If you think the toughest aspect of circling the world by muscle power is the physical toil, you haven’t been to Russia’s Far East. French American Dimitri Kieffer is striving circumnavigate our planet with just his arms and legs, but for the past four years he’s been wading through a whole lot more than just bogs in Eastern Siberia.
It all began in 2005, when Dimitri decided to trek and snowshoe along the route of the 1770 km Iditarod Trail Race from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome. At this point Dimitri wasn’t planning a global circumnavigation – the ultra marathoner simply wanted to challenge himself along the route of the world’s most grueling dog sledding race. After 37 days of leg aching, teeth chattering toil, he reached the shores of the Bering Sea, and the end of the Iditarod Trail.
Dimitri decided to extend his journey a little further and teamed up with extreme trekker Karl Bushby. Several months later, the two successfully walked across the frozen Bering Strait to the Eastern shores of Siberia. This was no small feat considering the 85 km channel is never fully frozen. Strong currents break up the ice, and crossing the Strait involves scrambling over loose pan ice, swimming across vast open leads, and a lot of luck. The duo became the first in history to walk across the Bering Strait from east to west.
When Dimitri and Karl reached the shores of Russia, they experienced the lingering-Soviet-style bureaucracy still so prevalent in Eastern Siberia. They were immediately arrested and deported for entering the country outside of an official port of call. There was no way they could have obtained advance permissions, as there are no exceptions.
At this point Dimitri had trekked through some of the world’s most daunting terrain, from the heart of Alaska all the way to Siberia, and like Forest Gump on a roll, decided to just keep on going. Fortunately, he received permission to return to Siberia, and beginning in 2007 he has been slowly trekking through the enormous roadless expanse in stages. The bureaucratic hurdles faced have been almost as challenging as the long days trudging through vast frozen landscapes.
Dimitri is currently in the U.S., and plans to return to Siberia this February to complete the final leg before reaching the first roads of Siberia near Magadan. Unfortunately, Russia has recently changed the rules for travel visas, and visitors can only stay for a maximum of 90 days at a time. This means that, Dimitri will need to leave Russia yet again, before returning to cycle across Eurasia to the Atlantic Ocean.
There is still a long way to go, but Dimitri almost has one of the toughest legs in his rear view mirror. If he succeeds in completing his circumnavigation he may be the first American to circle the world by muscle power alone.