Gina Johansen And Her Big Adventures
Gina Johansen (31) must be one of the few people in the world whose professional title could be an adventurer. She is indeed an adventurer who doesn’t shy away from even the most unimaginable ideas. In 2018, for instance, she took up a 1000-kilometre-long solo ski trip without a history of skiing. A year later she brought her physical capabilities to test by crossing the frozen 700-kilometre-wide Lake Baikal on foot within just two weeks, completely alone.
Gina grew up in a small town in southern Sweden among horses that her family owned. Working with horses seemed to be her destiny. At the tender age of 15 she decided to leave home and start working for a Swedish professional showjumper Alexander Zetterman with whom she travelled around Europe for almost three and a half years preparing horses for international competitions. “Since I was too heavy for track riding myself it was my job to prepare horses for the races,” Gina describes her adventurous life in the world of equestrian sport.
In 2010, the then 19-year-old Gina moved down under to Australia where she continued working for world renowned coaches. “I was lucky enough to work with and train horses from birth until they reached world class level. Seeing them win significant competitions was extremely exciting,” Gina discusses the important life lesson she learned about success only happening after hard work.
In contrast to intensive work with horses, life in Australia offered other challenges as well. One of the main impulses to leave track racing behind was a two-month and 2,700-kilometre-long bicycle trip along Australia’s east coast. Nothing could be done; she had caught the “adventure virus”. A few injuries that had forced Gina to take a break from track racing also contributed to her decision to leave her previous life behind.
A new beginning
After eight years of living down under in the middle of heat and desert-like nature, Gina returned to the hilly and snowy Scandinavian slopes: „At first, I planned to only spend the summer season in Norway and go jogging in the mountains, but I completely fell in love its crisp nature instead. I wanted to live close to the mountains so that it wouldn’t be too hard for me to go jogging and skiing there,” Gina says, looking back at of the most pivotal times of her life.
It was in Norway where she decided to take up her very first daring ordeal and go solo-skiing 1,000 kilometres from Norway’s northernmost edge to Sweden without any previous experience. She defied the frosty weather carrying a 65-kilogramme sleigh and being able to only rely on a GPS device. “Fortunately, I had prepared for the expedition very well, especially regarding safety, so I didn’t come across any problems,”, she remembers. “Actually, I did have some problems with my camping stove, and since I was there completely on my own, it was up to me to figure out how to fix it,” she adds.
Despite bringing her physical and mental capabilities to test, she was able to use this time to enjoy the picturesque Nordic sunsets and the northern lights. “Whenever I spend that much time by myself, I usually ponder about everything I have done in my life, but I also make new plans. At the same time, I simply try to notice the nature and be in the moment,” Gina says about spending long and lonely hours in the middle of rough nature.
During these two months on the road, Gina had time to thoroughly think about her life and come to an understanding that she needed a change in her life. She never went back to Australia. Instead, she started to go after new dreams: to go on adventures, and to do it big.
After having moved to Norway’s northernmost town called Honningsvåg, she worked at a local souvenir shop and met her boyfriend who introduced her the local life and taught her how to really enjoy becoming one with nature. “„Stig-Ru and her daughter Sophie definitely played an important part in my decision to stay put in Norway,” she says.
Hikes alone and together
When the ski-trip had been a spiritual pilgrimage towards finding her true self, then walking 700 kilometres across the frozen lake Baikal was more of a sprint. Ten to eleven hours of walking day in and day out didn’t leave much time for sleeping. A thin tent and crackling ice beneath her introduced her to the ways of nature in the most straightforward way possible.
Nevertheless, a few months later, Gina, her boyfriend and their dog took up a 2,600-kilometre-long trekking trip from South-Norway to North-Norway. During these 102 days they were able to put their joints, their equipment but also their relationship to test.
Covid-years and the restrictions it brought along have held Gina back, so she has spent this time keeping herself busy with her most recent hobby: building a cabin. “I have nothing against people, and when I lived in Sydney, I enjoyed city life very much but at the same time I love to escape from the rest of the world and isolate myself into nature. That’s why I need the cabin. I plan on spending my weekends and holidays there, but I also want to go jogging in the mountains and fishing by the sea,” she explains. Living isolated from the rest of the world with no electricity and water is something that Gina has dreamt of for a while.
A thin blooded in the Antarctic?
The next challenge for this professional adventurer will be skiing to the South Pole in December 2023. Gina’s plan is to finish this 1130-kilometre-long expedition within just 35 days. This will be faster than any of the other nine women that have undertaken such a challenge. Since the expedition will start at sea level and ascend 2,835 metres by reaching the South Pole, it means that the whole journey will take place uphill. The Antarctic is considered to have one of the roughest climates in the whole world, with daily temperatures varying from -15 C° to -45 C°, and felt air temperature possibly up to -70 C°.
It would be a lot safer to carry out such an expedition together with someone, but Gina says: “If my goal is to set a speed record then I must do it by myself”. She adds: “Actually, I quite like hiking together with someone, especially with my boyfriend but unfortunately he has no interest in such challenges.”
“To be honest, I’m quite thin blooded. I have Reynaud syndrome which means that due to poor blood circulation my fingers and toes start freezing very quickly,” Gina explains, and says that therefore warm and first-rate equipment is essential for her.
Despite her fear of cold, this wild woman also does winter swimming on a regular basis. „I like the mental side of it. I enjoy seeing how much I can control with just my mind, let alone the positive effect it has on my health,” she says. Gina first took up winter swimming four years ago when she first moved to Norway, and since then she has tried to dip herself into freezing water at least once a week. But she does admit that when it’s very windy, the water up there can be inhumanly cold: “Then I stay away from water.”
Even though Gina loves the Nordic nature and climate, it doesn’t mean that she isn’t attracted to warm places as well. “I enjoy working out in high temperatures and in the sun. She reveals that she is indeed planning to go on a two-week trip to somewhere warm with her boyfriend: “We were actually supposed to do it already before Covid hit, but it seems like travelling has become safer again.” She believes that it’s good for the body to soak in the sun from time to time and charge oneself with vitamin D. Especially since the winters in Norway tend to be extremely long and darn dark.
Examples and goals
Gina thinks very high of Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen, the famous polar explorers who discovered parts of the polar regions that where so little known at the end of the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th century, but her biggest inspirations are contemporary adventurers and sportsmen. „Børge Ousland, a Norwegian polar explorer has taken up several impressive expeditions both in the Arctic and in Antarctica. He has so much knowledge and experience in this field,” Gina says excitedly and adds that one of her biggest idols is Pat Farmer, an ultra-marathon athlete from Australia. In 2011 to 2012, Pat ran from the north pole to the south pole for charity, but he has also run across Australia and in many other countries. “Pat helped me a lot when preparing for my first ski expedition. He is a wonderful person,” Gina says and adds: “Pat also has very strong willpower, and this is something that inspires me immensely “
With her own personal larger than life expeditions, Gina hopes to inspire children and young people, and promote an active lifestyle. But not just that! “I want kids to know that if you can overcome your fears and work very-very hard, then dreams are totally doable.” She visits schools from time to time to share her own experience, and for example, children from one local school also followed her entire Lake Baikal expedition.
Gina is more than determined to visit Estonia one day as well, since so many of her friends come from this place: “I have heard so much about the beautiful old town in Tallinn, and I know that just like the Finns, the Estonians have a strong sauna tradition as well. I just love sauna!” Gina says and then adds: “When I come to Estonia, I will try to go on an adventure there as well!”
- The article was made in cooperation with magazine TervisPluss, where it was first published in Estonian: https://tervispluss.delfi.ee/artikkel/120120734/gina-johansen-hulljulge-naine-kes-ei-karda-kuude-kaupa-metsikus-looduses-ihuuksi-seigelda-miks-ta-seda-teeb