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Explorer encourages others to "lead from the saddle"

October 14, 2009

Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg endures -57 degree weather during his journey across Siberia.

Mikael Strandberg isn't very tall but his name carries a lot of weight in the international exploration community.

He has travelled the world by horse and bicycle, and even made a winter crossing of Siberia by sled. He is currently preparing for a camel journey from Oman to Morocco.

He explored Latin America on horseback, a ride which earned him admittance to the Long Riders' Guild - the international association of equestrian explorers.

The Swede now finds himself in the role of Director of Exploration for the guild, helping to promote and develop ethical, safe and responsible equestrian exploration and long-distance travel.

His exploits put him among the highest echelons of world adventurers.

He started his professional career as an explorer two decades ago by cycling 27,500km from Patagonia to Alaska, via the infamous Darien Gap jungle. He then pedalled another 90,000km, making his way from New Zealand to Cairo.

He parked the bike and then set about exploring Latin America by horseback. When he hung up his saddle, he spent a year living among the Masai in Kenya.

Then, in 2004, Strandberg made an astonishing winter crossing through Siberia. During this five-month sledge journey, mainly done in darkness, he experienced terrifying cold, with average temperatures around -50 degrees Fahrenheit, day and night.

This trip through the coldest inhabited place on earth convinced the King of Sweden to award his intrepid subject a silver medal for courage.

Strandberg has produced three internationally renowned television documentaries, written six books, lectured around the world and been deemed "the best contemporary explorer in the world" by the Explorers Club in London.

He is now preparing for his Great Desert Expedition - a camel journey from Oman to Morocco.

But before tackling that adventure, he has agreed to take responsibility for developing a new Equestrian Exploration Department for the Long Riders' Guild Academic Foundation.

The move is an acknowledgement of growing interest in equestrian exploration.

"With Mongolia having become the 40th country to field long riders and join the guild, there is ample evidence to demonstrate that interest in equestrian exploration is exploding," said Basha O'Reilly, one of the guild's founding members.

Mikael Strandberg was awarded a medal for courage by King of Sweden
The guild has sponsored, mentored or encouraged more than 100 equestrian expeditions on every continent except Antarctica in less than 10 years, she said.

While interest and enthusiasm runs high, leaders of the equestrian exploration movement remain concerned that this mounted renaissance must adhere to the highest principled standards, she said.

As director of exploration for the guild, Strandberg will help it promote and develop ethical, safe and responsible equestrian exploration and long distance travel.

"This is an honour that I accept with dignity," Strandberg said. "I am looking forward to using my experience in organising different types of expeditions so as to encourage and educate would-be long riders around the world."

It is hoped Strandberg's involvement will inspire others to take to the saddle and explore the planet.

O'Reilly says history demonstrates that one person's passion for exploration and education can, indeed, encourage others. In the 15th century, Portugal's Prince Henry set up the world's first school for explorers.

At Sagres, on the southwestern tip of Europe, he brought together geographers, map-makers, instrument-makers, astronomers and mathematicians. The institute was designed to teach navigation, collect geographical data, invent seafaring equipment and to sponsor expeditions.

Strandberg has already shared his expertise with the first team of Afghan mountain climbers and a Scandinavian camel expedition crossing the Sahara, not to mention dozens of young adventurers eager for more generalised advice.

Strandberg now believes he can help inspire others to explore the world as their forefathers did.

"Although Prince Henry never sailed on any of his expeditions, he is credited with instigating the Age of Discovery. Unlike Henry, who inspired but did not travel, we ... are determined to lead from the saddle."

In Strandberg's case, this means a camel saddle, not an equestrian one.

Though he has more than 20 years of experience surviving in dangerous places, overcoming tropical diseases and meeting other hardships, he is about to venture deep into a remote part of the Muslim world on a desert expedition which will certainly require him to deal with cultural and religious challenges.

"I've just returned from studying Arabic and Islam in Yemen. The wonderful experiences I enjoyed there have convinced me that this trip will allow me to build a bridge of exploration which runs between the Islamic world and the West," the enthusiastic explorer explained.

Mikael Strandberg in Yemen preparing for his camel expedition from Oman to Morocco.
While the Long Riders' Guild is known for its support of the ancient art of equestrian travel, it has spent the last two years quietly working to create a new camel travel division.

The world's leading camel travel experts, such as Arita Baaijens, who travelled across the Sahara Desert with her dromedary camels, and John Hare, who journeyed across the Gobi with Bactrian camels, have agreed to lend their academic support to this unique educational effort.

Because of the length and significance of Strandberg's journey, the guild has honoured him by presenting the explorer with the first LRG flag to accompany a camel expedition.

"Insh'Allah, we're going to make exploration history of an unexpected and unprecedented nature," Strandberg said.

O'Reilly, asked to explain the camel initiative within the guild, said: "What we envision is an organisation that grows out of the original Long Riders' Guild, and goes on to publish books, sponsor new research, and provide funds and equipment to long riders.

"This is a new type of exploration foundation, one that preserves mankind's ancient methods of travelling safely and successfully with horses, and now camels. Regardless of what he is riding, Mikael is a perfect example of this blending of mounted courage."



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