Expeditions: These Sneaks Were Made for Atoll-hoppin’


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Outside magazine, December 1995

Expeditions: These Sneaks Were Made for Atoll-hoppin’

An encompassing chat with the World’s Most Traveled Man
By Michael Finkel

Seventy-year-old John D. Clouse, who holds the Guinness Book of Records title of the World’s Most Traveled Man, has visited all but six of the globe’s 257 countries, island groups, reefs, atolls, nonsovereign territories, disputed lands, and other geographical regions. (Guinness recalculates the number every year.) Between trips, Clouse–whose son,
Chauncey, visited his 100th country before age five–recuperates and works as a lawyer in Evansville, Indiana.

What six places haven’t you visited?
I haven’t been to Kingman Reef. It’s 1,000 miles south of Honolulu, and it’s underwater at high tide. Then there’s an island group in the South Pacific–Howland, Baker, and Jarvis–and two island groups in the South China Sea, the Paracels and the Spratlys. I’ve been to Antarctica a half-dozen times, but never to Bouvet Island. And on mainland Antarctica, I still need to visit
Queen Maud Land. That’ll cost me $15,000–the only ships that go there are Russian icebreakers. But I’m working on plans to visit all six.

What constitutes a visit?
All you have to do is put your feet on the ground and have someone stamp your passport or sign an affidavit. One time, when the plane I was on landed on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific–it’s basically just a big dump for poison gas–the stewardess wouldn’t let me off. But I ran off anyway and jumped on the ground and said, “Look at me! I’ve been to Johnston Atoll.”

What’s your favorite place?

Least favorite?
East St. Louis, Illinois.

Has all this travel affected your home life?
I’ve been married and divorced six times. You tell me. My wives all said they loved travel, but they were thinking the QE II and the Ritz, not riding some dirty boat from one godforsaken island to another.

Have you ever met Parke Thompson? He held the Guinness record for ten years before you overtook him in 1995.
There’s about ten of us who are hard-core travel nuts, going for the record. I’ve met them all. Yes, I’ve met Parke. Most of us help each other out, share travel tips, things like that. We’re amicably competitive. But not Parke. He never got the travel spirit, not an ounce. Unfortunately, he’s mad at the world. He just wants to do everything for himself–I can’t think of anything
nice to say about him.

Do you travel with a towel?
No. I pack very lightly–my only footwear is low-cut basketball shoes. I figure the Duchess of Kent isn’t going to have me to tea.

Window or aisle?
Window. I’ve flown across the Atlantic 104 times.

How much has all this cost you?
About $1,250,000–I’ve kept careful record. And that figure includes a hell of a lot of good wine.