Many dream of traveling the world but few set out to be world explorers. Johan Ernst Nilson is one of those rare individuals who sets an impossible goal and achieves it. I had the opportunity to interview this 43 year-old Swedish explorer of 32 expeditions through 142 countries. His story is remarkable because he isn't content to rest on his laurels, collect endorsements and garner fame but he is actively engaged to make the world a better place.
We met in his San Francisco hotel lobby where Johan shared with me details of his expeditions and his sources of inspiration. He started his professional career as a concert pianist. It was a dare from friends that turned him into an explorer. His first trek biking through the Sahara, nearly killed him, but it turned into a lifelong passion for adventure. While explorations can be brutal, he finds that focusing on completed expeditions keeps him motivated.
His most recent trek Pole2Pole was envisioned to be an 18 month epic adventure from the North Pole to the South Pole, something that hadn't been done before. The trek covered 32,000 kilometers and many forms of transportation: biking, skiing, sailing, hiking, dog sledding and kite surfing. He completed the expedition with some minor modifications and mishaps, a huge accomplishment.
While Nilson used the latest technology and gear for this adventure, it often comes down to physical conditioning, will power, and determination. Even in remote locations such as the Himalayas he can be found blogging at base camp.
It is one thing to enjoy a day of skiing at the resort knowing a warm lodge awaits at the end of the day but quite another to ski pulling your gear on sleds and sleeping in a tent on the snowy tundra with no civilization in sight. Biking can be a fun activity but maybe not if you ride from Canada through the United States and Mexico and beyond as Nilson did. He accomplished his goal of completing his Pole2Pole adventure, which may be the high point of his career as an explorer but not as a humanitarian.
Throughout a career of exploration Nilson has seen the dramatic effect climate change has exerted. This has inspired him to be an advocate for protecting the natural environment and using his celebrity to draw attention to the crisis. He is an Ambassador with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and an Honorary Goodwill Ambassador in Nepal.
After spending 2,000 nights in a tent by himself, he is ready to inspire others to attain the impossible. Some of his upcoming adventures are helping others to overcome obstacles such as aiding a wheel-chair bound young adult to climb the highest mountain in Sweden.
These days Nilson spends half of his time in service to others, speaking, traveling, and representing worthy causes like working with the Red Cross in Africa to bring clean water to local communities. Organizations like Swedish Min Stora Dag grants wishes to critically ill children, allowing him to help make adventurous dreams come true for others.
©Karla Erovick 2013 article
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