The kindness we experienced from strangers was amazing. Here are just a few examples: It was easy to get lost on the little roads we were on, even with maps, and some man or woman would come up to us on the side of the road and say, ‘Let me help you.’ At other times, people would offer bottles of water when we stopped somewhere. It balances out a lot of the negativity you see about people on television. There’s such a sense of community and humanity off the beaten track. It’s definitely not what you see on television.”


Sights to behold. “The landscapes are magnificent. I love looking at them. My head wagged like a bobble doll, taking in so many incredible vistas. Another enjoyable sight was patches of green and water, after a long bend in the road. They seemed to appear out of nowhere. One of the wonders about climbing big mountains is you see the terrain change, from desert to scrubby trees, to aspen forests, to no trees at all, to snow. The most welcome sight at the end of each day was seeing my wife, Rena, and our dog, Lulu, waiting to greet me.”


Supporters. “An adventure like Wheels for Wings can’t happen without a lot of wonderful supporters. For me, it started with my support crew – Rena and Lulu – and I simply could not have done this ride without them. In fact, there were some tough days where I got sick and had to visit the emergency room, and I wanted to quit, but they encouraged me through it and kept me going. For the final 700 or so miles, my friend and colleague Joe Valenza, executive vice president and head of the Ocean Marine practice at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants, rode with me. Joe’s presence as my riding partner was a huge help in reaching the finish line. Tri-State was a great partner throughout, along with the organizations and individuals who sponsored Wheels for Wings. The names and logos on the jerseys I wore while riding reflect those who provided considerable support, including: Water Quality Insurance Syndicate, Global Risk Solutions, the Crestlea Foundation, Atlantic Marine Inspections, Ramboll, and Pacific-Gulf Marine. I’m very grateful to all of them.”


Some final thoughts Wiswell offered: “Riding a bike across the country is hard. It’s definitely not for everyone. But it should be obligatory for every American to travel as they’re able across the country, if possible not along the main highways. Go out and see for yourself how magnificent this country is, and how wonderful people are. You may come away with a different view on America.”


Even though the cycling phase of Wheels for Wings has ended, Tri-State is continuing to raise funds for its Oiled Wildlife Response Team to buy a new response vehicle. To contribute, please visit


For more insights on Peter Wiswell’s journey and the mission GRS shares with Tri-State in environmental incident response, visit