True adventure involves a certain measure of unpredictability. Who better to educate us on handling encounters with the outlandish than Gõran Kropp, the Energizer Bunny expeditioner and self-proclaimed "Crazy Swede" who in 1996 rode his bicycle 8,580 miles from his homeland to Mount Everest, summited without oxygen, and then cycled back home. We recently tracked down the 32-year-old phenom in a remote corner of Scandinavia (where he is training for the next two endurance feats on his world agenda, a solo ski traverse from Russia to the North Pole and a 7,400-mile sailing and skiing expedition to the South Pole) to solicit his advice on adventure travel. Heed his wisdom at your own risk.
That bicycling-to-Everest stunt was pretty impressive. Do you recommend such an intense experience for all adventure-seekers?
No. That was just my personal protest against all these huge expeditions and all this high-altitude Sherpa stuff. If you need this kind of help, maybe it's good to try a shorter mountain.
Which takes priority when you plan a trip: the activity itself, or the cultural experience?
The culture and religion are important, but that stuff is a bonus. Still, I want to see as much as I can—you only have one life to live. If you have two lives, it's a bonus.
Having passed through countless countries, any advice for breaking the language barrier?
Use English. It works, no problem. If not, you can also do a lot with gestures—like when you need the toilet.
What's your philosophy on expedition training?
On an expedition, you often don't eat for two or three days, but you still have to perform. I try to have the same circumstances while I'm training as I would up on Everest, or wherever. Hard physical training without proper food or energy in my body.
What about equipment? Do travelers need the most high-tech stuff?
It's better to go back to basics. I had fancy lightweight wheels on my bike, and on the Asian roads they became shaped like—what do you call it—an olive. I had to take a bus 180 miles to Tehran to fix them.
How should travelers cope with stress on the road?
Just remember you're on vacation and you're supposed to have a nice time. It's OK to call home and tell your mother to send your favorite biscuits.
How long does it normally take for a person to go a bit loony out there?
It's not the amount of time; it's your troubles. Once I was in the countryside of Pakistan enjoying my lunch, and a huge crowd popped out from houses to look at the Western guy with his bicycle. They were standing right in my lunch! One of them took my map, so I took it back. Another one pulled me up by my underwear, and it got to pieces. Then he tried to hit me with his fist, and I got furious and hit him hard in the head. It was like a Tyson match. I thought I would be dead, but everybody ran away.
Having been through that, did you learn any lessons about avoiding unpleasant social situations?
Now, every time I have a lunch break, I make sure to take the first guy I see and hit him hard in the head. [Laughs.] Just kidding.