I just love life!
I wake up every morning thinking: “Yes!!! I have another privileged day ahead of me! Another day to try to change the world! And I am still alive and kicking!”
The Explorers Club in London believes I am the best contemporary explorer in the world at the present. This is of course utterly wrong. Nevertheless I do feel honored! But why does Barry Moss, the great chairman of the Club, believe this? Well, not only is he one of my very best friends, but he knows my life story. He knows that the real explorer is the one, who explores every moment and every day of his, or hers, life. Not only on an Expedition. An individual, who understands that joy and tragedy, are part of being a human and fully alive. You have to dare, even in every day life, to be able to live life to its fullest. If there’s one major lesson of life I have learned exploring, this is the one:
“Life is very short. This is the only opportunity you will get. Just take it!”
I am really trying to do just that. Therefore, on paper, my life has been a series of near tragedies. I was born two months early, in a taxi, 48 years ago and nobody believed I would survive. I did, kicking and screaming more than most kids at the hospital. Seven years later I was rescued on a ferry from Sweden to England by a couple of sailors, who pulled me up from my place, where I was hanging on with only my hands gripping a rope on the outside of this gigantic ferry, ten metres up from the deadly sea. When they asked why I, as they saw it, tried to kill myself, whilst my mother was crying loud of anguish, I answered:
“I just had to see what it was like on the other side.”
When I was ten I discovered books. We had only three books at home, a picturesque house located in a tiny village surrounded by a lush Swedish countryside. My dad, a bricklayer, had stolen them from the local library, most likely so that we would look more intellectual and cultured than our working class neighbours. It was the Bible, White Fang by Jack London and the Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. They opened the gates to the outside world and took me away, forever, from the safe harbour and a potential future rat race to be like everybody else. Since then I have tried to stay free from normality.
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. It made me understand that in order to live a full life, you have to venture outside the confinements of the safe harbour of the known. But, I also realized that I didn’t really understand anything and that I needed to continue cycling. Which I did. Another 5 years. From North-Cape in Norway to Cape of Agulhaes, South-Africa. And from New Zealand to Egypt through Asia. All together 90 000 km. During this time I had hundreds of punctures, too many diseases, some deadly one’s like malaria, I almost collided with a lion in Tanzania and a black bear in Alaska, but it was only an angered baboon in Congo which managed to injure me, I got robbed twice, attacked by Taliban’s in Baluchistan and I was one of the first in history to cross the Sahara by a bicycle and a major part of that piece of Jungle between Colombia and Panama called El Darién.
What was the most important lesson I learned cycling?
Two really. The most important, most human beings are extra ordinary and generous. Secondly, cycling is too fast to fully understand. So, I stopped cycling, went to Patagonia to follow my dream to live as a cowboy, bought 12 horses and during one year explored the unknown parts of this, one of the most spectacular places on earth.
Most of the time crossing the vast empty steppes of Patagonia I thought about human kind and become conscious at the end that I probably had to live with a people which was relatively untouched by modern civilisation. Because I understood a long time ago that we humans were a mere 150 000 years old as a species, and the last 5 000 years, we had lived in some kind of an organized society, but that we, in heart, still were simple beings. A species were the fire and freedom was essential parts of happiness.
With this in mind, I went to live with the il-purko clan of the Maasai and during a year I crossed the vast savannah to explore all sixteen groups which make up the Maasai tribe. It was a year dominated by drought, drinking nailanga (cows blood mixed with milk), lots of diarrhoea, living very close to the great wildlife of the African savannah and just getting very confused by a very restricted tribal life. Far from the freedom I was looking for. Suddenly I realised that I had to seek my roots, to understand. Four years later I went to Siberia.
Siberia changed my life completely. And it ruined it. It was the best time in my life. It had everything I have ever dreamt about. The enormous taiga and the extreme cold gave me and my partner Johan Ivarsson unlimited freedom. We hunted and fished to survive. We met the best people on earth, the native Siberians. It felt like I had finally understood. Also, I felt like it doesn’t matter one bit if I die now. I have seen all. Returning home was a disaster. It completely ruined my life for the next three years. A tragic divorce with the worst of consequences. I faced bitterness, hatred, shame and personal ruin. When I didn´t care anymore, I ended up in Yemen, with an idea to cross the two biggest desert on earth by camel. One of the reasons, as always, was to build bridges of understanding between cultures and peoples. Another one was personal; it would be my final pilgrimage. The goal was to find some rest for my battered soul. Instead I found one of the major reasons for better understanding the meaning of life. I met love in the shape of a young American woman, who a year later, well, 26 days ago, gave me a gift in the shape of a miracle. A beautiful and extremely calming baby daughter. Suddenly my soul calmed down dramatically. I found what I was looking for, even before leaving on a camel from Oman to Mauretania. The pilgrimage is now on hold. Because I know, that no matter how much control over life you think you have, it can end in a second and you find yourself back to wandering the streets of understanding.
So, what lessons of life can I share so far?
I think most important is, life is short. And we are here, only this time, why waste it not living to its full? Since I am privileged to try to motivate people to change their attitude to life and find some kind of contentness, because if people were content, they wouldn´t hire me as much as they do, I can say that the main question from the audience is:
How do we do it? How do we get a more exiting life?
There’s no real answer. Everyone has to reach their own stage at the crossroad of life, when they have to take a decision. What I know is that it can’t be a half hearted choice. Don’t worry what people think. Everyone will eventually end up in that cross road. Such are we thinking humans. We question. We want peace of mind. There’s no age to take the step. Everyone has its own time to take a decision. When I am starting to get to comfortable, I immediately think:
“Mikael, remember, and never forget, that life is to short. Get out there and live! Nobody is going to thank me for not doing it!”
No matter all the problems, near tragedies, real catastrophes and angst I have gone through in life, I don´t regret a second for choosing this life style. Most of it, however, has been a fantastic life, but one needs sorrow and tragedy to enjoy all aspects of life. So don’t give up if tragedy strikes! Just see it as an experience which makes you stronger, healthier, more humble and wiser. Just live!
One other reason is that this choice of life gives me a lot of self confidence when it comes to the future. No matter how bad things become, I only need a tent, an axe, a mattress, a few pots, and a fishing rod to survive and enjoy life. And I would than walk in to the forest somewhere on this earth, maybe the Siberian taiga, do a small, but warming fire after a few days of walking, not too big a fire to scare away the potential game, put on a pot of coffee, set a trap, feel the fresh air, shiver in the beginning winter cold, sense the total freedom and take out one of those cohibas I have saved for the occasion. Than I would smoke it, slowly, and look back at a very interesting life. And think:
“Yes, I have lived to its fullest capacity!”