Mikael Strandberg is a renowned Swedish explorer, who started his professional career 28 years ago. He has cycled from Chile to Alaska, from Norway to South Africa, and from New Zealand to Cairo – a total of 90,000 kilometres (56,000 miles) over the course of 10 years. He exchanged his bicycle saddle for a horse saddle in 1997, traveling by horse 3,000 miles across Patagonia.
In 2004 he explored the unknown Kolyma River in North-Eastern Siberia (here’s the Wikipedia page in case, like me, you’d never heard of this river) – an expedition which is globally hailed as one of the coldest ever in the history of exploration. In 2011-12 he went to the opposite climactic extreme, conducting two expeditions to the desert of the Yemen.
He has written six books and numerous articles, and received countless medals and accolades from all over the world.
Now on a rather different kind of exploration, since he moved to Moss Side in Manchester – a part of Manchester – generally known for riots (in the 1980s) and drugs and gangs and shootings (in the 1990s) – a strange place for a Swedish explorer to end up!
The Path to Understanding
“At the age of seventeen I hitch-hiked to India, inspired by Herman Hesse´s book “Siddharta”. It is kind of a story about Buddha himself and all the phases of existence he passes through to understand the meaning of life. Therefore, I wanted to become a Buddhist monk. But after ten days in a monastery I realized that being ad infinitum silent and scratching one’s bum in boredom, wasn’t my path to understanding. Instead I cycled from Chile to Alaska.” (From Mikael Strandberg’s “My Testament of Life”)
Is it an intrinsic part of the human condition to be always seeking something? It seems to me that quite a number of our adventurers are seeking something more than just a new vista, or new friends, or fame and glory. There is a deeper search taking place – for self-knowledge, or reconnection with nature, or spiritual fulfillment.
There is no doubt a vast spectrum of reasons why adventurers do what we do – but certainly this spiritual quest resonates with me. When I embarked on my first ocean, I was definitely hoping for some kind of insight. I was in a very spiritual frame of mind, and had even considered entering a convent (don’t laugh) for the purity of the time alone to cogitate and contemplate. I mentioned in my blog about Jason Lewis that I was influenced by the story of a British Buddhist nun.
Ah yes, life could have taken a very different path!
Now more than ever, we in the Western world live in a secular society, where wealth rather than goodness has become the preeminent measure of our success as human beings. Most people no longer aspire to riches in heaven – riches right now are what we’d prefer.
But does this leave a void? Does the health of our bank account really reflect the health of our spirit?
For many of the adventurers who have appeared on this podcast, it seems that their riches come from experiences, that the only greed they exhibit is a greed for new places, people, and cultures.
I was intrigued by Mikael’s enthusiasm about his recently adopted neighbourhood of Moss Side in Manchester, with its cultural diversity, interesting pubs…. and grinding poverty, gun crime, and drug problems.
And yet I also understand his enthusiasm. Moss Side is a new and very different place, unlike anywhere he has experienced before – and hence to be relished for that very reason. He doesn’t judge it as good or bad, but as a place that he can explore, follow his curiosity, gain new insights into humanity.
This, surely, is the mindset of the true explorer.
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2:30 How did it all start? In Britain! (sort of)
6:00 Exploring the word “explorer”
7:10 What aspect of the journey matters most to Mikael? On Buddhist monks, geezer dads, and the quest to get to know people (including oneself)
10:00 In the course of Mikael’s travels, has he found a heaven on Earth?
12:40 Tough times by the Kolyma River
14:10 What does it feel like to be in -60 degrees C? Including the Hunter’s reflex, and the best clothes for the job
18:00 Which is harder for Mikael: extreme cold or extreme heat?
19:40 What does Mikael want his audience to take away from his communications? Clue: it’s NOT motivation!
21:50 Is it a big world, or a small world? How diverse are we? Still very diverse (and that’s just Moss Side!)
27:25 Does Mikael have confidence in human beings?
29:05 How does Mikael feel about the future?
30:55 One life – live it! (and misbehave!)
32:30 Adventures in England – and possibly an epic trek from Moss Side to North London
37:00 Roz’s book recommendation: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. A thank you to our sponsors, Audible.com. To claim your free audiobook, please follow our Adventure Podcast affiliate link to help support our show and keep us on the air.