Sigbjørn Eide was walking by the shore in an inlet in Norway, collecting detritus that had washed up, when he spotted something buried in a bed of seaweed.
Curious, Eide plucked the object from the tangle. It was a white utility helmet.
At first, Eide thought it probably belonged to a worker from a nearby neighborhood. Perhaps the person lost it on the job, or it fell off a boat and ended up there.
But as he turned it in his hands earlier this month, he spotted an American flag, along with an unfamiliar logo that read “MaineDOT” and featured a pine tree.
Could it have been from Maine, the province in France, he wondered? It seems like a long way for a helmet to travel on the tide. Little did he know.
After a brief Google search when he got home later that day, Eide discovered that the wayward helmet actually belonged to the Maine Department of Transportation, an ocean away from France. Enthralled by the mystery, he reached out to the department on social media to let them know what he had found.
On Tuesday, the department shared the news about the remarkable find with the public, wowing readers and leaving them to similarly wonder how the hard hat could have traveled such a long distance.
“Meet our new friend Sigbjørn. He lives in Norway (the country – not the town in Maine),” MaineDOT officials wrote in a Facebook post, which was shared hundreds of times and racked up thousands of “likes” in just a few hours. “Sigbjørn was on a walk and found a MaineDOT hard hat in a fjord, about 3,300 miles from MaineDOT headquarters. We’re not quite sure how this happened, but we’re glad we have a new pen pal!”
In a message to the Globe, MaineDOT officials shared their original correspondence with Eide on Feb. 8. He told the department that at first he couldn’t fathom a hard hat arriving from America and ending up in his neck of the woods.
“USA was unbelievable,” he wrote. “When I Googled it, I found your company at once. I was astonished and impressed about the long voyage the small helmet had taken.”
After washing the green and brown seaweed, Eide sent the department additional photographs so they could get a better look at it. He also suggested they let people know about his unique discovery.
“I’d love to have the story shared to the people of Maine and others,” he said.
Once it was, people quickly started trying to piece together the mystery.
“Someone lost it in the ocean, no doubt … probably while climbing on a bridge,” one person wrote on the department’s Facebook page. “It fell off … it happens.”
“That’s what happens when you don’t repair the roads. Those hats fall right through the potholes to Norway,” another quipped.
When someone jokingly suggested MaineDOT should hire Eide to thank him, the department said that the hat had already brought him some luck in that regard.
“At the same day I found your helmet I got hired as a professional beach cleaner at Eco Camp Norway,” Eide told MaineDOT. “I was happy, I’ve been searching for work for a while.”
MaineDOT officials said while they can’t say exactly where the hat came from, they are “glad that it washed ashore safely.”
“The oceans are home to an increasing amount of human-made plastics which endanger ocean life and ecosystems,” officials said. “While this is a fun story, it also shows just how globally connected our ecosystem really is, and how important keeping our oceans clean really is.”
So, what’s the fate of the wandering hard hat?
According to a MaineDOT spokesman, they won’t be asking Eide to return the hat, which they determined was manufactured in August 2016, based on a date stamped on the inside.
“After such a long journey, it seems only right it stay there on international exchange,” the spokesman said.
The department also plans to send their new overseas friend some special goodies from the Pine Tree state.
“I think he’s good on hats though,” a MaineDOT official wrote on Facebook.