“In a hundred years nobody will even remember us, so what’s the point of worrying?
That’s why I try to do a lot”
The last time we spoke to Mikael, it was August 2020 after his first bicycle trip with daughters Eva and Dana. Supplemented by engaging Facebook updates, his army of followers have enjoyed living vicarious adventure thrills tracking his wheels in motion - and boy have they been in motion. The determined trio have completed 3 more bicycle trips since that time, crossing Turkey, Namibia, and Rwanda, covering hundreds of kilometers in the process.
Mikael works as an explorer-in-residence at Kensington Tours and is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. If there is a language he speaks fluently, it is exploration & adventure. That’s why we sought him out to be a BOLDR Ambassador in the first place, named an entire knife collection after him, and continue to devour his consistent travel updates.
Prior to the bicycling trips in early 2022, Mikael was involved in an unfortunate accident while motoring a sled across the Greenland ice cap. The doctors advised against exertion for a few months, so he rested. Before long, 2 months to be exact, he was back in the outdoors cycling across Turkey with Eva and Dana. Was that a wise decision, in hindsight? Let’s find out together, shall we.
As we write this (September 2023), Mikael is looking through a Land Rover Defender window directly at London’s Tower Bridge while floating on the Thames. That’s something you don’t hear every day. One of the many Defender X expeditions, his team ventures across various parts of the planet simply because - why not? Their current attempt is to cross the English channel from Dover to Calais.
We spoke to him two weeks prior from his home in Malmo, Sweden:
What is the Defender X challenge?
The Defender X team has an aim to travel the world over land & water in amphibious Land Rover Defenders. But more importantly, we are a team of friends who love getting together with no drama - just possibilities and lots of laughter.
Our leader is Jeff Willner. He has been one of my very best friends since we met in 2011. Our first trip together was to Kongo-Kinshasa, and since then we have done the most fantastic journeys together. Jeff is one of the funniest, kindest, most generous and gentle people I have ever come across. He is a visionary whose ideas at times may seem mad, but are really quite unique.
The second driver is another amazing character, Steve Boultbee Brooks. He is a pilot, Formula Classic driver, inventor, and many other things. We first met back in 2006 when I got a medal from the Explorers Club in London and his wife, Joanne Vestey, added me in her book about explorers. Steve is always positive, very much into discovering the meaning of life.
We are lucky to have Sofie Rördam in the group, a tough personality and director of filming. She is responsible for many of the beautiful images uploaded to my Facebook page. I met Sofie at a film pitch in Tromsö back in 2019, and she is one of my best friends. Extremely hardworking, intelligent and full of fun!
A few other personalities include the always-positive Nikki, the Russian expert Ed, Misha the super filmmaker, Samir and a few others. It is a huge privilege being part of this magnificent team and project.
What happened in early 2022 that called off that particular expedition?
We were on the Defender X trail towards Russia, but it was canceled due to the Ukraine war. My friends and I decided to divert to Mongolia, and while we were in the outback, an old yearning to cross the ice cap in Greenland returned to my heart. So off we went, and that’s where I unfortunately had a bit of an accident.
I left the group to explore the landscape. At the time I had severe pain in my knee and had taken many painkillers, and that disoriented me quite a bit. A huge mistake in hindsight, but it is what it is. I thought I was sledding above an ice block but instead I collided right into it - a beautifully striking blue, rock-hard chunk of ice. I made it back to the camp after gathering myself (I landed upside down head first) but my team began noticing repetitive speech, which is among the side effects of a concussion. They radioed in a chopper and I was taken for treatment.
How did this lead up to cycling around Turkey?
I took 2 months to rest and recover, mostly sitting on my balcony and passing time. Then a friend of mine recommended that I come to Turkey, and I really needed a change of scenery so I decided to go on a cycling trip with my two daughters over July-August 2022. Oddly enough, my concussion subsided on the plane over and stayed at bay until we returned to Malmo months later. I guess being outdoors is a medicine in itself.
We took the Eurovelo 8 route from Ephesus UNESCO World Heritage site to ancient Pergamon in the north (apprx. 500 km), and then onto a second phase from Izmir to Cappadocia. All together that would be around 1000-1400 km of cycling. İzmir is the first city from Turkey to join the European Bicycle Network, and we were really looking forward to it.
Despite the crippling heat, we averaged 60 kms a day and had an overall wonderful experience. Plentiful access to the unmatchable Turkish food and warm Turkish hospitality.
Was your recent accident much of an impediment to the adventure?
I was not feeling absolutely 100%, for sure, but I did certain things to help with my on-the-go recovery. I had begun diet changes like removing meat and alcohol, and introducing daily practices of yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness practice. Basically multiple ways of stress management, which greatly expedited my healing.
Things can get extremely tough on the road, and we did fly off the handle (no pun intended there) sometimes. But looking at things just the way they are helped bring us back to balance. And hence after Turkey, we started made plans to cycle across Namibia and then stop by Rwanda in June - July this year,
What kind of factors determine your next cycling destination eg. in this case Namibia?
I'm always waiting to revisit Africa, but it was the first time in Namibia. It is like Africa-light - less people, less chance of malaria, stunning scenery, and wild animals.
It is still suffering from the effects of colonization and most businesses and land are still in the hands of white people. As a result, we had access to pretty much any food you’d get in the West.
The main reason I wanted to go there is to witness the wildlife with my daughters. Seeing animals in the wild like that really makes a huge difference to your life, and there is little to no danger from being there anymore. We saw flamingos, black backed jackals, wild game, lions at the watering holes, extraordinary sand dune landscapes, saltpans and countless more…. all overwhelming & one-of-a-kind experiences.
When I was there during 1990`s, wild animals were roaming about much more freely and abundantly, but unfortunately that is not the case today. Too many humans, too much hunting. The animals are scared of humans now. As far as animals go, the two-legged ones are the most dangerous.
We started with Windhoek, to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, Henties Bay. The times I enjoyed best were in Goanikontes, spectacular Spitzkoppe, Omandumba and Omaruru which was started by the Swedish Axel Eriksson, as well as Mt Etjo. The road to Uis which led up to the entrances of Etosha via Khorixas and Kamanjab was also a very enjoyable ride.
What were the challenges you faced over there?
It got much tougher than I anticipated. We had planned around 1200-1600 km during the 7 weeks we were there, but we realized pretty quickly that cycling asphalt was deadly and largely meaningless, so it became around an 800 km trip on the very tough Namibian dirt roads.
We could rarely cycle more than 7-8 km/h because it was a mix of constant washboard, deep sand and tough landscape through the senselessly beautiful desert landscape.
It was wintertime, so it got light shortly after seven on average and darkened around six. We had nights when it dropped to minus seven, but really hot days. The heat was punishing in the dry landscape.
And then the winds.... a cool east wind arrived that was claimed to be the worst and uninterrupted many of those we met remembered in their lifetime. It knocked me completely out. Too much weight and 30 liters of water. We managed to camp out in the tent for some days, but then I had to call for help with the satellite phone to a camp in Spitzkoppe, just a few miles away. They came to pick us up.
I got a chest infection, ended up on antibiotics and it took three weeks before I felt like I could go a whole day without feeling knocked out.
The girls held the fort, didn't get sick and gave me immense support when I felt terrified. With the advantage that they can now set up, take down and fix a camp, cook at gasoline kitchens and fix bikes, they were great company and stayed fit throughout. Better still, they have formed a sisterly relationship that will last a lifetime.
How is the logistics situation with trips that have bulky / heavy equipment?
We bring our bikes along for the plane ride, paying for oversized baggage of course. There is bound to be some damage but it’s not a problem - not as bad as a giraffe that literally lowered himself onto my bicycle seat while we were en route in Namibia! I managed to save the bike just in time, thank goodness for that.
We carry along camping gear strapped to the bikes, some light filming gear, and various bites for snack time. There is usually a local fixer that helps us navigate the paperwork and strategic planning for the road ahead.
After Namibia, you rode on to Rwanda. Tell us about that monumental trip.
We were invited by Jeff (Willner) who is one of the funders of the Legacy of War Foundation, headed by the incomparable Giles Duley, a.k.a. One-Armed Chef. He is involved with many NGOs but the work he is doing with this foundation is nothing short of extraordinary. They help support victims of war & genocide through localised, sustainable, beneficiary-funded projects around the world without the neo-colonial aid influence. Their mission is simple - “to help individuals and communities rebuild their own lives after the trauma of war”.
In Rwanda, the foundation has helped survivors of the genocide to start a farm cooperate which they run themselves. We visited their cooperative, experienced the real Africa, joy and pain in one. The self confidence these women have been given and the capacity they have was overwhelming. The human spirit is formidable.
Eva & Dana with Giles Duley at the Kigali meet.
I had been to Kigali 13 years prior and visited the museum dedicated to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but this time it affected me much more. Because my daughters were with me, listening and learning from the stories told, absolute horrors that people went through. It made a strong impression on them to say the least.
Eva & Dana with Olive at the Kigali meet.
Olive’s story is just impossible to comprehend; a survivor of the genocide, she knocked on the doors of those who killed her family, friends that ruined her life and the lives of many others, in order to forgive herself and move on with life. Today she leads her community and makes a huge difference for many. A singularly remarkable person.
Later that day, we were honored to take part in the great opening ceremony of the Giants of Africa, a foundation that travels the African continent conducting basketball camps, building courts, and organizing initiatives to empower African youth - truly joyful to witness after the deepest horror of genocide stories. It is a celebration for life.
With so much to take in, what is it that stands out most about your adventures?
The simplicity of life on the road. Your whole world is packed on a bike and your living quarters is a tent. Almost without exception I sleep very well and feel rested, even though I might only have picked up 5 hours of sleep. I love waking up before dawn, hearing the girls sleeping, and getting out of the tent to start the stove and put the kettle on. I usually sip strong coffee either in my camp chair or on the ground. Bliss
At night, I love sitting in complete darkness for an hour or two before sleep, just existing. Listening to the environment. Pure bliss.
Of course, traveling with my daughters is the best. To see them grow as human beings, how they love this simple life and being with them in good & not-so-good times - incomparable bliss!
Do yourself a huge favor, follow Mikael’s Facebook page for updates on life, love, and adventure. Learn more about Defender X at www.defenderx.com. Also check out the film trailer of Man With His Daughters on Vimeo.
Our previous feature with Mikael: EXPLORING THE HUMAN SPIRIT - A BOLDR JOURNEY WITH MIKAEL STRANDBERG
TEDxMälaren - Mikael Strandberg - NORMALNA, The Siberian Way to Understanding the Meaning of Life