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Thor: Man who has visited every country in the world without flying

 Torbjorn Pedersen has travelled the world without flying. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Torbjorn 'Thor' Pedersen has made history as the first man to travel to every country in the world in one unbroken journey without flying.

The Danish adventurer has used nearly every mode of transport to travel, other than flights, from boda bodas in Kenya to his longest bus trip, a 54-hour bus ride.

His journey, which he named ‘Once Upon a Saga’, was supposed to take three years, at most four, but it ended up taking him almost 10 years to complete, thanks to the pandemic and other unforeseen issues.

The number 10 has proven to be an important number in his life. He left his home in Denmark to begin his journey on October 10, 2013, at 10:10am.

He has seen a lot in his journey, from the lowest lows to the highest highs, one of the highs happening in a very literal way right here in Kenya.

Kenya was his 121st country to visit in 2016, and it was here that he proposed to his then-girlfriend, Le Gjerum, a medical doctor, on top of Mt Kenya. It was, and there’s that number again, the 10th country she had visited him in.

When The Standard interviewed him at the time, he said Gjerum only learned that she was going to be climbing a mountain when she got there.

It was a grueling expedition up the towering mountain but he described her as a trooper. Finally, on that frosty November 16, 2016, as they conquered Lenana Peak, he knelt down to propose.

Thor was not sure that she would say yes, given their very unusual relationship circumstances. Because of the numerous challenges he faced on the trip and her focus on her education, their communication had suffered and they almost split at one time.

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A post shared by Thor ??/?? (@onceuponasaga)

Not to mention he still had an astounding 82 countries left to explore at the time.

"It would have been a long, cold walk down the mountain if she had said no," he told The Standard back then.

They are married now, and she has visited him in 27 of the countries he has been in.

He spoke of other highs he has experienced over his journey when the BBC interviewed him.

“Getting married the first time, getting married the second time, seeing a rocket get shot into space and realising that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything leave the planet. That was quite a moment. Being in a storm onboard a container ship, seeing whales jump about, being invited to a wedding in Sudan… so many,” he said.

He had some very low moments as well and has had life-endangering encounters. In January 2016, he got into a taxi racing toward the jungle of Congo and ran into three uniformed men who were very drunk, armed, and vicious.

The threat of being shot or dragged into the jungle was very real but after what was probably the longest one hour of his life, the men abruptly let them go.

He also contracted malaria while in Ghana and during his travels experienced migraines for the first time, migraines that were so severe that they brought him to his knees.

"I once reached a point where I was in so much pain physically and mentally and was facing so many problems that I decided I was done with the project and was going back home," he said.

One of his rules for the journey was that he had to stay at least 24 hours in every country, but Kenya was the 13th country in which he stayed the longest, spending 43 days here.

Usually, his long stays were caused by logistical or bureaucratic challenges, such as having a hard time getting a visa or finding a ship, but in Kenya, it was a combination of that and the presence of his then fiancé, with whom they were newly engaged.

“My long stay in Kenya was in part because I had a hard time getting the visa for Ethiopia. But it was also because my now wife came to visit. We hiked Mt. Kenya and I asked her to marry me on the top,” he told The Standard recently.

But that long stay pales in comparison to his stay in Hong Kong, in which he got stuck for over two years due to something he would never have predicted when he started: a pandemic. He ended up getting a job and becoming a temporary resident there.

He never imagined that at one point he would end up living in any of the countries for two years, and he ended up having hard time traveling to many countries after that due to the many travel restrictions between countries.

It was not the pandemic alone that made his journey difficult, however. And he felt like giving up many times as a result and was ready to go back home after two years, feelings that he posted on his blog over the course of his journey.

“I kept fighting for the goal and I was really dead and tired when we got to 2019 and I didn’t have many countries left, and I was told by shipping companies that they could have me back home in 10 months through the remaining countries and then the pandemic broke out and set me back another three years.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Thor ??/?? (@onceuponasaga)

“You cannot imagine how sick and tired I am of the complex bureaucracy and logistics which goes into moving Once Upon A Saga forward. And it is not just during the pandemic. It was like this many times…. It took a great deal of effort and resources,” he said in one post.

The hardest country to get a visa for was Equitorial Guinea where he told BBC that anyone in uniform would make his life a living nightmare.

“It was a really rough period. It took me about three months to get a visa for Equitorial Guinea, only to find out that they had closed their borders – no one in, no one out policy. I had thirty days on that visa and it was 27 days on that visa before I met a French expat who had the connections to bring me across the border. So almost four months to get inside Equatorial Guinea,” he said.

Once he was in, however, he loved the country and says that the people there were lovely.

He has gotten many gifts from people in the countries he has visited and had amazing experiences, but having visited all the 203 countries on earth (a little bit more than the 193 UN member states), he is happy, but more than ready to go home.

“I’m mentally exhausted. I will need time to understand that it is “over”. I will need to reflect on the past 3,512 days of my life. What have we really accomplished? What has this done to me? What are the key takeaways? I’m receiving MANY messages, congratulatory wishes, and the interviews are nonstop. We did it people.

"This has been a collaborative effort between people in every country of the world. People have taken part in small and large ways. History has been made. Is it significant? Time will tell. I currently find time to be a luxury which I do not have. IT IS HECTIC. I’m surrounded by loved ones and friends,” he wrote in his blog.

He is now on his way back home to Denmark, from the last country he was in, The Maldives, and is travelling by ship. An entry he made on his blog Once Upon a Saga, at the beginning of his journey, now sums it up best:

“I could have stayed at home, gone to the library, watched documentaries, spoken to people and explored the World from the comfort of a chair in familiar surroundings. However loosely translated from the Danish scientist, Piet Hein, I have read: ‘one must travel in order to understand that the World is round’.”

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